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Slusher, Griffith at odds over

Friday, April 6, 2001 by

Fiscal notes for Council items

Council approves new hurdle for agenda items

Council Members Daryl Slusher and Beverly Griffith sparred politely once again Thursday. This time the disagreement was over requiring Council Members to put a pricetag on items before placing the items on the Council agenda. Griffith also adamantly opposed the fiscal note requirement when Slusher brought up the idea several weeks ago.

Griffith pulled a number of items from Thursday’s agenda, including a directive to City Manager Jesus Garza to complete construction of the Lamar bike and pedestrian bridge. The city is currently completing phase 1, which ends on the south side of Cesar Chavez. Although the city had originally planned to build a bridge all the way to the Union Pacific Railroad tracks, that option proved too expensive at the time the Council made the decision.

Slusher has said that the city could pay for completion of the bridge to the railroad tracks through Capital Metro funds or through money designated for Build Greater Austin (BGA). However, he would not support the immediate dispatch of that money to extend the bridge, instead proposing that the city look at its transportation needs and analyze the costs.

Griffith, on the other hand, wanted the Council to approve five recommendations from the Urban Transportation Commission (UTC), without designating the source of the funding or the priority of action. Two of those items would have directed the City Manager to provide the Council with post estimates on bicycle and pedestrian improvements. One item, which merely would direct the manager to make a recommendation to the University of Texas on parking and bike lanes on 26th Street, carries no apparent cost. The fifth item would have directed the City Manager to redesign Guadalupe by adding bicycle lanes or right turn only lanes between 24th Street and 38th Street. Bicycle advocate Tommy Eden lobbied the entire Council for several weeks, making small changes in the various resolutions to meet Council objections. Staff members said that UT was not aware of the proposal, which was approved by the UTC at the urging of Eden, who serves on the commission.Griffith evidently gave up on the proposals—at least for the time being—after discovering she did not have all the support she had anticipated.

When Slusher brought up his fiscal note proposal, Griffith was ready. She said, “I would like to have comfort that we are not creating a barrier, that we are not creating a screen that a Council member would have to go through to get on their own agenda.”

Slusher in turn was prepared to answer, referring to Griffith’s bridge extension item. “We’re just going to direct the City Manager to finish that. The reason why we don’t have it finished is because the money was not available.” Slusher noted that bids for the entire bridge were higher than anticipated, causing the city to decide to fund only the first phase. He then pointed out that for the last two weeks he has recommended that the city consider using the Cap Metro and BGA funds to complete the bridge. “But, I think we need to examine all of our needs comprehensively before we just slap an item on the agenda and get a bunch of people to come down and speak in favor of it,” Slusher said. If that were to happen, it could mean other more important transportation needs would fall by the wayside, he said. He urged colleagues to vote in favor of attaching fiscal notes to items generated by Council Members. Items from staff already require them.

Approving items without a price tag is “just not the appropriate way to run government. It might work to make some of the citizens like individual Council Members better . . . But what our real responsibilities are—if we’re going to direct the City Manager to do something—to find the sources of funds to do it.”

Griffith responded, “I agree with you. Before something is voted on that we definitely need to know, and most usually do know, where the money’s coming from. Creating any kind of barrier or screen for Council members to run through or jump through before they can put something on (the agenda) is a problem.” Slusher replied, “The only barrier that I’m trying to create, Council Member, is that the Council has the money and knows the source of the money before we vote to spend it.”

Griffith said, “We completely agree on that, but we should not have to have all of that put together before we bring ideas and proposals and requests for information and support. I agree with you that we should have that information and support before we vote on it.”

Mayor Kirk Watson, who tried to referee the debate, interjected, What I would like to point out is what I think he’s attempting to do is make sure there is a trap; it creates a positive barrier. That positive barrier is that you don’t pass anything without at least knowing what the fiscal impact of it is . . . You don’t create undue expectations on the part of the community . . .” By having a price tag before voting on an action item, he said, the Council can avoid disappointing citizens—“particularly as we go into a time that I think is going to be a little less flush.” Watson and Council Member Will Wynn co-sponsored the item.

On a vote of 5-2, the Council approved Slusher’s proposal, with Griffith and Council Member Danny Thomas voting no.

Council approves resolution

Against Bradley district bill

Green expresses confidence that stakeholders can agree

In spite of assurances of State Rep. Rick Green (R-Dripping Springs), the City Council on Thursday unanimously passed a resolution opposing House Bill 3644. Green had already written to the Council, stating that he would not proceed with the bill to create a special development district in Hays County unless he gets agreement from “all parties,” including the City of Austin. The district would have been created on land owned by Gary Bradley to promote the construction of a resort hotel and golf course (see In Fact Daily, April 4, 2001).

In detailing his opposition to HB 3644, Mayor Kirk Watson laid out 8 criteria he would like to see satisfied for any future special development district involving Bradley to be considered by the city.

• The district would assure and enhance environmental protection by directing funds to an existing jurisdiction for that purpose.

• It would benefit the public school districts of Hays County.

• It would preserve the nature, character, and environment of Hays County by providing funding to the county and the City of Austin for environmental preservation.

• It would avoid giving any single economic development an unfair advantage.

• It would avoid the creation of a quasi-governmental entity with much more authority than simply the ability to collect revenue through taxes.

• It would be governed by a body consisting of a majority of people elected by voters instead of one entirely appointed by a private entity.

• Any money retained by the district would go to environmental purposes.

• The enabling legislation would include safeguards that preclude any future amendments subverting the previous conditions.

In responding to a request from Bradley to clarify what the city wanted, the Mayor said HB 3644 would have given the proposed district too much power without sufficiently funding either public schools in Hays County or environmental preservation efforts. “What the proposed bill did (was) 65 percent of the money went to the development . . . while only 10 percent went arguably to the school district, although it didn’t mention the school district,” Watson said.

But the Mayor didn’t shut the door on the possibility of any special development district in the future. “I think there are some laudable goals (funding schools and environmental protection), some things that we might want to try to achieve . . . and I think there ought to be discussion about those things. I have talked with County Judge Jim Powers down in Hays County, and have indicated that I would not be opposed to a district whose sole purpose was to levy and collect a tax that falls on people that are coming in to visit the resort. There would be no eminent domain, no annexation powers, no ability to create debt.”

A public hearing on HB 3644 had originally been scheduled for Thursday’s Council meeting at the request of Council Member Beverly Griffith, but it was pulled from the agenda after Green’s letter to the city promising to drop support for the bill. In that letter, Green said he had reserved a room at the Capitol for 1 p.m. Tuesday to meet with stakeholders, including City Council Members or their staff. He also asked that the Council put the item on its April 12 agenda—but the next Council meeting is scheduled for April 19. Green said he was “certain an agreement could be reached that will further the protection of the environment and benefit the children of Hays County.”

Council agrees to task force

To study boards, commissions

City staff and citizen commissioners to be chosen

Austin City Council members yesterday expressed their support for citizen input by voting in favor of a new task force to review the city’s boards and commissions. Council Member Will Wynn made the proposal, referring to the number of unfilled spots on the city’s dozens of commissions. “We have a large number of vacancies,” Wynn said. “We have people who want to serve and are frustrated. We have some conflicting and apparent overlapping jurisdictions.”

Although the vote was unanimous in favor of appointing the new task force, the measure did spark some debate. Tommy Eden of the Urban Transportation Commission first thanked council members for their renewed attention to his agency after it voiced concerns about being ignored earlier this year (see In Fact Daily, Feb. 21, 2001). He also called for the Council to maintain citizen input. “We need to define some kind of process by which citizens can participate in this government,” Eden said. “I am concerned about the impression that many people have that our city government is not open to citizens and is becoming less and less so over time. I would like to see it made easier for citizens on boards and commissions, and citizens in general, to be able to bring their concerns to the Council.”

Council Member Raul Alvarez, offering support for the task force, said, “I was kind of uneasy about it at first because of the perception that we might be trying to limit participation. But I think that because a lot of them (boards and commissions) are not active we need to look at them closely.” He also went into detail about his vision of a Sunset Review process for boards and commissions—similar to the one used by the Texas Legislature when reviewing state agencies—to solicit public input before dismantling any boards or commissions.

The new task force will have 120 days to survey current board and commission members about their areas of concern, review the overall organization of the current system and study the policies on the requirements for financial disclosure, residency, and attendance. The latter has been an area of concern to members of the Downtown Commission, who recently sent a list of chronic no-shows to the City Clerk’s office to begin the process of having those members removed (See In Fact Daily, March 15, 2001).

The 9-member task force will be charged with making recommendations to the City Council on the proposed revisions to the ordinances governing the board and commission system. That task force will be comprised of staffers from four key departments: the City Manager, the City Clerk, the City Auditor, and the City Attorney, along with five citizens. Those five citizens will be current or former board or commission members and will be appointed by consensus of the City Council.

©2001 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.

Charter Committee created . . . The Council yesterday approved the creation of a new committee to study the City Charter and make recommendations for changes. Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman, who co-sponsored the motion with Council Member Raul Alvarez, said she expects staff to come back with an ordinance creating the committee on April 26. The Council will appoint the nine members of the commission at that time. Goodman said the commission would be appointed by consensus and reminded fellow Council Members that the City Attorney’s Office defines consensus as unanimous approval—not just a majority. Goodman told In Fact Daily that she anticipates a charter election in November . . . Surprise. . . Council Member Daryl Slusher, a former deputy constable, was surprised by a process server during Thursday’s Council meeting. The Hyde Park Baptist Church sued five Council Members Wednesday in Federal Court. At the time the official served Slusher, attorney Richard Suttle and City Attorney Andy Martin were posing for pictures with the Council and a number of school children who were participating in Career Day. Slusher wondered why he was being served personally, instead of through the city attorney. Suttle said personal service is a requirement of Federal legal procedure . . . Soon to move . . . Assistant City Manager Marcia Conner was all smiles yesterday as she acknowledged that the Durham, N.C. City Council had voted 13-0 to approve her compensation package. Although she has not signed the contract, Conner has agreed to a starting salary of $138,000 plus $10,000 in relocation costs, travel expenses and other benefits. She said it would be hard to leave Austin, but agreed that her mother—who calls her “three times a day”—will be happy to have her closer to home. Conner’s mother lives in South Carolina . . . No airport commission yet . . . The City Council yesterday appointed new members to seven boards and commissions, but did not reach consensus on the new Airport Advisory Commission. When Council Member Danny Thomas found that Leonard Lyons’ name had been stricken from the list, he objected. Lyons was the only member of the previous board to be listed for appointment Thursday. Since all the appointees on that board are supposed to be by consensus, the Mayor suggested postponing those appointments. The previous board lost their seats in January when the Council approved a new ordinance. . . No action . . . The Council listened to citizens’ comments on changes to the city’s sign ordinance for about an hour last night before adjourning. Council Members postponed action on the changes for two weeks.

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