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New Council members sworn in

Tuesday, June 21, 2005 by

Thomas to serve as Mayor Pro Tem

Friends and well wishers packed City Hall Monday night for the official swearing-in ceremonies of Council Members Lee Leffingwell, Jennifer Kim, and Betty Dunkerley. District Judge Gisela Triana administered the oath of office to the two new Council members and to Dunkerley, returning for her second three-year term on the dais.

For Council Member Lee Leffingwell, his inauguration was a moment to reflect not on specific campaign promises, but on the nature of community service. "I ran for the Council because as a native of Austin, I've watched our city grow and change over a lifetime. Some of that change has been good, and frankly some has been not good at all," he said. "The one thing I know is that we've always made better decisions ourselves as a community when we work to involve the entire community in those decisions." That requires a diverse Council, Leffingwell said, to balance different priorities and interests.

"That means bringing people together to plan, not splitting them apart over politics. That means rising above and beyond old dividing lines. I think that takes strength. It takes some wisdom. It takes some maturity, and these are the qualities that I hope to bring to bear on the Council," he said. "When I was a captain for Delta Airlines, I would sometimes greet passengers as they were boarding the airplane, and some of them were a little apprehensive about flying. More than a few times I heard those passengers say to me, 'I'm glad to see a little gray hair up there'. Maybe right now that same thought applies to service on the Council. I'm inclined to think it does and hope you do too."

Leffingwell concluded with a tribute to his late wife, Mary Lou, who died in April during the final days of the campaign. "Mary Lou loved Austin. She worked hard in many ways to make it better. She would never have wanted me to abandon my own efforts to improve the future of this community," he said. "So as I'm sworn in today, I dedicate my service to her memory."

While Leffingwell stressed his age and experience in his speech, Place 3 Council Member Jennifer Kim pointed to her youth and energy as attributes that should help during her three-year Council term. "It's been noticing that I am now the youngest Council member," she said. "I say to that, youth has its advantages, and I plan to exploit every single one of them to work hard for you!"

As she did during the campaign, Kim said that preserving the environment and promoting a positive climate for small businesses would be top priorities. Like Leffingwell, she also pointed to the diversity on the Council as a source of strength during the next three years. "I'm looking forward to the challenges ahead. There is so much that we love about our city, yet we still find there are many things that we still need to do," she said. "If we act now, we can make this a great city to live and to work in. I know that Austin's best days are ahead."

Council Member Betty Dunkerley, who took her second oath of office last night, had a cautionary tale for her new colleagues. She noted that when she took her first oath, three years ago, she was confident that her knowledge of municipal administration and finance would be valuable to the Council and to the community. " But I was wrong, "said Dunkerley, the grandmother of 12. " I still had a lot to learn." The first thing Dunkerley said she had to learn was "how to stay on the right side of the dais." After serving in city administration for so many years, it has apparently been tempting for Dunkerley to jump in and help the staff with the details rather than to give policy direction.

In addition, Dunkerley said such a large and diverse city as Austin means there are many conflicting interests in the community. "As Council members, it is our job to blend those interests for the entire good of the community," she said. Dunkerley also stressed the need to be available to listen to citizen requests, research and understand the various points of view and "seek consensus where possible.“

She said the public may not always agree with Council decisions on specific issues but "if the process is honest, fair and open, then at least they will understand the basis of this decision and perhaps the angst it took to make it." Finally, she said she is still learning "and that is a good thing." Dunkerley vowed to continue to work collaboratively to deal with these the city’s financial, environmental and municipal infrastructures and “the creation of a single integrated social infrastructure for all parts of our community.”

Not surprisingly, Dunkerley said the city should work to stabilize the city budget and “maintain and develop adequate reserves during the good times to insulate the downturns and preserve future financial stability.” She also re-emphasized a theme from her first three years, growing the tax base. Dunkerley also made a pledge reminiscent of her two departing colleagues, Jackie Goodman and Daryl Slusher—to “continue the focus on clean air and clean water, preservation of our creeks and open spaces.”

All three candidates also took time to thank their campaign staffs. For Leffingwell and Dunkerley, that meant special recognition for Mark Nathan of Archer Nathan Campaign Management, who worked on both campaigns. Kim thanked her staff, including campaign manager Amy Everhart. "It was an incredible team of women who worked so hard to make this happen, and I think that Austin is a great place because we have such talented young women who are contributing in so many ways," Kim said.

The new Council will have a lengthy agenda to tackle on Thursday, with 136 items plus 18 new zoning cases. That includes selecting Council Members to serve on various inter-governmental bodies such as CAMPO and on Council subcommittees.

Landfill bill spawns protest

A bill aimed at small municipal landfills in West Texas has caused plenty of consternation among the state’s environmentalists.

About 70 environmentalists were on hand Saturday to protest and the signing of House Bill 1609 at the Governor’s Mansion. A smaller group appeared on Monday. Of course, those protests were after the fact, given that Gov. Rick Perry signed the bill on Friday. Now all opponents can hope to get is the most favorable interpretation of the rule possible from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ).

The situation with HB 1609 was simple, as Rep. Warren Chism (R-Pampa) presented it in the House Environmental Regulations Committee in April. Some landfills in West Texas were accepting both municipal solid waste and construction or demolition waste. Those landfills were concerned that a new alignment of TCEQ and Environmental Protection Agency rules would limit intake to a combined 20 tons of waste per day, rather than 20 tons for each trench. In West Texas, such limits could mean driving waste an extra 100 miles, a point that was fairly non-controversial in committee.

But when the bill got to the floor of the Senate, Sen. Kel Seliger (R-Amarillo) added an amendment that said TCEQ “may” – rather than “shall” – hold a hearing on a new hazardous waste facility or the expansion of an existing facility, at the discretion of the executive director of TCEQ or at the request of an area lawmaker.

Robin Schneider of the Texas Campaign for the Environment considers the replacement of “shall” with “may” to be disastrous, a serious erosion of the public input into the placement of landfills.

“We don’t want to leave it as vague as the bill, or to leave it up to the Executive Director,” Schneider said. “We will develop our own rule language, but we are going to push for the commission to make the language specific, rather than arbitrary and vague.”

Schneider points to the protest of the Waste Management landfill in Williamson County as one example of a project where it took substantial public involvement before a hearing was called. WMI holds a trash-hauling contract for Williamson County.

Most people in the Hutto area had no clue about the project, Schneider said. It took a door-to-door campaign to inform neighbors. Even after TCE canvassers gathered 200 letters, it was not enough to trigger a hearing. It took the intervention of Rep. Mike Krusee (R-Round Rock) to finally get a hearing on the proposed facility, mainly because Williamson County wanted to circumvent the hearing and argue directly to TCEQ that the land use was compatible.

TCE also is leery about relying on legislators to trigger hearings. She points to one North Texas lawmaker that is on retainer to a landfill company. Such an example does not bode well for hearing requests, Schneider said..

HB 1609 goes into effect on Sept. 1. The TCEQ’s Municipal Solid Waste Permit Stakeholder Group is scheduled to meet on Thursday afternoon at the TCEQ campus. TCEQ currently taking comments on draft rule changes through July 8, and the intention of approving new landfill permit rules at the end of November.

©2005 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.

Thomas elected Mayor Pro Tem . . . With the unanimous support of fellow Council members, Danny Thomas was elected Mayor Pro Tem last night. He will be given some ceremonial duties that the Mayor cannot do and will take the gavel when the Mayor is not on the dais. Council Member Raul Alvarez had made it known that he too was interested in the position, but Thomas had expressed his wishes earlier and the majority decided to let him have the job, which carries with it no extra pay . . . Musical offices?. . . Shortly after last night’s ceremonies, it was still not clear whether Thomas would decide to take over the corner office which Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman has had since the move to the new City Hall last November. The office, which occupies the southeast corner of the second floor, has more windows than some of the others. New Council Member Jennifer Kim had said she would prefer another office and Council Member Brewster McCracken’s aide, Rich Bailey, said his boss was interested. But they were waiting on Thomas, who has seniority, to say whether he would take the corner . . . No Telecom committee this week . . . Real world, here we come . . . “ The Real World: Austin” premieres at 9pm on MTV tonight and Austin officially joins the list of cool cities where 20-somethings learn about love and drama. While those outside the 12-34 demographic may be clueless when it comes to the charms of the reality show, the New York Times reported Sunday that “ The Real World: San Diego” was the highest rated series on basic cable last season for those 12-34. Mayor Will Wynn had every reason to be thrilled last year when the show’s producer chose Austin for 22 weeks of free publicity. Wynn told the Times, “"People occasionally ask when Austin will get a (major league) team. I say, 'You know what? I hope Austin doesn't get a major sports franchise.' I want music to be our major franchise, where a family every few weeks or months spends a couple hundred bucks on live music. How perfectly does MTV play into that?" . . . Meeting postponed. . . Wednesday’s meeting of the Council Committee for Telecommunications Infrastructure has been canceled so that Council Member Betty Dunkerley may attend the memorial service for former Congressman J.J. “Jake” Pickle. Pickle, 91, died Saturday . . . KLBJ AM starts new program . . . NewsRadio 590 KLBJ AM has announced the launch of the first Austin radio show devoted entirely to mutual funds. Adam Bold will host the Mutual Fund Show from 11am-noon each Saturday beginning this weekend. Bold is the founder and chief investment officer of the Mutual Fund Store . . . Meetings . . . The Zoning and Platting Commission will meet at 6pm tonight in the Council chambers at City Hall. The Planning Commission's committee on codes in ordinances will meet at 6pm also Room 2016 of City Hall. The Resource Management Commission will meet at 6:30pm in the boards and commissions room on the first floor of City Hall. Members of the Arts Commission will meet at 6pm in Room 2017 of City Hall. . . . ADA honors . . . In commemoration of the 15th anniversary of the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Mayor's Committee for People with Disabilities is seeking public nominations for the second annual Austin Access Awards. The Austin Access Awards recognize outstanding businesses and places of public accommodation for their demonstrated commitment to the spirit of the Americans with Disabilities Act and welcoming of all individuals regardless of ability. A panel of local judges, including accessibility experts, will determine the winners. The award criteria and nomination form may be requested by contacting the City ADA Coordinator at (512) 974-3256; (512) 974-2445 (TTY) or e-mail: dolores.gonzalez@ci.austin.tx.us. . . Lake Travis cleanup . . . The LCRA and hundreds of volunteers will be celebrating the 20th Annual Lake Travis Parks Cleanup from 9 to 11:30 am on Saturday. The LCRA is looking for volunteers. Last year, more than 200 volunteers collected about two tons of trash from the lake's parks and recreational areas. After the cleanup, participants will gather at the Travis County Satellite 2 offices on Ranch Road 620 near Mansfield Dam for a free volunteer appreciation lunch. Volunteers also will receive a free event T-shirt and a chance to win door prizes. To volunteer for the cleanup, call LCRA at 473-3229, or send e-mail to jim.wofford@lcra.org. . . . Accessibility Fair . . . The Accessibility Internet Rally for Austin ( AIR-Austin) is looking for 25 internet professionals to help non-profits make their websites more accessible for people with disabilities. In its sixth year, the competition has drawn national attention. Last year, more than 150 professionals teamed up to create more than 25 accessible nonprofit web sites – in one day of friendly competition. The result: countless people with disabilities can now access their information and better use the Internet as a tool for gaining knowledge, economic power and exploring job possibilities. Find detailed event information on the web at http://www.knowbility.org/air-austin.

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