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Wynn, Council stress

Tuesday, June 17, 2003 by

Optimism for Austin

No grand promises for Council overseeing tough budget The Austin City Council launched a new era last night with the retirement of Mayor Gus Garcia and the swearing-in of Mayor-elect Will Wynn and Austin’s newest City Council member, Brewster McCracken. And while there is one new face on the Council and a new set of priorities, at least one thing will remain the same: Council Member Jackie Goodman will continue as Mayor Pro Tem.

The swearing-in ceremonies at the Palmer Events Center were a chance for the successful candidates to give thanks to their supporters, family members and campaign workers, and to lay out the priorities for their next three years. New Mayor Will Wynn told the crowd he would put his focus on financial matters. “Pound for pound this is the greatest city in the country, but we still have challenges. The first challenge that we’re going to face together is a difficult, difficult budget,” Wynn said. “Simply put, we as a Council are going to have to reduce expenditures this summer in order to bring about a structural balance of our city budget. And it won’t be fun. The cuts will be painful. But the cuts don’t have to be debilitating. And it seems to me the way we keep from having these cuts be debilitating is by having as much of this community at that table at the same time making these decisions, helping us go through what ultimately will be an exercise in forced trade-offs”

Wynn also reiterated his campaign theme of helping small business owners. “Let’s reinvent how we do businesses with people who do business, the vast majority of whom are local small businesses that grow this economy,” he said. “The vast majority of the jobs that we’ll work to create will be created by our local existing economy, and the vast majority of those are small businesses.”

Place Five Council Member Brewster McCracken shares that concern for small business owners. “One area we have to start is by making it easier for small businesses to do business in Austin,” McCracken said. But the freshman Council member’s speech wasn’t strictly about policy.

McCracken frequently drew laughter and applause from the crowd in a speech that showed off his sense of humor. “When you run for office, you get called names from time to time,” McCracken admitted. “I’ve been called a few myself: Will Wynn’s clone . . . due to my opposition to the smoking ban, someone called me the Marlboro Man . . . Sam and Bob (of KVET radio) gave me the name ‘Rooster’ . . . one of my opponents called me a left-wing Democrat, another called me a right-wing Republican. We were trying to reach out to every part of the city to give people a stake in the election.” McCracken also indicated he would be reaching out to work with other members of the Council. “There’s an urban legend that here in Austin we can’t work together and we can’t solve our problems, and that’s just not true. As the folks standing on the stage behind me are proof of, we’ve done it time and time again,” he said.

Returning Council Members Danny Thomas and Raul Alvarez used their second inaugural speeches to address new issues and some familiar ones for their upcoming terms. “Of course, the budget, the economy and public safety are all really important issues . . . but certainly none of the other challenges have gone away in terms of affordability, in terms of environmental protection and quality of life,” Council Member Alvarez said. “We must continue to work on those issues, because all of these are priorities in our community and we need you here at the table to help us along.” Council Member Thomas turned his attention to the summer’s upcoming debate over spending priorities in next year’s budget and the possibility of layoffs. “My concern truly is the employees,” he said. “If the employees of the City of Austin are not treated right, if the morale is not right, then the city is not served right. We want to make sure the employees are taken care of.”

Outgoing Mayor Gus Garcia was not forgotten during the celebration. Thomas used his speech to offer a moving tribute. “It was a pleasure working with you. You brought integrity to the office. You’re an honest man,” he told Garcia. “You made sure that we as a Council were willing to do the right thing for everybody in this great City of Austin. You’re a dear friend and a friend that will never be forgotten. We’re here to let you know that we know where you live,” Thomas said, prompting an outburst of laughter from the crowd, “and we know that you will be someone that we will still seek advice from.”

The new Council spoke to an overflow audience at the Palmer Center, with a number of attendees standing at the back. Among those arriving late was former Council Member Willie Lewis. Thomas referred to him in his speech as a friend, even though Thomas ended Lewis’ career on the Council six years ago. Former city manager Jesus Garza was also among the well-wishers, along with many of those whose livelihoods depend so much on Council decisions, as well as numerous supporters. One faction absent from the crowd was the leadership of the Save Our Springs Alliance. It was a subdued celebration, as befits these economic times, with only cake and punch refreshments.

Wynn hosted a crowd at La Zona Rosa after the inauguration, with finger foods and music provided by local country favorites, The Derailers. The crowd was mostly Wynn supporters, with healthy representation from Council staff and commission members. Two television vans were parked outside, waiting for evening live shots and an opportunity to talk one-on-one with the new Mayor.

Austin Police Association President Mike Sheffield was in the audience. Sheffield said a term with Will Wynn means that public safety will be a leading concern. The union endorsed Wynn as well as Thomas, Alvarez and McCracken.

“We know that public safety will be a priority for the city under this administration,” Sheffield said. “He’ll make sure we’re doing those things that will make us one of the safest cities in the country.”

A Wynn administration also means economic development will be a priority, said attorney Richard Suttle, who was in attendance. Suttle is impressed by how well this Council and Mayor understands an income statement and a balance sheet. He sees it as a plus for the development community, and says this is a Council that will be fiscally responsible when it comes to policy decisions.

Sign board says school may Have larger sign sans commercials

Sponsors will be listed on message board

The Sign Review Board reluctantly approved a variance last week for the Round Rock Independent School District (RRISD) to erect a freestanding sign at 10211 W. Parmer Lane for their new stadium. Board members expressed concern about allowing sponsorship panels, which were proposed to be part of the sign, within the Scenic Roadway Sign District. The board allowed the variance after the school district agreed to put the advertising on its electronic message center.

Commissioner Bruce Shelton said, “I think the size and height is totally not unreasonable at all. What I do have a problem with is allowing sponsorship on the sign. Take away the three panels below it—the sponsorships—which is approximately 45 square feet. You can use the electronic message center to advertise for those sponsors. Then it becomes more environmentally aesthetic for the roadway.”

Chair Herman Thun agreed. “I have trouble with the sponsorship. The scenic roadway ordinance doesn’t allow . . . it that way. Although, if Coca-Cola bought a bottling plant next door to you, they could put up a sign that says, ‘Coca-Cola.’”

Attorney Bill Bingham, who was representing the school district, replied, “We would hope that we would have some of these people who are going to be our sponsors pay for the sign and football uniforms and band trumpets. That’s what we’re forced to do when we send money to the state.” According to RRISD’s web site, Chapter 41, the state’s Robin Hood school finance law, required RRISD to send nearly $10 million to the state in 2002-03. For 2003-04, the Chapter 41 recapture payment for RRISD is projected to double, to $20 million.

Commissioner Frank Fuentes was the only commissioner who didn’t oppose the sponsorship panels. He said, “I’m okay with advertising. I’m not okay with the square footage, but okay with lighting and height. The school should have the ability to advertise sponsors.”

The board agreed to grant the variance provided that any advertising be done on the electronic message center and that the sign not be illuminated past midnight. The variance also allows for an increase in the maximum height from 12 feet to 18 feet 9 1/2 inches, an increase in the square footage requirement and a variance from the internal lighting requirement. The latter allows for a section with illuminated letters spelling Round Rock ISD on an opaque background. Bingham said he expects half the people going to the stadium might be first-time visitors and that they’ll need a landmark. “We need something that they can safely see, slow down and get in there safely off of this highly traveled 60 mph highway. You may not be going 60, but that’s the realism.”

The new stadium is expected to be finished in October and hold 11,000 people. This will be the district’s second athletic complex, paid via bonds voters approved in 2000.

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

Lowe’s hearing at Commissioners Court postponed . . . This morning the Travis County Commissioners Court was scheduled to consider approval of a preliminary plan for the controversial Lowe’s Home Improvement Center off Brodie Lane near Sunset Valley. The item has generated a lot of interest because the store would be over the Barton Springs Recharge Zone at much higher impervious cover levels than would be allowed under the City of Austin’s SOS Ordinance. Lowe’s had a special bill in the Legislature this session which appears to give Travis County authority over the site. Environmentalists had planned to protest the application this morning, but the matter has been postponed . . . Regional planning meeting today . . . Council Member Daryl Slusher, Hays County Judge Jim Powers and Dripping Springs Mayor Todd Purcell will continue regional planning talks today from 1:30-4:30pm at Dripping Springs City Hall, 550 Highway 290 West. The Hays County Commissioners Court has approved a resolution supporting regional planning and appointing Powers as its representative to the Regional Planning Executive Committee. “The idea is to get water quality ordinances throughout the Barton Springs zone,” Slusher said. “We’re going to have a lot of science and community participation. I guess you would call this an organizational meeting.” This is the official first meeting for Purcell. The public is invited to attend . . . Slow week in Austin . . . Mayor Will Wynn's staff will complete the move from his not-so-spacious Council office to the larger mayoral office down the hall this morning. Council Member Brewster McCracken will then be able to take possession of his new office. But neither the Zoning and Platting Commission nor the Planning Commission are scheduled to meet this week. Tonight the Airport Advisory Commission will meet at 5pm at ABIA and the Resource Management Commission will meet at 6:30pm at City Hall. Both commissions are scheduled to talk about contracts pending in related departments . . . Round Rock to award construction contract . . . The Round Rock City Council will hold a special called meeting at 8am Thursday to consider a resolution authorizing the Mayor to execute a construction manager-at-risk contract with Brath, Inc. for the Old Settlers Park at Palm Valley Soccer Restroom, Concession/Storage Facility Project . . . Ozone action day . . . Today is an ozone action day, so Capital Metro will be providing free bus service . . . Speaking of air . . . Mayor Will Wynn will join Williamson County Commissioner Mike Heiligenstein and TCEQ Chairman Robert Huston to talk about a Clean Air Action Plan for the Capital area, including Bastrop, Caldwell, Hays, Travis and Williamson Counties. Heiligenstein is chair of the Clean Air Force (CAF) and Wynn is on the board. The trio will have a press conference at 2pm at the Palmer Events Center. The CAF has been working on finding solutions to the area’s air quality problems for some time. One part of the solution is likely to be auto emissions testing, since cars represent the greatest source of pollution in Central Texas. (See In Fact Daily, April 7, 2003.)

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