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Mobility Steering Committee off to a bumpy start

Thursday, November 10, 2005 by

Some members seek to avoid appearance of ‘rubber stamping’ decisions

It didn’t take long on Wednesday for Council Member Brewster McCracken to learn that his Mobility Finance Steering Committee would have questions, and plenty of them, when it came to almost any action the committee intended to take into the future.

The mood of the 11-member group – which included lawmakers, elected officials and members of the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority (CTRMA) board – was not hostile. But as McCracken moved through the basic housekeeping measures of the process – naming a technical advisory committee, hiring a project coordinator, even electing co-chairs – members had questions.

Commissioner Gerald Daugherty and Council Member Lee Leffingwell, in particular, wanted to make sure each decision was carefully vetted. As Daugherty pointed out early in the meeting, he respected McCracken’s efforts to get people in place as soon as the first meeting, but he didn’t want to give the appearance that every decision would be rubber stamped by the committee members.

That was particularly true when CTRMA Executive Director Mike Heiligenstein was nominated to co-chair the technical advisory committee. Daugherty said he respected Heiligenstein, but he did not want to give critics any room to question any of the information that might come out of the committee.

“This thing is not going to have the credibility that we want it to have in the community if we do this. I don’t question Mike’s integrity, but we are about to get ourselves wound up and wrapped up here so that people are going to say, ‘Why are you just going through motions?’” Daugherty told the group. “We really have got to reach out and not just go through the motions.”

McCracken acknowledged his concerns but said that trust was a two-way street. The steering committee’s goal was to make sure that the work product of Charles River Associates produced valid reliable data that would drive good decisions, and that work product had to be acceptable to the CTRMA the same way it was to toll road critics. He added that Heiligenstein and city Chief Financial Officer John Stephens were natural choices to head the technical advisory committee because each had authority direct Charles River and URS.

Eventually, Heiligenstein and Stephens were approved to co-chair the TAC. Daugherty and Leffingwell, who served as Council Member Betty Dunkerley’s proxy, voted against the motion, which made the final vote 9-2.

After some initial discussion, the group agreed to name Rep. Mike Krusee (R-Round Rock) and McCracken to co-chair the group. CTRMA Director Bob Bennett will serve as vice chair of the group to act in the absence of either McCracken or Krusee.

The group stalled on the appointment of Cis Myers to serve as committee coordinator, at a cost to the group of $3,000 per month. Bennett and Director Johanna Zmud were sensitive about the amount of money being spent and wanted a full description of the job Myers would do. Daugherty questioned the “already done” nature of the nomination of Myers to serve as coordinator. And Rep. Mark Strama(D-Austin) wanted to make sure Myers gave up a contract she considered to be a conflict of interest before she took the steering committee job, even on a temporary basis. Heiligenstein’s offer of his own staff to do the job, even on an interim basis, was rejected by some members because of the possible appearance of a conflict of interest.

At the end of the discussion, there was enough unrest about the hiring decision that the group agreed to give Myers the job a trial one-month basis, with co-chairs and vice chair negotiating any contract issues and a scope of work with Myers. The group leaders will also be bring back an updated scope of work to the committee so that Charles River Associates can provide a firmer estimate of the cost of the regional study.

Reimers Ranch purchase approved

Purchase is largest parkland deal in county history

Travis County commissioners, moving swiftly upon the passage of a parks and open space proposition by county voters on Tuesday, approved the purchase of Reimers Ranch and adjoining land during a special called meeting on Wednesday afternoon. Two-thirds of those participating in the bond election voted in favor of the $62.5 park bond package.

The 2,400 pristine acres will be the largest parkland purchase in the county’s history, with a price tag of $26.2 million. The land acquisition includes 1,267 acres purchased from Milton and Joy Reimers and a contiguous 1,160 acres purchased from Hogue Canyon Springs, Ltd. That works out to about $10,000 per acre, slightly less than the market rate of $13,000 per acre that the land might draw.

“This is a wonderful piece of property for Travis County to secure,” Commissioner Gerald Daugherty told the small audience, which included parkland supporters. “I want to thank each and every one of you, because, without you, this wouldn’t have happened.”

Commissioner Ron Davis said he was elated and excited by the widespread support of the open space issue by Travis County voters. Commissioner Karen Sonleitner thanked the Reimers family, saying they had been amazing stewards of the land. And Commissioner Margaret Gomez told the group she was pleased to see the transaction had gone so smoothly and so quickly after the passage of the proposition.

Hikers and bikers strongly favored a county proposal to purchase 500 acres of Reimers Ranch, located 30 miles southwest of Austin, which the Reimers family has shared with the county for public use. As part of the negotiations, the Reimers family agreed to part with most of the ranch, as long as they could retain use of their homestead and the 10 acres surrounding it for the rest of their lives, or until they might choose to sell the land.

The land also will be known as the Travis County Milton Reimers Ranch Park. A stakeholder group is being formed to consider amenities for the site. About 29 acres will be set aside for public access, with the majority to be an open space preserve. The county will begin operating the new park as of Nov. 24. For more information, call Travis County Parks at 854-PARK.

StarTran may implement offer next week

Union vote scheduled but result may be irrelevant

StarTran could implement the terms and conditions of its “Last, Best, and Final” contract offer for Capital Metro drivers and mechanics next week, regardless of the results of a vote on that contract proposal by members of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1091 this weekend. The company made that contract proposal during the most recent round of contract talks, but union leaders have indicated they are not satisfied with the salary scale included in that proposal.

StarTran will be allowed to impose the new pay scale and other contract terms under federal labor law, which allows that move if negotiations are at an impasse. “After six months of negotiating sessions, we have been unable to reach an agreement concerning the terms of a new agreement,” StarTran President Kent McCulloch wrote in a letter to union leaders. “No future meetings are scheduled, and there is nothing further to discuss as both sides are fixed in their positions.”

The union counters that StarTran’s move to implement the terms of the contract proposal constitutes an unfair labor practice. “There is no bargaining impasse,” Local 1091 President Jay Wyatt wrote in his response. “To arrive at an impasse, there must have been good faith negotiations. As you know, Local 1091 believes that StarTran has not bargained in good faith, but has instead engaged in surface bargaining.”

At a demonstration Wednesday afternoon outside of Capital Metro headquarters, Wyatt said the company’s last offer was too similar to a two-tiered wage system the union had previously rejected. “If it’s half a dozen in this hand and six in this hand, it’s the same thing,” he said. “A ten-year wage progression versus a two-tier system is the same thing.” The union plans to put the proposal to its membership for a vote this weekend, but Wyatt said the leadership would not be recommending the offer.

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

Veterans Day holiday. . . In Fact Daily will take Friday off in observance of Veterans Day. All City of Austin offices, libraries and museums will be closed. Trash collection will be as normally scheduled . . . Veteran’s Day Parade. . . There will be a Veteran’s Day Parade on Congress Avenue Friday morning. City officials say the Congress Avenue Bridge will be closed starting at 6:30am; Congress Avenue from Cesar Chavez Street to 11th Street will be closed shortly before 9am. The parade will begin at 9:15am and end on the State Capitol grounds by 11am . . . Slow down, hurry up. . . It has been a very slow week at City Hall due to the cancelled City Council meeting. But next week’s meeting should keep things hopping throughout the week. Next Thursday, the Council will take up a zoning change for the Spring Condominiums and for planned housing in a near south Austin neighborhood resisting changes to its flood plain. Council members will once again look at ways to improve the city’s billboard ordinance and could consider a host of other issues . . . Changes in the offing for UNO? . . . The codes and ordinances subcommittee of the Planning Commission will meet next Tuesday night and will begin looking at language to facilitate changes to the University Neighborhood Overlay. Consultant Mike McHone says he has a client who is planning a 220-foot condo tower in the West Campus area. In order to do that, he would need to change the height limit for the property . . . ‘Spread the warmth’ drive kicks off Friday. . . In spite of the unseasonably warm temperatures Austinites have experienced this year, a winter’s chill could be just around the corner. To help the needy, Texas Gas Service Conservation Program with support from Airco Mechanical, Central Market and 107.1 KGSR is providing warm blankets for those who could not otherwise afford them. The kick-off event will take place this Friday from 11:30am-1:30 p.m. at Central Market, 4001 North Lamar Blvd. The public is invited to bring new blankets or cash donations to Central Market. Each individual donating a blanket or a minimum gift of $10 during the kick-off event will receive a $10 gift certificate from Central Market and a music CD from KGSR. Upon completion of the drive, blankets and cash will be distributed equally among four local charities: Caritas of Austin, Meals on Wheels and More, Family Eldercare and Mobile Loaves & Fishes . . . Tree-hugging opportunity . . . Looking to branch out? . . TreeFolks is sponsoring a Citizen Forester Workshop this weekend. Participants will learn about urban tree care from an array of professional arborists, foresters, and landscape designers. Participants will receive an official TreeFolks' Citizen Forester Certificate. The workshop is from noon to 5pm on Saturday and Sunday at TreeFolks at Hornsby Bend, 10803 Platt Ln. Cost is $45 for non-members and $36 for members. For more information, contact TreeFolks at 443-5323 or . . . New trail opening. . . The Austin Parks and Recreation Department and American YouthWorks’ Environmental Corps plans a Spicewood Valley Trail ribbon cutting ceremony at 10am on Saturday at Mountain View Park off of Westerkirk Drive. The ceremony highlights the completion of the Spicewood Valley Trail, which is the third segment of trail in the Upper Bull Creek Greenbelt that has been completed by American YouthWorks’ Environmental Corps. For information contact Parc Smith at 423-2887. . . Let the dancing begin . . . Council Member Raul Alvarez and Josilda Acosta of the Insituto de Cultura will hold a news conference this morning to announce that the Institute of Puerto Rican Culture has named the Puerto Rican Folkloric Dance and Cultural Center as the fifth Affiliated Cultural Center on the US mainland. The announcement will be made at 10am at City Hall. Live music and a dance performance by members of the Puerto Rican Folkloric Company will be a part of the announcement. Founded in 1997, the Puerto Rican Folkloric Dance and Cultural Center highlights Austin’s role as one of the few Puerto Rican cultural centers in the country. It is the only cultural center in Texas and the four surrounding states offering ongoing performance and educational programs in traditional Puerto Rican dance, music and culture for children and adults.

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