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Reporter’s Notebook: Deals, badges and gems

Monday, September 21, 2015 by Austin Monitor

Council Member Pool and the Case of the Adelaide Opal… On Friday, a member of City Council Member Leslie Pool’s staff made an announcement on the City Council Message Board: “Council Member Pool will offer a resolution to return the infamous Adelaide opal to its rightful home across the oceans.” The declaration comes in advance of a delegate visit from Adelaide, Australia, a sister city to Austin. However, like many sibling relationships, this one has a bit of drama. According to a May 11 article in the The Advertiser, which is quoted on the message board, a $50,000 opal was sent to Austin 30 years ago “amid a bitter internal feud and legal threats.” According to the city, the opal now sits in storage. The article explains that since the discovery of the opal’s whereabouts, “there are mounting calls for return of the stone.” How did the stone get to Austin? According to The Advertiser, it was once part of a “lavish Lady Mayoress ceremonial piece” that the 1983 mayor’s wife refused to wear, because she believed it brought bad luck. Her husband, Mayor Arthur John Watson, “ordered it be removed and presented during an official sister city signing, but his decision provoked a bitter council split. The row never leaked until last week.”

Whisper Valley water deal finally completed… City Council members did not much like the deal they were given to change the reimbursement agreement for bondholders of the Whisper Valley and Indian Hills Public Improvement Districts last week. The changes allow the city to reimburse more than $5 million to the trustee for PID bondholders to pay for design and installation of water infrastructure to serve the two developments. This reimbursement is supposed to happen once the city has conditionally accepted the water lines and is confident that the city’s interests are protected against any possible liens and encumbrances. When the trustee, which is a bank, has the money, it will be able to make payments to the bondholders, who provided the funds to build the water and wastewater lines. The developer had planned to use city reimbursements for its water and wastewater infrastructure to make its assessment payments to the city on July 1. However, because of delays in the construction, the city has only reimbursed $1.9 million, which the trustee for the bonds is holding. An additional $5.5 million is still due to the trustee in order to make principal and interest payments on the bonds on Dec. 1. Currently, the developer is in default and is being charged a penalty plus interest for failing to make the payment on time. Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo and Council Member Greg Casar were adamant that the developer pay the penalty, which Chief Financial Officer Elaine Hart said was a little more than $600,000 and growing. Casar even asked Hart if it would be possible to use the penalty money for affordable housing. Hart did not give an opinion on that but said she would keep Council apprised of the status of the penalty. The developer, Taurus Investment Holdings, will likely try to argue its way out of paying the penalty. Only Council Member Don Zimmerman seemed to take the developer’s side on that issue. Council Member Delia Garza, who chairs the Public Utilities Committee of the Council, abstained. She said, “I’m not saying staff did anything wrong. Maybe there was a misinterpretation of what the deal was. But I’m going to abstain on this because I think it sets a bad precedent going forward.” Given the difficulties with this project, it seems unlikely that the Austin Water utility will agree to another such Public Improvement District in the near future.

How sweet… Following the second part of an extended (and unresolved) discussion about short-term rentals, City Council Member Don Zimmerman took a “point of privilege” to honor Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo and Council Member Sheri Gallo, who offered the bulk of the amendments to the “working resolution” on Thursday. “I’ve been a little tough on code compliance. I’ve been critical of the management, but code compliance has done a good job of outreach. As an example, here’s a code compliance bag that one of my constituents gave me,” said Zimmerman, who displayed the Code Department lanyard, coasters and rulers from within the bag as Mayor Steve Adler made an effort to squelch what was coming next. He was unsuccessful, and Zimmerman continued, “There are two badges – code compliance junior officer badges – and I’d like to award those to … (the) mayor pro tem, and also to Council Member Gallo. Junior officers. Thank you. Thank you very much.” Tovo thanked Zimmerman for the badge, saying her two children would fight over the prize, but then Gallo offered up her badge to solve any potential conflicts. All in all, it was a bit of dais-gifting awkwardness not seen since former Council Member Randi Shade distributed “serenity candles” to her cohorts during her last meeting.

This week’s Reporter’s Notebook has been compiled from the notes of Jo Clifton and Elizabeth Pagano.

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