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Whispers

Friday, August 26, 2016 by Nora Ankrum

People’s Gallery 2017 open to applicants

Visitors to City Hall know that part of its charm is the People’s Gallery, an annually changing showcase of regional artists’ work in a variety of media. Well, it’s that time of year when artists – as well as galleries, museums and arts organizations – are invited to apply to be part of the exhibit’s next incarnation. For the 2017 People’s Gallery, applicants from Bastrop, Blanco, Burnet, Caldwell, Hays, Travis and Williamson counties are welcome to submit as many as five pieces of artwork to be considered for the showcase. The deadline is Friday, Oct. 14, 11:59 p.m. More information is available here.


Friday, August 26, 2016 by Elizabeth Pagano

They’re crafty, they had a gripe

Earlier this month, we reported (via our partnership with KUT) that craft brewers in Texas had challenged a state law that impacted their distribution rights. Yesterday, a state judge struck down that law, which prohibited breweries from accepting payment for their right to distribute beer (also known as territorial rights). The Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission can appeal the judge’s decision, which is embedded below.

Download (PDF, 1.37MB)


Friday, August 26, 2016 by Elizabeth Pagano

Nothing gold can stay

Yesterday, the Republican Party of Texas announced that it has found a way to oust Travis County GOP Chair Robert Morrow at last. The announcement comes just days after Morrow’s very public denouncement of presidential candidate Donald Trump as a child rapist – in what may have been one of his least embarrassing displays since his November election. The party explained that Morrow’s own Aug. 19 filing to run for president disqualified him from his current position. A statement from Texas GOP Chairman Tom Mechler reads, “In accordance with state law, upon filing as a write-in candidate for President of the United States on August 19th, 2016, Robert Morrow became ineligible to hold the office of Travis County Republican Chair. There is absolutely no place for rhetoric as distasteful as Mr. Morrow’s in the Republican Party of Texas. We are excited to move forward with the Travis County GOP and the new incoming Chair as soon as an election is held to fill the position.” A skim of Morrow’s prolific (and profane) Twitter feed showed that Morrow has taken the position: “I will deal with this after I assume the Presidency.”


Friday, August 26, 2016 by Nora Ankrum

City launches Austin Code & Permit Tracker

The Austin Code Department and private company Civic Insight have partnered to develop an online search tool that can be used to retrieve information about code violations and building permits. Called the Austin Code & Permit Tracker, the tool – which is actually an updated version of the city’s Code Case Tracker – is available here. According to an announcement from the city, “Users can enter an address in the search bar or zoom in on the site map to view results by activity, time period, and neighborhood or council district. Users can also create an account to save searches and request e-mail updates for selected properties. The tool also includes an analytics feature that displays the permit and code violations issued daily and weekly for a specific address or area within a given timeframe.”


Thursday, August 25, 2016 by Caleb Pritchard

Eckhardt praises provisional county budget, hints at tougher times ahead

Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt hailed the county’s financial stewardship during a lunchtime press conference on Tuesday, saying that her Commissioners Court has “set a bold path” in putting together next year’s budget. “We will not increase the county’s portion of the tax bill for the average taxable homestead for the third consecutive year,” Eckhardt bragged, touting the proposed tax rate of 38.38 cents per $100 of valuation, lower than the 2016 rate. She noted that the county’s budget office had managed to propose the rate even in the face of growing cost drivers, including, she said, an unexpected increase in the average length of stays at the county jail. Eckhardt said a task force is already looking into that issue and possible solutions. Despite Eckhardt’s positive take on the ongoing budget cycle, she signaled that less pleasant days could be ahead. During a discussion of the budget during the court’s regular Tuesday voting session, Eckhardt said, “Next year, we are unlikely to do what we’ve done in the past three years. We do have pent-up demand, we’ll be on-boarding some new county officials who will have initiatives and we also have the Legislature in town.”


Thursday, August 25, 2016 by Elizabeth Pagano

Tonight’s the night

Those hoping to weigh in on the renovation of the Dove Springs Recreation Center would do well to show up at tonight’s community meeting on the project, which will be hosted by the city’s Parks and Recreation Department. At the meeting, interested Austinites will get an update on the status of the project and talk to project leaders about plans to expand the building and improve the park and playscape, which opened about a year ago. The meeting will take place at the recreation center from 6:30 until 7:30 pm.


Thursday, August 25, 2016 by Nora Ankrum

Tonight: Community health forum

Austin/Travis County Health & Human Services is hosting a forum this evening on community health. Participants will learn about area initiatives – including the Community Health Assessment and Community Health Improvement Plan – for assessing and improving the quality of life of Austin residents. The event takes place from 6 to 8 p.m. at El Buen Samaritano, 7000 Woodhue Drive.


Thursday, August 25, 2016 by Elizabeth Pagano

Smoke ’em if you … want?

Yesterday, the Parks and Recreation Department offered some good news for firebugs. It may be triple-digit weather outside, but due to our recent wet spell, the city parkland burn ban is no longer in effect. In related news (kind of?) the Barton Creek Greenbelt is also officially open again, although the city warns patrons to exercise caution and avoid standing water and debris on the trail.


Thursday, August 25, 2016 by Nora Ankrum

Capital Metro seeks input on network overhaul

As we reported Tuesday, the Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority has unveiled an extensive draft plan – called Connections 2025 – for overhauling its entire transit network. Now it’s the public’s turn to provide feedback. Capital Metro is hosting a series of open houses Sept. 6-16, but those who can’t make it can still participate by providing input online. Oh, and there’s a handy video that gives a two-minute synopsis of the plan here.


Wednesday, August 24, 2016 by Jo Clifton

A new manager next summer?

Assistant City Manager Mark Washington and Human Resources Department Director Joya Hayes on Tuesday laid out for City Council a timeline for hiring a new city manager, beginning with hiring an executive search firm and then finally selecting a new manager in April or May. After a lengthy executive session on the matter, Mayor Steve Adler said that Council would have additional discussions – both about an interim city manager and about selection of the new manager – at a meeting on Monday as well as at Tuesday’s work session. Washington said that staff could get started right away on putting together a request for proposals to find the executive search firm. Adler told his colleagues that he had been working with Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo on a process for selection of the new manager. He posted an item on the City Council Message Board that included an idea about a group appointed by Council to give recommendations on various items throughout the process. Adler and Tovo suggested that each Council member appoint one member of the group, with Adler’s appointment being the chair and Tovo’s appointment being the vice chair. All members of the group should live in the city of Austin; lobbyists and people who have contracts with the city need not apply.


Wednesday, August 24, 2016 by Elizabeth Pagano

The sinkable I-35

Austinites may not be in agreement about everything, but most of us do agree that Interstate 35 is the worst. And now, the Downtown Austin Alliance is asking us to agree on another thing – sinking the blasted road where it runs through downtown. Basically, the DAA is trying to raise awareness that the Texas Department of Transportation is currently conducting an environmental study and asking folks to weigh in on two options to reduce congestion on the roadway: either a) lowering the road or b) raising the road. In the DAA’s humble opinion, lowering is the way to go, and you can read up and watch videos about why this is the case as well as submit your own comments on the matter online here.


Wednesday, August 24, 2016 by Elizabeth Pagano

Stand by your man

The Austin Monitor will leave the bulk of the coverage about Donald Trump’s visit to, basically, everyone else. However, we will note that the visit once again brought tensions within the Travis County GOP. A statement, released by Travis County GOP Executive Vice Chairman David Duncan, explained that despite the appearance of Chairman Robert Morrow at a protest carrying a sign reading, “Trump is a child rapist,” the group supports Trump’s bid for the presidency. “We need a unified voice going into November in order to defeat Hillary Clinton,” Duncan said. “We stand by Donald Trump for president.” The statement also clarified that “Duncan is the head of the newly organized Steering Committee, which handles almost all leadership aspects of the local party. County Chairman Robert Morrow does not represent the official stance of the Travis County Republican Party.”


Tuesday, August 23, 2016 by Caleb Pritchard

Capital Metro board strengthens worker protections on TOD projects

The Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority scored praise on Monday from a group that earlier this year had organized a protest outside the agency’s headquarters. The board of directors unanimously adopted a policy that will ensure generous worker protections at future transit-oriented development projects. The protections align with the Workers Defense Project’s Better Builder Program, which coincidentally also got a shout-out from the Department of Labor on Monday. The program’s standards include providing workers with a living wage, workers compensation insurance, federally approved safety training and independent on-site monitoring. The new policy goes further than the agreement Capital Metro struck earlier this year with Endeavor Real Estate Group, the agency’s partner on the Plaza Saltillo development. The WDP had been critical of that accord and its weakened provisions for on-site monitoring. However, the group’s Bo Delp was at Monday’s board meeting to praise the adoption of the new policy, which will apply to projects at, among others, MetroRail’s Leander and Lakeline stations, the North Lamar Transit Center and the Tech Ridge Park and Ride. Delp said he was “extraordinarily excited” about the board’s approval of the policy.


Tuesday, August 23, 2016 by Nora Ankrum

The Monitor presents …

It’s event season here at the Austin Monitor, where we are hosting four upcoming occasions we hope you will find worthy of your calendar. First up is our Open Mic Debate for District 2 City Council candidates, which we are co-hosting with KUT and Glasshouse Policy as part of a series of in-district debates ahead of November’s Council election. It takes place on Tuesday, Sept. 6, 7 to 9 p.m., at the Dove Springs Recreation Center, 5801 Ainez Drive. Register to attend here. Next up is “Boys Club? Sexual Harassment, Retaliation & Working for the City of Austin,” a panel discussion with Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo, Austin American-Statesman reporter Lilly Rockwell, Austin Chronicle reporter Mary Tuma, the AFSCME’s Carol Guthrie and the city of Austin’s Joya Hayes. The event will be co-hosted by Glasshouse Policy and moderated by KUT/Austin Monitor City Hall reporter Audrey McGlinchy. It takes place Tuesday, Sept. 13, 6:30 to 9:30 p.m., at the North Door, 501 Brushy St. Register here. After that, the Open Mic Debate series will continue with the District 6 debate on Tuesday, Sept. 20, and the District 7 debate on Thursday, Oct. 27. Other debates are in the works, so stay tuned.


Tuesday, August 23, 2016 by Nora Ankrum

PARD seeks feedback on strategic plan

The Parks and Recreation Department is asking for public input as it develops a strategic plan for 2017 through 2021. The plan is focused on “honing and articulating the Department’s vision, mission, values and goals,” according to an announcement from the city. The community is invited to participate in the process by joining the online discussion at SpeakUp Austin.


Monday, August 22, 2016 by Nora Ankrum

Meet the chief equity officer candidates

In the search for a new chief equity officer, the city has winnowed down a field of 83 candidates to four finalists, all of whom will be available to meet with the public at a town hall meeting this week. Whoever lands the position, according to a press statement from the city, will then work to “identify gaps and disparities in services and programs and help create a plan for each department.” It is also the equity officer’s job to “work with community groups to help them navigate the City organization to ensure equal access to City programs and services.” The four finalists are: Parisa Fatehi-Weeks, head of community impact programs and investments at Google Fiber; Veronica Briseño Lara, director of the Small Minority Business Resources Department at the city of Austin; Brion Oaks, vice president of health equity at the Southwest Affiliate of the American Heart Association; and Kazique Prince, senior policy adviser and education coordinator for Mayor Steve Adler. The meeting will be held Thursday, Aug. 25, 6:30 to 8:30 p.m., at the Palmer Events Center, 900 Barton Springs Road.


Monday, August 22, 2016 by Nora Ankrum

City announces second [Re]Verse Pitch Competition

The second annual [Re]Verse Pitch Competition is now open for applicants. The city is seeking proposals for innovative uses for waste. In particular, according to an announcement from the city, the idea is to “turn valuable raw materials that are currently leaving local businesses, nonprofits and institutions as waste into the foundation for new social enterprises.” The city is asking for pitches from organizations and businesses “that are consistently generating or collecting by-product, surplus, or other underutilized materials in Austin.” Applications are due Aug. 31. More information is available here.


Monday, August 22, 2016 by Nora Ankrum

CAMPO wants feedback on long-range plans

The Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization is seeking public input on amendments to projects that are part of its 2017-2020 Transportation Improvement Program and its CAMPO 2040 Plan. “Amendments may include a change in funding source, project length or limits, or the project description,” according to a press release from CAMPO. To gather feedback, CAMPO is conducting a series of open houses, with the first scheduled for Monday, Aug. 29, 4 to 7 p.m., at the Bastrop Public Library, 1100 Church St. The full schedule is available here, along with information on how to provide additional commentary online, by phone, by email or in person. The deadline for all public input is Sept. 26, 5 p.m.


Friday, August 19, 2016 by Jack Craver

Another crack at density bonuses …

City Council was nearly unanimous in its support for a resolution that would direct city staff to craft a recommendation for developing a new density bonus on Thursday. Earlier this year, Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo ditched a density bonus proposal that she had requested from staff that she and others agreed would not accomplish much. On Thursday, Tovo once again reiterated her support for developing a program that would promote more affordable housing, but she hinted that she was not convinced she would be able to support whatever emerged from the staff recommendation. Council’s most prolific citizen communicator, David King, who is active in the Austin Neighborhoods Council, also voiced skepticism, saying that whatever “community benefits” the city gives up to developers in exchange for affordable housing might not be worth it. He also worried about big buildings being constructed next to single-family homes. “Why is it only about high-density apartments that are tiny?” he asked. Council Member Don Zimmerman suggested that he would ultimately oppose whatever ordinance is crafted by staff but that he would support directing staff to develop one anyway. The motion passed 10-0-1, with Council Member Ellen Troxclair abstaining. The Planning Commission also voted earlier this month to direct staff to propose code changes that would allow the city to reward additional density to developments in exchange for affordable housing. Currently the city’s SMART housing program (the acronym stands for safe, mixed-income, accessible, reasonably priced, and transit-oriented) is restricted to parcels that were previously undeveloped.


Friday, August 19, 2016 by Courtney Griffin

Eight AISD schools fail to meet state standards

Eight schools within the Austin Independent School District failed to meet state standards for the 2015-2016 school year. The list includes two high schools (credit-recovery Graduation Preparatory Academy at Lanier and the International High School), four middle schools (Burnet, Dobie, Mendez and Gus Garcia Young Men’s Leadership Academy) and two elementary schools (Pickle and Norman). However, only Mendez Middle School failed to meet standards for the third year in a row, which triggers the implementation of a state-required turnaround plan. Luckily, AISD has had some recent success lately with habitually failing schools. This year, Martin Middle School “met standard” after failing to do so for the previous three years. In addition last year, Eastside Memorial High School (formerly Johnston High School) “met standard” after, in 2008, becoming the first school in Texas to close because of poor performance.


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