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Contracts offer only other point of contention during short meeting

Friday, May 17, 2002 by

Two city contracts ignited controversy at Thursday’s City Council meeting, which was kept short so Council members could attend events at the newly remodeled Austin Convention Center Thursday evening. The meeting wrapped up just before 2:45pm

Two representatives of a company contracted to work on the new Palmer Events Center used the Citizens Communications portion of the meeting to complain about what they perceived as involvement by some City Council members in a dispute between the company and a union. Representatives of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 510 have filed complaints and staged pickets against Titus Electrical Contracting . The Austin-based company took over the contract for electrical work at Palmer after the previous contractor, Guy’s Electric of Marble Falls, went bankrupt. Titus Electrical is an “open shop,” which hires both union and non-union workers. Efforts to unionize the company’s workforce have been accompanied by complaints filed against the firm with the National Labor Relations Board.

Since the Palmer Events Center is a city construction project, both sides have appealed to elected officials. Union members have reached out to members of the City Council, and it was their response that triggered some tense discussion at Thursday’s meeting. “The union has been picketing around town with false and malicious statements about my company,” said Shelly Runyan, president of Titus Electrical. “I got a call that Council Member Daryl Slusher joined the picket . . . the following week the union handed out a statement that he was out there supporting them and that Jackie committed to picketing against us, too.” Runyan said she felt her company had not been treated fairly. “I wish that when they are out there on their fact-finding mission they would also find out the other side,” she said, adding that her calls to Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman’s office had not been returned in a timely manner. “That’s just common courtesy.” She was joined by Ty Runyan, who told Council members the company was “leading the entire project on the completion schedule down to the final tasks on electrical.” He had met with Slusher prior to the meeting to voice his concerns over the union’s dealings with his company.

The angry tone of the Runyons’ remarks failed to generate support from the targeted Council members, who defended their right to participate in picketing activities while informing company representatives they had actually not picketed. “I have every right, if I want, to hold a sign up out there and picket with them,” said Slusher. “That’s not what I did. I did go down and talk with the picketers in front of Palmer Auditorium. When I see a city project being picketed by a union, I want to know what’s going on.” Goodman also told In Fact Daily that she did not participate in any picket line. “I haven’t picketed, but I might,” she said. “Especially after today. I now think I know where the problem arises.” She also told the Runyons her office had attempted to return their calls. “My issue, as always,” Goodman said, “is making sure that in our projects that we don’t inadvertently sponsor or pay for something with public money that abuses, mistreats or dismisses the concerns of employees.”

Selecting the architect for a golf course clubhouse was the only other item on the agenda that took a significant portion of the Council’s time Thursday. City staff had recommended that Dick Clark Architecture, Ltd. receive the $168,000 contract for the clubhouse at the proposed Jackrabbit Run Golf Course in Southeast Austin. But a representative of McKinney Architects pointed out that there was less than one point separating her firm from the first place finisher in the city’s evaluation matrix. “We really want this project,” said Heather McKinney. “We’re motivated, it would be an important project for our firm, and by being here I want you to be aware of that point.” McKinney noted that her company qualified as an MWBE firm, and that while work they had previously done for the city still counted against them in the evaluation matrix, that particular contract dated back nearly five years.

Goodman said she would be comfortable with McKinney’s firm doing the work at the golf course. “The two top firms, in my opinion, are both excellent,” she said. “There wouldn’t be any problem at all if they were clearly not excellent. Our problem today is the luxury of riches, and I hope that each of the two firms understands that there is absolute admiration for the values that they brought to this process.” Council Member Danny Thomas moved that McKinney’s firm be granted the contract and Council Member Beverly Griffith provided the second. On contracts for professional services, the Council is allowed to go with either of the top scorers. The vote was 4-3 to go with McKinney Architects, with Council Members Will Wynn, Daryl Slusher and Raul Alvarez opposed. “I’m uncomfortable going against staff recommendation,” Wynn said, “in part because the fact of the matter is I don’t want to encourage more of this.”

Flooding one of biggest concerns

The Zoning and Platting Commission rejected one developer’s plans for affordable housing in South Austin Tuesday evening after hearing from city staff and neighbors who opposed the project . The applicant, Wasson Villas LTD., has applied for tax credits from the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs and was seeking city approval for a zoning change from RR-CS (Rural Residential, Commercial Services) to MF-1 to allow construction of 126 apartments on a currently undeveloped site in the 2900 block of Wasson Road.

City staff recommended against granting the rezoning request, citing concerns over flooding from Williamson Creek and the traffic impact on Wasson Road, which already fails to meet city standards. A bridge in the area also lies below the 100-year flood plain. Wendy Walsh, with the Neighborhood Planning and Zoning Department, told commissioners the elevation of the bridge and problems at other low-water crossings would result in difficulty accessing the site during flooding. Engineer Carl Conley, representing the applicant, said the developer was willing to address those concerns and able to make improvements to the surrounding area. However, Walsh told commissioners, promises could not be made legally binding. “There was discussion about payment that the developer looked at contributing,” Walsh said. “However, we cannot accept or require payment for improvements to Wasson Road as part of zoning. There’s not a legal mechanism to do this.”

Neighbors, including representatives of the Wasson Road Neighborhood Association and the Battle Bend Neighborhood Association, told commissioners they would prefer the existing CS zoning because it would likely have less impact on the area. “Although the applicant has done his best to make the rezoning (as) compatible as possible with the existing neighborhood, the property owners on Wasson Road agree that commercial use of the land in question would better suit the neighborhood,” said Geoff Cuellar, President of the Wasson Road Neighborhood Association. “If the land were to be rezoned as residential use, we would rather have it zoned as SF-3.” Homeowner Steve Coats said he would prefer commercial uses even though they could generate a larger number of automobile trips per the day. “With commercial traffic, even though it could be three times as much, it would be confined to business hours instead of 24-hours a day,” Coats said. “The same with noise pollution.”

The case had previously been before the commission in April, at which time the applicant was seeking MF-3 zoning. That request was modified to MF-1, and surrounding residents were re-notified. Commissioners voted 7-1 to recommend that the City Council deny the requested zoning change. Commissioner Keith Jackson warned neighbors that they might later be unhappy with the commission’s decision. “I know the neighborhood says they want CS,” Jackson said. “But it is far more intense than this multi-family would be. When you get a warehouse or a use that’s more noxious and more problematic, I hope you remember that you came in and asked for it.”

Commissioner Diana Castañeda was opposed to the motion to reject the zoning change, and Chair Betty Baker was at the meeting but abstained from both the discussion and subsequent vote.

here for Bob Hodge is a party animal! . . . That’s the pronouncement of Council Member Daryl Slusher at last night’s Bonnie Raitt Concert for Austin City Limits at the brand new expanded Austin Convention Center. The Grand Opening ceremony for the new portion is set for Saturday at 11am. That's followed by an open house for the public to tour the new facilities from noon until 4pm. The expansion adds 470,400 square feet to the Convention Center, which opened in 1992. City officials hope that doubling the size of the center will help the city compete for larger convention groups, which can provide a much-needed boost to the city's economy. So the convention center director will have another big party on Saturday . . . Republic Square Park moves forward . . . The Downtown Commission voted unanimously Wednesday to give its blessing to current plans for redesigning the square on Guadalupe between 4th and 5th Streets. On June 15 the Texas Commission on the Arts will consider contributing $500,000 to the project, which will include work by Jesus Moroles. The Parks & Recreation Department, Redevelopment Services, and Transportation Planning and Sustainability are all working on the project and with the Austin Parks Foundation and the Downtown Austin Alliance. . . . Cancellation . . . The Council Committee for Telecommunication Infrastructure has cancelled a meeting scheduled for next Tuesday at 3:00 p.m. The next scheduled meeting is Wednesday, June 26, 2002 . . . Still scheduled . . . The Zoning and Platting Commission will hear Stratus’ proposed zoning changes for its property at Circle C on Tuesday. The Save Our Springs Alliance plans to hold a rally at the back gate of Barton Springs at 5pm and at 5:30 march to the commission meeting, which begins at 6pm at One Texas Center, as usual . . . AIDS Memorial Service . . . This Sunday Austin will hold its third annual AIDS Candlelight Memorial Service. The event, which enters its 19th year internationally, will be held from 8pm-9pm at Republic Square Park at 5th and Guadalupe. Mayor Gus Garcia will light the first candle, initiating the ceremony. This year’s theme from the Global Heath Council is “Share Your Vision for a Brighter Tomorrow.” The Austin service will include speakers, prayer, music, poems, songs and candles, to honor the memory of those lost to AIDS and further raise awareness of the continuing epidemic. For more information on the memorial service, email ozparade@aol.com or visit: www.candlelightmemorial.org . . . Smart benefits . . . Austin’s Smart Housing program will benefit from a $100,000 grant from the U.S Department of Housing and Urban Development. The city will be able to use the money to promote the program locally and across the country. “It will help us with some technical expertise with regard to mapping,” said Community Development Officer Paul Hilgers, “and to help market the concept of this policy to other communities.” The money will fund new staff to assist developers of affordable housing as they make their way through the city’s paper process, as well as provide information to neighborhoods about any new developments being proposed nearby. The funds will be available for FY 2002-03 . . GBRA schedules herbicide treatment . . . The Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority plans to use herbicide along portions of Coleto Creek Park and several other parks on Monday. Untreated areas will remain open for fishing and other recreational activities. For more information, call Wilfred Korth, chief ranger, at (361) 575-6366.

© 2002 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.

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