Lee Leffingwell

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon / KUT News

Hundreds of people attended the swearing in of Austin's new mayor and City Council last night. Once the council chamber was full, people stood in stairways and hallways and watched on screens as the new council members delivered their first messages to the geographic districts that elected them.

The diversity of those in attendance was significant. In the crowd, there were toddlers in their parents' arms and folks whose age demanded they move with the help of canes. Some wore the most sophisticated brands and others wore simple attire. But the faces of those in the crowd were similar in that they all looked hopeful, according to political consultant and former journalist Mike Madison.

"Even the people here who do this for a living, who have to be here every week, who are going to be fighting with these people going forward on issues that come up – they're still not jaded. They wouldn't be anywhere else,” Madison said.

Update: Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell  delivered his final "State of the City" address today at noon.

Leffingwell's office billed the 40-minute speech as an overview of the mayor's two terms in office. Leffingwell was elected mayor in 2009 and 2012; Austin will elect a new mayor this November. Read below for a real-time report on the mayor's remarks. Video of the mayor's speech will be included in this post once it is available. 

That's a wrap: Leffingwell ends his speech with a call for interconnectedness going forward into single-member districts. On to a Q&A session with the crowd.

Not many major proclamations coming out of the mayor's address: calls for a medical school innovation district and urban rail were big moments from the mayor's speech last year. Still, the address can be viewed as doubling down on initiatives Leffingwell wants to accomplish before leaving office; as soon as his speech ended, his office issued a statement titled "Mayor defines focus for
 final 10 months in office."

Jeff Heimsath for KUT News

This article is written by KUT's Austin City Hall reporting partner, the Austin Monitor (formerly In Fact Daily). 

The City of Austin’s General Fund ended fiscal year 2013 with a $14.2 million surplus. That figure amounts to a roughly 1 percent variance from projections made by city staff.

Despite the positive figure, Austin’s Chief Financial Officer Elaine Hart told members of the Council’s Audit and Finance Committee Wednesday that management was not planning on coming forward with a mid-year budget adjustment.

Chris Haston/NBC

Last Thursday, 5.4 million fans watched the series finale of NBC’s Emmy-winning comedy “The Office.” Who knew that one of those fans was Mayor Lee Leffingwell – and that he would take the finale’s Austin-centric ending so seriously?

The longrunning series ended with Athlead – a fictional sports promotions company lead by John Krasinski’s character Jim Halpert – was moving business to Austin. This revelation earned a humorous backing from Mayor Leffingwell. He released a statement on his Facebook page giving a thumbs up to Austin’s latest corporate relocation.

Filipa Rodrigues for KUT News

There’s no City Council meeting this week: Instead, City Hall watchers’ eyes were on Mayor Lee Leffingwell’s 2013 State of the City address, delivered at a Real Estate Council of Austin luncheon on Tuesday.

Owing in part to Austin’s good fortunes, the mayor’s speech is traditionally a rosy affair, full of economic achievements. And that was the case this time:  “Austin, Texas is today, I think without question, one of the most widely admired and most emulated cities in America,” said Leffingwell in one of the speech’s many paeans to the city.

Filipa Rodrigues for KUT News

That's a Wrap: That does it for Mayor Leffingwell's remarks. At the bottom of this post, you can view a video of the mayor's remarks. And keep reading below for a recap of the mayor's speech. 

Wages for Construction Workers: Speaking about city economic incentives, Leffingwell says he does not support a hard wage floor for construction workers on projects receiving city benefits. "I don’t think we ought to change our economic incentive policy to make it an entry-level position," he says. Instead, he says a living wage floor should count as an additional credit to businesses applying for incentives. He also floats the idea of paying a wage difference with public funds.

Raymond Thompson for KUT News

If you’re looking for Mayor Lee Leffingwell this week, you may have to head beyond the dais. Mayor Leffingwell is joining fellow municipal leaders in Washington D.C. beginning Jan. 17, attending the U.S. Conference of Mayors 81st Winter Meeting.

Leffingwell will be listening to featured speakers including Vice President Joe Biden and members of  President Barack Obama’s cabinet, discussing issues facing America's mayors today.

Filipa Rodrigues for KUT News

Absent major opposition to the seven proposed Austin bond initiatives up for a vote next month, supporters of their package have focused their ire on the closest thing: the editorial board of the Austin-American Statesman.

Mayor Lee Leffingwell chairs a group in favor of the $385 million package, which would fund projects including transportation, open space acquisition, parks, housing, public safety, health and human services, and cultural facilities. Today, the Statesman published an op-ed Leffingwell wrote upbraiding the paper for an editorial he said “lacks context” and “inaccurately and unfairly” characterizes the issue.

Earlier this month, the Statesman published an editorial (“Be straight with voters on $385 million bond package”) that said if the bonds don’t pass, the property tax rate could decline two cents over time. (That’s because the portion of the tax rate that would pay for the new bond spending is the portion that is currently paying off existing bond projects; when those projects are completed, theoretically, the debt could be retired.)

But the Statesman took the additional step of saying city leaders weren’t being truthful when they said the package wouldn’t raise property taxes:

Tyler Pratt, KUT News

We heard it in August, when City Council unanimously voted to let city council negotiate an ACL two weekender with C3. Then we hear it on Monday, when ACL announced it had created a two-weekend ACL Festival. Well, in case there was a shadow of a doubt that it wouldn't happen, Mayor Lee Leffingwell announced today that ACL was indeed getting expanded.

Leffingwell doted on ACL for bringing in "a hundred thousand visitors with over a hundred million dollars in economic impact to our city every year," and creating over 1,400 jobs.  

KUT News

Any hopes for a quick adoption of the City of Austin’s annual city budget went out the window this morning, as a proposal from Mayor Lee Leffingwell for a flat two percent cut to departmental budgets created a heated discussion among City Council members.

Citing the impact of a proposed 2.2 cent increase to property taxes – just short of the maximum increase allowed by state law without a special election – Mayor Leffingwell called for a two percent cut to most of the city’s general fund departments, which would create approximate savings of $4.5 million. A 2.2 cent property tax increase would mean an additional $18 each month in city fees and taxes for the owner of a median-valued home (approximately $186,000).

Leffingwell excluded the city’s public safety departments (police, fire and EMS) from the cuts – departments that are the biggest portion of the general fund.

Mark Dewey for KUT News

Central Texas remains ready to help out with potential evacuees, as Hurricane Isaac – which was just downgraded to a tropical storm – moves slowly through southern Louisiana.

It’s not yet clear if the Red Cross will need to provide storm shelter in Austin. "We have shelters identified and teams of volunteers prepared to manage those shelters, though we haven’t seen those evacuees yet,” American Red Cross Central Texas Region Spokesperson Sara Kennedy says.

Kennedy adds that in Dallas, Red Cross shelters are now open.  But she says they haven’t seen very many evacuees so far.

Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell says in a statement that the City of Austin will provide help too, should it be needed.  

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:

Courtesy of The Trail Foundation

Officials from the City of Austin and The Trail Foundation teamed together to celebrate the official start of construction on the Lady Bird Lake Boardwalk.

The festivities brought together dozens of interested spectators, plus a Popsicle vendor, a mariachi band and water cannons courtesy of the Austin Fire Department. The boardwalk will close a 1.1-mile long gap in the trail circling Lady Bird Lake.

At the event, Mayor Lee Leffingwell said the project was about more than convenience for cyclists and joggers.

Photo by Daniel Reese for KUT News

Mayor Lee Leffingwell announced on Friday that he opposed putting urban rail funding before voters in 2012 – a move that effectively nixed rail’s funding chances in the November bond election, and raised another round of hand wringing over transportation solutions for Austin. KUT News spoke with Mayor Leffingwell shortly after his announcement.

KUT NEWS: I doubt there was any one variable that lead you to your decision, but what were your reasons?

Lee Leffingwell: It’s a whole bunch of things coming together, but underlying it is, we have not yet answered some of the basic questions. We might have an answer prior to November, but time is running short to get the complete picture in place and to be able to go out and market it. Because you don’t just put this on the ballot and go away and hope for the best. You’ve got to really present it to the public. There’s a full education process that goes on with something like this. You have to go out and explain it to people.

Photo by Filipa Rodrigues for KUT News

With 52.08 percent of the vote and only 20 precincts outstanding, incumbent Mayor Lee Leffingwell has declared victory.

Mayor Leffingwell just finished delivering a speech to supporters at Scholz Garten, where incumbent Austin City Council member Mike Martinez also recently celebrated success.

Leffingwell came out on top of his two challengers – former city council member Brigid Shea and community activist Clay Dafoe. Leffingwell has narrowly avoided a runoff, coming in with about 52 percent of the vote.

KUT News

City Elections Tomorrow

Election Day is tomorrow for the Austin municipal elections. Polls open at 7 a.m. and close at 7 p.m. Fourteen candidates are running for four seats on the Austin City Council, including mayor.

Perhaps the most closely watched aspect of the election is the challenge to Mayor Lee Leffingwell by former council member Brigid Shea. Shea accused Leffingwell earlier this week of violating campaign finance laws, and throughout the campaign, has maintained that Austin is becoming more unaffordable

That's a common refrain among political challengers – that they will protect the citizenry's collective pocketbook better than the last guy.  But in the case of Shea, currently a community strategist and consultant, the arrival of huge companies like Apple and Formula One cast her position in a different light. 

Photo by Mose Buchele

Mayoral candidate Brigid Shea accused her opponent, Mayor Lee Leffingwell, of breaking city campaign donation rules in front of City Hall today. 

At issue are thousands of dollars Mayor Leffingwell received at an event attended by supporters of Austin’s Formula One racetrack, the Circuit of the Americas.

Shea says because he received those checks at the same event he should have listed the host as a “bundler,” someone who solicits donations for a candidate and hands them over to a campaign in a “bundle.”

Photo courtesy pqui via Twitter

Today is "Top Chef Paul Qui" day in Austin.  Mayor Lee Leffingwell presented Qui with a certificate declaring the honor yesterday.

Earlier this year, Qui won the ninth season of Bravo's "Top Chef" – known as "Top Chef: Texas."

Qui posted a picture of the certificate on Twitter. It states that Qui represented Austin and the State of Texas admirably and has an official seal. Qui told Eater Austin the honor was "cool. I did not expect that at all."

KUT News

Powers Speaks Up for UT Admission Policies

University of Texas president William Powers Jr. defended UT’s admissions process, which looks at race as a factor, in The New York Times this weekend.

Powers applauded the university's "holistic review" policy, which allows it to look at more than just grades.

“If a company had 100 applications for five positions and just took the five with the highest grade point average without looking at anything else, I think people would be stunned,” he said. “Grades are important, but there are other important indicia, like leadership and diligence. Grades don’t tell us who is going to have a proclivity, or aptitude, for geosciences, fine arts or teaching.”

Photo by Filipa Rodrigues for KUT News

KUT News is in City Council Chambers at City Hall this afternoon, as Mayor Lee Leffingwell delivers his annual State of the City address. We're live blogging the speech, so refresh this page for updates. 

12:44pm: Wrapping up. "We can and will leave Austin a better place than how we found it, and that’s saying something." And ... that's it! 

12:41pm: Leffingwell issuing a call to bring together government, business, non-profits to address “one of Austin’s biggest challenges: our rapidly growing aging population.” Announces Mayor’s Task Force on Aging.

Leffingwell cites a study saying  the Austin metro region has the third largest population nationwide of residents over 65 years of age. Also cites a high percentage of baby boomers, meaning more soon-to-be seniors. Personally announces he aims to raise $50,000.