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Council set to discuss committee logistics today

Thursday, February 19, 2015 by Jo Clifton

The Austin City Council will have an opportunity this afternoon to discuss and possibly vote on a proposed new Council schedule, including committees. Mayor Steve Adler’s Chief of Staff, John Michael Cortez, posted the proposal on the Council bulletin board after 5 p.m. Wednesday, giving the majority of Council members little time to digest the proposal.

Cortez explained on the message board: “The Mayor’s office has worked with the City Manager’s Office to develop a proposed schedule and process to implement our new council committee structure. Given the number of parameters involved, including the number of committees, staff resources, room availability, conflicts with intergovernmental body meetings, etc., this was no simple task.” He thanked the manager’s office for their work in solving “this complex puzzle.”

The plan revolves around 10 separate committee meetings, all of which — except for Austin Energy — would meet on Monday or Wednesday evenings throughout the month. Under this proposal, committee meetings would start at 6 p.m. and end at 9 p.m. Also, one or more city executives have been assigned to each committee.

The meetings would be in the Council chambers at City Hall. There is also time for each committee to have one daytime meeting each month if necessary.

A number of city boards and commissions that normally meet in the Council chambers, including the Environmental Board, would be required to change either the location or the time of their meetings.

Council Member Ann Kitchen told the Austin Monitor that the proposed schedule includes Council work sessions on Tuesday, with executive sessions to follow. Regular Council meetings would alternate with zoning Council meetings weekly on Thursdays, and there would be a meeting of the whole Council as the Austin Energy Committee on the fourth Thursday.

Mary Ingle, president of the Austin Neighborhoods Council, was not happy about the proposed timing of the meetings. ANC meets once a month on Wednesday evening, and the ANC executive committee meets on a different Wednesday evening each month.

Ingle, who serves on the Residential Design and Compatibility Commission, has considerable experience with trying to reach City Hall from her North University-area home during the evening rush hour. Ingle said 6 p.m. is the very worst time for traffic and thought it would be better to hold meetings at 4 p.m. or 4:30 p.m. instead.

“Trying to get to City Hall during rush hour is terrible; that’s when the most congested traffic is on the roads,” she said.

Ingle also said that many black churches have choir practice on Wednesday nights, and she has been criticized because the ANC meetings were at the same time.

Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo, who had not seen the schedule when she spoke to the Monitor, also noted that numerous neighborhood groups hold their meetings on Monday nights.

Council will also be looking at a committee agenda process, designed to make sure that nothing gets on an agenda that is either illegal or financially unfeasible.

First, the Council office identifies the issue needing Council consideration and submits the item to the city clerk, who provides a copy to the mayor and the city manager. Then, according to the process, the mayor will assign the item to a committee and inform the city manager and the committee chair of the assignment.

What happens after that is very much like what happens before an item is placed on the regular Council agenda.

The chief financial officer and the city attorney will do a preliminary review along with any applicable department.

According to the draft document posted on the Council message board, “After revisions are complete, the committee liaison will communicate with the committee chair to inform him/her that the item will be placed on the next available committee agenda.” The committee liaison will then inform the agenda staff “to launch the posting process.”

There is then a fiscal analysis and a legal analysis before the agenda office reviews the entire agenda item. The executive assistant to the assistant city manager of that committee reviews and approves the item in the agenda system. Finally, the agenda office approves the item for the Council committee agenda.

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