The Austin Chronicle

Council: Marriott Pays, Austin Annexes

By Michael King, October 2, 2015, News

The long-running city dispute with White Lodging over fee waivers granted to its Congress Ave. Marriott hotel project – in return for a prevailing wage structure on construction labor – will apparently end at today's City Council meeting (Oct. 1) with White Lodging's agreement to repay $2.4 million in waived fees.

Guess the JW Marriott is doing OK.

That's Item 11 on the consent agenda, although the guess here is that somebody will at least want to note the city's legal victory. According to the backup, Council approval will accept "White Lodging Services Corp.'s payment of the total development fees owed," since they "did not meet the conditions" required under the waiver agreement. White Lodging will also dismiss its lawsuit against the city over the dispute, and the city will dismiss its countersuit to collect the fees. District 4 Council Member Greg Casar may want to take a brief victory lap, since he was spokesperson for Workers Defense Project when they informed the 2013 Council that White Lodging was not keeping up its end of the bargain. And perhaps somebody on the dais will have the cojones to note that "fee waivers" are not simply giveaways to corporations, but tools the city uses to negotiate community benefits. But don't bet on it.

There are more than two dozen contracts awaiting Council approval, meaning it will be a crapshoot which expenditures council members will want to pull for staff grilling, and dozens of departmental heads will be standing in the back of the hall for hours on the off chance that they will be summoned for a command performance before the dais. District 6 Council Member Don Zimmerman, for principal example, has already submitted questions to staff about eight of the contracts, ranging from payments for the city's participation in the Emergency Communi­ca­tion District 911 database, to the Austin Police Department's vendor contract for civil service exams, to management services for the Austin Tennis Center, to an interlocal agreement with Leander. Will those be pulled for further review? We'll find out Thursday.

One interesting contract not highlighted yet by Zimmerman is a 60-month contract at an eventual $3.9 million with SafePlace to take over the "forensic examinations and evidence collection for sexual assault survivors" – the previous vendor, the backup reports, terminated its contract earlier this year and the APD is asking SafePlace to provide the medical forensic staff to do the job. (The grand funding total is misleading – since the state attorney general reimburses police departments for much of these services, the actual cost of the program to the city over 10 years is estimated at about $930,000.)

Other agenda items of note:

A resolution from Council (Item 37), sponsored by CMs Casar, Ora Houston, et al., to direct staff to explore ways to work with the county on expanding voter locations, especially in low-turnout areas.

A proposed resolution from the Planning and Neighborhoods Committee considering revising the rules governing neighborhood plan contact teams – the resolution is at this stage exploratory, but in the committee it garnered resistance from some quarters anticipating pressure on some existing contact teams – notably in CM Pio Renteria's District 3 (he's a sponsor) – to expand their memberships beyond the usual suspects.

A raft of proposed annexations (10) mostly north and east, none of them large in acreage but possibly raising oppo on the dais from particular CMs (e.g., Zimmerman, who's repeatedly made it clear that the entire notion of annexation gives him heartburn).

When they get to proclamations (the 68-Item agenda doesn't scream midnight, but you never know), former interim city attorney and legislative liaison Karen Kennard (who resigned earlier this year when asked by City Manager Marc Ott to remain in her legislative role) will receive a Distinguished Service Award, and council members will honor the Classical Mandolin Society of America (also figuring in the evening's music), LGBT History Month, National Night Out, the Asian Ameri­can Resource Center, and (fresh from All Hallow's Eve) House of Torment – if they manage to negotiate the anteroom's metal detectors.

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