Monday, June 8, 2015 by Austin Monitor

Reporter’s Notebook: Penalty cards and petitions

Eckhardt deals a new hand from a new deck… Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt introduced last week a new method for dealing with citizens whose comments during public communications might stray outside of the Travis County Commissioner Court’s wheelhouse. Perhaps with the stunning arrests of FIFA’s top executives fresh in her mind during Tuesday’s regular voting session, Eckhardt pulled out two yellow and red soccer penalty cards. She explained to one notoriously confrontational speaker that if he strayed outside of issues “that this court actually addresses,” she would hold up the yellow card as a warning. “And if you are unable to moderate your speech, then I will ask you to stop, and I’ll give you the visual warning of a red card,” she continued. The man then launched into his comments and accused several local media outlets of being “pro-pedophile” and suggested a conspiracy to derail passenger trains with the aim of making them safer. Eckhardt silently suggested to the man, her fellow commissioners and the audience that the county has little regulatory control over newspapers and rail service by holding up the yellow card. When that effort seemed to be having little effect on the breathless speaker, Eckhardt reached for the red, but before she could hold it high, the man had finished his prepared two-minute remarks and bid the court farewell. A source tells the Austin Monitor that the commissioners will introduce brand new rules this coming Tuesday to overhaul the public communications procedures, perhaps suggesting we have seen the first and the last of Eckhardt’s penalty cards.

Petition to reinstate Snipes surfaces… Fatima Mann, who is described on Facebook and LinkedIn as an outreach coordinator for AmeriCorps, has started a petition to reinstate former Assistant City Manager Anthony Snipes. The Change.org petition started by Mann is headlined, “Should a possible mistake strip someone from his or her livelihood?” It states that Snipes “is an extraordinary Public Servant” who has made Austin a better place. The petition, which as of Sunday had approximately 107 supporters, is being sent to members of the City Council as well as City Manager Marc Ott. Snipes resigned last week after an investigation into the ill-considered decision to bring Jonathan K. Allen to speak to city employees about dealing with female Council members. Allen’s comments were so controversial and offensive to women that every member of the Council, except for Don Zimmerman, attended a press conference to denounce the training. Allen lost his job as a city manager in Florida after the speech, but not because of the speech. After an investigation into how the training transpired, Ott met with Snipes and accepted Snipes’ resignation effective Aug. 10. According to the city’s administrative investigation, Snipes was solely responsible for the decision to invite Allen to make the presentation. In addition, the report states that “(w)hile the documentation reveals that ACM Snipes apologized for the contents of the training … the investigation has clearly revealed that after the controversy arose, (Snipes), within a couple of hours, set forth on a course of action designed to shift the responsibility for deciding the topic of the presentation” to two employee groups “and to portray the presentation as not being about elected women leaders.” So it seems unlikely that Snipes will be reinstated, based on his actions not only in setting up the training, but also once he was in trouble, according to the investigative report.

Wait, hold me to it!… Austin Independent School District Board members were supposed to highlight what they value when it comes to student transfer policies at their board dialogue meeting Monday. The policies are part of ongoing enrollment problems — AISD schools are bursting at the seams in some areas and underenrolled in others. But there are other issues, too. AISD has “peer vertical teams,” or elementary schools that feed into the corresponding middle schools and then high schools, that have not been updated in more than 10 years. Some enrollment is economically segregated, and AISD board members are hoping to tweak transfer polices to create a perfect, balanced mix of student bodies. When it comes figuring out how to do that, however, the conversations are about as convoluted as the policies. “If I go trustee to trustee and I ask what’s your No. 1 priority, is that a problem?” asked Board President Gina Hinojosa. Hinojosa was looking for what others valued in a student body, such as diversity or strong peer vertical teams. “One? I don’t know if I can give one,” At-Large Board Member Kendall Pace responded. “Wait, didn’t you create this question?” Hinojosa said. “Actually, if I remember the conversation correctly, you said hold us to make sure we get that one priority,” Edmund Oropez, the interim chief schools officer, told Pace. Hinojosa, realizing she could not give a ranked answer either, eventually allowed board members to answer in paragraph form instead.

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

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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.

City Manager Marc Ott: Ott was hired by Council members in 2008 and served in that position until his 2016 departure.

Judge Sarah Eckhardt: Eckhardt was elected Travis County Judge in November 2014, after previously serving as the Precinct 2 County Commissioner.

Travis County Commissioners Court: The legislative body for Travis County. It includes representatives from the four Travis County Precincts, as well as the County Judge. The County Judge serves as the chair of the Court.

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