The Austin Chronicle

Council: Eternal Returns

City plumbing, Juvenile curfews, and AFD overtime highlight this week’s agenda

By Michael King, June 16, 2017, News

Rounding into its penultimate meeting before the July break, City Council has its hands full today (June 15) with plenty of old business as well as new. Among the high-profile postponements returning for another look are the proposed limits on major park special events (Item 23), a decision on plumbing codes (Item 104), and the reconsideration of juvenile curfews (Items 69 and 99).

Last week and during Tuesday's work session, Council seemed willing to defer to the recommendations of the Parklands Events Task Force, which would trim the number of days Zilker, Vic Mathias, Fiesta Gardens, and other major parks are used for big events (e.g., Austin City Limits, Trail of Lights, et al.) and encourage some shifting of events to other area parks. District 6 Council Member Jimmy Flan­ni­gan suggested that the day limits seem arbitrary, and could discourage "innovation" by event organizers or creation of new events – the prevailing Council sentiment points toward approval.

Last week's extended public hearing on plumbing codes was a bit of a surprise – with experts and practitioners arguing strongly on both sides (International Resi­dential Code vs. Universal Plumbing Code) somewhat confounding the dais. "The acronyms almost blew my brains out," said CM Ora Houston, to which Mayor Steve Adler responded hesitantly, "I think we got the gist." Currently, Austin is somewhat unique in using the UPC; staff has recommended a hybrid application of the IRC for most residential construction, retaining UPC for the larger projects. No idea what Council might decide.

The juvenile curfew law, first adopted by the city in 1990, must be renewed every three years or it expires; Item 99 would renew the current version. (A report by the Austin Police Department reflects that the curfew resulted in reducing juvenile arrests, and the APD recommends renewal.) But the previous dais discussion reflected uneasiness with indirectly reinforcing the "school-to-prison pipeline" and Item 69, sponsored by CM Greg Casar (co-sponsored by CMs Delia Garza, Ellen Troxclair, and Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo), would direct staff to convene a stakeholder group and draft recommendations for "non-criminal policies or practices" in handling curfew violations.

On Tuesday, Casar told his colleagues he would propose non-renewal, pending other solutions; it wasn't clear if there are six votes for both Items.

Another matter that is not precisely a returning postponement – more of a semi-permanent headache – is a proposal (Item 64) sponsored by CM Flannigan (with three co-sponsors) to add Austin Fire Department overtime to the City Auditor's 2017 audit list. Flannigan and CM Alison Alter want firmer explanations for AFD's persistent overtime needs – and the recent need for annual overtime funding from city's reserves.

A potential audit in a labor contract negotiation year – Flannigan's resolution specifically questions any role played by the collective bargaining agreement – triggered alarms at the Austin Firefighters Assoc­i­a­tion, and AFA President Bob Nicks has written Council "welcoming" the audit but arguing (as he has in public testimony) that "the collective bargaining agreement is not a significant overtime cost driver." Nicks said that until the AFD (operating under a federal consent decree over hiring discrimination) can be fully staffed, it will need to reduce non-essential programs to accommodate the necessary overtime costs. (The quick turnaround time requested by the resolution – i.e., an update by mid-August to precede the resumption of both contract negotiations and budget deliberations – might also raise some debate.)

A few other matters on the heavy (104 Item) agenda:

Public Improvements: No less than nine potential approvals (Items 5 to 13) for annual assessment rates for various "public improvement districts" paired with related public hearing postings. These might actually get done on consent, shortening the overall agenda.

Pay to Park: A Transportation Department proposal (Item 56) to add Wednesday to nighttime metered parking hours Down­town might evoke a lament or two.

Charter Election? Item 62 would establish a Charter Revision Commission, looking toward the fall of 2018 – specific recommendations to be determined in progress.

Central Health Conflict? The appointment of St. David's administrator Julie Oliver to the Central Health District board of directors was postponed earlier after questions arose of potential conflicts over the district's Seton relations – that argument might resume (Item 80).

Free the Lemons! The city's annual "Lemonade Day" waives regulations governing food stands to allow lemonade to be sold wherever – CM Troxclair (and co-sponsors) wants to make certain (Item 70) that kids' neighborhood lemonade stands are permanently freed from the specter of bureaucratic tyranny.

One proclamation of note: It's Dorothy Richter Day (aka The Mayor of Hyde Park, and Environmental Defender). And because there can never be too much surf rock, the musical honorees are the Avocados. It's all about that bass.

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