Austin City Council

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 for KUT News

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.

Joshua Bousel

Austin has experienced a barbecue renaissance over the last five years with national accolades pouring on the likes of Franklin Barbecue, La Barbecue and John Mueller Meat Co. Now some people living near the smoke pits are complaining about the smell.

District Three City Council Member Sabino “Pio” Renteria wants the city manager to come up with rules to clamp down on barbecue trailers and restaurants located near residential areas. 

Liang Shi/KUT News

From the Austin Monitor:

Those familiar with the previous City Council’s strict adherence to procedural rules have been left dizzy by the new Council’s first few meetings. Last week, during the Garza Ranch discussion about the maximum allowable number of vehicle trips per day on the tract, that confusion reached new heights — and after some investigation, the Austin Monitor remains unable to determine who, if anyone, made the final amendment to the motion that was approved on first reading.

Callie Hernandez for KUT News

Austin Mayor Steve Adler wants to hire more staff. The rationale for his request: The city's needs are great and need more people to be solved. City Council members agree with that. What they don't agree on is how to pay for additional staff.

Ilana Panich-Linsman/KUT News

From the Austin Monitor:

After hearing strong opposition from his colleagues as well as others, Mayor Steve Adler is proposing a complete revamp of his plan for additional staffing in the Mayor’s office.

Adler told the Austin Monitor Thursday that he would be pulling down his proposal to fund additional staff for the Mayor’s office through the Better Austin Foundation. Adler said he expects to have a total of nine staff members. He currently has four on his staff plus Sara Hartley, who is on loan from the public works department.

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon/KUT

Officially, the Austin City Council meets every other week. This would've been an off week. But, this new council has so much to learn and so much to do that unofficially, it meets virtually all the time.

In a special called meeting today, the council will try to work out how the new meetings system will work.

KUT News

From the Austin Monitor:

There are only two subsidized housing developments in City Council Member Don Zimmerman’s District 6, as compared to 47 in Council Member Ora Houston’s District 1 and 46 in Council Member Pio Renteria’s District 3, according to data compiled by the group Housing Works Austin.

But Zimmerman would like to make sure there is not another one in District 6. He is particularly opposed to the Cardinal Point Apartments that are to be developed by Foundation Communities, Inc. at 11011 1/2 Four Points Drive.

KUT News

From the Austin Monitor:

District 6 City Council Member Don Zimmerman may be headed back to court, but this time as a defendant in a criminal prosecution.

On Thursday, Aleshire LAW PC attorney Bill Aleshire filed a criminal complaint against Zimmerman with the Travis County Attorney and the Texas Ethics Commission.

Filipa Rodrigues/KUT News

Now that the new Austin City Council is in place, it faces a challenge: On the one hand, council members know just how necessary affordable housing is. Virtually all of them ran on an "affordability" platform.

Advocates will tell you Austin is short tens of thousands of housing units specifically for low-income residents. Non-profits have been working hard in recent years to building more affordable housing (below-market rate units for low- and middle-income residents, often subsidized through public and/or private funding).

Courtesy of City of Austin

The Austin City Council met Thursday in what was its first official meeting under 10-1. The mood was like the first day of school after a long summer break.

Austin Mayor Steve Adler said he felt like back in his junior high school days when he won his first election for class president. He read from a copy of "Robert’s Rules of Order," a book his father gave him to conduct focused and effective meetings, citing an inscription written in the book by his deceased father.

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon/KUT

The city's Ethics Review Commission (ERC) is looking for ways to update Austin’s campaign finance rules for two simple reasons.

One, the language is very complicated. And two, the limits that are in place haven't been updated in a long time. The ERC is meeting tonight to hear from Austinites about how to spruce up the rules.

Anyone with ideas as to how the ERC can make the language on campaign finance rules more understandable, can post those ideas at or can attend the public meeting at City Hall at 7 p.m.