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Whispers

Monday, December 5, 2016 by Nina Hernandez

City settles with officer in David Joseph shooting

Geoffrey Freeman, the former Austin Police Department officer who shot and killed 17-year-old David Joseph in February, settled with the city on Friday, Dec. 2. The $35,000 payout guarantees that Freeman will never work for APD again and allowed the city to cancel an arbitration meeting originally scheduled for today. Interim City Manager Elaine Hart said the agreement “eliminates any possibility that Mr. Freeman could return to APD.” City Council Member Ora Houston praised the deal in a statement: “I supported Chief (Art) Acevedo’s decision to terminate Officer Freeman’s employment, and I support Interim City Manager Hart’s decision to resolve Mr. Freeman’s employment dispute with the City without taking a chance during arbitration.”


Monday, December 5, 2016 by Nina Hernandez

Second annual [Re]Verse Pitch closes Tuesday

Help further Austin’s zero-waste goals by attending the city’s second annual [Re]Verse Pitch competition, where local companies come up with ideas for recycling each other’s unwanted items into a new product or service. The business or nonprofit with the best idea wins the $10,000 Innovation Prize. Here’s a taste of some of the proposals: ACL survival bags, Pulp Fashion and hyperlocal tarps. The finals will take place tomorrow at 6 p.m. at Atlassian, 303 Colorado St., and are free and open to the public with RSVP. Find more information at www.reversepitch.org.


Friday, December 2, 2016 by Nora Ankrum

Drink beer. Save the princess (a seat).

City officials, financiers, foreign dignitaries, beer aficionados and possibly a princess will be rubbing elbows this weekend at the ribbon-cutting ceremony for Mort Subite, a new downtown pub – and recipient of help from the city’s Family Business Loan Program – that promises to be Austin’s “only Belgium beer pub with imported and hard-to-find Belgium brews,” according to an announcement from the city about the event. As must be true for any Belgian-style pub worth its salt, the guest list for the dedication ceremony includes Didier Reynders, Belgium’s deputy prime minister and minister of foreign and European affairs, who is in town with Belgium’s Princess Astrid on a “mission to develop trade ties between Belgium and Texas,” according to the city’s announcement. Reynders will be speaking at the ceremony, as will Mort Subite’s Jim Houchins, Kevin Johns of the city’s Economic Development Department and Shasi Wilson of ABC Bank. The schmoozing begins on Sunday at 4 p.m. and takes place at Mort Subite, 308 Congress Ave.


Friday, December 2, 2016 by Jack Craver

Ordinance on harassment and discrimination approved

City Council voted 7-1 Thursday to approve an ordinance brought forward by Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo to update definitions of harassment and discrimination as part of the city’s ongoing revamp of personnel policies. In response to concerns raised by the union representing city employees, however, the final resolution did not include language regarding employee behavior off the job. In an interview with the Austin Monitor, Tovo noted that employees can still be accountable for off-duty conduct due to other provisions of the city’s civil service code. Staff from the Human Resources Department said they will continue to review how to address harassment and discrimination by employees outside of work and will bring that forward as part of the broader overhaul of personnel policies. The lone vote against the resolution was Council Member Don Zimmerman, who said that definitions of harassment were subjective and invited abuse by employees.

This whisper has been corrected. City Council approved an ordinance Thursday, not a resolution.


Friday, December 2, 2016 by Elizabeth Pagano

Density bonus bonus

One of the ways in which the city is able to create affordable housing is through density bonus programs, which grant extra entitlements in exchange for community benefits such as affordable housing or money that will be used to build affordable housing. And now, enter the folks at CodeNEXT, who have, in the process of rewriting the Land Development Code, analyzed the potential for density bonus programs in Austin and are ready to deliver their preliminary findings. Specifically, on Tuesday, Dec. 6, a stakeholder meeting will be held to weigh input on this memo and these maps at the Neighborhood Housing and Community Development Office, Room 400A, which is located at 1000 E. 11th St.


Friday, December 2, 2016 by Nina Hernandez

No more (alphabet) soup for you

The city’s public health department has made a long-overdue name change in the interest of clarity. The Austin/Travis County Health and Human Services Department will now be known as Austin Public Health. In a Thursday press release, the department said it hopes the change will make it easier for people to remember its name. The office, which in addition to immunizations and health screenings also offers job assistance and STD testing, acknowledged the change as a “rare event” but said it hopes it’s a step forward in connecting to the community. For more information on Public Health and its mission, visit www.austintexas.gov/health.


Thursday, December 1, 2016 by Caleb Pritchard

CTRMA remains committed to vague MoPac completion deadline

The MoPac Improvement Project is still on track to be completed sometime in the first half of 2017. That was the word on Wednesday from Steve Pustelnyk, director of community relations at the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority. The broad time range reflects the level of caution the authority has adopted after multiple embarrassing delays on a project that was originally set to open in September 2015. This fall, the CTRMA opened up a section of the brand new northbound toll lane above FM 2222. Since then, Pustelnyk said, the lane has seen an average of 3,299 weekday transactions and an average toll rate of $0.53.


Thursday, December 1, 2016 by Caleb Pritchard

Central Health wants to hear from you

Central Health is holding a public hearing to gather input and ideas for an upcoming self-checkup. Facing pressure from activists who have claimed that the hospital district acts with little transparency, outgoing President Patricia Young Brown in October agreed to hire an outside consultant to review Central Health’s planning, budgeting and organizational performance. The hearing is aimed at gathering feedback for thoughts on how the review should proceed. “Public input is vital to the overall success of the performance review, which will help guide the essential work Central Health performs,” said Katrina Daniel, chair of the Central Health board of managers, in a press release. The hearing starts at 5 p.m. on Wednesday, Dec. 7, and will be held at the district’s headquarters at 1111 E. Cesar Chavez St. If you can’t make it, you can participate in an online survey between Dec. 7 and Dec. 14 at the health district’s website.


Thursday, December 1, 2016 by Nora Ankrum

District 10 candidate forum available online

Voters had the opportunity Tuesday night to hear from the two District 10 City Council candidates ahead of the runoff election to be held Dec. 13. Council Member Sheri Gallo was joined at City Hall by her challenger, Alison Alter, for a forum co-hosted by the city and the Austin chapter of the League of Women Voters. For those who missed it, a video of the event is available on the ATXN site, embedded below. Early voting for the election begins today and runs through Dec. 9. Information on voting locations is available here.


Thursday, December 1, 2016 by Nina Hernandez

Get thee to the City Summit

The Austin Monitor and Glasshouse Policy invite state and local leaders to the third annual City Summit, a two-day policy extravaganza that runs Dec. 2-3 at Google Fiber Space, 201 Colorado St. The two days feature panels on broadband access in rural areas, the future of ride-sharing and our ever-controversial public school finance system. One of many highlights: On Saturday, City Council Member Don Zimmerman will cross wits with Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhart on annexation and land acquisition policies, which is sure to be a treat. Wonks should also note the talk on the development of unzoned land in the city, which will continue to cause many heated battles in the years to come. More information and a detailed schedule are available here.


Wednesday, November 30, 2016 by Caleb Pritchard

Lewis remains in the running for Central Health board of directors seat

After interviewing four candidates for an open seat on the Central Health board of directors on Tuesday, the Travis County Commissioners Court voted to make one of the hospital district’s most outspoken critics its runner-up choice. The court spent the afternoon interviewing four candidates for the position. Last but not least in the batting order was attorney Fred Lewis, who has spent the fall publicly advocating for more transparency and accountability at Central Health. During his interview, Lewis said that, if appointed, he would fight for better community engagement and rebuild trust in its mission to provide health care for the poor. He noted several times that his open records requests with the district have turned up very little in response. He also complained about a lack of specific metrics of success regarding Central Health’s annual $35 million allocation to the University of Texas’ Dell Medical School. After the interviews, Commissioner Margaret Gomez moved to recommend Lewis for the appointment, which drew a second from Commissioner Brigid Shea. However, Commissioner Gerald Daugherty predicted that putting Lewis on the Central Health board could sour relations between the district and the court. County Judge Sarah Eckhardt acknowledged “the desperate hunger in the community for metrics” that Lewis referred to, but she concluded that LBJ School of Public Affairs Professor Abigail Aiken was the best candidate for the job. Eckhardt offered a substitute motion to that end, which Daugherty seconded. After further parliamentary dancing, the court voted 3-1-1 to designate Aiken as the court’s primary preference with Lewis as the runner-up. Daugherty voted against the recommendation, and Commissioner Ron Davis abstained. Because the open seat — being vacated by incumbent Kirk Kuykendall — is the long joint appointment on the board that the county shares with the city of Austin, the split recommendation will be considered by City Council’s Health and Human Services Committee on Dec. 5, and ultimately by the full Council on Dec. 15.


Wednesday, November 30, 2016 by Nora Ankrum

AISD gets new executive director of finance

The Austin Independent School District announced Tuesday that David Edgar, formerly the assistant superintendent of business services at Eanes ISD, is now joining AISD as the new executive director of finance. The AISD board of trustees approved his appointment in September. Edgar’s duties will include directing “operations for areas that include budget services, treasury, accounting and payroll, risk management, state and federal grants, and Medicaid and student billing,” according to the district’s announcement. Edgar will also play an important role in helping AISD maintain its high credit ratings, which have “resulted in millions of dollars of savings due to lower interest rates for the district’s bond program and Austin taxpayers,” according to the announcement. In order to “maintain this performance,” said AISD Chief Financial Officer Nicole Conley, the district will “need to make strategic budget decisions and investments.”


Tuesday, November 29, 2016 by Caleb Pritchard

Watson to talk state hospital on Wednesday

Fans of state hospital redevelopment projects should clear their calendars on Wednesday evening. At 7 p.m., state Sen. Kirk Watson will hold forth at the annual Austin meeting of the National Alliance on Mental Health, a gathering whose theme this year is “A New Vision for Austin State Hospital: The M.D. Anderson of the Brain.” In September, the Texas Health and Humans Services Commission published a report that proposed six possible relocation options for the aging Austin State Hospital on Guadalupe Street north of the University of Texas campus. The ideas ranged from rebuilding the hospital where it stands to completely selling the land off to private interests.


Tuesday, November 29, 2016 by Elizabeth Pagano

Know your histor(ic preservation districts)

Recently, a city survey identified 19 potential local historic districts. This may have left more than a few readers wondering, “What is a local historic district?” And, just like that, Preservation Austin has appeared to answer that very question. On Dec. 10, Preservation Austin will be hosting “Local Historic Districts 101” for those looking to learn more about the preservation technique and how to navigate the city process associated with designating a district. The morning class is free, but RSVPs are required.


Tuesday, November 29, 2016 by Nora Ankrum

Mosquito repellent to be covered by Medicaid, again

Mosquito repellent is once again available to Texas women as a Medicaid benefit, according to an announcement yesterday from the Texas Health and Human Services Commission. The decision to reinstate the benefit, which had just ended Oct. 31, marks a swift response to news from Cameron County of what appears to be the first case of transmission of the Zika virus by a mosquito in Texas. The benefit, which includes two bottles of repellent per month, goes into effect today. According to the announcement, “Eligible Texas women can go to participating pharmacies to pick up mosquito repellent, as Texas Medicaid has a standing order for mosquito repellent prescriptions for women who are between the ages of 10 and 45 or pregnant.” The benefit is available to women eligible for Medicaid, CHIP and CHIP-Perinate programs, the Healthy Texas Women program and the Children With Special Health Care Needs program. There are several other items related to Zika that are covered by Texas Medicaid as well, according to the announcement: family-planning services, contraceptives, diagnostic testing, targeted case management, physical therapy, long-term services and support, acetaminophen and oral electrolytes for Zika symptoms and potential coverage for additional ultrasounds for pregnant women. Additional Texas-specific information on Zika is available here.


Monday, November 28, 2016 by Elizabeth Pagano

Huh

While it has long been tradition for City Council to move from congregation to congregation for the invocation at the beginnings of their meetings, this week might attract more attention than usual. That’s because Jeremy Galloway of the Satanic Temple will be kicking off the meeting. As impartial observers, the Austin Monitor will remind our readers that the last time the Satanic Temple was invoked during a Council meeting, it was because Council Member Don Zimmerman included an amendment from the church’s website in order to prove a point about symbolic resolutions.

Update: According to the City Clerk, Galloway will be out of town Thursday, and needed to cancel his appearance at the meeting.


Monday, November 28, 2016 by Nora Ankrum

Fast-food workers to strike

Fast-food workers in Austin are anticipated Tuesday to join a nationwide strike to demand union rights and wages of $15 an hour. Workers in 340 cities will be joining the effort, according to a media advisory from the Fight for $15 campaign. In Texas, workers at Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental Airport are planning to participate, as are workers here in town. According to the press advisory, the protest is intended to draw attention to a host of issues: “As certain newly-elected politicians and newly-empowered corporate special interests threaten an extremist agenda to move the country to the right, the four-year-old Fight for $15 movement will unrelentingly resist any effort to block wage increases, gut workers’ rights or healthcare, deport immigrants, or support racism or racist policies.” The strike will begin at 6 a.m. Tuesday at the McDonald’s at 2426 E. Riverside. More information is available here.


Monday, November 28, 2016 by Elizabeth Pagano

Time to clean Deep Eddy

It’s that time of year again (winter? fall?), so Deep Eddy Pool is closing for annual maintenance and repairs while the crowds are small. The pool will be closed from Nov. 29 until Dec. 19. If the idea of a public-pool-less month is too much to bear, fear not! Barton Springs, Bartholomew, Big Stacy and Springwoods pools will remain open during this time.


Monday, November 28, 2016 by Elizabeth Pagano

City Summit this weekend

This weekend, the Austin Monitor and Glasshouse Policy will present the third annual City Summit. The two-day summit is a chance to preview the looming legislative session from a local perspective, with panels on transportation network companies, land development, school finance, groundwater, annexation and rural broadband access. Tickets, a more complete listing of panels and other details are available online, here, and we hope to see you in person, there.


Monday, November 28, 2016 by Elizabeth Pagano

Back in the swing of things – kind of

Last week, the Austin Monitor wasn’t alone in taking a few days off for the Thanksgiving holiday. We are decidedly back now, but the widespread, low-key half-week is extended to our Reporter’s Notebook today. It will be back, as usual, next Monday for a few more rounds before the next holiday slack arrives.


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