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Council rules and meeting times

Friday, July 11, 2003 by

Would change under proposals

Few changes for rules, but Wednesday work sessions eliminated

Soon after Mayor Will Wynn moved from his Council office into the larger accommodations he occupies as the top elected city official, he thought it would be a good idea to get a copy of the rules and procedures for running Council meetings. “I wanted to make sure I understood the details,” he said. Getting those details proved to be more of a challenge than expected, since the rules were scattered between ordinances, resolutions and parts of the City Charter. Some were found in the City Attorney’s Office and some in the City Clerk’s Office, Wynn said. Some were not written down at all, but observed as a matter of tradition, he learned.

Now all of those rules have been put together in one ordinance. The wording has generally been changed from the mandatory “shall” to “should,” giving the Council the option of changing procedures if they wish. Wynn and Council Member Betty Dunkerley are co-sponsoring the ordinance, with a few other changes—including the schedule for Council meetings.

Dunkerley told In Fact Daily that the new schedule—much like that used by Mayor Kirk Watson—would begin with an invocation around 9:45am on Thursday, with the Council meeting to start at 10am. She said she expects citizen communication and the consent agenda to follow. After that, she said, the Council could have work session items. Some Council Members, as well as city staff, have said that Wednesday morning work sessions are a waste of staff time since many of those same staff members have to attend the Thursday meetings also.

Dunkerley said she expects zoning cases to continue to be heard at 4pm, with music and proclamations at 5:30pm.

There are a few other changes, most of which were suggested by City Clerk Shirley Brown or City Attorney Sedora Jefferson, the Mayor said. For example, a person who signs up on an item but is not allowed to speak because the item is postponed must re-register at the subsequent meeting when the item is being considered by the Council. That removes the burden from the City Clerk’s Office—which sometimes misplaces or cannot read the hearing cards.

The new rules say the City Attorney should prepare “a written draft of an amendment to a proposed ordinance before the Council votes on the ordinance.” This change will require the City Attorney’s Office to produce amendments made from the dais during Council meetings. Wynn said staff had expressed the need for this change in the rules.

Those wishing to sign up for the general citizen communication part of the agenda are currently required to do so by the end of the day on the Friday before the meeting. The deadline would be moved to 4:30pm Thursday to accommodate city staff. Anyone who signs up to speak during the citizen communication portion but fails to appear on two consecutive occasions would be barred from signing up for that part of the agenda for the next four meetings. Citizens will not be allowed to sign up to speak on more than three unrelated items per agenda, if the ordinance is approved. That will not be a problem for most people, but the idea of such a limitation may prove to be troubling to some Council gadflies.

Wynn said one reason he decided to work on this item is that he has observed “the frustration on citizens’ faces when they can’t figure out what’s going on.” For example, he said, a first-time attendee may wonder why items are taken out of order. “If a citizen were to ask for the rules, it would be nice,” he said, for the City Clerk to be able to hand him a copy. If the ordinance is approved, the clerk will be able to do that. The Mayor does not guarantee that the rule changes will automatically make Council meetings more efficient, but they should add “order and predictability” to the process, he said.

Indoor air task force to Look at technical solutions

Group includes bar, restaurant owners, health professionals

Members of the short-term Air Quality Task Force worked through some initial organizational issues and laid out plans for future discussions at their first-ever meeting Thursday night. The group was fairly evenly divided between bar and nightclub owners and health experts, who will be discussing ways to protect indoor air quality over the weeks or possibly months before new restrictions on smoking in public places are put into effect.

Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman, who sponsored the resolution creating the task force, started the meeting by explaining its mission and defending the composition of the group. She told the crowd that the no-smoking ordinance, in her opinion, had been passed too quickly without input on several philosophical and technical fronts. “None of those kinds of complex and sometimes serial conversations took place, and that was the reason for this working group,” she said. Goodman also helped set the stage for what will likely be a focus on technical solutions to cleaning indoor air. “My issue is ‘smoke-free,’ and there are two different agendas you can lay out. ‘Tobacco-free’ has to do with behavior, and it has to do with a legal substance even in controlled circumstances. ‘Smoke-free,’ in my opinion, is talking about people’s health and the air they breathe in the venues they visit.”

Earlier in the day, Mayor Will Wynn stressed possible technical solutions for the divide between smokers and non-smokers. “We never got to even talk about clean air technology . . . we never talked about the issue of people who have made investments recently in compliance with our current ordinance only to have their HVAC investment made worthless,” Wynn said. “The actual issue should be indoor air quality, not personal behavior.”

The original resolution creating the task force charged it with examining issues related to both indoor and outdoor air quality, but it appears the group will focus primarily on indoor air quality and the no-smoking ordinance. Goodman told task force members that the two issues were invariably linked and should be considered with a holistic approach. “The reason that it (the resolution) was all inclusive is because we’ve had a great deal of work going on for many, many years with the Clean Air Force. It’s all about air quality. The smoking ban came along at exactly the same time as I was trying to get a handle on what we should be passing for regulations in light of the non-attainment issue (of the federal ozone standard) that’s ready to land on our shoulders,” she said.

But the technical staff in attendance with experience in outdoor air quality encouraged the group to rely on the extensive work already done locally in that field. “There’s several people around this table I have several meetings with a week,” said City of Austin Sustainability Officer Fred Blood. “If we could tell the people that are primarily interested in outdoor air quality that we already have five different task forces that are working on that now, ‘I encourage you to show up.’” Representatives from the TCEQ and Austin Energy echoed Blood’s suggestions. The group informally agreed to have a liaison to the existing outdoor air task forces and focus on indoor air quality.

Group members appear to be leading toward breaking into smaller working groups to better focus on health data related to second-hand smoke and on the technological methods and ventilation systems that could help reduce exposure to that smoke. “Nobody looked at any solutions involving mechanical issues, so we’re going to look at that,” said Mike Persinger, owner of The Yellow Rose. “We’ve got some experts that are going to bring in information about how we can make a room smoke-free as opposed to turning around and banning smoking completely.”

Although there was a definite separation between the health professionals on the panel and the nightclub industry representatives, the chair of the task force urged them to work together to reach consensus during their upcoming discussions. “I do believe we all want air quality,” said Mary Guerrero McDonald of the Building Owners and Managers Association. “How to come about it and what stands do we take to dictate air quality is a different issue for a lot of us.”

The next group meeting will be Wednesday, July 16, at 6pm. The meeting schedule beyond that will be heavily influenced by whether the City Council decides next week to postpone implementation of the new smoking ban.

Bar and nightclub owners at the meeting seemed satisfied that their concerns would receive a fair hearing, which many claimed they had been denied before the ordinance was passed. “I’m delighted by having this task force,” said Paul Silver, who’s working to open a new bar at 4th and Lavaca. “This is exactly what we wanted: an opportunity to sit down with really interested stakeholders and to have a very calm, reasonable conversation about this.”

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

YMBL celebrates . . . The Young Men’s Business League celebrated 75 years of providing overnight camping and mentoring to young people who otherwise might be left out of those important experiences. Mayor Will Wynn, who drew support from the group in this year’s election, as well as in his Council race three years ago, was on hand to praise the group, but said he could only offer city support in ways that did not include tax dollars. The group provides 800 kids with a five-day-and-night outdoor recreation experience in Zilker Park each summer. A smaller group of youngsters participate in the seven-night camp at Lake Travis. The group also provides scholarships each year to graduates of the camp program . . . Whole Foods praised . . . Austin city officials on Thursday praised local Whole Foods Market for its decision to keep its corporate headquarters in Austin. The company will move its headquarters into the office tower going up at Sixth and Lamar. Construction is already underway on the mixed-use project, but since the original groundbreaking ceremony was rained out last month, the company held a tree-planning ceremony. “Whole Foods has helped shape Austin’s identity,” said Council Member Betty Dunkerley. “With this project you’re weaving yourself into our community even more . . . and, I’d like to add, without any assistance from City Hall or the taxpayers.” Mayor Will Wynn praised the 1,500 jobs the company would bring to the long-vacant intersection when it opened its new headquarters and a new, 80,000 square-foot store. “To have a Fortune 500 company locate their homegrown world headquarters in your urban core is spectacular,” he said. “We’re very proud of the statement they’ve made here . . . economically, architecturally and spiritually.”. . . Zany ‘Running of the Bulls’ on Saturday . . . Arc of the Capital Area presents Austin’s version of the ‘Running of the Bulls,’ made of papier mache, from 5 to 10pm Saturday. The event, a fundraiser for the Association of Retarded Citizens, will begin at Waterloo Park, Near Trinity and Twelfth Streets. Live music and food will accompany the event . . . Children’s show Saturday . . . The Second Youth Family Theater is presenting “The Emperor’s New Clothes” at the Theatre at Scottish Rite, 207 W. 18th Street, every at 10am every Saturday through July. The classic theater has just reopened its doors, once again taking its place in the Austin Circle of Theaters as a premiere children’s venue. The show is aimed at children, but is considered suitable for anyone over the age of 5. For more information, call Gordon Kelso at 472-7247 . . . Split vote . . . The usually united Water and Wastewater Commission this week split on a vote to approve water and wastewater service to a new 170-acre development on RM 620 North. The site plan, which was filed in the mid-80s and grandfathered under House Bill 1704, gave two commissioners some pause. With no details on exactly what would go on the site, Commissioners Jack Kirfman and Glen Coleman abstained from recommending the service extension on the Parke North development . . . Water rate increase . . . The Water and Wastewater Commission is scheduled to vote on a proposed operating budget and rate increase for the utility next month. The proposed increases, based on a tentative budget, will bring a 4.5 percent increase to residential water rates and a 7.5 percent increase to wastewater rates. That will mean a $2.60 per month increase for the average home . . . Cash Construction wins recommendation . . . The Water and Wastewater Commission recommended Cash Construction for a new lift station for the Balcones Water Reclamation Plant, at a cost of $831,000. The Balcones reclamation plant was purchased in 1997 after the city annexed Balcones Village. A vote on the contract will go to the City Council next Thursday . . . Tech grants announced . . . The city’s Telecommunication Commission has announced recipients of grants to help those who might not otherwise have access to technology. The largest awards, $20,000, went to Knowbility, Inc. and to Girlstart. The former organization’s mission is to increase the independence of people with disabilities through technology. Girlstart was created to educate and empower girls in the fields of math, science and technology. Katapultz, Inc. will receive $12,000 for the non-profit’s work to provide technology coordinators to disadvantaged contract-12 schools. Organizations receiving $10,000 grants include: American YouthWorks, The Austin Academy, Foundation Communities, Inc. and River City Youth Foundation. The Lone Star Council of the Girl Scouts will receive $5,000 and Cine Las Americas was awarded $3,000.

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