Ora’s Last Stand?

Running circles around City Council

Illustration by Chronicle Art Staff / Getty Images

It's not uncommon for City Council Member Ora Houston to raise a concern during a Tuesday work session, provoke an extended argument, refuse to be mollified, and then ascend to the dais on Thursday prepared to have almost the same exact discussion. As a reporter, it's useful to be able to telegraph entire discussions days in advance, but the habit is often a waste of time. Whoever replaces the retiring Houston will hopefully spend more time working through the issues.

Case in point: Last week's extended discussion over the route for the Austin Marathon (scheduled for Sunday, Feb. 17, 2019), which moved into Houston's Eastside district last year. Houston attempted to frame the issue as one of religious liberty, because churches on the proposed route complained to her office about the disruption. "We're talking about the quality of life for people that have been disenfranchised for a long time in this city," she said last Thursday.

While marathons are a fun and often engaging civic event that only affect traffic once a year, they can be a nuisance for anyone who lives within the vicinity of the lengthy route and would like to get somewhere else in town, or anyone trying to drive through the area. But as Delia Garza pointed out on both Tuesday and Thursday, the event is going to cause headaches wherever the route extends. For instance, had event planners heeded Houston's suggestion of placing the marathon out by the Circuit of Americas, Garza would've had to field the same calls from her own constituents that Houston wants to avoid herself.

Houston's concerns are at least understandable, even if you don't agree. But during a Thursday grilling from fellow Council Member Alison Alter, event organizer Dan Carroll admitted he'd asked Houston's office for a better option and hadn't been given one. "I've worked with Council Member Houston, I believe as much as she would like me to," said Carroll. Questioned further by Ellen Troxclair, Carroll reminded Council that the current path is one Houston helped to modify last year.

Ultimately the Item to grant the marathon a permit waiver passed, with Houston and Troxclair voting against. Houston thanked her colleague for standing up for religious freedom. I thank both of them for their service and look forward to seeing their replacements on the next Council.

About Animal Control

Anyone half-watching Citizen Com­mun­i­cation for the past year or so can attest to an organized effort on the part of Austin Animal Center volunteers to raise the alarm at Council about issues – particularly overcrowding – at the city's Eastside shelter. Last week, the mayor and Council received an update on that issue from Assistant City Manager Sara Hensley, who reported that the office has completed "multiple promotions and media to help with the influx of animals." Another concern is a distemper outbreak, which AAC and Austin Pets Alive! are tackling in tandem.

According to the memo, the Animal Services department is working to staff six and a half permanent positions within animal care and customer services. The department is also hiring a couple of animal care and enrichment staff, which volunteers have been hollering about for a while now. But it'll take a lot more work to soothe the concerns of those volunteers, who altogether donated nearly 60,000 hours of time to the shelter last fiscal year.

Looking Ahead …

Council is off this week, but will return next Thursday, Nov. 1, to discuss its 2019 meeting schedule, a resolution directing City Manager Spencer Cronk to look at Travis County Expo Center renovation plans, and a full slate of zoning cases, among other things.

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Ora Houston, Austin Marathon, Delia Garza, Ellen Troxclair, Alison Alter, Dan Carroll

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