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BAT PAC forms with plans to reform City Hall

Wednesday, January 9, 2008 by Austin Monitor

Although they may not agree on the details of many issues, the approximately 40 citizens who squeezed themselves behind the microphones in the City Hall media room Tuesday could heartily agree on one thing: “What brings us together is a shared view that City Hall has lost its way,” said Hope Morrison, a leader with Responsible Growth for Northcross (RG4N) and the new Political Action Committee called Better Austin Today (BAT PAC).


“All of us have encountered a City Hall that believes that the answers come from inside and from insiders,” Morrison said, “that public input is something to be tolerated, and only after important decisions have already been made. We need elected officials who respect the ideas and desires of the community, who are committed to open, inclusive, and responsive government…and who will make decisions from the ground up, not from the top down.”


Many members of the group have made regular appearances at City Hall to speak on issues pending before the Council or various boards and commissions, but have not been satisfied with the results. “Year after year, we go before our officials with our concerns. Year after year, they say they are listening, but we don’t see the evidence of that,” said Marcelo Tafoya, a prominent supporter of single-member districts. “We see others with money and power go before the officials, and somehow they are always being heard. The only way to correct the imbalance is for those concerned foremost with the public good to band together and demand our city government to be responsive to us,” he said.


The group includes members of Stop Domain Subsidies, the ACLU, the Sierra Club, the Save Our Springs Alliance and the Zilker Neighborhood Association, and several other neighborhood associations. While each group has its own area of concern, members of the coalition hope their united front will change the dynamic of city government. Individuals attending the press conference included former Council Member Brigid Shea and long time activists Mary Arnold, Jeff Jack and Paul Robbins.


“There are no separate issues. Everything is interrelated,” said Roy Waley. “We need leadership in Austin that will take a holistic approach, a proactive approach to our issues. We need leadership that understands that one of Austin’s most valuable resources is its informed and involved citizens.”


The call for more public input extends to this month’s selection of a new City Manager, which members of the PAC say should have been handled in a manner similar to the search for a Chief of Police last year. “If the Police Chief is an important enough role to have a public process, then the City Manager certainly is,” said Morrison.


Another area of concern is the city’s land use regulation, which several members said was inadequate to protect neighborhoods from unwanted growth. “It is time for this City Council to stop making zoning and land use decisions in an ad-hoc, incremental, knee-jerk manner, and start basing them on a comprehensive plan as our City Charter so mandates,” said Jim Duncan, a planner who was in charge of the city’s planning department more than 20 years ago. “It is time for this City Council to stop pretending that Austin has effective land use regulations and start updating them to meet the contemporary demands of a 21st century city. It is time for this City Council to stop pretending that Austin has a meaningful neighborhood planning program and start funding it adequately and start hiring experienced personnel to run it.”


BAT PAC expects to announce candidate endorsements in early March and will consider contributing financially to those campaigns. The group will ask candidates answer specific questions and meet with group members, but the candidates’ track records will also play a role in the group’s selection process. “What we want to do is identify the candidates who will publicly commit to be responsive to people, include people in the process, and have inclusive vision for how they govern,” said Morrison.


Group spokesperson David Kobierowski said the PAC had not yet made a decision on whether to support single-member districts if that issue is on the May ballot.


The group plans a fund-raising party this Sunday at The Moose Lodge and has already established a board of directors in order to consider endorsements in this spring’s Council races.

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