Bill Spelman

For almost 10 years, traffic deaths were relatively low in Austin. Then last year they spiked. Now two city council members want a study to look into why so many people died on Austin’s roads in 2012.

Austin City Council Member Laura Morrison is certain that population growth cannot be the reason for so many traffic deaths. At least, not the only reason.  “We got to figure out why,” Morrison says. “That spike and that increase is actually a trend that we are seeing nationwide. So, I suspect there’s something going on much more generally across the nation that our increase might be related to.”

Filipa Rodrigues for KUT News

Austin City Council members will hear from residents today about the city’s budget and the proposed property tax rate.

The proposed tax rate is up approximately 2 cents from last year – making it a little over 50 cents per $100 of taxable property value.

Council members are scheduled to adopt the city’s budget next month, in a series of meetings starting Sept. 10. Today’s public hearings are scheduled to start at 10 a.m. in the council chambers, and as always, you can watch the action online.

Council member Bill Spelman is expected to return today, after a medical absence to remove a tumor from his pancreas.

With Austin City Council member Bill Spelman still off the dais – recovering from surgery to remove a tumor on his pancreas – Mayor Lee Leffingwell paid tribute to council’s resident policy wonk with (what else?) a PowerPoint presentation this morning.

“We fully expect Council Member Bill Spelman to rejoin us soon, but I think it’s important that he know how things are going at City Hall in his absence,” Mayor Leffingwell said at the start of today’s council meeting. “So I’ve asked my staff to do some statistical analysis on how the business of the city is conducted in your absence, Bill.”

The admittedly crude presentation looked at four areas, inspiring the following color commentary from hizzoner:

Filipa Rodrigues for KUT News

Update: Here's a statement from Mayor Lee Leffingwell on his dais mate, Bill Spelman: 

“Bill is a good friend and colleague. Our thoughts and prayers are with him and his family as he works through this difficult process. All of us at City Hall will be working closely with Bill to make sure he and his staff have all the support they need during this time. I look forward to having him back on the dais as soon as he is able.”

Original post: Austin City Council Member Bill Spelman will be absent from the dais for weeks as he deals with a pancreatic tumor, according to a statement just released from his office. 

“Just removing the tumor may not be enough to solve the problem,” Spelman says in a statement. “We won't know what kind of follow-up attention I'll need until after surgery.  But the doctors have assured me I can be in the classroom on the first day of the Fall semester, and I expect to get back on the council dais even sooner than that.” 

Photo by Filipa Rodrigues for KUT News

Despite facing down six opponents in his Place 5 re-election bid, Bill Spelman did surprisingly well, winning a second consecutive term without a runoff.  

With 217 of 237 precincts in, Spelman collected 58 percent of the vote. His nearest competitor, Dominic Chavez, only garnered 19 percent.

"This kind of validates one of those things I've been thinking about Austin politics for a long time," Spelman told KUT News. "Even though there's no way you can be on the city council without making everybody angry at least some of the time, in the long run the vast majority of people will forgive you because they understand that. And because they understand you can't govern a great city and have everybody agree on everything all of the time. There's too many differences of opinion in a highly political place like Austin."

Photo by Paulo Martins, KUT News

The race for a seat on the Austin City Council may get a little more interesting.

When Place 5 council member Bill Spelman ran in 2009, he was unopposed. It was pretty easy to see why: As a former council member (serving from 1997 to 2000), he had name recognition with the core of Austin voters who reliably turn out for Austin elections. His work since at the University of Texas raised his stature on police and public safety which are perennial topics in local contests. At one point, his name was even floated as a potential mayoral challenger.

But in his re-election bid, Spelman has some competition.

Today, Dominic Chavez announced his candidacy in Place 5. Chavez serves as senior director for external relations at the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, a state agency that works with Texas colleges.

The Austin City Council will hold another public hearing on Austin Energy’s proposed rate increases this Thursday. If it’s anything like the last hearing, expect dozens and dozens of citizens to speak in protest of the proposal.

But with opinion divided on how best to proceed, and the policy debate arguably mutating into a political issue as campaign season begins, it’s uncertain exactly when the increases will be settled. And as council members are inching toward a solution, so far it’s been on separate paths.

Mayor Lee Leffingwell was the first to prominently, publicly address electricity rate hikes outside of council chambers. In a blog post, he gave five reasons he opposed the increase as drafted. He also offered some suggestions on how to improve the proposal. He suggested phasing in the increases -- including a base amount of power in the controversial based changes the utility’s proposed (which would increase from $6 to $22) -- and applauding “time-of-use’ billing that would charge more during peak system times.

Council member Bill Spelman went further late last week, releasing a thorough “starting point” for discussion of rate increases. One of Spelman’s most notable proposals is to reduce the $22 in base fees to $15, and have that amount include 250 kilowatt hours of electricity. He also wants to waive those base fees for low income customers.

At today’s City Council meeting, an ordinance requiring disclaimers at pregnancy centers was repealed. Pregnancy centers are religiously-motivated establishments that test for pregnancy but don’t provide abortions or refer to abortion providers.

But moments later, council approved a revised version of the ordinance, one they felt was on firmer legal ground.

Both measures passed on a unanimous, 6-0 vote (with Mayor Lee Leffingwell out of town for today’s meeting).

As we previously reported, the ordinance the council passed in 2010 required disclaimers at pregnancy centers stating they did not provide abortions, birth control, or medical devices.

Photo courtesy

Two proposals pertaining to Austin City Council action requiring disclaimers at “pregnancy centers” appear to be on a collision course.

Pregnancy centers have emerged as a controversial concept in recent years. Medically-styled businesses that offer resources to pregnant women, the centers do not offer abortions, or refer clients to abortion clinics.

Critics have charged that such centers push an anti-abortion agenda on young and confused clients, and that the resources some clinics deliver are decidedly minimal – basic information, and referrals to other state or city resources.

In Texas, their emergence has become even more pronounced as the state recently released a dramatically reduced list of state-financed women’s health clinics.