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Whisper Roundup: Accuracy a casualty in mayor’s race

Friday, September 12, 2014 by Austin Monitor

Longtime readers of the Austin Monitor and its predecessor will remember Whispers as a column of information about what is really going on at City Hall, Travis County and the myriad other entities we cover. With our recent changeover to a new publishing format, Whispers became more difficult for our readers to find, so we are supplementing our current format with this weekly column.

Mayoral campaigns continue to toss political grenades . . . The back and forth squabbling between mayoral candidates Mike Martinez and Steve Adler did not let up Thursday. After the Monitor reported that the Martinez campaign had mischaracterized Adler’s ownership of a timeshare in a Mexican resort as ownership of a “villa … at one of the most exclusive resorts in Mexico,” it began to backpedal. Martinez’s deputy campaign manager, Bo Delp, said he got the information from Adler’s financial statement. However, when the Monitor looked at the same statement, we found that Adler and his wife have a 1/12 ownership of the unit. Adler’s campaign manager, Jim Wick, responded Thursday: “It’s hard to believe that Council Member Martinez is spending time focusing on a condo timeshare that Steve and Diane own. I shouldn’t be surprised, though. We are in the middle of an affordability crisis with people getting taxed out of their homes, but Martinez took the time to give himself a pay raise … That’s outrageous. It’s time for new leadership.” The pay raise Wick was referring to is a result of an ordinance enacted in 2006 automatically giving the mayor and Council the same percentage pay raise as non-public safety city employees. Council is not required to handle it as a separate issue. The Austin Bulldog reported the raises this week, criticizing Council for what it called a “surreptitious” raise. According to the Bulldog’s calculations, Council salaries will rise to $70,064 from $67,695, an annual increase of $2,369. The mayor’s salary will increase to $82,387 from $79,601. Those rates will go into effect on Oct. 1, so the new Council members will benefit considerably more than the current group.

Follow the money, wherever it comes from . . . There is a lot to keep track of this City Council election season (trust us, we know). In our seemingly never-ending quest to cover as much as we can, we sought answers about whether District 1 candidate Norman Jacobson’s crowdfunding campaign was above board. Our legal source, who wished to remain anonymous, said it was legal, but Jacobson could run into problems if he accepts anonymous contributions. If Jacobson (or any other candidate) accepts anonymous contributions, he cannot keep track of whether they are all being made by the same person, and that could run afoul of campaign donation reporting requirements. But then, given the fact that Jacobson has so far only raised $5 through the site, most of this remains a moot point.

Be sure to tear down the right house . . . It was a very patient new owner who explained his desire to tear down a 1917-era house at 1707 Willow St. at the last Historic Landmark Commission meeting. The case was mistakenly pulled by Commissioner Terri Myers for further scrutiny. Owner Mike Special said he agreed with staff’s opinion that the house could be torn down, but went a little further. “One of the things that was not brought up was that there is a dead tree that has grown through the center of this house,” said Special. “It’s structurally a house that needs to go … we actually have a demo permit for the tree that resides within this house.” Once illuminated, Myers came clean and apologized, saying she thought it was a different building. The Historic Landmark Commission voted unanimously to allow the demolition.

Who let Austin’s dogs out? . . . Austin has always been a pooch-friendly town, but now we are finally getting some recognition for it. Readers of Dog Fancy Magazine (and you know who you are) will find that in the September issue, Austin has been named Dog Town USA 2014. Every year, Dog Fancy readers nominate an American city that they believe offers the most dog-friendly accommodations. It also points out that Austin is the only large city in the country that has achieved No-Kill status. The city will get its award Saturday at the 3rd Annual Strut Your Mutt fundraiser at Muller Lake Park. Dog Fancy editor Ernie Slone will present a $5,000 check to the city, which will donate the prize money to Austin Pets Alive.

Austin bike share program hits milestone . . . Austin routinely ranks among the top cities for bicycling, and it shows. Austin B-cycle, the city’s popular bike share program, reached a major milestone in August, racking up 105,039 trips since the program launched last December. Austin B-cycle director Elliott McFadden said the program reached the 100,000-trip mark six months earlier than projected and is adding three new B-station locations to meet demand.

Travis Commissioners take care of business, big and small . . . Though they often make major decisions affecting thousands of Central Texans or approve multimillion dollar projects, the Travis County Commissioners also deal with issues of a smaller nature, though no less important. On this week’s docket, the license of the shoeshine concession in the Blackwell-Thurman Criminal Justice Center was up for renewal. This may not sound important to you and me, but we’ve heard that lawyers can be a bit obsessive about looking sharp in court. It seems the county’s $1,200-a-year license agreement with Dwight Bellinger and Lora Gatewood expired in August, putting the legality of getting a custom spit-polish in question. Commissioners, after determining that the pair was doing a good job of putting a shine on footwear, unanimously voted to renew their license to operate. Problem solved.

The Energizer Bunny of zoning cases . . . The long, drawn-out saga of the property at 1307 Waller St. has moved to the Board of Adjustment. (See Austin Monitor, June 18) Though the board postponed the case Monday, it wasn’t without a fight. Neighbor Tracy Witte requested the postponement on the behalf of “about a dozen” people in the neighborhood. Witte said that although the property needs five variances to be brought into compliance, only three were listed on the agenda. “If you proceed tonight, it seems like you would be acting on an incomplete request in a process that sidelines a critical element of noncompliance of this property,” said Witte, who also asked for more time for the Swede Hill Neighborhood to discuss the case. Katie Van Dyke, representing the property owner, argued against the postponement, saying, “This case has been going on for about a year, and I know the landowners are very anxious to just resolve the problems, as is the neighborhood. The neighborhood has been on record saying they would support a variance for all of the issues with the property.” Check back next month to see whether that proves to be true.

Whispers Roundup comprises items from the Austin Monitor reporting and editing staff. It is published on Fridays.

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