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Council says only three land-use pros on board

Friday, May 13, 2016 by Jo Clifton

City Council voted Thursday to limit to three the number of land-use professionals who may serve on the 11-member Environmental Commission. That is the same number of land-use professionals who were allowed when the commission was only seven members, and members of the commission had at that time recommended unanimously that the number of such professionals be limited to five.

But Council Member Leslie Pool pushed for a limit of three, and she had a majority of Council on her side. The city website says, “Not more than three members should be employed in land development or related activities.” That will not change.

Council Member Sheri Gallo argued that four would be a more appropriate number, hoping to persuade her colleagues to adopt the compromise. However, she had support from only three other members on that idea. Council members Don Zimmerman, Ellen Troxclair and Pio Renteria voted for Gallo’s amendment, while the others rejected it.

Zimmerman and Council Member Ellen Troxclair voted no on the main motion.

After the meeting, Renteria told the Austin Monitor about another concern that he has regarding the Environmental Commission: the requirement that it include one member from the Barton Springs/Edwards Aquifer Conservation District. The mayor’s appointee is Brian Smith, a hydrologist from the aquifer district.

There are currently four engineers and two environmental scientists on the commission, including Smith. It is arguable that one or more, while they work for companies that are engaged in development, are not personally involved in land development.

Renteria, who appointed environmentalist Pam Thompson to the commission, was nonetheless concerned about the fairness of the rules. “My concern was once you meet that threshold of three and you have another person out there” whom a Council member wants to appoint, “he’s excluded from being on there.”

There have been very few arguments about the appointees to any commission, either with the previous Council or the current Council, though Zimmerman and Council Member Ann Kitchen both asked for elaboration on the phrase “land development or related activities.” But it seems that Council members will have to interpret that on a case-by-case basis if they wish to argue about each other’s appointments in the future.

As reported in the Monitor on April 14, “Pool told the Austin Monitor that she remains concerned but expects the number of land-use professionals to go down by attrition unless her colleagues decide otherwise on a case-by-case basis. She pointed out that each commissioner is appointed only for the term of the Council member who appointed him or her, so those appointed by Council members with two-year terms could be replaced after the November election.”

Zimmerman attempted to appoint one member to the Parks and Recreation Commission and one member to the Public Safety Commission, both of whom were rejected by his colleagues. Both had created considerable controversy before Zimmerman attempted to appoint them.

However, they were not rejected because of their work duties or ties to the development community. One or more Council members will have to take it upon themselves to persuade their colleagues not to appoint people who they believe would cause a violation of the rule.

Council keeps the names of prospective appointees under wraps until the day of their appointment. That also prevents any citizen from arguing either for or against the appointments.

Photo by M.Fitzsimmons (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons.

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