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Alvarez backs change to Council term limits

Wednesday, March 1, 2006 by

Council Member Raul Alvarez acknowledged Tuesday that he plans to sponsor an amendment to the city charter that would increase the total length of time new members could serve on the City Council before being required to collect signatures to overcome term limits.

Alvarez chose not to run for re-election this spring after two terms in office rather than collect signatures 5 per cent of Austin’s voters. That provision of the charter was approved in a 1994 charter election. Three years later, voters approved the $100 limit on campaign contributions. The two provisions together make the decision to run for a third term especially difficult.

“I’ve heard throughout my time on the City Council a lot of folks express dissatisfaction with the term limits—especially since I decided not to run,” this year, Alvarez said. “So it seemed like an ideal opportunity to look at the potential amendment to allow for a longer period of service.”

Alvarez said he does not propose to repeal the term-limit provision but to allow future Council Members to serve three or four terms before taking on the task of collecting signatures or stepping down. If his proposal goes on the ballot it could mean that voters would be making decisions on six charter amendments in May.

Four charter amendments up for vote

On Thursday, the Council will consider whether to put four charter matters before voters this spring. Council Members Lee Leffingwell, Brewster McCracken and Betty Dunkerley are proposing amendments to raise the limits on campaign contributions to $300 and to allow city employees and retirees to add domestic partners and others to those covered by their health insurance. The Council will also consider a change to Council Members terms of office to comply with state law.

In addition, they must consider ordering an election to submit the citizen initiated SOS Amendment to the voters. City Clerk Shirley Gentry has been working to verify the signatures of more than 20,000 voters to determine whether the Open Government petition should also be added to the ballot. That question will likely be decided at next week’s meeting. Gentry said Tuesday that her staff was making good progress on the petitions.

Thomas opens campaign HQ

Mayor Pro Tem Danny Thomas said his campaign his opened an office at 3110 Manor Road, Suite Greater G&H. Thomas, who is running for Mayor after two terms in Place 6, said his wife, Janis, is serving as his campaign coordinator. He said he has raised about $2,000 for the race.

Thomas, a member of the Capital Metro Board of Directors, said he would be in Washington, DC next week as part of the agency’s annual legislative trip. The group will be attending a conference on transit matters and discussing legislation with members of the Texas delegation.

Thomas said he plans to make his official announcement in mid-March.

Commission: remove duplexes from moratorium

Task force moving slowly, says Morrison

Now that the city has a moratorium in place on building so-called McMansions in close-in neighborhoods, work is underway for a longer term fix to the problem. The Planning Commission held a public hearing last night on the code amendment currently on the table as a permanent solution.

The inclusion of duplexes in the moratorium raised questions among both those speaking at the hearing and Commission members. In the end, Commissioners voted to recommend the code amendment without the portions that apply to duplexes.

At the same time the code amendment is making its way thorough the city’s boards and commission, it is being studied by a task force appointed by the City Council. That group is on a timeline to have its plan ready for Planning Commission consideration by April 25.

Laura Morrison with the Austin Neighborhoods Council and a member of the task force said that group is off to a bit of a slow start in its first four meetings.

“The Council formed us on the basis of eight people from industry and eight from the neighborhoods,” she said. “We are working to find some common goals and values, but we are already getting bogged down in arguments, such as trying to determine the definition of a basement.”

Morrison told the commission that the task force is now meeting twice a week, at 7:30am on Tuesdays and 1pm on Fridays. She said they are working on ways to make certain all stakeholders are heard in the process.

Development agent Mike McHone raised the duplex issue, telling commissioners that adding it the interim regulations at the last minute is having unintended consequences.

“Most duplexes are built on larger lots but the ordinance doesn’t take that into consideration,” he said. “You really can’t build a duplex under the restrictions. We urge you to look at a redefinition of gross square footage.”

A majority of the commission agreed, including Commissioner Cid Galindo.

“I think it needs to be included in the ordinance that duplexes are not treated the same,” he said. “I think we need to pull the duplex idea and allow the Task Force to study it further as a separate issue.”

Commissioner Dave Sullivan was also concerned about how the regulations treat garages.

“They take up space and they contribute to the impervious cover and drainage issues,” he said. “We need to encourage the task force to come up with something permanent in regards to garage space being counted in the square footage.”

Chair Chris Riley saw it differently. “Everything in this comes down to drainage and scale,” he said. “Garages can affect both of those, so why treat them differently?”

Commissioner Matthew Moore moved to recommend the code amendment to the Council, but to remove the section on duplexes. Sullivan seconded the motion, which passed on a 7-1 with Riley voting against the recommendation and John Michael Cortez was absent during the vote.

©2006 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.

Investigation continues. . . Assistant District Attorney Claire Dawson-Brown confirmed Tuesday that the Travis County District Attorney’s Office is looking at the signatures submitted by a particular signature-gatherer for the SOS Alliance. Dawson-Brown said the possibility of forged signatures was brought to her attention last week. She would not speculate on when the investigation would be complete but said, “We hope to come to some conclusions very soon” In Fact Daily broke the story on the investigation Tuesday (See In Fact Daily, Feb. 28, 2006) . . . Early votes . . . Early voting for next Tuesday’s Texas Primary continues at a steady pace in Travis County. Figures released yesterday by the County Clerk’s office showed 1.39 percent of registered voters, some 7,613 people, have cast early ballots. The numbers are fairly evenly dived between the parties, with Republicans at 3,554 and Democrats at 4,059. In Williamson County, 3,092 people had cast early ballots through Monday. The party breakdown is slightly different, with 2,614 Republicans to 478 Democrats. Early voting ends Friday. . .

Meetings. . . The Council Land Use and Transportation Subcommittee will meet in a special called meeting at 3pm in the Boards and Commissions Room at City Hall . . . The Environmental Board is meeting at 6pm in Council Chambers at City Hall . . . Kim named to committee . . . Council Member Jennifer Kim has been appointed by President Jim Hunt of the National League of Cities to serve on the 2006 Energy, Environment and Natural Resources Steering Committee. The committee focuses on air quality, water quality, energy policy, national wetlands policy, noise control and solid and hazardous waste management. Kim’s responsibilities as a steering committee member include developing policy that serves as the basis for NLC’s advocacy efforts as well as participating in the NLC’s grassroots advocacy efforts as important issues arise . . . Williamson Commissioner dies . . . Williamson County Precinct 3 Commissioner Tom McDaniel, 61, died on Tuesday. According to his wife Linda, he was about to speak at the Sun City Rotary Club meeting at Legacy Hills when he suffered a massive heart attack. He died enroute to a local hospital. McDaniel was elected to the commission in November 2004. Funeral services are pending . . . . Redistricting demonstration. . . Some Democrats will rally in support of the Congressional redistricting lawsuit being heard at the U.S. Supreme Court today. The rally will begin at 10:30am at La Tazza Fresca, 519 37th St. Rally-goers will then proceed to 38th Street and Guadalupe to mark the intersection where Austin’s three Congressional Districts meet after they were redrawn in 2003.

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