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Reporter’s Notebook: Concerns about concerns about concerns

Tuesday, May 26, 2015 by Austin Monitor

Queen of Zoning exits City Hall stage… Betty Baker, the chief author of Austin’s historic preservation program as well as the first and only chair of the city’s 14-year-old Zoning and Platting Commission, said goodbye to her friends at the city on Thursday as she stepped down from ZAP. Baker, 82, began her city service as a stenographer in 1974, learning all about planning and advancing to the position of senior planner within a short time. Baker moved from the planning department to the Austin Convention and Visitors Bureau when it was still a city department. In 1994, when the department was privatized, Baker joined the Planning Commission, starting a new phase of city service. Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo presented Baker with a distinguished service award as well as words of praise. Also rising to praise Baker were lobbyists Richard Suttle and Sarah Crocker; zoning case manager Jerry Rusthoven; Baker’s friend Melissa Goodwin, who spent some time with her on ZAP; and former Council Member Jackie Goodman. Suttle’s firm, Armbrust & Brown, sponsored a reception for the retiring “Queen of Zoning” after the speeches. Although physically frail, Baker still has a lot of spunk – and she still has something to say. Among her most treasured accomplishments is saving Austin’s moonlight towers, Baker said, noting that the towers were nominated by the city of Lubbock – not by the city of Austin – as a feat of engineering. Even more remarkable, they are the only remaining moonlight towers in the world. Baker said people should remember that the towers are 165 feet tall, the same height they were when they were first erected in the 1890s – which is also the height the highway department uses to limit the height of expressways. That just demonstrates, Baker said, the engineering foresight that existed more than 100 years ago. In closing her remarks, Baker drew laughter when she said she saw some people she appreciated and others she did not. “But after you’re 80, you can say anything you want,” she added. Anyone familiar with Baker already knew that she said what she wanted long before she turned 80.

Shhhhhhh!… Austin Independent School District board member Edmund Gordon, District 1, possibly spoiled a surprise at the regular meeting last Monday (May 18). He pulled a consent item that proposed naming Zilker Elementary School’s library after longtime librarian Jacqueline Kraal. AISD staff later said Kraal had not been formally notified of the library’s naming, although it appeared on a public meeting’s agenda. Gordon initially pulled the item because he had misunderstood the language in the associated background information. He misread it to mean that the proposal did not fall in line with the district’s naming policy, but in fact it meant the opposite. Upon rereading, he quickly realized his mistake. “Oh, well, it does meet the policy,” he said. At-large board member Kendall Pace added, “Oh my god, I read it that way, too.” Even after realizing the mistake, however, Gordon said he still wanted to discuss AISD’s naming procedure. “As a citizen of the University of Texas, and daily walking by buildings named after people who are completely problematic, naming is a big deal to me,” he said. “While I have no problem with this particular naming, it seems to me that there does need to be some folks outside the level of campus that vet these kinds of things.” Kraal will get her library legacy, though.

Two can play that game… “I just need to express my concerns about the concerns that Council Member Zimmerman raised about my concerns,” said Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo last week, summing up the City Council budget work session.

This week’s Reporter’s Notebook items come from the notebooks of Jo Clifton Courtney Griffin, and Elizabeth Pagano.

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