Austin Monitor

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.

Gabriel Cristover Perez

From our city reporting partner the Austin Monitor:

Amid concerns that Fun Fun Fun Fest would not take place this November at Vic Mathias Shores, City Council has intervened in negotiations between festival organizers and the city’s Parks and Recreation Department to ensure that it goes forward as planned.

Council unanimously passed a resolution Thursday directing Parks and Recreation Department staff to allow organizer Transmission Events to use up to 1 acre of a newly renovated off-leash dog park to accommodate the event, which will take place Nov. 6-8.

CTRMA Announces MoPac Project Delay, Again

Jul 30, 2015
MoPac Improvement Project

From our city reporting partner, the Austin Monitor: Mike Heiligenstein, the executive director for the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority, told board members Wednesday that the MoPac Improvement Project is expected to be fully operational sometime in the second half of 2016, a far cry from its originally stated Sept. 17, 2015, completion date.

Lead contractor CH2M Hill is responsible for the design and construction of CTRMA’s express lane project, which affects MoPac from Cesar Chavez Street to Parmer Lane. But the originally budgeted $200 million proposal has seen numerous delays because of labor shortages, drilling problems, weather issues, continual run-ins with unidentified utility infrastructure and debatably differing site conditions than those originally agreed upon, Heiligenstein said.

Miguel Gutierrez Jr./KUT

From the Austin Monitor:

Although the city’s Parks and Recreation Department ordered the repair of an East Austin neighborhood pool in late April, it appears that the department had bids for the work for some time. This, even as department officials initially told residents that the pool would have to be closed for the 2015 summer season and then back-tracked under community pressure.

On Nov. 5, 2014 (see below), the Parks Department received a bid from Commercial Swim Management for Metz Pool repairs totaling $10,232.60. Those repairs included replacement of the plumbing in a pool wall drain and installation of new valves and piping. That bid was eventually approved, and a purchase request was made by the city on April 30, 2015.

Audrey McGlinchy/Austin Monitor

From the Austin Monitor:

Residents opposed to a proposed 65-room boutique hotel at 1207 East Cesar Chavez St. told the Planning Commission on Tuesday night that they do not want to see their neighborhood become “another Rainey Street.” At the meeting, several residents held signs that read, “Don’t Rain-ey on our Chavez … No East Side Hotel.”

Commissioners agreed that the hotel should not go up in East Austin, and a motion to approve a conditional use permit failed (Commissioner Richard Hatfield created the motion, but none of the other four commissioners present seconded it).

flickr.com/lidocaineus

From the Austin Monitor: After hearing from several opponents of the proposed ordinance to require scrubbers on the smokestacks of restaurants that smoke meat, the City Council Committee on Economic Development voted unanimously Monday against supporting the ordinance.

Council Member Ora Houston made the motion not to pursue an ordinance initially proposed by Council Member Pio Renteria. Houston moved that individual complaints be referred to Code Compliance or the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.

Travis County Commissioners Ponder Drunk-Tank Proposal

May 6, 2015
AlexVan/pixabay

From the Austin Monitor:

The Travis County Commissioners Court took another tentative step toward establishing a sobriety center in partnership with the City of Austin at its regular voting session. Perhaps better known colloquially as a drunk tank, the proposed sobriety center would serve as an alternative to Travis County Jail or local emergency rooms as destinations for people detained for public intoxication.

On Tuesday, the commissioners voted 4-0 to direct the brain trust behind the effort to come up with specific proposals for the center’s governance that the county and city can then consider. Commissioner Ron Davis abstained from the vote, citing unanswered questions about the exact role the city would play in the center’s establishment and operation.

Miguel Gutierrez, Jr./KUT News

KUT and our city hall reporting partner the Austin Monitor are looking at needs that have typically been paid for by the state, but have become local responsibilities. Some call them unfunded mandates. KUT News and the Austin Monitor will look at key examples of that interaction in our series, “The Buck Starts Here.”  Today, Tyler Whitson and Terrence Henry take on transportation.

Sarah Jasmine Montgomery/KUT

KUT and our city hall reporting partner the Austin Monitor are looking at needs that have typically been paid for by the state, but have become local responsibilities. Some call them unfunded mandates. KUT News and the Austin Monitor will look at key examples of that interaction in our series, “The Buck Starts Here.”  Today, Tyler Whitson and Kate McGee take on education.

Jennifer Mullins is sitting in her office at Eastside Memorial High School when a staff member comes in and asks for a stress ball. There’s a student outside that needs help. Mullins walks out the door and immediately takes control. 

"Hey bud, hey! Stress ball! Just breathe," Mullins says.  The student was having a negative reaction to a medication.

Mullins is one of two school counselors at Eastside Memorial High School who handles both emotional and academic support. Every student there is labeled at-risk. Mullins says she spends half her time dealing with students' needs outside the classroom.

Nathan Bernier/KUT News

KUT and our city hall reporting partner the Austin Monitor are looking at needs that have typically been paid for by the state, but have become local responsibilities. Some call them unfunded mandates. KUT News and the Austin Monitor will look at key examples of that interaction in our series, “The Buck Starts Here.”  Today, Tyler Whitson and Kate McGee take on education.

It’s no secret that public education in Texas faces funding challenges, and the Austin Independent School District may be the perfect poster child for the issue. While the district sends more tax revenue to the state annually for redistribution than any other, it implemented austerity measures in 2008 and has been dipping into its reserves since 2012.

AISD Chief Financial Officer Nicole Conley stressed the issue when she spoke with the Austin Monitor. “We're utilizing our reserves to really maintain funding that we know is important for students,” she said.

Miguel Gutierrez, Jr./KUT News

KUT and our city hall reporting partner the Austin Monitor are looking at needs that have typically been paid for by the state, but have become local responsibilities. Some call them unfunded mandates. KUT News and the Austin Monitor will look at key examples of that interaction in our series, “The Buck Starts Here.”  Today, we take on Austin’s highways. You can read Tyler Whitson's companion piece over at the Austin Monitor.

We hear it all the time: Austin’s growing too fast, and we don’t have enough housing or roads for the people already here, not to mention the million more people that will be in the region in a little over a decade. To better accommodate an influx of people and cars, new additions are being planned for several of the region’s major highways. 

But there’s no such thing as a free ride on most of these new lanes, and to understand why, it helps to do a little time traveling.

Sarah Jasmine Montgomery/KUT

Travis County and the City of Austin take part in a regular fiscal dance with the State of Texas over who pays the costs of government. Over the next three days, KUT News and the Austin Monitor will look at key examples of that interaction in our series, “The Buck Starts Here.” Today, we take on Austin’s Municipal Courts. 

When Austin residents are handed traffic tickets or other Municipal Court fees and fines, they likely assume that the city is profiting handsomely from those often colorful sheets of paper. If they could see where those revenues go, however, they might come to a different conclusion.

In fact, the city’s current budget projects that the court will face a roughly $3.7 million shortfall in the fiscal year that started in October by incurring about $19.7 million in general expenses and pulling in about $16 million in general revenue. On top of that, it projects that the court will fall short in three of its special revenue funds and break even on the fourth.

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

Update Thursday April 2, 2015, 4:20 p.m. At today’s meeting, the Austin City Council voted to start a stakeholder input process on possibly regulating barbecue smoke from restaurants.

Recommendations will be made by the city manager to the Health and Human Services Committee and the Economic Opportunity Committee. After July 31, there will be another chance for public comment.

ORIGINAL STORY from the Austin Monitor: In response to owners of barbecue restaurants worried about their future in Austin, City Council Member Pio Renteria is making some changes to his resolution directing city staff to create rules to regulate smoke from commercial barbecue smokestacks.

Originally, the resolution was written to require restaurants and mobile food vendors who use a wood or charcoal burning stove or grill within 150 feet of properties zoned residential to install exhaust systems called smoke scrubbers or similar devices.

MoPac Boulevard Project Completion Delayed

Mar 26, 2015
Courtesy of MoPac Improvement Project

From the Austin Monitor:

Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority officials announced Wednesday that a fully operational MoPac Boulevard may not happen until the end of the year. While the announcement currently delays construction only three-and-a-half months, officials said they were not confident they could complete the work even then.

Sue Jones/wikimedia commons

From the Austin Monitor:

Even though City Council froze the transfer from Austin Energy to the city’s general fund at $105 million in 2012, the amount the utility pays for support services has continued to grow. For the current fiscal year, the utility will fund more than $20 million for support services as well as to departments that may or may not have much to do with the utility.

The transfer, of course, is like a dividend payment to the taxpayers, reducing the amount they would have to pay to fund the city. It is used to defray costs and reduce taxes. The city uses various methods to allocate administrative costs, some of them intuitively obvious, but others not.

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.

Jeff Heimsath/KUT News

From the Austin Monitor:

Mayor Steve Adler is trying to boost the chances that his 10 City Council colleagues will vote for a resolution directing the city manager to identify funding options for five new members of the mayor’s staff — at a projected annual cost of $490,645.

Even if Council approves the resolution today, it does not guarantee that his colleagues will vote to spend the money when the answers come back.

Last night, employing a tactic heretofore unseen by the Monitor, Adler sent out an email asking his supporters for help in approving a larger staff for his office. Adler took the unorthodox step of requesting that his supporters email other Council members to promote his plan.

From the Austin Monitor:

Terrell Blodgett, professor emeritus at the LBJ School of Public Affairs, has written to Mayor Steve Adler and his City Council colleagues expressing concern about the mayor’s plan to add more staff for his office and lecturing him on the fact that the mayor has no more power than any of his Council colleagues or mayors before him.

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.

Pages