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Charter committee to look at

Tuesday, December 18, 2001 by

Campaign finance, term limits

Goodman asks for advice on consumer advocate, police, utility oversight

The Charter Revision Committee last night decided to devote its next meeting to discussion of term limits and campaign finance reform—even though some committee members said they had already decided to recommend that repeal of the current term limits section of the City Charter be on next May’s ballot.

Council Member Beverly Griffith and Daryl Slusher and Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman are currently engaged in gathering more than 18,000 signatures in order to run for re-election. Goodman took office in 1993, before the term limit rule was enacted. Slusher and Griffith have each served two terms. The Charter provision, approved by voters in 1994, requires Council members who have served two terms to step down or gather signatures of five percent of the registered voters. As Slusher puts it in a letter to supporters, gathering so many signatures is “a very arduous task.”

Goodman also asked the committee to consider several items, including a new “office of public interest,” which would include a consumer advocate for electric utility matters and the police oversight monitor or members of the police advisory panel. She said Council Member Raul Alvarez shared an interest in such an office. In addition, Goodman asked the committee for ideas about how the Electric Utility Commission should be operating in the new competitive atmosphere and that Alvarez was interested in having the City Council directly hire and fire the general manager of Austin Energy.

This was new territory for the committee, but Chief of Staff Joe Canales said he would bring them information put together by the EUC on such matters.

Before Goodman spoke, the committee heard from Fred Lewis, author of the Clean Campaigns Ordinance, which prescribes public funding for Council races and is already slated to be on the May ballot. Lewis seemed upset with someone at the city, but he would not name anyone. He said he had tried to get the city to discuss campaign financing before starting the referendum campaign, but no one would talk about it. “I still think it’s possible to have a dialogue,” he said.

Committee member Charles Miles asked, “What do you mean? Are you saying there’s some Council member trying to get it off the ballot?”

Lewis said he just wanted a dialogue, but obviously he didn’t want to have it last night with Miles, who asked why the committee should not be looking at the ballot initiative.

Lewis replied, “I think there are people with hidden agendas . . . People are sneaking around.” Lewis told In Fact Daily that the city’s financial analysis of the cost of the Clean Campaigns proposal was faulty and did not take into account information from cities that have implemented similar funding mechanisms.

After Goodman had finished her main presentation, she added, “Some Council members have wanted to have a discussion here about campaign finance reform . . . It may help if you have a copy of the old law, the initiative in place right now. Fred knows that I don’t sneak around.” She said there might be some conflicts between the proposal and state law and between the proposal and other parts of the City Charter. She said she does not understand the current proposal, but given the current economic climate, “it would be very difficult for anybody like me,” who sees daily requests for funds from the city budget, to take campaign funds from the city.

After a discussion on neighborhood councils, Committee member Marta Cotera offered to serve on a subcommittee to look at term limits and finance reform. But Miles said the whole group needed to be involved with the issue of campaign finance reform.

Committee member Stephen Yelenosky said dealing with term limits should not take a long time, since the majority of the group already agrees that the matter should be put before voters again. The only questions would be whether to vote yes or no, or to ask if voters want to decrease the number of signatures required for an incumbent’s name to be placed on the ballot a third time.

Miles said he wanted to hear the arguments “on what would be reasonable,” so the group will look at those two issues on Jan. 7, with a public hearing still scheduled for Jan. 14.

Note: As reported in Monday’s In Fact Daily, the City Council unanimously approved the Charter Revision Committee’s single-member district report, which includes a recommendation that the matter be put on the ballot. Although the Council approved the report they did not adopt a position on putting the matter on the ballot. That will not happen until next month, after hearings on that proposition and other matters.

Republic Square revitalization

Described for Landmark Commission

Archtect presents conceptual plans

The centerpiece of the soon-to-be revitalized Republic Square Park will be a granite water wall and amphitheater intended to draw people to the downtown square.

Republic Square will be the first of four downtown squares to be renovated under a new partnership between the Austin Parks Foundation and the Downtown Austin Alliance. The work at the park will be underwritten by the Texas Cultural Endowment Fund, which plans to use the interest on a $200 million endowment to underwrite the project.

Landscape Architect Earl Broussard of TBG Partners presented a conceptual review of the plans to the Historic Landmark Commission last night. According to documents prepared by the city, Republic Square was one of four satellite squares planned during Austin’s first burst of development as capital of the Republic of Texas in 1839. Today, the park is bounded by the unfinished Intel building on the east, the city post office on the west, the Plaza Lofts on the north and the future Austin Museum of Art to the south.

The Commission briefly discussed the plans but took no formal vote on the presentation. The park site includes no historic structures. Plans for the square include preserving the historic trees on the southwest corner of the park, known as the Auction Oaks. The oaks, which date back to the early days of Austin when land was auctioned to the highest bidder, are not in good condition. Park of the plans for the park will be pulling up sidewalks in the area to help preserve the trees, Broussard said.

Sculptor Jesus Moroles has been commissioned to create a granite water wall along Sixth Street at the highest point of the park. A series of stones—as art and for seating—will be positioned in front of the wall and lead to an amphitheater area created in the bowl of the park, where the land dips as it approaches Sixth Street. The art is intended to promote both structured and unstructured activity in the area, Broussard said. Both St. Edwards University and the landmarks of downtown can be seen from the park.

Berms that were placed there in the ‘70s will be removed, as well as some of the younger live oaks that distract from the line of sight in the park, Broussard said. Also, the Great Streets program will benefit the park by adding wider sidewalks, Broussard said, preserving the landscape around the edge of the park. The corners of the park will be posted with markers describing the history of Austin and the park.

Comments were limited. Commissioner Jane Manaster expressed an interest in seeing all the types of trees that downtown streets were originally named after planted in the park. Commissioner Mario Sanchez wanted to encourage features that could make the park a place where people could go to eat lunch. Commissioner Teresa Rabago was concerned about the removal of trees, but appeared satisfied that it would be minimal and that those removed would be transplanted to Town Lake Park.

The presentation last night was intended to solicit comments from the commissioners. A charrette in November also responded to the design. HLC will take a vote on a Certificate of Appropriateness when final construction drawings are submitted. Archeological clearance will also be required from the Texas Historical Commission.

2001 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.

What’s not happening this week . . . The Zoning and Platting Commission is taking a break until Jan. 8 and the Planning Commission is not scheduled to meet again until Jan. 9. However, for the stalwart members of the Planning Commission’s codes and ordinances committee, there’s an 8am meeting today in Room 240 of One Texas Center. The comprehensive plan committee of the same commission is scheduled to meet at a superior location, Las Manitas Avenue Café, at 8am Wednesday. The Airport Advisory Commission is meeting at 5pm today in the Oak Room at 2716 Spirit of Texas Drive . . . History Center benefit . . . A special performance of O. Henry’s classic “The Gift of the Magi” is scheduled tonight at the State Theater at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $25 and proceeds will benefit the non-profit Austin History Center Association. For more information, call 974-7499 . . . More Rainey Street later . . . The Design Commission is scheduled to take a position on a city-backed study of Rainey Street on Jan. 7. The Historic Landmark Commission favors the city funding the study; the Downtown Commission opposes it . . . Counting the days . . . Wednesday will be our final publication day for 2001. We will return from vacation on Jan. 7, 2002. The majority of city employees will have Dec. 24-25 and Jan. 1 holidays . . . We’re still creative . . . The Chamber of Commerce reports that there has been no slowdown in patents issued to creators in our area over the past year. At the end of November, the chamber reports, 2,092 patents had been issued to area residents and companies, as compared to 1,987 for all of the previous year.

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