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Reporter’s Notebook: Hi. It’s the Monitor.

Monday, April 25, 2016 by Elizabeth Pagano

Colossal clash of titans on Twitter… Even as the entire city of Austin is deep into the febrile delirium of a bitterly contested election that will determine the fate of several lines of city code, one can usually rely on the sanguine shores of social media to provide reasoned, measured and mature discussion of local policy matters. Not so this past Friday, however, when a nigh violent exchange between two City Council members exploded the bubble of comity one generally expects to find on Twitter dot com. It began when Council Member Delia Garza posted a photo of herself riding a Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority MetroRapid vehicle to a meeting of that agency’s board of directors in downtown Austin. She followed that up with another tweet addressed to Council Member Don Zimmerman that read, “Hey Zimmerman, I just got off of a full bus inbound from South Austin. Thanks Cap Metro! #CapMetro.” Garza punctuated the tweet – which was an apparent reference to Zimmerman’s recent complaints about empty buses at a meeting of the Council Mobility Committee – with a “grinning face with smiling eyes” emoji and a “thumbs up sign (medium skin tone)” emoji, clearly indicating that the gloves had come off. While watchers reeled from what pundits could only describe as Garza’s near-total destruction of her dais colleague, a meddling reporter poured gas on the fire by retweeting the incendiary message. But proving his ferocious resolve to never be so badly p3wned, Zimmerman returned fire on Garza with a withering enfilade of his own. “Hi CM. We’re at the D6 Field Office to help people avoid going downtown. 383 just passed by w/3 riders.” Leaving no doubt about the heavy truth of his tweet, Zimmerman posted a photograph of the very bus to which he was referring (although, to be fair, the photo’s grainy quality and the bus’s tinted windows make it difficult to determine exactly how many people are on board). The colossal energy harnessed by both sides in such a momentous, no-holds-barred debate of crucial issues clearly exhausted the two parties, who jointly limped away from their social media version of the Battle of the Somme without further comment, leaving in their wake the devastation of stunned viewers, orphaned children and one reporter’s hyperventilated accounting of the showdown. As of Sunday afternoon, there was no word on whether either Council member would be deleting their account.

‘Cause it (can’t & won’t &) don’t stop… If you’ve managed to remain unaware of the increasingly contentious, fairly emotional rhetoric swirling around the May 7 Proposition 1 vote, you have our envy. And, as much as the Austin Monitor is eagerly anticipating the day when we tag no stories with “transportation network companies,” here we go again. Because, over the weekend, the Austin Chronicle published this story. For those unable to click on links, here is Michael King’s lead, which pretty much says it all: “On April 21, U.S. Chamber of Commerce President Amanda Eversole wrote to U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx, suggesting that Austin’s candidacy for a Smart City Challenge Grant might be clouded if Austin voters reject Prop. 1 on May 7.” Here is that letter. In response, Mayor Steve Adler said the city shouldn’t be bullied by outside organizations. In the letter, Eversole suggests that Austin’s City Council-approved regulations are not in line with a “Smart City” and also takes a swipe at Council’s “very misleading” ballot language, which she worries could cause TNC voters to inadvertently take the wrong side when casting their vote. While the letter is certainly a reminder that Austin is now big enough to warrant national concern, it also might be worth noting that, with seven finalists still in the running, Austin is far from a lock when it comes to winning the $50 million Smart City Challenge grant. Austin’s proposal can be read here.

The more things change… City Council Member Don Zimmerman nearly scored a small, if ultimately inconsequential, victory on Thursday when Council addressed the proposed $116,000 contract with ATMOS Research & Consulting to assess the impact of climate change on local hydrology. Although Zimmerman did not introduce an amendment that he had prepared, which would have proposed diverting half of that funding to global warming skeptics, he did persuade several colleagues to support postponing a vote on the contract until the next Council meeting in two weeks. Council members Sheri Gallo and Pio Renteria suggested that some of the services sought in the contract might be duplicating research already being conducted by the Lower Colorado River Authority or scientists at the University of Texas. Renteria and Gallo joined Zimmerman and Council Member Ellen Troxclair in supporting the postponement, which was beat back by the five other present members: Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo and Council members Greg Casar, Leslie Pool, Delia Garza and Ann Kitchen. On the subsequent vote to approve the contract, Renteria joined his liberal colleagues in supporting the measure, while Gallo, Troxclair and Zimmerman voted no. Pool said that whatever research was being done by other groups was unlikely to address the specific concerns of the city. “When our staff contracts with experts to bring us information, it means we have direct access to their expertise, and the report results would reflect specifically the needs of Austin and our ratepayers,” she said.

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