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City to name Congress Bridge for Gov. Richards

Wednesday, November 15, 2006 by

The Austin City Council tomorrow will vote on naming the Congress Avenue Bridge the “ Ann W. Richards Congress Avenue Bridge” after the former Governor, who passed away in September after a battle with esophageal cancer. While a majority of Texans may remember her as the state’s second female Governor (following ‘ Ma’ Ferguson, who held the office in the 1930’s), in Austin Richards is remembered as a former middle school teacher who helped and encouraged people from all walks of life to become involved in public service.

“Ann Richards was my friend, an advisor, and an inspiration,” said Mayor Will Wynn. “Ann always worked to bridge the divides that separated people, and I think it is very fitting that we honor her memory by naming the bridge where she began her inaugural parade in 1991.” More than 20,000 people turned out for that parade up Congress Avenue to the Capitol.

As a teacher at Fulmore Middle School, Richards was active in local Democratic Party politics. She ran for Travis County Commissioner in 1976 and won, which launched a political career that lead to two terms as State Treasurer and one term as Governor. As the first woman to hold elected statewide office in more than 50 years, Richards helped pave the way for female candidates in both the Democratic and Republican parties.

Once elected Governor, Richards dramatically increased the number of women and minorities in government positions. That legacy inspires elected officials to this day, such as Austin City Council Member Sheryl Cole. “Inclusion of all races in all aspects of government, economic and social life is critical to a successful legacy,” said Cole.

Outside of Texas, Richards may best be remembered for her quips at the 1988 Democratic National Convention. But here in Austin, her legacy of inclusion, her dedication to public service, and her humor will be remembered by those who knew her and served with her.

“She enjoyed people and worked hard, with great passion, to make a difference for them,” wrote former Mayor Kirk Watson, shortly after Richards’ death in September. “She taught those of us working with her to speak plainly, to seek pleasure in public service, and to touch as many people as you can. It's been said by many that she opened a bunch of doors. Those aren't empty words or tributes. She sure did.”

Council committee OKs public safety RFQ

At the request of the City Council, the City Auditor is posting a request for qualifications for a consultant firm to study the city’s public safety agencies. City Auditor Stephen Morgan said Council has allocated $200,000 and asked his office to manage the project.

Morgan made a presentation on the RFQ Tuesday to the Council’s Audit and Finance Committee, which voted its approval of the study.

Public safety costs have been the largest portion of the city’s budget for the past several years, and are projected at 65.8 percent of the 2007 General Fund. That’s almost $350 million out of a $525 million General Fund. That includes all Police agencies (APD, Park Police, Airport Police and City Marshals), Firefighters, and Emergency Medical Services.

One concern expressed by some on the Council has been the amount of overtime being used by the Police Department. According to figures presented during this year’s budget hearing, police overtime exceeded its budget by $1.7 million in 2004, $3.6 million in 2005 and is projected to be $4.5 million over in FY2006.

“The highest priority so far, based on all of our interviews with stakeholders (including management, employee associations and so forth) is police operations,” Morgan said. “The RFQ is looking for people or associations with expertise in police operations. Same people with police expertise might not have experience with fire operations, so there could be a different consultant on fire operations.”

He said the intent of the RFQ s to ultimately identify a company or individuals with the appropriate qualifications to analyze all of Austin’s public safety agencies.

“There’s a list of stuff in the RFQ with what we are looking for,” he said. “It starts with identifying key performance indicators, developing comparisons on performance that are as much apples to apples as possible. They will also do a comparison of cities. Then they will be getting into deployment models of staffing, overtimes and other things “

Morgan said the first question is ‘What are the performance indicators for the various agencies?’ Only after you determine that, he said, can you get into questions of how to improve them or reduce costs.

“In the auditor’s office, we focus first on what the performance is before we suggest changes,” he said. “It doesn’t make much sense to do it any other way.”

Morgan said after receiving the committee’s approval, his office plans to get the RFQ out as soon as possible.

“Realistically, it’s going to have to be out there at least three weeks,” he said. “You have to give people time to respond. It could take a little longer with the holidays. My staff is getting started now, even though we may not have the expert on board until early 2007.

He said the timeline for completion of the study will be determined during negotiations with the winning consultant or firm.

Staff may develop station-area plans in-house

As the consultants hired to work on the station-area plans for the neighborhoods surrounding three of the stops along the Capital Metro commuter rail line draw closer to a conclusion, staffers in the Neighborhood Planning and Zoning Department are looking at how they will draft the station-area plans for the remaining transit stops. Instead of contracting out the development of those plans, the staff may instead work on them in-house.

So far, consulting firm Parsons Brinkerhoff has been working on the unique land-use regulations to surround the transit stops on MLK, North Lamar and Justin Lane, as well as Saltillo Plaza. The Council had originally budgeted $450,000 for that project, but the estimated cost to finish the three plans will be closer to $577,000. That amount would require Council approval. While there is money in the budget for the project to cover that cost, the initial RFQ set an amount of $450,000, so paying the consultant more than that will require a contract amendment.

Once those station-area plans are written into code that can be adopted by the Council, “we would ask them for the development code…and then we, using the first three development codes as a template of sorts, could take the content that they provide us…and the Law Department and NPZD can work together and craft those remaining additional station area plans,” Sonia Lopez with NPZD told the Council’s Land Use and Transportation Subcommittee this week. “That would save us some money.”

While the staff could work to customize regulations for each station area, when desired, Lopez said the regulations for the first three station areas would prove to be a useful model. “I think, given the product that we get for the first group of station area plans, we could use that as a model to complete the additional station area plans that we need,” she said, “by getting the content information from Parsons Brinkerhoff.”

Mayor Pro Tem Betty Dunkerley asked staff to draft the necessary contract amendment to go ahead with that process. “I think that really is a good approach,” she said, “so that the staff can pick up after the first three and do those, much like you do your neighborhood plans right now, and yet you’d have that original template to go by.”

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

New face in the East wing . . . Mary Lou Rodriguez has joined the staff of Council Member Brewster McCracken. She is taking calls and directing traffic in the afternoons. Caryl Yontz will continue on the morning shift . . . Looking ahead . . . The Council will have little to argue about Thursday morning and is expected to breeze through their regular agenda unless there is some unanticipated objection to proposed raise for the Mayor and Council. The Austin Music Commission will take a presentation at 2pm on recent projects and plans for the future . . . Zoning follies . . . The Council will be spared yet another hearing on a zoning change for property on Jollyville Road, where developers hope to build a mixed use condo project. Amelia Lopez-Phelps represents the purchaser of the property but Paul Linehan is now representing the partnership that currently owns the property. Linehan was granted a postponement request at the Board of Adjustment on Monday night after filing a request to increase the allowable height on the property from 40 feet to 120 feet. Without the variances, developers cannot erect a building at the height they say they need for what has been billed a " retirement community" . . . Another case that will be postponed is the proposed historic designation of a home owned by a former football player Peter Gardere on Enfield Road . . . Salamander habitat research . . . Also on the agenda is a Watershed Protection and Development Review item to fund a study of the habitat of the Jollyville Plateau salamander. The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department would administer a $24,763 federal grant and the city would pay $8,595.36 in matching funds. The Jollyville Plateau salamander, which has been nominated for the federal Endangered Species List, makes its home predominantly in the Bull Creek headwaters. That, coincidentally, is where the city plans to build its new Water Treatment Plant 4 . . . Meetings . . . The Downtown Commission meets at 5:30pm in the Boards and Commissions Room at City Hall . . . The Environmental Board meets at 6pm in Council Chambers at City Hall . . . The Water and Wastewater Commission meets at 6pm in room 104 at Waller Creek Plaza … Homeless Education forum . . . The Austin/ Travis County Health and Human Services Department is co-sponsoring the 2nd Homeless Education Forum: Managing Austin's 10-Year Plan to End Chronic Homelessness. The event takes place at 11am on Friday at St. David's Episcopal Church, Eighth and San Jacinto streets. Speakers include Mayor Will Wynn and Mayor Pro Tem Betty Dunkerley; Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle, Alan Graham, President Mobile Loaves and Fishes; and City Manager Toby Futrell. There is no charge for admission, but a $5 donation is suggested for lunch. Reservations are recommended. RSVP to . . . Blowing in the wind . . . General Land Office Commissioner Jerry Patterson has announced that Texas is now in the nationwide race for a new U.S. Department of Energy-backed large-scale wind turbine research and development facility. Patterson made the announcement on behalf of the Land Office and the Lone Star Wind Alliance, a Texas-led coalition of universities, government agencies and corporate partners created to prepare the proposal for submission to the federal government. The University of Houston co-headed the effort with Commissioner Patterson and filed the proposal yesterday. Patterson said he expects the bid winner, or a short list of candidates, to be announced in December. "Where else but Texas can they build a test facility large enough to handle the nation's needs for the next generation of wind turbines?" Patterson asked. "The General Land Office and our fellow Alliance members are confident that our proposal will bring this facility to Texas." Patterson has likened the potential impact of the Alliance's proposed National Large Wind Turbine Research & Testing Facility to that of NASA on Houston during the space race in the 1960s. . . . A little beefcake for you . . . Austin Firefighters Association will release its second annual Austin Firefighters Calendar this Thursday at Cool River Café, 4001 Parmer Lane. All 15 of the firefighters (14 men and 1 woman) featured in the calendar will be in attendance to autograph purchased calendars. The firefighters will be introduced by the month they represent while their calendar pictures are viewed on a large screen. Admittance is free and calendars are $15 each with all proceeds benefiting the Austin Firefighters Fund. The event starts at 6pm.

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