City Council
2:01 pm
Mon July 30, 2012

City Council Back With a Three-Peat This Week

After nearly a month off the Austin City Council is getting down to business, with three major meetings this week.

The fun starts Tuesday, as the council convenes for a work session. Instituted last year in the wake of alleged open meetings act violations, normally Tuesday work sessions are a chance for members to vet topics they’ll consider at their regular Thursday meetings. But this Tuesday’s meeting includes potential action on two long-simmering issues:

Discussion of November 2012 election matters and potential direction to staff.

This item could include matters related to the anticipated November bond election. 

Mayor Lee Leffingwell is on record saying the bond amount shouldn’t exceed $400 million – roughly how much the city can spend on bond projects without calling for a tax increase. 

Approve …  an ordinance placing a charter amendment on the November 2012 ballot to provide for some council members to be elected from geographic single-member districts and some council members to be elected at large.

If approved, this item would place a “hybrid” scenario for the election of council members before voters this November: eight individual, single-member districts, with the mayor and two additional  council members running citywide.

The move is at odds with Austinites for Geographic Representation’s (AGR) 10-1 district plan – 10 single-member districts, with only the mayor running at-large. AGR has gathered signatures to get their plan on the ballot this November, and have accused the council members behind the hybrid plan of acting out of self-interest. (When the hybrid item initially came before council on June 28, Mayor Lee Leffingwell and council members Laura Morrison, Chris Riley and Kathie Tovo voted aye; Mayor Pro Tem Sheryl Cole, and council members Mike Martinez and Bill Spelman voted nay. Any final election change, however, will be decided by voters.)  

If Tuesday’s meeting isn’t enough, Wednesday the council holds a special-called meeting delving into City Manager Marc Ott’s proposed city budget for Fiscal Year 2012-13.

When a preliminary version of the budget was first presented in April, it included a proposed 1.8 cent increase in the property taxes. But coming after a city election fought largely on issues of affordability, whether the tax increase is still in the cards is anybody’s guess.

Then on Thursday, the council convenes for its regular meeting – all 122 items worth.  A late addition to the agenda would finalize new regulations for short-term rentals (STRs) – vacation rentals found on sites like HomeAway.

The issue has proved polarizing, with opponents of so-called “commercial” STRs – properties that exists solely to be rented out – calling for stricter regulation, up to and including an outright ban.

Not that it needed any, but the city has inadvertently added more fuel to the fire: On Friday, a memo from the city was issued stating the city failed to publish notice of council’s initial STR vote in the Austin American-Statesman, as required by code – meaning that initial vote on STRs needs  to be voided, and held again with a new public hearing.

But later that day, the city found the misplaced notice of publication – dashing the hopes of commercial STR opponents that the city would be forced to revisit the issue anew.

All meetings are at Austin City Hall, and can be viewed online. Tuesday’s work session begins at 9 a.m.