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Reporter’s Notebook: Fix(at)ing (on) crazy

Monday, September 7, 2015 by Austin Monitor

“You can’t fix crazy”… During a presentation about traffic fatalities at a City Council Mobility Committee meeting on Sept. 2, Council Member Don Zimmerman expressed consternation about the fact that 43 percent of the traffic fatalities that have occurred so far this year involve what the Austin Police Department identifies as “transients,” or homeless people. “That is shocking because they are, what percentage of the population? … An extremely small percent of the population,” Zimmerman said. According to city data, on any given night in Austin there are approximately 2,300 individuals living on the streets, in shelters, or in cars or other places not meant for human habitation. Zimmerman went on to raise concerns about how these individuals might impact spending on the city-led Vision Zero Task Force’s goal of preventing all traffic fatalities. “You can’t fix crazy. We could spend a billion dollars making all our stuff as safe as we can make it, and a mentally ill person would still figure out how to get killed,” Zimmerman said. “I didn’t realize the number was that huge,” he continued. “And it is a way for us to be defeated. We have a goal in mind, you know no one wants fatalities, but now … I’m deeply concerned. We could spend a staggering amount of money and not have success.” Austin Transportation Department Acting Assistant Director Jim Dale explained that many of these fatalities are occurring on higher-speed roadways and that department staff is talking with the APD about potential solutions. “There’s really some tough discussions that need to occur there in how to address a transient population in terms of fatalities occurring on these higher-speed roadways,” Dale said. “Possibly, even one of those questions – is there an opportunity to move them to some of the lower-speed roadways?” Council Member Ann Kitchen, who chairs the committee, suggested moving on from the conversation and picking it back up at a planned traffic fatality briefing at a future Council work session.

If she had a hammer… In less than a year on the job, County Judge Sarah Eckhardt has recognizably changed the look of Travis County governance. Mass-gathering permit revisions and suspenseful debates over the district attorney’s headquarters aside, Eckhardt’s reign will go down in history for, at the very least, ushering in a new era of wry prop comedy at 700 Lavaca. While casual observers are likely familiar with her deployment of yellow and red penalty cards to maintain civility during public communications, true county wonks will have noticed her rotating cast of gavels with which she amicably lords over the weekly proceedings. The most recent iteration of this meeting Mjolnir came in the form of what seemed to be a toy croquet mallet, a handy tool that’s good for both calling meetings to order and/or – as she playfully threatened last Tuesday – for smashing county staff members’ inappropriately ringing cellphones.

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Watch the board… Tomorrow, City Council’s budget process promises to start for real for real. Obviously, the Austin Monitor couldn’t be more thrilled – or confused. As promised, Mayor Steve Adler delivered his idea for how the budget adoption process should be structured late Friday afternoon. That proposal can be read, in its entirety, here. And, honestly, for the process-curious, we are just going to leave it at that as far as explaining how things are going to transpire. Council Member Delia Garza responded to Adler’s suggestion with several concerns, writing, “I would have preferred to have this discussion about the process prior to the straw poll Council had this week. That conversation was framed as indicating support for including items for discussion, not as support for necessarily including those items in the budget. If we had that process discussion prior to the straw poll we all could have weighed in on the process itself, and it would have likely changed at least some of our votes during that process. … I want to emphasize again that I believe the best of intentions went into this proposal and was an attempt to streamline the process. However, I’m concerned that what has been proposed is more a proposed budget rather than a proposed process. I also noticed a concept item that (I believe) we are seeing for the first time.” For those who are looking for more preparation for Tuesday’s meeting, we have embedded the Council Concept Budget below.

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Today’s Reporter’s Notebook is compiled from the notes of Tyler Whitson, Caleb Pritchard and Elizabeth Pagano.

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