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New Manager spending limit, four year terms among options

Tuesday, January 15, 2002 by

Both the City Manager’s Office and the City Clerk’s Office have submitted lists of proposed changes to the City Charter for review by the Charter Revision Committee. The changes cover a wide range of topics from minor clarifications to the charter language to those that could have a significant financial impact.

The City Clerk’s office is asking the committee to study the feasibility of extending the term of office for the Mayor and members of the City Council from three years to four. The clerk’s office cites the high cost of elections as a justification. Costs for both an election and a run-off are estimated at $500,000.

The clerk’s office also suggests changing language related to places on the Council. Since Council members are not currently elected to serve a specific geographic district, the clerk’s office points out that “the term ‘place’ has no legal implications.” Incumbents could circumvent existing rules on term limits by simply filing to run for another place on the Council.

Council Members Daryl Slusher, Beverly Griffith, and Jackie Goodman are each currently attempting to gather the signatures of five percent of registered voters in order to run for a third term in office in the same ‘place.” Should all three candidates wait until the deadline to submit those petitions, it would likely leave the clerk’s office with insufficient time to validate all of the signatures before the ballot is set. Advancing the deadline for those petitions, the clerk argues, would give staffers time to complete the task and save money on overtime pay. ( See Whispers )

Other items on the list include language allowing the Council more flexibility in setting times and places for meetings, procedures for adopting ordinances and hiring staff for the clerk’s office.

Most of the suggestions from the City Manager’s office concern technical clarifications to language in the charter, including one recommendation that a passage in conflict with state law on non-voter approved debt be removed. The one item that would have an immediate impact is the suggestion to increase the City Manager’s administrative purchasing authority. The City Council currently approves most purchases over $32,000 because of a formula in the charter linking the maximum administrative purchase to the Consumer Price Index. This formula results in the Council approving dozens of routine purchases each week, usually on consent. The idea of giving the city manager more discretion in purchasing has been raised before and is supported by some Council members, including Council Member Will Wynn. The recommendation from the manager’s office doesn’t set a target for what the new limit should be.

The Charter Revision Committee will have until February 4th to study these requests before making a recommendation back to the full Council. Council members will then decide which items, if any, to include on the ballot for the May charter election. The Council will also hold a series of public hearings on revising the charter. The first one is scheduled for 6:00pm at this Thursday’s Council meeting.

The neighborhood planning process is moving more quickly—another two were presented to the Planning Commission last week—but commissioners are asking for more information before they can sign off on new plans for North Loop and Boggy Creek. What commissioners appeared to be looking for most from the plans was context:

• How do the plans relate to other plans around them?

• What is the mix of zoning?

• How does the zoning balance compare to the city average?

• What is the ratio of houses to apartments?

• What parts of the neighborhood fall in the flood plains?

Commissioner Sterling Lands raised the question of available demographics, information that could make trends, data and zoning clear for the area. Chair Ben Heimsath and Commissioner Lydia Ortiz echoed those concerns. Heimsath said the lack of benchmarks made it difficult to figure out where neighborhoods currently stand. “I just don’t have a good feeling for where we are,” Heimsath admitted. Ortiz added that she did expect differences in the neighborhood plans. She described the plans as “pieces in a patchwork quilt.” At the end of the process, however, the commission needed to make sure “each piece connects in a way with the previous piece,” Ortiz said.

Planner Steve Rossiter presented a briefing on the North Loop Neighborhood Plan, which went into effect last August. The goal for North Loop, according to the planning team, was a “well-designed neighborhood development that provides the needs of everyday life.” The neighborhood’s zoning changes were largely concentrated in its commercial corridors. On Airport Boulevard, for instance, neighbors didn’t mind the existing auto dealerships, but they did want to curb any additional auto sales businesses, Rossiter said. The frontage roads, he added, provided their own unique challenge, given the mix of business that includes a day labor site and an adult modeling business. The goal of many of the zoning changes was to add the option of Mixed-Use Building or Mixed-Use Combining District. The map also included three possible Neighborhood Urban Centers at three locations: Lamar and Koenig, Airport Boulevard West and Airport Boulevard East. Those centers would combine residential, commercial, office and community open space. Transportation goals included pedestrian-oriented enhancements along corridors such as Airport Boulevard.

Planner Mark Walters presented the finer points of the Boggy Creek Plan, whose timeline began in September 2000. The emphasis of this plan was on transportation issues, especially the links between the redeveloped Robert Mueller Airport property and the rebuilt Interstate 35. Bicycle paths through the neighborhood were also a goal of the planning team, Walters said. The possible paths of light rail through the neighborhood were also considered. The mix of zoning on residential lots, especially some small-lot zoning in the Blackland area, was a topic of discussion for the neighborhood planning team. Upper Boggy Creek, Walters said, has a mix of five active neighborhoods, all with different types of housing and sizes of lots. The planning team talked of dividing the area into subdistricts to preserve the character of the individual neighborhoods.

Commissioner Maggie Armstrong was concerned about the cost of the additions proposed under the neighborhood plans, such as sidewalks. Neighborhood plans are supposed to be more closely tied to the city’s Capital Improvement Plans, but many of those plans remain unfunded, she pointed out. Funding cycles may force something as simple as a new sidewalk project to be delayed five, six or even seven years, and then addressed only after a bond issue is approved, Armstrong said. Perhaps in the future, Armstrong told her colleagues, the Planning Commission would have to take a higher-profile role in championing bond issues for important neighborhood projects.

Both plans will come to the Planning Commission for final approval in February. .

The Board of Adjustment deadlocked 2-2 last night on the question of whether to reconsider variances given last month to allow the city to begin construction of housing for the Anderson Hill Redevelopment Project. In a settlement agreement between the city and the Anderson Community Development Corp., the city assumed ownership of 56 vacant lots and buildings of what was previously called the SCIP II project . The property granted the variances lies between 1190 and 1196 Navasota and 1001 through 1119 E. 12th Street.

The city proposes to build three single-family townhouses for families earning less than 80 percent of the median family income. According to information provided to the BOA, the E. 11th and 12th Streets Urban Renewal Plan “contains project controls for this site that dictate single-family townhouse development.”

The variances allow the city to decrease the minimum lot width from 50 feet to 30 feet. The minimum lot size requirement is reduced from 5,750 square feet to 2,500 square feet and the side street setback is reduced from 10 feet to five feet.

A few area business owners requested that the BOA reconsider the variances. Leonard Mann, president of the 12th Street Business and Property Owners Association, said his group wants businesses in the area, not townhouses. That argument would likely not have had much weight with the BOA.

The vote on reconsideration was taken while Vice Chair Betty Edgemond was attending another meeting. Board Members Frank Fuentes and Barbara Aybar voted in favor of reconsideration, while Chair Herman Thun and Board Member Laurie Virkstis voted against the motion. Those favoring the project then left and a quiet discussion between board members and Assistant City Attorney Marty Terry followed. Thun said because only four members voted on the motion, more research might be in order to determine whether the vote was appropriate. He said if a new vote is required, all parties will be notified before next month’s BOA meeting.

Rae performance evaluation continued . . . The Capital Metro Board took no action after an executive session yesterday, but is expected to continue the performance review of General Manager Karen Rae again at next Tuesday’s meeting. Morale among agency employees is said to be quite low . . . Halfway there . . . Council Member Beverly Griffith will announce today that she has gathered about 13,000 signatures in her quest to run for re-election to Place 4. Griffith said she and her fellow incumbents, Daryl Slusher and Jackie Goodman, must each turn in about 20,000 valid signatures from voters. But in order to be safe, Griffith said, she wants to collect 25,000 names. Griffith was able to get a head start on the others by using her own funds to pay signature-gatherers beginning in late November. She said she hopes to turn in the petitions by early March so that City Clerk Shirley Brown will have enough time to verify them before the filing deadline on March 20. Slusher and Goodman seem to be lagging behind Griffith, but both are also working hard to gather the necessary names. There is nothing in the City Charter preventing any of them from switching seats if they do not gather the required number of signatures . . . Environmental Board meeting . . . Even though the matter does not appear on the city’s web site, nor on the press release of weekly meetings, Environmental Board Chair Lee Leffingwell assures In Fact Daily that the board is in fact meeting at 6pm Wednesday. Leffingwell is annoyed that his commission’s meetings are repeatedly left off city information sites, but says the meeting will be in the third floor conference room at One Texas Center, as usual.

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

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