Monday, April 14, 2014 by Michael Kanin

Council hears early report on future of boards and commissions

Austin City Council members appeared generally receptive to a host of potential changes to the structure of the city’s many – some say too many – boards and commissions. Still, as the Boards and Commission Transition Taskforce, which has become known as the Commission on Commissions, made its presentation at last week’s Council work session, some of its more dramatic proposals drew attention from the Council.

 

The report included a call to change the charges of the city’s Planning and Zoning and Platting commissions.

 

“Perhaps it makes sense to have a Planning Commission that looks forward, and really plans, and a Zoning and Platting Commission that’s focused on the transactional nature of zoning changes, conditional overlays, etc,” according commission member and Planning Commission Chair Dave Anderson

 

Council Member Laura Morrison said that the shift – proposed to lessen the burdensome workload of Anderson and his Planning Commission colleagues — would instead move the bulk of the work to the ZAP. Council Member Chris Riley, who served on the Planning Commission in 2001 when ZAP was created, suggested that it would remain difficult to draw a line between “transactional” business – such as zoning cases; items that, under the proposal, would be left entirely to ZAP – and the remainder of the issues covered by the two commissions.

 

The Planning and Zoning and Platting commissions are among the few city boards that, as sovereign entities, can take action on their own. In some cases, those actions can be appealed to Council.

 

To Morrison’s concern, Anderson responded that the increase in ZAP’s workload might be more even-keeled than was suggested by Morrison. To Riley, who added that a rotating member arrangement such as that recently enacted for the Building and Standards Commission might be a better approach, Anderson said that he and his colleagues were open to whatever system works best.

 

As the Monitor reported Monday, Anderson and his colleagues are charged with evaluating and perhaps culling the city’s 60 advisory boards and commissions in advance of the pending change in city government. Along with that evaluation, Commission on Commission members worked out a transition plan that would take the new 10-1 Council through the first six months of their administration.

 

Though only a handful of the boards and commissions hold sovereign power, Council members often rely on the bodies to keep them up to date on the minutiae of the departments that the boards oversee. Council members offered broad praise for the efforts of the commission. Still, they sought to weigh in on a handful of recommendations.

 

Riley asked about a report first published by the Monitor that suggested the commission might dissolve the Airport Boulevard Advisory Group. When commission Chair Gabriel Rojas reminded Riley that the group hadn’t met in a year, and suggested that the commission was willing to let it expire in 2014, Riley defended its continuing existence.

He first noted that the group hadn’t met thanks to ongoing consultant work that, he implied, wasn’t ready for review. Riley continued on to suggest that “it would be a drain on staff if you did away with the board and then had to somehow figure out some new form” of input-gathering.

 

For her part, Morrison noted the brewing controversy over the proposed dismantling of the city’s Resource Management Commission. She reminded her colleagues that it appeared that none of her colleagues “felt certain one way or another about how it should be.”

 

Morrison called for “two options and a recommendation one way or another” from the commission on what to do about the Resource Management Commission.

 

That would be produced as the Commission on Commissions continues its work.

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Key Players & Topics In This Article

Austin City Council: The Austin City Council is the body with legislative purview over the City of Austin. It offers policy direction, while the office of the City Manager implements administrative actions based on those policies. Until 2012, the body contained seven members, including the city's Mayor, all elected at-large. In 2012, City of Austin residents voted to change that system and now 10 members of the Council are elected based on geographic districts. The Mayor continues to be elected at-large.

City of Austin Boards and Commissions Task Force: City Council formed this group to make recommendations about how the city should manage its boards and commissions through the shift from at-large to single-member representation.

City of Austin Planning Commission: This commission addresses issues of land use as assigned to it by Austin's City Code. These include the abilities "[t]o make and amend a master plan, recommend approval or disapproval of proposed zoning changes and control land subdivision within neighborhood planning areas and submit, annually, a list of recommended capital improvements." It has sovereign authority, or the right to make final decisions on certain cases.

City of Austin Zoning and Platting Commission: The City of Austin's Zoning and Platting Commission addresses issues of land use as assigned to it by Austin's City Code. It has sovereign authority, or the right to make final decisions on certain cases.

Resource Management Commission: A commission that reviews and advises the city council on renewable energy technologies.

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