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Reporter’s Notebook: In so many words

Monday, October 19, 2015 by Austin Monitor

Last week, the Austin Monitor reported on a press conference held by the Travis County Taxpayers Union to announce the group’s opposition to Travis County’s $287 million Civil & Family Courts Complex bond. Due to space constraints, we included in that story only a snippet of remarks made by the bond campaign’s manager, Genevieve Van Cleve, about Austin City Council Member Don Zimmerman, who lent his vocal support to the TCTU. Here now is an expanded statement Van Cleve gave to the Monitor about Zimmerman’s opposition. (And here, for reference, is the TCTU proposal.)

Austin Monitor: So give me your elevator pitch response to the proceedings today.

Genevieve Van Cleve: I think what gives me pause – outside of the fact that a water pipe burst on the fifth story of the Heman Marion Sweatt Courthouse this morning, and it is raining in parts of the fourth story. … It gives me pause that a man under so much ethics scrutiny is trying to deliver some sort of cogent, respectable germane argument at the eleventh hour for a project that I don’t think he either understands or cares about. As you know, the Travis County Tax League was started right around the time the Central Health bonds passed. … Anyway, he was opposed to those bonds, and when they didn’t win at the ballot box, they sued. And in one of their legal arguments they suggested – this was the basis of their legal argument – that minorities simply don’t read as well as white people and therefore couldn’t possibly understand the bond language and were duped into voting for something they couldn’t possibly understand. So I am surprised that Council Member Zimmerman had the temerity to stand in front of the press and the public and extol the virtues and his adoration and commitment to economic development on the east side of this county and the well-being of minority people. I am interested to know, is this some sort of religious conversion? … I am astonished that he has the temerity to talk to the public as if he is an advocate for a group of people. People of color. This is just one more group of people that he is using for some other kind of ideological argument. He doesn’t have a Plan B. There’s no Plan B for this guy. There’s no proposal to make sure the courthouse gets built soon. He’s happy to have the pipes burst over there in the Heman Marion Sweatt Courthouse. He’s happy to have people that have been abused – women and children that have been abused – forced into close proximity with their abusers. He’s happy to have people in wheelchairs and mobility-challenged people not be able to get into the Heman Marion Sweatt Courthouse. He’s fine with that. What he’s not fine with, apparently, is investing in safety and investing in health and well-being of Travis County residents. I guess he’s all right with that, but he sure doesn’t like to pay for stuff. I assume that he believes that there is a fairy. A free-money fairy that comes down and builds your roads, and flushes your toilets, and builds your courthouses. But the world I live in, when the fridge breaks, I’m the one that has to pay for it. And if I don’t have the money, I’m using the ice-chest until the next payday, but, man, I’m replacing the fridge. We got an 84-year-old building. It’s unsafe, it’s overwhelmed, it’s leaking this morning. Feel free to check it out yourself. I’ll probably be sending you video later in the day. But that spectacle right there – people should be ashamed of that. He should be ashamed of that behavior.

AM: So if I’m reading you correctly, you seem to take his opposition as somewhat disingenuous.

GVC: It’s incredibly disingenuous.

Though the Monitor reached out to Zimmerman regarding Van Cleve’s statement, he was not available by the time of our publication. Those interested in his opinion on the matter can view his explanation at the City Council Audit and Finance Committee meeting last month. That video is online here.

Update: The Monitor spoke with Zimmerman this morning, and he offered, in rebuttal, that the courthouse bond proposition was the real “free money fairy.” He continued, “And the way the free money fairy works is: they raise taxes, and the taxpayers pay, and they call it free money.”

Found highway… The Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization presented its Transportation Policy Board with an administrative amendment to its 2040 Plan on Oct. 12 to correct an oversight that confused this reporter while he was working on a project about the city of Manor put together recently by the Monitor, KUT and KLRU. “We, in conversations with a reporter from the Monitor last week, realized that the toll lanes on (U.S.) 290 (East) had not been included in this list,” said Ashby Johnson, executive director of the planning organization. The description of the highway, which includes 34.4 tolled lane miles between U.S. 183 South and Parmer Lane, was left out of a list of tolled highways that the organization expects to exist in 2040. Since the total number of tolled lane miles added up correctly, however, the error was not substantive and did not require a vote from the board in order to be fixed. “We’re going to go back and fix that and add that, but that was the most substantial administrative amendment to the plan so far,” Johnson concluded. The plan has now been corrected and shows the description of the highway on the appropriate table.

This week’s Reporter’s Notebook comes from the notebooks of Caleb Pritchard and Tyler Whitson.

This story has been updated.

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