The Austin Chronicle

Conflicts of Interest at City Hall

Give and take, everywhere you look

By Nina Hernandez, September 28, 2018, News

Tourism Commission commotion continues, now with more accusations of conflicts of interest along the dais. Most targeted has been Texas Hotel & Lodging Association President Scott Joslove, a registered lobbyist with the state who until January had also been registered with the city. Joslove's been accused of being in the pocket of the hotel lobby, and therefore hellbent beyond reason on expanding the Convention Center, but said this week that his state status shouldn't interfere with his participation on the commission.

However, city code does refer to a three-year cooling-off period between "the date that the person ceases to be registered" or "is required to be registered," and when a person can serve on a board or commission. Joslove said that he has never had a city lobbying client, but that he registered in previous years out of an abundance of caution. When the city finally told him he didn't have to register if he wasn't taking money from clients, he stopped.

Simultaneously, on the other end, there's been talk about commissioner and longtime activist Bill Bunch, and whether or not his ongoing lawsuit against Visit Austin – the Convention Center's marketing arm – represents a conflict of interest. Bunch sued the Convention and Visitors Bureau last May in an effort to look deeper into the agency's finances, in particular how it spends money earned through the hotel occupancy tax, and over time has advocated to steer more of those dollars away from the Convention Center and into other interests. Those on Joslove's side believe Bunch's lawsuit prevents him from maintaining neutrality on commission issues. Reached Tuesday, Bunch said he couldn't see how the lawsuit presents any conflict.

Pool Fees

As this summer's swimming season fades into memory, the Parks and Recreation Department announced the particulars of the system's new fee schedule, to go into effect Oct. 1. City Council approved the changes earlier this year, along with the mammoth Aquatic Master Plan that included a recommended fee hike to beef up the historically underfunded aquatics division. The changes (laid out at right) will raise the Aquatic Maintenance General Fund by about $1 million, allowing the maintenance team to perform sorely needed repairs and upgrades across the city.

Sick Leave for All (City Employees)

The Human Resources Department updated Council on Tuesday on its efforts to implement earned sick leave for city employees, including those who work part time or temporary hours. Staff is ready to implement the program on Oct. 1, meaning this bloc of the city workforce will be able to start earning up to three hours of sick leave per paycheck.

Not a Full Load ... Yet

Council doesn't meet this week, but will be back for another regular meeting on Thursday, Oct. 4. Right now there's a paltry 59 Items on that deck, but we've got plenty of time and opportunity for addenda. Members are poised to take up the Cultural Arts Fund deficit that caused major upset at the Arts Commission's last two meetings, and Council's sure to hear about it from irritated arts and cultural heritage groups.

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