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Reporter’s Notebook: Appointment drama continues

Monday, April 13, 2015 by Elizabeth Pagano

Casar challenges District 6 appointment … Last Friday, Council Member Greg Casar used the City Council Message Board to announce that he will be asking Council to rescind the District 6 nomination to the Commission on Immigrant Affairs, Rebecca Forest. Casar wrote, “During a speech at a political rally, the recent nominee from District 6 has displayed a bigoted attitude toward communities of color that violates our core values as a City as well as the purpose of the Commission on Immigrant Affairs. Therefore, I believe the Council has a duty to rescind this appointment.” Casar explained that he first approached Council Member Don Zimmerman, who made the appointment, and asked him to reconsider. Zimmerman declined. “This puts the Council in an exceptional and difficult situation, a situation that I do not like to be in, and that I hope to not be in again,” Casar wrote. “If we do not rescind this appointment before the appointments become active in July, then we are effectively endorsing Ms. Forest’s appointment, with full knowledge of her disparaging remarks toward Hispanics and immigrant children. This step is a last resort, but I believe it is the right thing to do, given our options.” A video showing Forest making disparaging remarks about Hispanics in the Legislature and the children of immigrants at a Texas tea party rally is embedded with Casar’s post (and also below). Casar’s motion, co-sponsored by Council Members Ora Houston, Delia Garza and Pio Renteria, will be on this Thursday’s Council agenda. Zimmerman has asked to pull it from the agenda for discussion during the work session and meeting.

Jack wants to go past 11 … Current Board of Adjustment Chair Jeff Jack addressed the Planning and Neighborhoods Committee last week. Jack asked for the committee, and City Council, to consider appointing more than two alternates when the membership of the board increases to 11. “We need four or five alternates,” said Jack. The Board of Adjustment requires a supermajority to approve variances. Because of that, when board members are absent, the percentage of people who must approve the variance rises — even a unanimous vote is required at times. In those cases, he said, if the variance is denied, it is a reason for reconsideration, which helps overload the board’s already busy agenda. Jack also recommended that any potential appointees attend “two or three” meetings before taking their seats on the dais.

Months for a Message Board … Dovetailing after an hour-plus conversation about student transfers, Austin Independent School District board members took up a seemingly easier item — which they could not all agree on, either. At Monday’s board dialogue meeting, members discussed switching to a message board similar to the one City Council uses. President Gina Hinojosa said she thought it would increase transparency and answer questions submitted by the public. For example, board members often email the administration with questions about background information for items they are considering, and these Q&As could be posted on the message board. Yet, District 5 Board Member and Vice President Amber Elenz worried the system would overwhelm the already small district staff. Not only would staff have to monitor the board, but multiple questions sent by board members at 2 a.m. could bog down the administration, she said. District 3 Board Member Amber Tiech also said she was worried about not being able to keep up with another thing. A member of the Austin City Clerk‘s staff was there, laying out the do’s and don’ts city staff would be required to adhere to because all interactions on the board would become public record in accordance with the Texas Public Information Act. “Once you post it, it’s out there. You post something that embarrasses you, really sorry, but don’t call me to delete it because I can’t,” the staffer said, explaining what she had told City Council members. Unfazed, District 7 Board Member Robert Schneider said he was more concerned about cost and how people would find information on AISD’s website. “My good friend, trustee Schneider, had a question he forgot to ask: Board selfies are not allowed on the message board, correct?” asked District 6 Board Member Paul Saldaña. The board will take up the discussion again after May when it also considers becoming paperless. In a small victory, Hinojosa said she was “excited about the administration putting a link on the website for our meetings. I think that’s just wonderful.”

People still opposed to PUD … Those wondering about the results of a neighborhood survey about the Austin Oaks Planned Unit Development will not have to wait until May 5 to find out. On April 9, the Northwest Austin Civic Association completed its survey of the neighborhood. With 501 responses (about 12 percent of its households), 81.8 percent remain opposed to the proposed PUD. The complete report, which includes reactions to the specific compromises brought forward by developers, is available below.

Download (PDF, 338KB)

This week’s Reporter’s Notebook comes from the files of Courtney Griffin and Elizabeth Pagano.


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