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Reporter’s Notebook: Rules are rules

Monday, November 24, 2014 by Austin Monitor

A no-endorsement endorsement, and other missives from the campaign trail . . .  Austinites for Equity, a political action committee for the local AFSCME organization, has supported numerous progressive and Democratic candidates. So observers were surprised when they noticed a filing on the City Clerk’s website indicating that the group had spent money apparently in support of District 4 candidate Laura Pressley. The Monitor asked Jack Kirfman, who helps direct the PAC’s activities, whether the group was supporting Pressley or her opponent, Greg Casar. Kirfman explained that the group was supporting Casar and opposing Pressley, but because of the way the rules are written, the PAC must designate the candidate being opposed when there is an expenditure to do that. Austinites for Equity sent out a flyer arriving in District 4 mailboxes around Halloween. It says, “Laura Pressley and her not-so-clever chameleon costume,” and quotes stories about Pressley’s controversial views that appeared in various publications. But in her run for City Council, Pressley declines to talk about those views. The mail piece also says, “Laura Pressley has changed her stripes more often than the famous insurance gecko.” We think that might be a mixed metaphor, but we get the point. Kirfman laughed as he added that Pressley must report the expenditure by the PAC in her own contribution and expenditure reports. …  Perhaps in anticipation of an attack on his Democratic credentials, mayoral candidate Steve Adler has sent out a mail piece that includes two photos showing Adler with President Barack Obama. Adler served on the president’s finance committee and also went door to door for him, according to the brochure. Last week, his opponent for mayor, Council Member Mike Martinez, sponsored a resolution to erect a plaque on the site of Obama’s 2007 speech to 20,000 people at Auditorium Shores. Some politicians are running away from Obama, but they are not here in Austin. … In a somewhat surprising development in District 8, former County Judge Bill Aleshire has endorsed tea party Republican Ellen Troxclair over her Democratic opponent, Ed Scruggs. Aleshire said in an email to Troxclair that she could put a sign on his property at Shady Hollow Drive and Brodie. Aleshire says Scruggs was disrespectful to the neighborhood because he failed to show up for a candidate forum that all the other candidates attended. It is obvious from the email that Aleshire is angry about Scruggs’ opposition to construction of State Highway 45 Southwest. This is a fundamental disagreement between Scruggs and Troxclair, as well as between environmentalists and many residents of the Shady Hollow neighborhood. … Less surprisingly, Margie Burciaga, who came in sixth in a field of eight candidates in District 10, has endorsed Republican Sheri Gallo over Democrat Mandy Dealey. Burciaga said in her endorsement statement, “Please know that I respect Mandy Dealey and how she has represented our community in past endeavors. However, we feel we need someone that has been strongly supported by the people and not a party affiliation that has been mainly run by one consultant’s campaign machine for decades to elect.” The former candidate was obviously referring to David Butts, a Democratic consultant who has been instrumental in the election of numerous City Council candidates.

Leffingwell says danger lurks at the Legislature . . . Mayor Lee Leffingwell rang a note of caution Tuesday about the “onerous” impact that a bill recently filed in the Texas Legislature could have on the city if passed. During a briefing on the state and federal legislative programs at the last City Council work session, Government Relations Officer John Hrncir noted that state Senator-elect Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston) has filed Senate Bill 182, which would reduce the state’s ad valorem rollback tax rate from 8 to 4 percent. This would mean that, if Council were to adopt a rollback tax rate next year that is more than 4 percent greater than this year’s, it would trigger a rollback election, making it necessary for voters to approve the new rate. There is an exception for taxing units that have spent to respond to natural disasters, excluding drought. “I believe it’s fair to say that this past budget that we passed would have exceeded a 4 percent cap above and beyond,” Leffingwell said. “If that were the rollback rate, we would have had to have an election, even though we had a tax rate reduction.” City spokesman Kyle Carvell confirmed through the Budget Office that Leffingwell’s statement about the Fiscal Year 2015 budget is correct.

Gedert says bag ban having desired effect . . . Though this election has, for some reason, resurrected the debate over Austin’s single-use bag prohibition more than a year-and-a-half after the ordinance went into effect, Austin Resource Recovery Director Bob Gedert shared anecdotal evidence that it is having a positive impact on the environment. At the Nov. 12 meeting of the Zero Waste Advisory Commission, Gedert said that he has heard from the Watershed Protection Department, the Austin Water Utility, Austin Parks Foundation, the Parks and Recreation Department and other groups that clean up creeks around town. “We are seeing very very few single-use bags in the waterways. And that was one of the primary reasons City Council adopted this resolution – the impact on wildlife and waterways. Our litter crews, as we pick up litter downtown, are finding very few, sometimes no plastic bags at all on a given day in litter collection. That is very unusual. We get the same report from Keep Austin Beautiful … the litter stream is not what we had before the bag ordinance, and the single-use bags are just not in that environment,” said Gedert, who pointed out that the single-use bags that were collected appeared old and may predate the ordinance. Gedert said that a formal report wasn’t yet available, though he was working on it.

(Reporter’s Notebook was compiled from reports by Tyler Whitson, Elizabeth Pagano and Jo Clifton.)

This story has been changed to reflect the fact that Ellen Troxclair does not identify as a member of the Tea Party.

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