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Reporter’s Notebook: Wild Wild West Sixth

Monday, August 17, 2015 by Austin Monitor

Point taken… A briefing about the proposed Austin Police Department budget took an unusual turn Wednesday when City Council Member Don Zimmerman and APD Chief Art Acevedo got into a philosophical exchange about crime on Sixth Street. The debate took place during a discussion about the APD’s request to add 82 new patrol officers to the force in Fiscal Year 2015-16. Acevedo argued that increased police presence reduces crime in a given area. “Let’s look at Sixth Street,” Zimmerman responded. “We patrol Sixth Street, right, with APD. What we’re attempting to do with the patrols on Sixth Street, right, is to calm the violence. You know, you’ve got drunk people, mentally ill people – it’s probably the worst area in the city, right, for potential crime, and we do patrol that, but we still have problems. … I guess I have to beg to differ; the evidence says sometimes if we have police in a certain area, it provokes incidents and violence.” Acevedo retorted without hesitation. “Well, if you want to conduct a social experiment, we can move all those cops out of Sixth Street and see what happens,” he said. “I assure you that … those thousands of drunks that come out would be creating mayhem. … Because of those officers, those alcohol-induced issues are somewhat controlled.” Prior to the exchange, Zimmerman implied that any additional officers should focus on crime investigations rather than community policing. Throughout Acevedo’s “social experiment” comment, Zimmerman repeatedly interrupted him, saying, “I want to solve crimes!”

Practice, practice… So far, one of the trickiest elements of the recent boards and commissions transition has been figuring out when a motion passes. At the last meeting of the city’s Planning Commission, this issue once again came to a head. Commissioners voted 6-5 to reopen a public hearing on a controversial proposal to redevelop the property formerly occupied by the Korean United Presbyterian Church so that it could be discussed at the commission’s next meeting on Aug. 25. That vote was followed by a 7-4 vote to schedule the item for discussion on Aug. 25. Fifteen minutes later, however, as the commission was getting ready to vote on its next item, Chair Stephen Oliver informed his colleagues that he had been notified by assistant city attorney Patricia Link that a 6-5 vote meant that the motion had failed, not passed. While six represented a majority of the present commissioners, it does not represent a majority of the 13 seats on the commission, one of which remains vacant because nobody has been appointed. Commissioner Trinity White, one of the original nay votes, helpfully offered to change her vote so that the will of the majority could prevail. Oliver insisted the vote be retaken, however. This time it passed 9-2.

Exclusive membership… The 10-1 City Council system has delivered a serious bummer to the Planning Commission. The body’s subcommittees will no longer be open to any commissioners seeking extracurricular land planning. Deena Estrada, the boards and commissions coordinator, told the commission on Tuesday that from now on, subcommittees will be strictly capped to prevent subcommittee membership from representing a quorum of the full commission. That means no more than six commissioners per subcommittee. That is a big change from the past, when it was common for a majority of the commission to also take part in the influential Codes and Ordinances Subcommittee. “So are these new by-laws?” asked Chair Stephen Oliver. “I didn’t know you were allowed to (exceed quorum) previously,” responded Estrada. “Well, nobody told us we couldn’t,” said veteran Commissioner Jean Stevens.

ICYMI… “I appreciate all the information here, but I did run on a campaign to abolish the Economic Development Department,” said City Council Member Don Zimmerman, kicking off his questions to Economic Development Department Director Kevin Johns by asking him how much taxpayers would save by abolishing the department. Though Johns made a fair case that the department had a use, it didn’t quite convince Zimmerman, who concluded, “I still maintain that in my district, District 6 (in) northwest Austin, you guys could disappear and the vast majority of (residents) would never know that you ever existed.”

This week’s Reporter’s Notebook was compiled from the notes of Tyler Whitson, Jack Craver and Elizabeth Pagano.

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