Austin City Council

Sara Jasmine Montgomery for KUT

From the Austin Monitor

Everyone is aware that Austin has major traffic problems, but not everyone agrees on how to fix them. A new report, however, may help bridge some of those gaps by presenting the 10 most popular ideas that community members generated and supported during an outreach effort earlier this year.

Mayor Steve Adler, City Council Member Ann Kitchen and others will attend a press conference Thursday morning to announce the release of the MobilityATX Findings Report, the outcome of a public-private partnership led by nonprofit think tank Glasshouse Policy aimed at mobilizing the public to help shape transportation policy in Austin.

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon/KUT

City of Austin ethics commissioners have decided they’ll hear two of four complaints filed against Austin City Council member Don Zimmerman. The two they decided not to hear? They were the ones focused on his use of social media at work — and a controversial post he made on Facebook.

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon/KUT

From the Austin Monitor:

Members of the Ethics Review Commission didn’t seem to know what to make of the four complaints lodged against Austin City Council Member Don Zimmerman. The charges, leveled by Mark Walters, a law clerk, forced the panel to explore the murky line between the public and private life of an elected official, a line that the world of social media has made all the more difficult to define.

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon/KUT News

More than 30 neighborhoods in Austin have a neighborhood plan, a document that lays out priorities for that part of the city. And each plan comes with a team made up of residents who make sure that new development projects fit the plan. But, at least one City Council member thinks these neighborhood plan contact teams need more oversight.

Miguel Gutierrez Jr./KUT

Along with passing a $3.5 billion operating budget for the new fiscal year, the Austin City Council has also passed a new fee schedule that includes an increase in fees Austinites may encounter several times a year.

This afternoon, two of Austin's City Council committees decided to drop the issue of fluoridated water.

The Public Utilities Committee and the Health and Human Services Committee met this afternoon to discuss the possibility of discontinuing the practice of adding fluoride to the city’s water supply, an issue raised in a resolution by District 6 Councilmember Don Zimmerman. 

Miguel Gutierrez Jr./KUT News

From our city hall reporting partner the Austin Monitor:

The city of Austin handles public information requests on the honor system – without oversight to ensure those who are inquiring receive all the information they request.

An investigation into how the honor system works found that public information requests to City Council offices and departments under the city manager are handled differently and that there is no standard training for Council offices.

Currently, when a public information request is entered into the city’s system, the Public Information Request Team sends the request to a designated point of contact in each respective office, according to the law department. The point of contact processes the department’s search and uploads responses back into the tracking system, without oversight.

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon/KUT

From our city hall reporting partner, the Austin Monitor:

City Council Member Don Zimmerman, who plans to run for re-election in 2016, has filed suit in federal court against the city of Austin, seeking to overturn four important provisions of the city’s campaign finance rules. If he wins, the changes would have an immediate and lasting impact on how elections are conducted and financed in Austin.

Miguel Gutierrez Jr./KUT News

The challenges of economic development and gentrification facing East Austin are nothing new. But they will get some new attention from a group of city council members convened by Mayor Steve Adler.  The group will be focusing on a part of the city some council members are calling the “eastern crescent.”

The exotic, almost alluring term “eastern crescent” was introduced recently into the city council lexicon. Council member Leslie Pool threw it out in a June audit and finance meeting. She was talking to city staff about a public improvement district in East Austin.

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon/KUT

From the Austin Monitor: Mayor Steve Adler reported Wednesday that his campaign still owes him more than $418,315. Adler’s campaign finance report indicates that he paid himself back $31,077 in January. However, the campaign has no money remaining to repay the rest.

Other mayors in the same situation, such as former Mayor Lee Leffingwell, have relied on fundraising after they left office to recoup some of their expenses. Leffingwell reported Wednesday that he had repaid himself $56,000 this year, leaving a debt close to $35,000.

Campaign finance reports were due on Wednesday from all City Council members and all Council candidates who had not previously closed down their accounts, as well as anyone else still spending or collecting funds.

Callie Hernandez/KUT News.

From the Austin Monitor: In January, there was a shake-up at City Hall, with Austin ushering in its first geographically based City Council. Now, six months later, what has it meant? Most obviously, a lot more meetings.

Videos available on the city’s website show that the amount of time the new Council had spent in meetings from February through June 23, 2015, increased approximately 121 percent over the previous Council during the same span in 2014 — from 152.6 hours to 337.9 hours.

City of Austin

From the Austin Monitor

While City Council members have almost 300 spots to fill on commissions and boards before current membership expires on July 1, some groups have adjourned their June meetings still uncertain about who will be seated next month.

With Commissioner Reynaldo Moreno absent, the Public Safety Commission last week voted unanimously to cancel its July meeting because members were not assured they would have a majority, or quorum, present.

“I’ve been putting the pressure on the mayor and Council to continue making appointments,” said Boards and Commissions Coordinator Deena Estrada. “There’s a lot of guilty emails going out, or my stomping of feet in front of the mayor’s office. I’ll send an email saying we now have only five boards that are able to meet quorum. … I can handle the guilt trip pretty well.”

Despite the fact that views among City Council members run the gamut as far as implementing a homestead tax exemption, they opted in a 7-4 vote to meet in the middle early Friday morning, approving a 6 percent exemption for this year and expressing an intent to increase it to 20 percent over the course of four years.

Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo and Council Members Greg Casar, Delia Garza and Ora Houston cast the dissenting votes.

Filipa Rodrigues/KUT

From the Austin Monitor:

Following the release of a report stating that Austin commercial property in Travis County is “significantly undervalued,” City Council is considering an appraisal challenge that could reduce the burden on residential property taxpayers.

Council discussed the potential move at a Tuesday work session, during which Budget Office and Law Department staff said the city would have to file a petition with the state’s Appraisal Review Board by June 1 in order to move forward this year.

If the independent board were to rule in favor of the city, the Travis Central Appraisal District would have to reappraise the Austin commercial properties for which it is responsible, potentially increasing their valuation.

KUT News

From our city hall reporting partner, the Austin Monitor:

The Austin Monitor has learned that Austin City Manager Marc Ott has placed Assistant City Manager Anthony Snipes on paid administrative leave. The move comes after news broke that Snipes had organized a controversial training designed to help staff cope with a female-majority City Council.

City of Austin

Austin city officials gathered for a press conference today to respond publicly to news, first reported by the Austin American-Statesman, about a training that city staff attended in March on how to work and interact with women. The training session, called "The Changing Dynamics in Governance: Women Leading in Local Government," apparently attempted to address "techniques" for working with the city's new majority-female city council.

City staffers attended the session, led by Jonathan Allen, now-former City Manager of Lauderdale Lakes, Florida, in which he taught that "if you attempt to use the same communication techniques, management techniques, that you use or attempted to use in a predominantly male environment, you will be making a serious error in your professional development. Because they don't process things in the same way."

Screenshot from Youtube.

Update Wednesday, April 15, 2015, 3:30 p.m. Council member Don Zimmerman confirmed that Rebecca Forest has stepped down from her appointment to the Immigrant Affairs Commission.

Of Forest's remarks, made at the 2011 rally (see the youtube video below), Zimmerman said, "I don't judge Rebecca Forest by a clumsy remark. I judge her based on ten years of knowing her, and she's not a bigoted person."

Ilana Panich-Linsman/KUT

It's been 100 days since the new Austin City Council and Mayor Steve Adler took office, and last night Adler delivered his first State of the City address.

It was a packed and very diverse event — with nearly a thousand in attendance — which was a change of pace from the typically subdued addresses of the past.

While the event was free and open to the public, it wasn't free for the Mayor. As he told reporters afterwards, he and his wife paid to rent AISD's Performing Arts Center for the occasion. While he didn't say how much it cost, he did say he also footed the bill for a set from Austin musician Max Frost, who performed "White Lies," perhaps a curious choice for a political event.

Nathan King/flickr

From the Austin Monitor: Before the Austin Animal Advisory Commission endorsed a proposed ordinance Wednesday banning the use of painful devices on circus animals, commissioners deliberated how the city should define a circus animal.

Members said the inclusion of lions, tigers and bears, plus other usual circus animals, was certainly right. However, Commissioner Babette Ellis worried that including horses and dogs might affect those animals traveling to the city for non-circus events, such as the upcoming Austin Kennel Club Dog Show.

Ilana Panich-Linsman/KUT News

From the Austin Monitor:

Following weeks of deliberation, the mayor and City Council offices are receiving a boost in staffing — at least for the next few months.

Council voted 9-2 Thursday to approve a resolution that will effectively add three full-time staff members to Mayor Steve Adler’s office and one full-time staff member to each Council office for the remainder of the current fiscal year, which ends Sept. 1. This will raise the number of staff members in Adler’s office from five to eight, and in each Council office from three to four.

Council Members Delia Garza and Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo cast the dissenting votes.