Monday, May 18, 2015 by Austin Monitor

Reporter’s Notebook: gates, pies and tracheotomies

Council ponders homestead exemption, pie… City Council members may have been craving pie Wednesday afternoon, having tossed the metaphor around while discussing ways to fairly distribute the costs and benefits of a proposed homestead tax exemption on residents. Council Member Leslie Pool took the concept to levels of abstraction that may have had members of the audience scratching their heads, but did not appear to be lost on her colleagues. “Mayor, I’d also like to maybe dig in a little bit further on some of the comments that I think I heard at the State of the City where we’re potentially looking at increasing the size of the pie, rather than simply cutting it into smaller and smaller bits or shifting around the size of the existing slices,” Pool said. “I’d entertain a conversation, hopefully soon, on what all we might do to try to increase the size of the pie.” Mayor Steve Adler responded firmly that he agreed with the statement. Council Member Ann Kitchen expanded on the metaphor. “I do think we need to do the best we can to make sure we don’t remain in a box — that’s the existing pie — and I don’t think that we have to be forced with choices that are exemption versus cutting (city services),” she said. Adler did mention the exemption during his State of the City address on April 13. “For those who already own homes, or hope to one day soon, we must also address affordability by offering a meaningful reduction in their property tax burden through a 20 percent homestead exemption,” he had said. “And this must be done in a way that minimizes impact to vital city services and infrastructure.” Based on last week’s conversation, that approach will likely involve phasing in the exemption over the course of two to four years.

Gate-gate fails to spark revolution… Members of the Crestview Neighborhood Association elected new officers last week, in what some anticipated would be a contentious display. Although tension surrounding new development in the area did not breach the surface, most of the candidates said that recent development, rezoning and an influx of new residents meant that those who were elected would be coming in during a turning point for the neighborhood. More than 100 people crowded the gymnasium at Crestview Methodist Church, almost double the number of chairs put out for voters. Members voted using blue index cards, holding them up and counting off when it came time to vote for a certain candidate. Most of the victors have lived in the neighborhood longer than their competitors. These residents won by landslides, often not requiring that votes for their opponents be counted. Dave Considine, who said he has lived in Crestview since 2002, won in the race against Paddy Flanagan for president of the association. “I really believe it’s a very unique neighborhood, and I want to keep it that way,” Considine said. “While I’m all for scale-appropriate development, I really want to make sure it is scale-appropriate and is not going to turn our neighborhood into a neighborhood we no longer love and cherish.”

Boldness and a tracheotomy… Austin Independent School District Board members had their seventh board retreat this year. Monday’s focus was on tweaks to the draft strategic plan framework — a rough outline of several district goals in the upcoming years — and on how to better align those goals with the superintendent’s evaluation. “I just wanted to ask a question. The very first sentence — we all jumped on it (and) loved it,” said Vice President Amber Elenz, recalling the group’s discussion when members drafted the plan’s introduction. But once she “read it in writing,” said Elenz, she felt differently. According to the statement, “AISD will reinvent the urban school experience.” She just did not want to set staff up “for failure with our words,” said Elenz. District 2 Board Member Jayme Mathias seemed to agree, saying, “I really like it, but it’s so strong and so visionary that I’m wondering if we’re really serious. To say we are going to ‘reinvent the urban school experience’ – that’s pretty confident … it’s bold. I like it, but it’s bold.” After some discussion about how AISD wasn’t like other urban schools, the board decided to keep “reinvent.” “When you think inner city, you think, hard-core something. That’s not Austin High. Austin High is a place where kids learn. … And we don’t have kids running out the door, cussing at the classroom,” said Superintendent Paul Cruz, acknowledging that the district has experienced such behavior before, but in isolated incidents. “That’s an inner-city school.” After that decision, representatives of the Texas Association of School Boards talked with members to help outline ways to better form a superintendent’s evaluation. Going around the room, board members gave examples of what they each needed to be able to work well with another person. President Gina Hinojosa said she felt she needed trust, but trust itself was not enough. In response, a TASB representative pointed out that trust is complex. You might trust him — but you wouldn’t trust him to perform a tracheotomy with a pen in this board room, he said.

“We are wearing our citizens down,” said City Council Member Ora Houston, arguing against allowing a developer to postpone a case currently before Council. Traditionally, developers and neighborhoods have both been granted one no-questions-asked postponement per case, per side. At the last Council meeting, Houston seemed disinclined to honor that tradition, pointing out that people wanting to speak on cases had to prep and show up at each discussion, which requires a lot of time and work.

This week’s Reporter’s Notebook items come from the notebooks of Courtney Griffin, Tyler Whitson, Audrey McGlinchy and Elizabeth Pagano.

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Key Players & Topics In This Article

AISD Board of Trustees: This is the governing board of the Austin Independent School District. The board is comprised of two at-large members and seven district representatives.

Austin City Council: The Austin City Council is the body with legislative purview over the City of Austin. It offers policy direction, while the office of the City Manager implements administrative actions based on those policies. Until 2012, the body contained seven members, including the city's Mayor, all elected at-large. In 2012, City of Austin residents voted to change that system and now 10 members of the Council are elected based on geographic districts. The Mayor continues to be elected at-large.

city budget: The city’s plan for expenditures based on income.

Crestview: Crestview is a north central Austin neighborhood bounded by Wooten and West Anderson Lane to the north, Allandale and Burnet Road to the west, Brentwood and Justin Lane to the south and the Highland neighborhood and North Lamar Boulevard to the east.

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