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Reporter’s Notebook: The lighter side of budgets?

Monday, September 14, 2015 by Austin Monitor

Tuesday morning quarterback… Despite Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt’s recent attempts to rein in off-topic monologues, the public communications portion of the Travis County Commissioners Court’s weekly meetings remains a source of colorful commentary. Last week, one rather notorious local communicant opted to use his three minutes before the dais to offer his take on the Longhorns’ season-opening 38-3 blowout at the hands of Notre Dame. “Coach Strong’s focus on familiness and feelings is a foundational flaw,” the fellow furnished as the focus of his fuss. Evoking the comments sections on untold body-building websites and the rhetoric of at least one leading statesman of our age, he went on: “Making America great again means making America masculine again. Meaning us straight men retaking our leadership and bread-winning responsibilities and re-establishing healthy male norms at home and work with straight women reconnecting with their following and nurturing roles.” At that point, Eckhardt cut the communicant off, noting that his comments could probably be considered offensive to “the LGBT community and the female gender, generally.” Incidentally, several sources are reporting that the Longhorns – in spite of Strong? – beat the Rice Owls this past Saturday, 42-28.

WDYMBT?… Though City Council’s budget adoption process would not be accurately categorized as a laugh riot, there were a few moments of levity in the hours (and hours) of discussion. One of the best came courtesy of Council Member Ora “Omit Ridiculous Acronyms” Houston, who has relentlessly campaigned against the use of acronyms at City Hall. She also proposed adding $75,000 to the budget to “NHCD to support citizens and info to homeowners re: prop tax relief.” When Council Member Ellen Troxclair asked what NHCD stood for, Houston instantly answered, “Neighborhood Housing and Community Development.” Though she joined in on the laughter that followed, she also said she would be talking to staff “about that.”

Pump up the volume… After a somewhat meandering conversation on whether to provide funds to community radio stations KAZI and KOOP, City Council members opted to create a “community development reserves fund” that, in theory, will allow the stations to apply for city grants. During that discussion, Council Member Don Zimmerman made it clear that he would not be supporting funding for the radio stations, on (a rather illuminating) principle. “I’ve got a number of dear friends that I don’t always agree with. They are anarchists – they have radio stations going on around the city. They would insist their radio stations are extremely important to the Austin community. In the same way I would have to turn my friends down on their requests if they made them, I will have to turn this down,” said Zimmerman.

Like 10 thousand spoons when all you need is a knife… The Task Force on Community Engagement will be asking for an exception from the Texas Open Meetings Act at this week’s City Council meeting. According to notes from the task force’s Aug. 27 meeting, “Because this is a ‘task force’ rather than a formal committee or board, the expectation is that the language change requested by the Task Force will be approved.” Notes from an earlier meeting held on Aug. 13 explain that “(t)he group learned that there were unexpected consequences to the Resolution language referring to following the Texas Open Meetings Act that prohibit certain types of communication and group processes. After discussing the options, the group agreed that their intent was to be MORE open and transparent than required and, ironically, TOMA restricted certain processes that could be more engaging. They agreed to explore with CM Pool a ‘withdraw and replace’ procedure to change this language in order to go beyond the expectations for openness and transparency.” Specifically, the group has trouble because, under TOMA, no message board is possible for the group, video conferencing does not count toward a quorum, small groups cannot be used, and TOMA “requires language of motions, seconds and votes in the documentation, which doesn’t fit our structure and decision making.” The Task Force on Community Engagement was put together in January, to study “existing City community engagement tools; innovative techniques and technologies used across the country; identification of best practices; and recommendations for enhancing existing resources, including fiscal implications.”

This week’s Reporter’s Notebook items have been compiled from the notes of Caleb Pritchard and Elizabeth Pagano

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