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Council reaffirms commitment to music network
On 4-2 vote, Council sends funding matter to City ManagerThe Austin Music Network won a resolution of support from the City Council yesterday by a split vote of 4-2. The resolution outlines the network’s economic benefits through the promotion of the local music scene. It also directs City Manager Toby Futrell to seek out funding for the network next year that would not involve revenues from sales or property taxes. “That’s something we accomplished in the last budget cycle, where there are no general fund dollars going into the music network,” said Council Member Raul Alvarez, who co-sponsored the resolution with Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman. “I think what we want to do is identify any opportunities in the next six months to support the operations of the network.” The network currently receives funding from the hotel-motel tax. AMN had come under fire yet again in the past few weeks after reports that it aired a video by rapper “Nelly” that contained inappropriate content, and that a public service announcement produced by the station could be interpreted as a political attack on Mayor Will Wynn and Council Member Brewster McCracken. Wynn and McCracken were the only members of the Council to oppose current funding for AMN. “I want to issue a public apology to the Council, to the citizens of Austin, to anyone that might have been the slightest bit offended, hurt or alienated,” said AMN General Manager Louis Meyers. “I apologize profusely for that video getting on the air. It’s not our policy and . . . it will never happen again. Any political PSA’s in our register-to-vote campaign that have offended anyone, I apologize for that too.” But Wynn told fellow Council members that the violations of the network’s contract with the city on programming standards was simply another sign that the channel was being mismanaged and that public dollars were being spent unwisely. “Where we have public dollars involved . . . I believe that our citizens demand that the contractual obligations are followed,” he said. “And we haven’t seen that. And as to the performance of the current manager, there’s a bunch of questions that need to be answered . . . because citizens are angry. Like it or not, the Austin Music Network has become symbolic of public spending with no demonstrable returns. As big and complex as our city’s budget is, when the three words ‘Austin Music Network’ are in that budget it raises a lot of concern and I think it actually hurts the credibility of the overall broad amount of efforts that are occurring across this community.” The Mayor also had several questions for city staff and Meyers about the financial details of the network’s operations. He referred to a clause in the contract calling for the network to spend its allocated funds on a pro-rata basis each month, thereby keeping the network “on budget” throughout the year. Financial data from the network indicated that it has been spending more than originally allocated for each month, as well as drawing money from a reserve fund. “Was that budget approved, and by whom? Surely the contract allows for the budget to either be approved or not,” said Wynn, “Was it approved, and who has approval?” Assistant City Manager John Stephens and Futrell attempted to clarify the network’s budgeting process, noting that it had been shifted from a normal contract to a cultural arts contract last year when the Council approved funding the network through hotel and motel taxes. “In prior contracts . . . the budget was what the city gave and they did not over-spend in those years what the city appropriated,” said Futrell. “This year was somewhat different . . . in being cut so dramatically, there was a proposal that included significant fund raising. So for the first time, their budget would be different than what the city appropriated.” Meyers told Wynn that the network had always planned to use the financial reserve account as a cushion while its fundraising efforts were being launched. “We made it clear in October in our reports to the city that we would like to use those cash reserves,” he said. “At that point, and to this day, no one has told me there’s a problem with that. Multiple city staff, multiple Council members, multiple financial officers within the city received that report and made no negative comments back to me.” Since the network had secured the right to sell advertising and program sponsorships in December, Meyers said the results had been better than expected. “My mission statement on day one was to make this a self-sufficient organization. Can I do that in four months? Absolutely not. I cannot go from $700,000 to $150,000 and create self-sufficiency in four months,” he said. “The fact that we’re 95 percent there on month four is beyond my wildest expectations.” He further praised the network’s current staff for their efforts, noting that the channel had substantially improved in quality in recent months. “I inherited probably the most dysfunctional business situation I’ve ever seen in my entire life,” he said. “It was obviously a broken machine. The content was not adequate for the money that had been put into it. The image, the way it related to the community was in shambles. Not from one person, from a whole series of managers that didn’t do the best job possible and from almost ten years of Council that didn’t do any accountability to those managers.” But while Meyers may have been trying to paint the picture of the channel as a turn-around success story, the remarks about the actions of previous Councils may have rubbed Council Member Daryl Slusher the wrong way. “I think there’s some truth to that . . . I’m going to take that to heart,” he said. But he also warned that “I have not seen here today a strong enough commitment and understanding of the responsibility that people take on and the trust that people take on when they’re entrusted with spending public funds . . . the funds of all our citizens.” He said that he would not be able to support the resolution drafted by Alvarez and Goodman, since he did not want to make any commitments for next year before the budgeting process this summer. “I voted several times for the funding for the network . . . and I was going to vote against de-funding the network,” he said, referring to a proposal from Wynn that the Mayor pulled from the agenda. “But I’m concerned about why we have to go on record in the middle of the budget year about supporting the network, because we haven’t taken any action contrary to that.” The vote on the resolution supporting the network was 4-2, with Wynn and Slusher opposed. McCracken, who had previously voted against funding the network, was absent from the meeting. His wife gave birth to their first child earlier this week. Along with direction to the City Manager to seek out funding sources of money for the network other than the general fund, the resolution also calls for other discussions about the future of AMN to involve the Council’s Telecommunications Subcommittee. That measure was in response to a concept that surfaced in late February that would let the city sell back control of one or more of the seven public access channels to Time Warner Cable, possibly including AMN. “We wanted to make sure that everybody was reassured in the public that the way to do any discussing of the futures of AMN or Austin Community Access Channels . . . or any of the other franchise provisions that we have with Time Warner is to do it through the subcommittee,” said Goodman. “That way there’s no perception of anything going on behind closed doors.” Although they are still at least one more week from taking an official vote, several members of the City Council indicated on Thursday that they are mostly satisfied with the details of a proposed new Meet and Confer contract with the Austin Police Association. Assistant City Manager Laura Huffman laid out the details of the proposal in a briefing session during the City Council meeting. Council comments on proposed police contract Although they are still at least one more week from taking an official vote, several members of the City Council indicated on Thursday that they are mostly satisfied with the details of a proposed new Meet and Confer contract with the Austin Police Association. Assistant City Manager Laura Huffman laid out the details of the proposal in a briefing session during the City Council meeting. The changes to the contract that drew the most attention affect the Office of the Police Monitor and the Citizen Review Panel. Huffman described those changes as the result of the city’s experience with the civilian police oversight system over the past three years. Under the new deal, members of the panel would face limits on their ability to comment about cases pending before them. “If a panel member speaks out on a case in a way that indicates pre-judgment or bias on that case before they’ve played their role as a panel member on that case, they’re subject to removal,” said Huffman. “The model that we’re using is really a jury model.” I think most citizens understand that jurors don’t speak out on cases while they’re deliberating. After a case, jurors do speak out. But what we have is a standing jury. Their neutrality has to be assured within the case…and has to be continued from case to case.” Members of the panel could still comment openly on policy change recommendations such as those that accompanied the panel’s report on Officer Scott Glasgow. And they could also comment on their written disciplinary recommendations to Chief Stan Knee. But they could not express agreement or disagreement with Chief Knee’s final decision on discipline for an officer, except as set forth in their written recommendation. The new contract would also increase the Citizen Review Panel’s access to an officer’s Internal Affairs records. The panel would be able to release the results of independent investigations, such as the one conducted after the shooting of Sophia King. That procedure would be retroactive—allowing release of the report on the events surrounding King’s death—after the new contract is signed. The new contract also contains a provision in response to the APA’s lawsuit over the conduct of that investigation. “State law gives us 180 days to do an investigation and make disciplinary action,” said Huffman. “Now we have a provision in there where if the Police Association files an injunction against the city, or arbitrates provisions of the contract…that clock stops and all 180 days are preserved for the city.” Gains for the Austin Police Association include potential bonuses for education and special skills. The contract also continues the 2 percent public safety pay premium with estimated price tag of $33.4 million over the next five years. Council members were generally happy that the details of a contract had been hammered out after the APA left the bargaining table, but some had concerns about specific provisions of the contract. “The police oversight enhancements I’m very pleased with,” said Council Member Danny Thomas.“But when it comes down to the conflict of interest rules, it draws the line for me. I don’t know about any violations in the previous contract by any panelists…but I feel that each panelist should have an opinion and voice their own opinion. I think we should let the panelists be able to speak. Overall, I’m pleased. If the association passes on this contract and we as a council pass on this contract, what I’m looking for is a dialogue…come together, let’s quit pointing fingers at each other.” Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman also praised the overall contract while calling for a willingness to review some details in the future. And Council Member Betty Dunkerley noted that the deal would keep Austin’s police officers at the top of the state’s pay scale. “It’s been a long process,” she said. “It’s really a balance for the Chief, the organization, and the community. In any kind of negotiation, there’s really a give and take on each side. Not any group got everything they wanted, but each group got something they wanted.” The new contract will be posted for a vote on next week’s Council agenda. Knee is optimistic that both sides will agree to the deal. “I believe that it’s a very, very fair contract, and a good contract for the police and the citizens of this community,” he said. If the Council is does not approve the contract at its March 11 meeting, it will have another opportunity on March 25 before the current contract expires. The full 61-page document is available on-line at http://www.ci.austin.tx.us/police/downloads/mandc_finalcontract030404.doc Doggett urges voters to hit polls today Heavy voting in Hidalgo County could swing election to Hinojosa Heavy voting in Hidalgo County brought Congressman Lloyd Doggett and his wife, Libby, back to Austin yesterday to do a last-minute get-out-the-vote message to his supporters in Congressional District 25. An assortment of local elected officials and Democratic activists gathered under ominously dark skies in the parking lot of a Southeast Austin grocery store with Doggett yesterday afternoon, all urging voters to exercise their civic duty on this final day of early voting. As of the close of polling places on Wednesday, 15,276 Democrats in Travis County had voted. That number represents less than three percent of registered voters. In Hidalgo County, more than nine percent of voters—23,457—had voted during the same time period. Travis has almost twice the number of registered voters as Hidalgo, but most of Austin’s voters are in other congressional districts as a result of redistricting. Doggett described his campaign day, which began with the official Texas rattlesnake roundup in Freer. “I’ve got plenty of snakes in Washington to deal with,” he said. The campaign then moved on to Hebronville, a community so rural there are no incorporated cities in the area. Doggett has picked up a significant number of endorsements from local elected officials in the Valley. “I feel very good about the endorsements here and in the Valley. The question is, ‘Will we have the turnout,’” in the Travis County part of District 25?. He concluded, “We could do with it (turnout) being considerably higher.” “Voters in Travis County should take advantage of the convenience of voting at a variety of locations around town,” he said. “We have to vote early because ‘ DeLay’ is our enemy. Voting is an important part of our democracy, but it only works if everyone participates.” Peck Young of Emory & Young, get-out-the-vote specialists for Leticia Hinojosa, who is running against Doggett for the Democratic nomination, said he thought turnout in Travis County’s part of District 25 was good. “One of the things I have heard is that the turnout that is happening here in Travis County—it’s coming from this congressional district. We’ve got a program for turning out the vote here . . . a disproportionate share is coming from this district.” However, Young said voting in Hidalgo County is probably the highest in the state. “It always does. It’s a county that likes early voting,” he said. “The (Democratic) primary in a primary in South Texas is when you get elected.” Young said turnout in Hidalgo County is being driven by a heavily contested race for sheriff in addition to the congressional race. “I’d like to claim responsibility, but to a large extent in South Texas that sort of early vote isn’t done scientifically; it’s all done group by group and family by family. A congressional race by itself couldn’t generate that kind of enthusiasm . . . Who’s sheriff is a lot bigger deal than who’s a congressman.” Doggett will appear with recording artist Eliza Gilkyson at a final early vote rally tonight from 5:30-7pm in the parking lot of the Twin Oaks Shopping Center outside Rosie’s Tamale House at South Congress and Oltorf. The venue is cattycorner from the HEB, which has a popular early voting location in its parking lot. Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir reported a smooth early voting period and anticipated a surge in voting today. “If tradition holds, we expect a last day surge that will put us on course to equal or surpass turnout in past presidential elections,” DeBeauvoir said. As of last night, 17,457 Democrats in Travis County had cast their ballots. That number represents 3.3 percent of the county’s voters. Yesterday’s numbers from Hidalgo County were not available. Most polling locations will be open from 7am to 7pm today, with voting at both Northcross Mall and Highland Mall from 10am to 9pm. Special mobile voting locations will also be set up at the following locations from Noon to 6pm: Home Depot at 8801 S. I-35 and Slaughter; Book People, 603 N. Lamar (Noon-6pm); Home Depot at Howard Lane and 13309 N. I-35; and Albertson’s in Westlake, 701 S. Capital of Texas Highway. Neighborhood Plan approved . . . On a vote of 6-0, the City Council approved the Planning Commission’ s recommendations for the Crestview-Wooten Neighborhood Plan on first reading yesterday. Subsequent readings of the plan may prove more troublesome, however, since at least two property owners filed valid petitions against the proposed downzoning of their land. Council Member Brewster McCracken, a new father, was absent . . . More on Municipal Court . . . After returning from a final executive session yesterday, the City Council unanimously approved a motion by Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman to postpone consideration of the compensation and benefits for Municipal Court Clerk Rebecca Stark until March 25. Goodman indicated that the Council needed time to gather more information before making a decision. The matter had been postponed from a previous agenda . . . Appointments . . . The City Council appointed Susan Bright and Cristela Perez to the Child Care Council by consensus. Camile Pahwa was reappointed by consensus to the Community Development Commission. Tim Jones regained his appointment to the Environmental Board after a few weeks absence; Council Member Daryl Slusher reappointed him. Slusher also reappointed Natalie Zoe to the Music Commission. Council Member Raul Alvarez reappointed Luis Zapata to the Music Commission. Council Member Brewster McCracken appointed Jose de la Fuente to the Ethics Review Commission. . . More political figures begin to visit . . . Senator John Kerry’s wife, Teresa Heinz Kerry is expected to take a tour of the Avance Parenting program at Allan Elementary (4200 Vargas Rd., Austin, TX, 78702) beginning at 2:30pm on Friday. Mrs. Kerry is a well-known philanthropist and has actively supported Avance through grants from the Heinz Foundation. . . Also running in District 25 . . . Becky Armendariz Klein, the likely winner of the Republican Primary in District 25, plans to travel throughout the district on Election Day, greeting voters at polls from McAllen to Austin and every county in between. She will end the day at a victory rally at Vivo Cocina Mexicana at 2015 Manor Road in Austin from 6:30-10pm . . . Cleanup planned . . . Austin Music Network staff members are planning a downtown cleanup this weekend to help make sure the city is ready for the influx of visitors for South by Southwest. AMN General Manager Louis Meyers told the Council it was also an act of atonement for the airing of inappropriate material. Meyers invited anyone who wants to help to meet at Flamingo Cantina, 515 E 6th St., at Noon on Sunday.
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