Friday, September 18, 2015 by Jo Clifton

City Hall to keep court function, metal detectors

Despite City Council Member Don Zimmerman’s attempt to move all Downtown Community Court hearings out of City Hall, Council voted 10-1 to authorize renewal of a five-year lease agreement for court space at 719 and 721 E. Sixth St., with the understanding that City Hall would continue to provide overflow space for that court.

Zimmerman said he pulled the item for the agreement because he wanted city management to agree not to have court hearings in City Hall in the future. At Tuesday’s work session, Zimmerman said he had learned that City Hall was being used as overflow space for the court “and that was the reason for the metal detectors out here.” He did not bring up the metal detector question on Thursday but directed numerous questions to Peter Valdez, director of the community court.

Valdez told Council there would be only seven such hearings at City Hall this year. He explained that the Sixth Street courtroom can accommodate only 26 people at one time and that they need to use City Hall for overflow on occasion.

Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo disagreed with Zimmerman, saying she wanted to show “strong support to continue use of this building for some hearings.” She told Valdez she was sorry that Council was now having so many committee meetings that they displaced some court hearings and that she hoped that would be remedied in the future.

Council Member Ora Houston said that she had heard the presiding judge say the court was overcrowded and that she would also support continuing to hold hearings at City Hall. Council Member Pio Renteria said his wife has been a volunteer at the community court for several years and that she had asked him to vote for authorization for the contract.

Zimmerman then said he could not support the contract for a court building that did not offer adequate space. No one brought up the subject of metal detectors, which were installed at City Hall as part of its original construction.

Gun shop owner Michael Cargill has objected to signs at City Hall warning that carrying guns into the building is illegal. He told The Austin Chronicle that he has contacted Attorney General Ken Paxton to try to find out whether the city can continue to keep guns out of City Hall by holding court hearings there.

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Key Players & Topics In This Article

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.

Austin Municipal Court: This city department is the judicial branch of the City of Austin. The courts adjudicate Class C misdemeanor cases and has four divisions: Judicary, Court Operations, Support Services, and the Downtown Austin Community Court.

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