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Despite lack of consensus, Council vote looms on state land deal

Wednesday, December 5, 2012 by Michael Kanin

Concerns about a potential interlocal agreement between the City of Austin and the Texas Facilities Commission continued to mount Tuesday as more Austin City Council members expressed worry about the timing of a Thursday vote on the matter.

 

A portion of the debate continued to focus on the idea that city involvement in the deal – a look at repurposing roughly 500 acres of state-owned land in Austin – was premature. Another concern voiced Tuesday was the lack of time Council members can review the proposed agreement, as a completed draft is not available until today.

 

Even so, Mayor Lee Leffingwell suggested that the situation was no different than many other votes taken over documents produced at the last minute. “I think that would be a big change in our normal operating procedures,” Leffingwell said. “We routinely make revisions to resolutions and ordinances both on the last day. I think just to single out one item would be, perhaps, inappropriate.”

 

Council Member Mike Martinez disagreed. “It is a contractual obligation with a financial commitment,” he said. “We have all these rules about posting and transparency, and we try to comply with them as best we can so we give the public more than the legally required amount of time to review an item. Here we are, 48 hours from a Council meeting, and we don’t even have a draft of a contract.”

 

If approved by Council members, the deal would have the city provide staff, resources and financial support to a state-piloted examination of Texas-owned land that could be subject to private development. Council members appear to agree on this much.

 

However, some difference of opinion remains on almost everything beyond that (see In Fact Daily, Dec, 4, 2012). Council Member Laura Morrison continued Tuesday to push the idea that, with the Facilities Commission up for review by the Sunset Advisory Commission, any participation in a land study would be premature until after definitive action from the Legislature, which convenes next month.

 

Morrison signaled her intent to add a clause to the deal that would delay much city involvement in the process until August. Mayor Pro Tem Sheryl Cole, a driving force behind the agreement, argued against a delay. “I believe that the sooner we become (involved) in this process, the better it will be,” she said.

 

Council Member Kathie Tovo echoed Martinez’s more immediate concerns about lack of time to digest a draft of the contract. “Not only is it important for the public to be able to carefully review the document, I really feel conflicted about this item and feel like I need to review it carefully,” Tovo said.

 

Cole joined Leffingwell in an attempt to brush this aside. “We’ve received huge documents – Comprehensive Plan, East (Riverside) Corridor Plan – on the dais on the day that we’re actually to vote on them,” she said.

 

Cole told In Fact Daily Tuesday afternoon that, thus far, none of her colleagues had said that a week’s delay would make a difference in their respective votes. “It’s not a very long document,” she said.

 

Still, Cole suggested that she would consider a delay if one of her colleagues asked for one. She noted, however, that “the process has already started.”

 

Meanwhile, Council members also shared differing interpretations of where Austin’s state Legislative caucus fell on the matter. Cole traveled to the Capitol last Friday to brief key officials. She reported Tuesday that this had allayed some fears. “All of them want us to move forward and be a part of the process because they believe that we will make it better,” Cole said.

 

Morrison seemed to doubt that. “I did hear concerns … from some about moving forward now,” she said.

 

Despite the worry from Martinez, Morrison and Tovo, Cole would seem to have the votes to get an agreement passed Thursday. With Leffingwell’s strong support of her arguments, and assuming her co-sponsors Bill Spelman and Chris Riley will vote for the resolution, it seems likely at least four of the seven Council members will vote for the item.

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