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Kim backs off plan to boot Goodman appointees

Tuesday, August 16, 2005 by

New City Council Member Jennifer Kim informed members of most of the city’s boards and commissions that she "will be making all new Place 3 appointments to our city boards and commissions on August 25th." However, since sending out the letter last Tuesday—which notified all but a handful of former Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman’s appointees that they would need to reapply for their seats—she has changed her mind.

“She just decided over the weekend it probably isn't a good idea to ruffle so many feathers,” said Kim’s executive assistant, Amy Everhart, on Monday. After hearing from a number of those receiving the letter and taking the pulse of the Council, Kim decided not to go through the process of trying to remove appointees and replace them with people she prefers.

Even though a particular Council member nominates most commissioners, no single member of the Council can act to remove or add a commissioner. Evidently this was news to Kim, who took office in June. Everhart said she had learned that, "the Council members don't actually get their own slots, according to the law. It's a courtesy that they get to appoint."

Assistant City Attorney Jenny Gilchrist said, “The Council has to create a vacancy if there isn't one there already.” Like most other Council actions, it would take four affirmative votes to create a vacancy. It would also take four votes to appoint the new commissioner, although those actions could be handled in one motion.

Kim will only be making appointments in cases where appointments have expired. Those commissioners whose terms have not expired need not reapply for their current volunteer jobs as indicated in the letter, Everhart said. She added that many of those currently serving are experts in their subject area and she expects quite a few of those to be reappointed when their terms expire.

In Fact Daily spoke to three of those who received letters. Mel Ziegler, chair of the Arts Commission, indicated that he was surprised to receive the notice when the relationship between the commission and the Council seem to have improved. Ziegler said he did not know how to respond to the letter. However, Everhart said that Ziegler need not worry about his position.

Leonard Lyons, a member of the Parks and Recreation Department Board, said "I sent her back a letter, saying ‘No thank you. I am not resigning.’ My term is up in April or May of next year."

The letter also surprised Mina Brees, who serves on the Ethics Review Commission. “I had only been on there for a short period of time. I was hoping I would not have to go through the process,” of reapplying, she said. Brees said she had called Kim's office but had not heard back on whether she had to reapply.

In addition to those commissions created by state statute—the Planning Commission, Zoning and Platting Commission and Board of Adjustment—the city has more then 20 advisory boards with varying degrees of responsibility. Members of the ZAP, Planning Commission and BOA did not receive notices regarding their positions. However, Planning Commissioner Cynthia Medlin’s appointment expired in July. Everhart said her boss is likely to appoint someone else to the position.

State fines Police PAC for campaign errors

Report failed to list occupations of several contributors

The Texas Ethics Commission has fined the Austin Police Association PAC a total of $600 for errors on campaign finance reports the political action committee submitted relating to this spring’s Austin City Council races. The commission issued the fines in response to complaints filed against the PAC by former Austin City Council candidate Wes Benedict.

APA PAC was fined $500 for failing to properly list the names of candidates it supported on the cover sheet of its report to the TEC, along with failing to list the occupations of contributors to the PAC. A separate $100 fine was issued for the PAC’s failure to provide proper notification to three City Council candidates about expenditures on their behalf in accordance with the deadlines set out by the Texas Election Code.

“These were minor clerical errors,” said APA President Mike Sheffield. “Recognizing that we had a minor mistake on our paperwork, we of course want to make sure that we follow the rules. We made restitution to the Texas Ethics Commission, and we would expect everybody else to do the same.”

Benedict attached more significance to the rulings. While leaving the names of candidates off of the PAC report’s cover sheet may seem like a minor violation to some, Benedict said the core issue was larger than a simple clerical error. “The purpose of these reports is to disclose who is contributing how much money to each candidate,” he said.

“When the PACs do not disclose the beneficiaries of their expenditures, the public is not able to find out how much money a PAC is spending on which candidates.” The public’s right to know who is funding campaigns was similarly infringed, Benedict said, when the PAC omitted the occupations of several contributors to the committee. “When a lot of members of RECA (Real Estate Council of Austin) contribute money to a Police Association PAC, that’s kind of a way of disguising who the contributions are from,” he said.

Sheffield countered that the violations were minor, and that the PAC had been appropriately disciplined. “We hold everybody else to a standard, and we have to hold ourselves to that standard,” he said. “We absolutely believe you should own up to when you make a mistake, and we made a minor mistake.”

The TEC ruled on Benedict’s complaint at its July meeting. He has filed several other complaints with the TEC and has also filed a lawsuit in District Court against the APA PAC and the RECA PAC. He predicted the ruling on his complaint against the APA PAC would be the first of several in his favor.

County to decide on BFI contract today

County officials are facing stiff opposition to a contract with Browning-Ferris Industries that would require BFI to maintain better operations at its Northeast Travis County landfill – and determine a definite closure date – in exchange for a possible expansion or relocation of the landfill site to another location in the county.

The expansion of the two northeast landfills – both the BFI facility and one operated by Waste-Management Inc. – has been hanging over county commissioners’ heads for about three years now, serving as leverage for landfill operators to negotiate with Travis County. Hemmed in by a lack of authority from the state, indecisiveness on an ordinance and pressure from the industry, county leaders have turned to a contract to maintain good behavior from BFI.

Tensions are running high, however, over the possibility of signing a contract with the landfill operator. County Judge Sam Biscoe and Commissioner Ron Davis exchanged cross words over the contract last week when it came time for a vote. Davis complained that Biscoe failed to recognize his motion to put off the item for one week – or possibly up to three weeks – to give local residents enough time to review recent language changes. Davis said he was disturbed that the judge had failed to recognize him.

A rather testy Biscoe countered that the item was posted well in advance and a vote could still be delayed after an executive session on the topic. There was no purpose to delay testimony on the topic, after inviting all parties to the court meeting. The BFI contract, Biscoe said, was no surprise. It had been under discussion for more than a year.

Commissioner Margaret Gomez finally interceded between the two men, asking for a one-week extension so that the contract could be discussed on Tuesday.

Discussions around the contract have been frustrating for almost everyone involved in the process. BFI has promised good behavior, which has meant little to area neighbors, who have been suspicious of any contract because of a long history of inconsistent behavior with the landfill. Robin Schneider of the Texas Campaign for the Environment said neighbors were eager, at one time, to support the concept of a contract as a control over the landfills, but the willingness to support an expansion destroyed that support.

Schneider and other opponents of the BFI expansion plan to be out in force at the Commissioners Court meeting to continue to express their opposition to the contract, which is on today’s agenda.

Commissioners also heard from Bob Gregory of Texas Disposal Systems last week’ Gregory, a competitor of BFI, wanted loopholes closed, such as the ability to transfer the permit to a new operator and specifics set out for how the county intended to apply eminent domain. Biscoe agreed to review all concerns.

In defense of BFI, Attorney Paul Gosselink defended the contract as a negotiated agreement between Travis County and the landfill operator. The county, protected by sovereign immunity, had the upper hand and the discretion to end the contract, he said. Gosselink balked at negotiating eminent domain terms – even before the county used the powers to find a greenfield site – as adding more complications to an already complex contract. BFI also argued against a restrictive covenant on the land, saying that if the county deemed that BFI had failed to hold up its end of the contract, a restrictive covenant could leave the landfill operator with nothing.

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

Better luck next time . . . The first-ever meeting of the Council Land Use and Transportation Committee did not take place yesterday. Council Member Betty Dunkerley was away from the city tending a sick relative so the meeting will be rescheduled . . . Hero of the month. . . More than 30 Austin Firefighters will compete in hopes of being selected for the 2006 Austin Firefighter Calendar. The Austin Association of Professional Firefighters produces the calendar to raise money and awareness for the Austin Firefighters Relief and Outreach Fund, which provides financial assistance to firefighters and their families impacted by an unexpected injury, illness, or death. Local media celebrities will serve as judges for the calendar competition. Firefighters will be judged on physical features as well as personality. The unveiling of the calendar will take place in October and will be followed by several public promotions throughout the Austin area. The festivities begin at 10am today in the Crystal room at the Driskill Hotel with an introduction of the (all-female) celebrity judges . . . . Meetings. . . The Zoning and Platting Commission meets at 6pm in City Council Chambers to work through a fairly long, but routine agenda. . . The Resource Management Commission meets at 6:30pm in room 1101 at City Hall. On the agenda is an update on the Green Building Program. . . The Travis County Commissioners Court meets at 9am at 314 W. 11th St.. Its agenda includes consideration of the BFI contract (see above). . . The Williamson County Commissioners Court meets at 9:30 at the County Annex at 301 S.E. Inner Loop, in Georgetown. Commissioners will consider and possibly take action on a request to join the Austin-San Antonio Intermunicipal Commuter Rail District and continue work on the 2006 county budget. . . Probably cheaper than a consultant . . . The Georgetown Main Street Program is inviting children ages 5 to 14 to compete in constructing a model of the future downtown Georgetown-50 years from now-using only LEGOs. The competition is called " LEGO My Georgetown." One goal of the competition is to encourage local youths to learn about downtown history, culture, and architecture while making them aware that they can be influential in saving and shaping these elements in the future. To enter the competition, children or their parents should complete the entry form by September 2. The form and basic rules are available at or at the Georgetown Visitors Center at 101 W. Seventh St. On September 10, the Main Street program invites youths to display their finished LEGO models in downtown Georgetown for the rest of the community to see.

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