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Reporter’s Notebook: All kinds of raving

Monday, June 29, 2015 by Elizabeth Pagano

So, this happened… Over the weekend, District 6 City Council Member Don Zimmerman’s Facebook comments comparing same-sex marriage to pedophilia garnered controversy on social media, provoked an ethics complaint and made a lot of people angry. Zimmerman wouldn’t elaborate on his comments at a Saturday town hall meeting and instead took his opinions to former Council candidate Michael Cargill’s 1370 AM talk radio show, “Come and Talk It.” On the show, which aired Sunday afternoon, Zimmerman pointed out that in 2005 he had fought at the state legislature to keep the legal definition of marriage as a union between one man and one woman. (He wrote about his opinions in the Texas Insider in 2013 as well.) On Sunday, Zimmerman expanded on his comments to include concerns about incest, saying, “I think if you have a brother and sister that go into a Travis County Courthouse, I think they would be denied a marriage license. It’s sort of interesting.” Zimmerman went on: “I think the second thing – which is more controversial and, I think, much more dangerous – is the age of consent. … We have a radical minority element that I think would like to lower the age of consent. So I’m somewhat concerned that the same political effort that was used in this campaign could be used in other campaigns.” Zimmerman went on to clarify that the Supreme Court’s ruling allowing same-sex couples to marry “wasn’t the worst decision” it had ever made; the Dred Scott decision, for example, was worse. Zimmerman also explained that he was concerned there would be a “new, radical movement” led by NAMBLA (the North American Man-Boy Love Association) to further an agenda to lower the age of consent. “There is a movement afoot to lower the age of consent,” said Zimmerman, who worried aloud that the Supreme Court’s ruling would empower NAMBLA and give them a “playbook.” During his radio appearance, Zimmerman also discussed biblical laws regulating relationships between slave owners and slaves. Although he went into detail, the point he made was murky. “It’s very different now, compared to where we’ve been,” concluded Zimmerman. “Like I said before, I don’t think this decision is nearly as bad – I don’t think it’s as bad as the Roe v. Wade decision.”

She rules… One of the biggest storylines of 2015 has been the change of leadership in local government, both at the city of Austin and Travis County. City Council’s turbulent transition to geographic representation under a brand new mayor with no prior experience in public office has contrasted sharply with Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt’s sure-handed steering of business-as-usual at the Commissioners Court. But lest the casual observer be deceived, it’s not always smooth sailing at 700 Lavaca St. During last Tuesday’s regular voting session, the discussion on property tax relief for seniors and disabled residents became muddled with unclear intent from several commissioners on the dais. That’s when Eckhardt intervened and revealed that Travis County’s first female leader operates from a different parliamentary manual. “So let me do some Roberta’s Rules of Order on this,” she told her colleagues as she set forth to successfully untangle the procedural knot. Afterward, when asked if he had noticed any difference between former Judge Sam Biscoe’s use of Robert’s Rules and Eckhardt’s more distaff-friendly version, Commissioner Gerald Daugherty told the Austin Monitor: “She’s thorough, she’s respectful, and a it’s a tough job. We’re a tough bunch of teenagers. We’re all over the board, as you well know. I tell people: Don’t watch Ellen DeGeneres, watch us. We’re every bit as entertaining.”

Hay and pecans are for City Council… Living up to Austin’s self-proclaimed “weird” status, City Council entered into a series of discussions over the past couple of weeks about Austin Water Utility’s relationships with hay, pecans and, ultimately, horses. The issue that prompted the equine debate was a request from the utility for Council to authorize a five-year contract – including a five-year extension option – with farmer Allen Click to harvest and sell hay and pecans from utility-owned property at a profit of $305,000 every five years. When Council Member Ellen Troxclair asked at a Council work session on June 16 why the utility is in the business of growing hay, Austin Water Assistant Director Jane Burazer explained that the issue is a bit more complicated than that. “We’re not in the business of growing the hay – we’re in the business of beneficial reuse of our products,” she said, explaining that the hay is the ultimate byproduct of the city’s biosolids reuse program on the land in question. She added that the pecan orchard was already on the land before the city purchased it. Burazer went on to explain that the proposal is something of a win-win situation in that the city gets paid for something to which it would otherwise have to allocate resources, and the farmer gets to make a profit. Council Member Leslie Pool suggested that the city could even take the process one step further and provide the hay to the Austin Police Department horses, thereby reducing the city’s cost in caring for them. Council Member Ora Houston was also intrigued by the idea. “If we have hay, and we’re selling it on the open market, I don’t know why we couldn’t give it to the horses,” she said, evoking laughter from those in the room. The idea did not make it any further, however, and Council unanimously passed the item on June 23 with Council Member Don Zimmerman’s amendment that contract renewals after the first five-year term be limited to one year each for the following five years.

Ibiza on 7th… Downtown Austin’s internationally renowned abundance of entertainment venues added one brief, bright member to its flashy firmament last Wednesday. For 10 likely unprecedented minutes, the air inside the Travis County Commissioners Courtroom was shocked and awed by the unhinged, epileptic soundwaves of that musical interpretation of a complete nervous breakdown known as dubstep. Naturally, this seemingly surreal exercise had a rational explanation: Commissioner Gerald Daugherty, prior to weighing in on a dispute between a family and a neighboring concert venue, wanted to personally experience 85 decibels of electronic dance music for himself.

This week’s Reporter’s Notebook items come from the notebooks of Caleb Pritchard, Tyler Whitson, and Elizabeth Pagano.

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