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Mayor Watson says Hays County should control own growth

Friday, August 11, 2000 by

Hays County Judge Jim Powers said Thursday that he will consider appointing a member of the Hays County Water Planning Partnership (HCWPP) to a newly-formed regional planning committee, and he would even consider consistent critic Erin Foster for a post.

Foster chairs the HCWPP, which has battled Powers over development issues and his ardent support of the Lower Colorado River Authority water pipeline to Drippings Springs. The debate between the two on the county's transportation plan escalated to the point where Foster tried get criminal charges filed against the judge, and vice versa. Foster was on vacation and could not be reached for comment.

Powers made his remarks shortly after outlining his plan for the regional committee to mayors of all cities in Hays County and Austin Mayor Kirk Watson. The mayors met as part of an ongoing series of informal gatherings with Powers, and Watson was on hand to give the keynote address to the group. The judge said he would appoint three members to the committee and requested that each mayor do likewise.

"I would encourage you to appoint people on opposite sides of issues," Powers told the group. He later echoed that idea by saying it was time to start bringing together groups of people with different opinions. The judge said he was himself working on getting better at taking criticism, but his main complaint has been with people who lambaste his ideas without offering any better solutions.

The luncheon was also a chance for Powers to affirm publicly what he had been working on privately for quite some time–a continuing dialogue with Watson and other Austin officials. Powers and other members of the Hays County Commissioners Court– Commissioner Russ Molenaar in particular–have long said that Austin doesn't have the right to come into their county and try to control land use. They were especially angered about being left out of the city's deal with developer Gary Bradley at Spillar Ranch. Austin's extra-territorial jurisdiction stretches south over the Hays County line to the Bradley development. Developers also have targeted thousands of nearby acreage that are part of the Edwards Aquifer recharge zone.

Watson, no stranger to criticism or the idea of bringing warring parties to the table, told the judge he appreciated his willingness to "break out of the mold" and work with Austin. The mayor said he holds a special bond with Hays County, because his parents retired to Woodcreek near Wimberley, and his father served on the City Council there.

"Hays County ought to be in a position to protect its quality of life," Watson said, referring to the fact that it should have a major say in decisions to manage its own growth. "I'm merely one representative of our partnership." He also stressed that the county should reap the benefits of the booming Austin economy and its creative energy.

Hays County has 11 cities in all, including Wimberley, although most are just small, incorporated towns and clusters of subdivisions. Add in Austin and the judges' three picks, and the regional committee might become unworkable with so many members, Powers said. The judge suggested dividing the group into subcommittees for transportation, education, work force, water, land and social equity. He also asked each mayor to give input on the importance of the following issues: regional development rules; supporting surface water; regional wastewater treatment facilities; transportation planning; a common legislative agenda; stormwater management; and air quality compliance.

State Rep. Rick Green, a Hays County legislator known for authoring or supporting bills "bashing" Austin, also attended the luncheon. He said a successful effort from the planning committee would bode well for Austin in the next legislative session. "I would have no reason to file bills against Austin if we're part of this process together," he said.

The Ethics Review Commission decided Thursday not to pursue a complaint by Planning Commissioner Susana Almanza concerning fellow Planning Commissioners, the Police Department, and the Development Review and Inspection Department (DRID). Instead, the group directed Commission Chair Ginny Agnew to write a letter to Almanza, telling the planning commissioner that she needs to file a sworn complaint before the commission can review it. In addition, Agnew said she would explain the requirements of the ordinance and send Almanza a copy of the law.

Almanza has accused the Planning Commission and DRID of discrimination and ethical violations. Part of Almanza’s complaint relates to the failure of the commission to allow El Concilio and other groups to postpone a June 20 hearing on the East Cesar Chavez Neighborhood Plan. In addition, Almanza has complained about the presence of police officers at the commission’s July 11 meeting. (See In Fact Daily, June 21, July 12, and Aug. 2, 2000)

All five members of the commission who were present voted in favor of the motion to send the letter. Agnew said, “The only question I have is whether we should be counseling” Almanza about where else her complaint should be filed. Paul Saldana, a new member of the commission, said Almanza should be following the process of filing a complaint with the Internal Affairs division of the Police Department. He said Almanza, director of PODER (People Organized in Defense of the Earth and Her Resources), is very familiar with the Internal Affairs process. Saldana was executive assistant to former Council Member Gus Garcia until Garcia’s retirement in June.

Agnew said she had hoped that Almanza would attend last night’s meeting. However, no representative of PODER was present. Members of the commission noted that the complaint had gotten no press attention except from In Fact Daily.

Commissioners Jesus Vasquez, Sam Loughlin and Mark McCray, a new member, were absent.

Award… Deputy City Clerk Betty Brown has been named Municipal Clerk of the Year for Central Texas. Brown has been deputy clerk since 1984…. Another Award…Austin has already been named "Best City to do Business" and "Best City to Live", so what's another best? Avalon Travel Publishing has named Austin the "Best City to Pretend You're 20 Again" in its new Cities to Go Guide. The Austin Convention and Visitors Bureau reacted happily by putting out a press release… New chair for subcommittee… Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman is the new chair of the City Council subcommittee on telecommunications. Joining her on the subcommittee are Council Members Raul Alvarez and Will Wynn… Meanwhile…The Austin Telecommunications Commission wants to trade franchises for philanthropy. The typical fodder of the commission — Austin access television, cable complaints and franchise fees — likely will soon be replaced with buzz words like "high-tech connectivity," "community empowerment" and "equitable access," according to a new mission statement released this week. The proposed mission has won the nod of the City Council subcommittee. Commission Chair Amy Mok says the seed money would likely be handed out –in increments of $30,000 to $50,000 — to worthy individuals in thecommunity. If the full City Council approves the new mission statement, staff would draft an enabling ordinance for the commission's new purpose. Board members are soliciting input for both process and applicants. For more information, call commission liaison Rondella Pugh at 499-2422..

© 2000 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.

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