Council: More Brisket, More Staff

Talking around barbecue smoke, staffing up, and more

Council: More Brisket, More Staff

The next regular City Council meeting is Thursday, April 16, facing a draft agenda fairly heavy with zoning cases, as they continue their organization attempt to segregate their agendas. It's just as well they take a break this week, after last week's (April 2) meeting, where they walked into a couple of hornets' nests of their own design. The headline grabber was the (in theory) well-intentioned attempt to draft a solution to the burning problem of barbecue smoke; sponsored by District 3 Council Member Pio Renteria (with co-conspirators Mayor Steve Adler, Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo, and CM Greg Casar). It was a response to a couple of fairly specific neighborhood complaints – concerning Terry Black's Bar­ton Springs joint (beneath a residential bluff), and la Barbe­cue on East Cesar Chavez (near some homes) – that need specific solutions. (Renteria, to his own embarrassment, referred to the latter as "La Bare" – "I don't know where my mind is at.")

Council's initial draft was contemplating expensive "scrubbers" for every barbecue smokestack in town; by the time the public and various chefs (notably Aaron Franklin and Hoover Alexander) reacted, Renteria and company were withdrawing that recipe and calling on stakeholders to convene, discuss, consult, mediate – and maybe come back with some flexible solution in some undefined future. In the meantime, the neighborhoods (and restaurants) with the specific problems will return to their respective corners.

The other consternation was the still-simmering plan to add staffers to the mayor's office, which had gone through a committee, with initially moderated expectations, and instead returned to Council as an amplified plan to add staff for the mayor – in the end, three more paid staffers rather then the five he had originally requested – and also an additional staff member to each Council member's office. The politics of 10-1 had overcome the fiscal hesitation – although the new staffing is temporary (until Sept. 1) and budget staff said the funding (about $400,000) could be found in the existing budget, apparently without using staff vacancies.

Only Tovo and Delia Garza voted against the measure, Garza saying the inevitable expansion of staff under 10-1 was already sufficient to the need, and warning that her colleagues would find it difficult to fund other service needs in the next budget cycle. (Indeed, a spare $400,000 tends to loom large in August.)

In other decisions, Council:

Enabled the Circuit Events Local Organizing Committee to apply to the state for certain special events funds on behalf of the Summer X Games at Circuit of the Americas – limited to next year, until Council committees can further review the continuing policy questions.

After some debate, agreed to the proposal from Austin Fire Department chief Rhoda Mae Kerr to add two new division chiefs and reorganize some AFD positions.

Directed staff to come up with a plan to implement "reform of the city's development review" (including, but not limited to, the recent recommendations in the Zucker Report on Planning and Development).

That took them to 10:15pm (motto: Still Not Midnight!), and adjournment.

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City Council 2015, Sabino Renteria, Steve Adler, Rhoda Mae Kerr, CELOC, Zucker Report

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