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Reporter’s Notebook: Departures and Debriefings

Monday, December 14, 2015 by Austin Monitor

That’s that, then … On Friday, the Austin Monitor learned that Richard Viktorin has resigned from his part-time position in City Council Member Ora Houston’s office following her vote on tax incentives for the Circuit of the Americas. Word of his resignation spread quickly after he sent letters to those Council members who did vote against the incentives, thanking them for their vote and announcing his departure. This news may not come as much of a surprise to anyone familiar with Viktorin, who sued over the incentives in 2011. Viktorin explained his reasoning to the Monitor on Friday, saying that earlier in the week he had sent an email to Council and Mayor Steve Adler in his capacity as executive director of Audits in the Public Interest. That letter expressed his concern about the incentives and explained why he believed MotoGP should not be classified as a “major event.” He said, “My council member, Ora Houston, was the one that flipped it into the approval category. It was just really humiliating for me. There were a lot of people watching the issue. … Ora didn’t even warn me that she was going to ignore my guidance, my write-up, so I resigned,” said Viktorin. “That’s it. I was disappointed in the vote and thought it best to return to former occupations.” Houston had no comment on the matter.

Safe space … For a new, and possibly regular, last agenda item called “board debriefing,” Austin Independent School District trustees sat in a circle at about 11:30 p.m. Monday night to reflect on how their still-going board meeting was going. “We did better than usual. The time we spent in private up (in executive session) was about as well as y’all have done in 10 years on these issues,” said District 1 Trustee Edmund Gordon, who was the first in the circle to express his feelings about the meeting. “But, there’s a problem – there’s too many of us,” he added, joking. “We need to have fewer trustees so that everyone can get to say something. I volunteer (to leave). Trustee (Julie) Cowan is already visiting District 1 schools, so she can take them as well.” On a more serious note, Gordon, and many others, went on to say that board members need to learn how to discipline themselves when it comes to time spent discussing agenda items. District 2 Trustee Jayme Mathias pointed to the 30 minutes set aside to discuss the disparity study as an example, stating that in actuality it took about an hour-and-a-half to discuss. That being said, the five minutes set aside for the board debriefing, took, unsurprisingly, more than five minutes as well.

Tales from an ever-changing Austin … Over the weekend, news that a Bouldin Creek resident was upset about trespassing peacocks from restaurant Green Pastures was greeted with an eye roll from almost everyone (including Bouldin Creek Neighborhood Association President Cory Walton). Galvanized, Austin residents have started a petition and formed the “Peacock Liberation Front” to express their support for the birds, which have lived in the neighborhood since the restaurant opened in 1968. Meanwhile, on the East Side, the Holly neighborhood’s NextDoor message board saw an exchange that kicked off with, “Hi! Does anyone know what is going on at the church on 2nd and Robert Martinez? I’m usually pretty tolerant, but they have been beating drums until almost 1am and started back up at 5:45am. I’m sure everyone within a 1 mile radius was woken up. Would the city permit something like this? It doesn’t seem to be stopping.” The resident (who will remain unnamed) was promptly informed that the noise was a result of the Our Lady of Guadalupe feast day at Christo Rey, to which the person complaining replied, “Ok thank you. One of the reasons that I chose to live here was because of the culture. I would love to hear all about this celebration so that I can better understand! Thank you for your answer and any further information that you want to share.”

In case you missed it … Concurrent with ongoing efforts to better regulate short-term rentals in the city, the Austin Code Department has been promoting its video campaign “Vacay the Austin Way.” In it, two millennials weigh booking a licensed rental with mason jar chandeliers against the tantalizing possibility of a “party house” for new relations from Thailand (?). The Monitor would like to recommend the Facebook thread on the video, for those who will never tire of a good, old-fashioned STR debate. During the STR discussion at the Planning Commission last week, Austin Code Department assistant division manager Marcus Elliot told commissioners that the Code Department had spent $4,740 for advertising in Fiscal Year 2015 and $40,983.72 for enforcement of short-term rentals. So far in Fiscal Year 2016, Code has spent $24,214 on enforcement.

This Reporter’s Notebook comes from the notebooks of Courtney Griffin and Elizabeth Pagano.

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