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Meltzer, Wynn, Katz, Nofziger answer questions about running meetings

Monday, April 28, 2003 by

In Fact Daily asked Mayoral candidates Will Wynn, Marc Katz, Max Nofziger and Brad Meltzer to respond to eight questions of particular interest to city employees and those who regularly attend City Council meetings. Each candidate was allowed to respond in writing or by phone. Only Nofziger chose to respond in person, which accounts for some of the explanatory material in his responses. In Fact Daily did not send the questions to Leslie Cochran, Jennifer Gale, Herman Luckett Jr., Christopher Keating or Joaquin Fox.

1) If you are elected Mayor, do you favor a separate work session on Wednesday, work sessions on Thursday before the Council meeting, work sessions only occasionally, or some other method of public briefings? Please be specific.

Marc Katz: We will have work sessions the day of Council meetings. This will tie up less staff and will allow people to hear what the Council is doing without having to make multiple trips.

Brad Meltzer: I’m OK with the system as it is. However, I will be open to suggestions for making the process more convenient for the public.

Max Nofziger: I would do work sessions on Wednesday, keeping the system we have now.

Will Wynn: If elected Mayor, I will suggest to the Council that we eliminate the Wednesday work session and start the Council meetings on Thursday mornings, rather than Thursday afternoons. When needed, work sessions could be held following the approval of the consent agenda on Thursday mornings. As we take steps to deal with the city’s budget crisis, I believe we must do everything possible to maximize the amount of time that city staff spends tending to citizen services and minimize the time staff spends at work sessions and Council meetings.

2) How would you handle executive sessions to minimize the amount of time that the public and city staff are kept waiting for the Council to take up contested items? Do you favor more time certain items, fewer such items or none at all?

Katz: Executive meetings will be kept at a minimum and only called out of necessity. The public needs to know everything that we are doing on the Council.

Meltzer: The time one spends in executive session is always unpredictable. That makes it inconvenient for the public and the staff. No one should have to wait for an unknown period of time for the City Council to come back in open session. Executive sessions should be on separate days or at the end of the public portion of Council meetings.

Nofziger: I’d try to do most of the executive session stuff on Wednesday, to diminish the wait by the public and the city staff hanging around on Thursday. (Referring to the amount of time being spent in executive session during Council meetings:) I think it’s absurd. ( Former Mayor) Bruce Todd missed a lot of meetings. (Nofziger was then Mayor Pro Tem.) I really tried to run them with the people in mind and I ran them at the convenience of the people.

Wynn: I will work to make Council meetings as accommodating of the public as possible, and as efficient as possible with regard to city staff time. I will advocate for time-certain items when they facilitate public involvement and will ensure that executive sessions are conducted expediently and after non-related contested items are taken up by the Council.

3) Would you be willing to set aside a specific time each week for members of the public to sign up for a personal conversation with you?

Katz: Yes, I have said all along that the only way to find out what is wrong with the city is to ask the citizens. I plan to hold weekly meetings to meet with and hear the concerns of the citizens of Austin.

Meltzer: Yes. Another possibility would be using Austin Access Channel 6 for a live, call-in TV show with the Mayor.

Nofziger: I’ll book meetings all week long, pretty much as I did when I was on the Council. I met with people from 9am to 5pm.

Wynn: Yes.

4) Would you maintain the current staffing level in the Mayor’s office? If not, what staff would you have?

Katz: I will cut the Mayors staff, but I will do everything I can to see that they are reassigned to departments that are short-handed.

Meltzer: Yes. The mayor’s staff should be adequate to answer all constituent mail, e-mail and phone calls in a timely fashion as well as keeping the Mayor informed and on schedule. Timely responsiveness to the public is important.

Nofziger: I will cut one position. According to Human Resources, the Mayor’s office has six. I’d reduce that by one and I have also said I would take a 10-percent pay cut. We are all in the same boat. None of us are immune to the impacts and the Mayor needs to share in that.

Wynn: If elected, I will reduce the staff in the Mayor’s office. I will not make a decision about specific staffing until after the election.

5) Do you favor continuing the current neighborhood planning program? Would you seek any changes to the ordinance?

Katz: Yes, with improvements dictated by needs.

Meltzer: I would continue the program. However, all programs must show their value to the community over a period of time. I am a strong proponent of the Sunset process on all programs and procedures.

Nofziger: I think it needs some improvement. I’ve heard a lot of concern about it. Dawson was the first neighborhood to go through the process. I was working with police and with neighborhood at the same time. (The question I would ask is,) Does it in fact protect these neighborhoods, or is it opening them up to blanket rezoning?

Wynn: I do favor continuation of the current neighborhood-planning program. I do not currently have any plans to advocate for changes to the ordinance, although I am always open to improvements.

6) Does the city have too many commissions? If the answer is yes, which ones would you like to see disbanded? Does the city need a commission for needs not currently being met?

Katz: Yes, we have too many commissions, once in office I will study each commission individually and cut the unnecessary and needless commissions.

Meltzer: I am a strong proponent of the Sunset process. I believe each and every commission should have to justify its existence each year. Otherwise, it should be abandoned. Until that process takes place, it is inadvisable to state whether the city has too many commissions.

Nofziger: I don’t know. I think they’re very valuable for a lot of reasons. Certainly that’s one of the things (we should do), especially in the context of this budget crisis, need to see if they are doing what they are supposed to do . . . I don’t need to create one. I created the Austin Music Commission, but no others.

Wynn: I do believe that the city has too many boards and commissions. Disbanding citizen commissions should not be done lightly, but should, I believe, be strongly considered when said commissions have not met, do not have sufficient participation to constitute a quorum, or do not have a full slate of members for an extended period of time. While boards and commissions are vital as we work to encourage citizen participation in city government, they can also represent a significant drain on city resources when the work of a commission is not productive. I would like to see action taken with regard to last year’s Task Force report.

7) How much time per week do you expect to devote to your Council position if you are elected? Would you maintain your current level of participation in your job or business?

Katz: I am ready to devote 100% of my time to the people of Austin. I have already turned over my business to my staff. They know how I want my business run and they have the experience and knowledge to get the job done.

Meltzer: I would devote myself full-time as Mayor of Austin. I have well-trained staff in my personal businesses. My management systems are so well developed the businesses nearly run themselves.

Nofziger: It’s endless . . . I know if you’re in town you’re on duty. You know its going to be 60 to 80 hours per week . . . I would not continue political consulting as Mayor . . . Austin has full time problems; we need a full time Mayor.

Wynn: If elected, I will be a full-time Mayor.

8) As Mayor, what one thing would you do to “cut the red tape” for citizens and businesses dealing with the city. Please be specific. Is there an ordinance you want to see repealed? Do you want to end site plan review or environmental review of site plans? Do you want the city to continue to check zoning before issuing a building permit?

Katz: I will personally deal with all complaints in all departments as a full-time Mayor. I will be involved in finding solutions to all the problems within city hall.

Meltzer: The problem is primarily in the management of our permitting process—too much duplication, too much inefficiency leading to too much time spent on the process. Reorganization and a commitment to speedy processing and a business-friendly attitude will bring business development, business expansion, new jobs and economic recovery to Austin. City staff should not have to give a detailed review of plans submitted by state certified engineers and architects. Environmental and zoning protections can be maintained while speeding the process with better management and efficient procedures.

Nofziger: I want to see the Smart Growth incentive ordinance repealed. I would change the city’s focus on Smart Growth initiatives. I would change the focus from attracting other businesses to focus on small businesses (that are already in Austin). My approach to economic revitalization is South Congress. The city helps the neighborhood solve some of the problems that are keeping the business climate down. (For example, prostitution was a problem on S. Congress.) Contrast that with Will Wynn’s economic development, CSC . . . that knocked down Liberty Lunch. On South Congress we recycle old feed stores and retain the flavor of the true Austin, (while) improving property values and increasing sales tax, without destroying what is really Austin. My whole approach will reorient city staff away from large national corporations and toward helping neighborhoods and small business.

Wynn: I believe that the budget crisis currently facing the city will necessitate that we reinvent and streamline the way we deliver virtually all basic city services. As I have said before, I do believe that we should look specifically at our development review and inspection processes to ensure that we are not unnecessarily burdening local business owners seeking to grow their enterprises. I do not, however, intend for the city to discontinue site plan review or zoning checks, but rather to dramatically streamline these functions.

Chip maker not delinquent in tax payments

Mayoral candidate Marc Katz wants the City of Austin to condemn the Intel building. He described using the city’s power of eminent domain as a prudent move to ensure the city receives revenue from the property, which is being considered by the US General Services Administration as a possible site for a new federal courthouse. “Once the feds come in, they do not pay taxes. Austin has enough institutions here who do not pay taxes,” Katz said. “I say the city should act like a business and condemn the thing. Condemn it . . . We got it . . . If the feds have to have it they can take it from us, but they have to buy it; at least we get the money for sale of property.”

The city does have the ability to condemn property for a variety of purposes as outlined in Chapter 251 of the Texas Local Government Code ( http://www.capitol.state.tx.us/statutes/lg/lg0025100.html#lg001.251.001). There are a number of justifications for seizing property outlined in the code based on their benefit to the entire community, but the list does not include selling the land to another government entity. Katz said did he did not have a specific legal justification for the condemnation. “I want to have a lawyer tell me they can’t,” he said. “We haven’t looked at it properly. We’re taking the worst possible route before we look at options.”

Katz described the entire Intel project as a “disaster” that needed to be fixed. “We gave away somewhere between $10 and $20 million to Intel in the form of tax abatements, all sorts of utility credits . . . electric, water, wastewater,” he said. “We have not collected any taxes here. We have an eyesore; we don’t know what to do with it. My tax money is going down the tubes and my future tax money is following it.”

While the city’s deal with Intel did include fee waivers on development permits and street closures, it did not include waivers of property tax revenue. The company paid approximately $500,000 in property taxes last year. The land on which the Intel building sits at 400 San Antonio was appraised this year at $12,721,500, according to figures available from the Travis Central Appraisal District ( http://www.traviscad.org). Four surrounding addresses also owned by Intel have an appraised value of $10, 835,731, for a total appraised value on all five addresses of $23,557,231. For the year 2000, the appraised value on all five addresses was only $9,075,056. None of the properties, including the office building, include notations about any tax abatements.

As for the ideal location for the federal courthouse, Katz disagrees with the current City Council, which approved a resolution on December 12, 2002 urging the GSA to select the Intel site. “We’ve got to move the Salvation Army. We’re not doing any good for the homeless there, we’re not doing any good for the business community,” he said. “Everybody’s hurting with that location. So there’s one great spot.” Another option, he said, would be to locate the courthouse in East Austin. “The federal courthouse, think about it . . . what a clean, desirable business that is. Let’s put it in East Austin, let’s give the eastside a break. Why don’t we put it where the Holly Street plant is? We need to shut down the Holly Street plant anyway,” he said.

It’s a boy! . . . Planning Commissioner Niyanta Spelman and husband Bill, a former City Council member, have a new baby. They named the 7-pound 4-ounce boy Ronan. Spelman is taking a break from the commission for a while, but plans to return. The Spelmans also have a 16-year-old son, Jasiel . . . Opposition to ACC bonds . . . City Council candidates Steve Adams (Place 2), Wes Benedict (Place 6) and Carl Tepper (Place 5) joined Mayoral candidate Brad Meltzer on Friday to announce their opposition to both of the ACC proposals on the May 3rd ballot. “We can't afford any more taxes at this time, so I’m saying postpone . . . put this on the ballot in a couple of years,” said Meltzer. The four men attended a news conference organized by Don Zimmerman, founder of the Republican Liberty Caucus of Texas. He’s paying out of his own pocket for a media campaign against the two ACC measures, which would result in a property tax hike for Austinites if approved by voters. Zimmerman lives in the Round Rock ISD and would not have to pay ACC property taxes . . . Free egg rolls, says deli owner . . . Mayoral candidate Marc Katz has made an offer he hopes students won’t be able to refuse. In an email targeting students, Katz notes, “Traditionally voter turnout is exceptionally low in our city and it is time for a change. Of the approximately 450,000 registered voters in Austin, less than 40,000 vote with an average age of 55 years old. It is time for a change and you can help make this change! One of Austin's most valuable assets is The University of Texas. UT is the diamond of Austin and it is time that the University and the city work together . . . but we can not do it without your vote! . . . I know a widely held belief is that one vote can not make a difference; your vote DOES matter and it is needed now more than ever. The students of UT can and will influence this election . . . but you MUST vote. Early voting is going on NOW through Tuesday, April 29th at the UGL Lobby West Mall. Election Day is May 3rd. As an incentive for you to vote, for any candidate, bring the sticker showing that you voted to the “ Egg Roll Stand” in front of West Mall, and you will receive one of many meal combinations . . . for FREE. Just show that you voted!” Will Wynn’ s campaign manager Mark Nathan responded, “I'm impressed that Marc Katz has, at last, '‘rolled’ out at least one good idea. Maybe he himself will consider voting for the first time ever in a city election to take advantage of this exciting offer” . . . Curtis supports Nofziger . . . Linda Curtis, a founding member of Independent Texans, is circulating an email in support of Mayoral candidate Max Nofziger. Curtis, an expert organizer and petitioner has moved to Bastrop. She opines that Will Wynn, in spite of editorial endorsements from both the American-Statesman and the Chronicle and a strong TV buy, is likely to be in a runoff with Nofziger. Curtis claims that Nofziger is “running a strong second” to Wynn. We’ll see on Saturday. Nofziger received the endorsement of Independent Texans as well as the Travis County Green Party . . . Speaking of voting . . . As of last night, 14,092 Austinites had voted early, representing 2.54 percent of the vote. Northcross Mall, followed by Barton Creek Mall, has seen the most action. A total of 3,165 voters have cast their votes at the seven Austin Community College buildings. Today’s mobile voting locations are One Texas Center, 505 Barton Springs Road, the Exchange Building, 8407 Wall Street, and the Central Services Building, 1711 San Jacinto. Tuesday is the final day to vote early . . . HLC meets tonight . . . The Historic Landmark Commission is scheduled to meet at One Texas Center at 7pm tonight. The panel will consider a number of applications for historic zoning designation and for recommendations on tax abatements.

© 2003 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.

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