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Futrell outlines management changes

Wednesday, July 30, 2003 by

Joe Pantalion to lead WPDR; Travillion takes over DSMBR

City Manager Toby Futrell has appointed Joe Pantalion to be acting director of the Watershed Protection and Development Review Department and Tammie Williamson to become acting assistant director. Pantalion has served as assistant director under Mike Heitz, who is retiring and taking another job in Louisville, Kentucky at the end of the week. Pantalion is an engineer specializing in watershed management. Williamson joined the Planning Department in 1994 as a planner and has served as the manager of Development Services for the past three years.

The Department of Small and Minority Business Resources has lacked a director since Lino Rivera was relieved of his duties in the midst of an FBI investigation, which never resulted in charges against anyone. Futrell announced that she is appointing Jeff Travillion as acting director effective next week. Travillion has served as manager of contractor relations in the Office of Deputy City Manager Joe Canales since last June. He holds a Master of Public Affairs degree from the LBJ School of Public Affairs. His appointment “is considered interim until all outstanding issues affecting the department are resolved,” according to a memo from Futrell.

Al Jenkins will become acting Police Monitor effective August 11, with the departure of Iris Jones, the first monitor in Austin’s history. Although all of these appointments are described as acting or interim, during the current fiscal crisis the city is not actively recruiting new employees from outside the city.

Sondra Creighton, who will take over as acting director of Public Works from retiring chief Peter Rieck, has been assistant director for more than two years. She was manager of the construction inspection division prior to that. For more about Rieck’s retirement, see Tuesday’s In Fact Daily.

Activist complains about WMI fine Community activist Trek English told the Travis County Commissioners Court yesterday that if Waste Management Inc. (WMI) is going to be fined for problems at the Austin Community Recycling and Disposal Facility, then those dollars ought to stay near the northeast-side landfill.

Under a proposed order from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), WMI will be fined $239,370 for repeated minor and moderate infractions at the WMI landfill. Half that money will go to the state’s general revenue fund and half will go to approved Supplemental Environmental Projects in Travis County, including a water and wastewater system in Northridge Acres. Paul Sarahan, director of litigation for TCEQ, said the number of environmental events drove the amount of the WMI fine. Those events included both nuisance odor violations and discharge problems.

English said the portion earmarked to go to the county—$119,000—gave the appearance of impropriety, because it was too close to the amount the county awarded WMI for county waste pick-up services. She also questioned why money would be allocated for Northridge Acres when Walnut Creek had so many issues. English said Walnut Creek, in Northeast Austin, is being polluted by the landfill.

“I don’t think you should discharge the problems at the expense of our neighborhood,” English said. “We have suffered enough. Our problems are much more serious than Onion Creek, and they are not being addressed by the city or the county.”

The fine is one of the largest in TCEQ history and is based on WMI’s own records of readings on the site. TCEQ is in the process of completing an order on the Browning-Ferris Industries’ landfill next door, too.

The half of the money to go to Travis County would be used on two Supplemental Environmental Projects approved by TCEQ. The two projects under the proposed order are cleaning up illegal dumpsites within a three-mile radius of the landfill and providing water and wastewater services to the Northridge Acres area.

English’s speech was rather tame, but commissioners appeared rankled by her assumption that the county had negotiated the terms of the WMI agreement without public input. Commissioner Gerald Daugherty confirmed that he had met with TCEQ but that he had never been informed of the amount of the levy against WMI or the final projects on which to use the settlement dollars. Daugherty said he would have been open with landfill neighbors about the proposed projects had he known they constituted the final proposal.

Daugherty said it was now time to sit down and discuss where the county could get the most “bang for its buck.” Commissioner Margaret Gomez added that the county had approved no agreement and the county would approve no agreement without it first coming before the Commissioners Court.

Commissioner Karen Sonleitner insisted that no deal had been made and said she intended to support the use of the money in Northeast Travis County, near the landfill.

County Judge Sam Biscoe insisted that the TCEQ order represented no conspiracy or backroom deal. He confirmed the meeting between court members and the TCEQ but added that much of the time was spent discussing restrictions on the money and what environmental projects might be covered.

Biscoe said he would put the item on the agenda for full discussion next week.

Sarahan said WMI has yet to sign off on the enforcement action order. Once the company signs off on the agreement, which they are expected to do, then the agreement is posted in the Texas Register. That starts the clock ticking on a 30-day public comment period on the settlement.

The county played a key role in suggesting projects, but the final decision on Supplemental Environmental Projects will come from TCEQ commissioners, Sarahan said.

Other requirements under the order that WMI has completed include the replacement of leachate collection sump pumps, the reduction of leachate levels, the installation of temperature and silt fencing and new procedures for handling waste streams that have a high odor potential.

New county park to have pool

A local developer’s proposed $375,000 gift to East Metro Park has forced the Travis County Commissioners Court to reconsider its policy on swimming pools in county parks.

The master plan for the 261-acre park at Blake-Manor and Burleson Roads did not originally include a swimming pool. Travis County voters approved $9.4 million in bonds in 2001 for the park. Plans included careful preservation of open space, as well as baseball, soccer and football fields. Then developer Dick Rathgaber, in coordination with Milburn Homes, stepped forward to propose a swimming pool and restroom area at the park.

No county park has a pool. As County Judge Sam Biscoe told the court, he’s always opposed pools because of the liability issues associated with them. But a swimming pool was among the top two or three amenities on area residents’ wish list.

Gary Bellomy of Land Design Studio presented an initial design for the park at last week’s Commissioners Court meeting. The park is designed around activity pods and three man-made ponds on the site called the Tadpole, Bullfrog and Kingfisher ponds.

Current funds will cover only a portion of the proposed park facilities: four junior youth baseball fields, three senior youth baseball fields, four soccer fields, two football fields and two basketball/multi-purpose courts. The bond program will also pay for restroom/concession areas for the sports areas and an equestrian path requested by Manor citizens. Some of the fields will be lighted.

A Texas Parks and Wildlife grant of $500,000, if approved, would cover an 18-hole disc golf course, a fishing pier, tennis courts, a climbing wall, an orchard and a skateboard park. A swimming pool was also included in the grant proposal.

In a document presented to the commissioners, Land Design Studios wrote that the project’s design principles were to minimize competition among users, concentrate the most intensive activities in the park near its entrance and create groups of compatible uses. Construction is scheduled to start in March 2004.

Transportation and Natural Resources Executive Director Joseph Gieselman noted that the $375,000 would not be sufficient to provide a county-quality pool. Rathgaber’s proposal was based on comparable Milburn Homes’ subdivision pools. A county pool would be more substantial, probably costing upwards of $750,000, which would be paid for by bond funds.

TNR estimated it would cost between $18,000 and $25,000 per month to operate and maintain an outdoor pool at East Metro Park. That would be based on operating the pool seven days a week, May through August. In a memo presented to commissioners, Gieselman noted that a survey done by Land Design Studio indicated that 60 percent of surveyed residents would be willing to pay a fee to use the pool.

Biscoe said he would be willing to consider the pool if the liability issue could be addressed. Gieselman proposed that the YMCA operate the pool. He also noted that the City of Austin has operated 47 pools over the last decade and has had only one fatality.

Gieselman said the county needs to negotiate an agreement with the YMCA by mid-August if the project was to remain on schedule. Biscoe asked the County Attorney to explore the liability issues of the swimming pool. He also asked Gieselman to try to cut “the best deal possible” with the YMCA and return to the Commissioners Court with an update.

©2003 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved

Budget numbers requested . . . When City Manager Toby Futrell presents her proposed budget for the next fiscal year tomorrow, she will show the city collecting the same amount of tax revenue as it has in the past. But the current property tax rate of 45.97 cents per $100 of property valuation will not bring in the same amount it did last year, due to falling property values. If the city left the tax rate at that amount, called the nominal rate, it would collect about $17 million less than if the tax rate were raised to account for those falling valuations. Futrell will also be prepared to answer Council members’ questions about what services the city would need to cut or eliminate—and how many employees might be impacted —if taxes are not raised to the recommended effective rate of 49.28 cents . . . Capital Metro meets today . . . Directors of the agency are scheduled to meet today at 4pm to handle a number of items, awarding a contract to Roma Design Group to develop the Master Plan for the Saltillo District in East Austin. In addition, directors will appoint five community representatives to serve on the redevelopment advisory committee. The City Council could appoint four representatives to join those appointed by Capital Metro on Thursday, but are likely to postpone the appointments until next week. City representatives reportedly want to change the makeup of the group the city is entitled to appoint. For example, the city was not given any at-large seats on the committee, but has candidates that do not fall within the categories previously designated . . . Landowners want to join plan . . . Rebecca Hudson, a landowner who lives on Hamilton Pool Road, spoke to the Save Barton Creek Association (SBCA) this week to ask for their support in getting a water line from the Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA) to serve her property. There are already 1500 houses in a subdivision adjacent to hers that need to switch from unreliable well water to surface water. Hudson said she also wants enough water to put another 1500 living units on her acreage. She said she was committed to abiding by terms of the US Fish & Wildlife Service guidelines for development over the aquifer. Environmentalists are concerned that extension of the water line will lead to ever greater density in the area and the group made no commitment to support her proposal . . . Airport to get security money . . . Austin Congressman Lloyd Doggett announced yesterday that the Federal Aviation Administration would provide more than $12 million to Austin-Bergstrom International Airport. The funds will be used to build additional security improvements, including a centralized screening operation . . . Few attend prayer vigil . . . A handful of friends gathered at the Travis County Jail last night to hold a prayer vigil for eastside activist and former City Council candidate Gavino Fernandez. Fernandez, who has been incarcerated for the past two months on a probation violation charge stemming from a 1987 DWI conviction, is also awaiting trial on drug and assault charges. According to a press release, Fernandez is on a hunger strike to protest the incarceration of political prisoners. Supporter Diana Castañeda said 23 people attended last week’s prayer vigil . . . Environmental Board meets tonight . . . The city’s environmental advisory group is scheduled to meet at 6pm in Room 325 of One Texas Center to consider various requests for variances on two projects and will hear a report on remediation at Mabel Davis Park. Board Chair Lee Leffingwell will also ask the group to approve a resolution on development in the Barton Creek Zone of the aquifer.

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