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Council approves LegalZoom package amid day’s tragic events

Friday, February 19, 2010 by Kimberly Reeves

A hearing on LegalZoom’s economic incentive package last night took slightly more than a half-hour at Council, a sign of deference, in part, to the morning’s tense moments after a small plane crashed into an office building in Northwest Austin.

 

The incentive package was the only item on Thursday night’s Council agenda. On Thursday morning, an Austin man, Andrew Joseph Stack, allegedly flew a small plane into one of three Echelon office buildings near MoPac and US 183. The remains of two persons were found in the building and several IRS employees were injured. Stack apparently also torched his own home in the Schofield Farms neighborhood.

 

Initially, the worry was the flight might have been a terrorist attack. The plane crash happened just after 10am. By 12:30pm, Mayor Lee Leffingwell and City Manager Marc Ott were on the scene, assuring the media that the scene was contained and an intentional act of a single individual. Five hours later, Leffingwell was back on the dais with Council, hearing the LegalZoom case.

 

Speakers at last night’s hearing kept comments brief, alluding to the tense day, thanking city leaders and saying they would not take up too much of Council’s time on the LegalZoom incentive package. With no significant objections to the package, that did not appear to be a problem. Council approved it on a unanimous vote.

 

The incentive package proposed by the city was modest: $20,000 per year for 10 years, with the potential guarantee of 600 new jobs, a small package compared with The Domain.

 

Tim Crowley, who spoke in favor of the deal, noted the estimated 18 percent underemployment rate in Austin was just as, or more, important than the estimated 8 percent unemployment rate. On the other hand, some local lawyers raised objections that LegalZoom cut into local legal business.

 

The package also had some objections from Austin Interfaith. Patti Siragosa noted that the jobs created by the company were not the most desirable to the city. Siragosa wanted to see higher starting salaries for the company.

 

Council had no problems approving the incentive package. Council Member Bill Spelman noted the package did not include “any unauthorized practice of law.” Council Member Laura Morrison said her support of the incentive package was based in part on the fact the company provided domestic partner benefits.  Morrison also expressed concern for a living wage at the company.

 

The incentive package passed unanimously, a vote of 7-0. LegalZoom’s move is anticipated to bring 200 jobs initially, and 600 jobs ultimately, to the Austin area from California.

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