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No new members for animal advisory group

Thursday, May 19, 2016 by Jo Clifton

The City Council Audit and Finance Committee on Monday postponed for one month a vote to recommend adding members to the city’s Animal Advisory Commission from Travis County, as requested last year by County Judge Sarah Eckhardt. In doing so, they had the support of the current chair and a past chair of the commission.

The commission currently has 11 members, one of whom was selected by Council Member Greg Casar to represent Travis County. Council members Pio Renteria and Leslie Pool and Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo said they wanted the commission itself to decide whether they should allow Travis County to appoint an additional two or four members.

Council Member Ellen Troxclair voted against the postponement, saying that it was time to move ahead with the appointment of two new members and that if the commission wanted any additional Travis County representatives, Council could add those to the roster later.

Council Member Ora Houston, who is not a member of the Audit and Finance Committee, urged her fellow Council members to move forward with recommending the two appointments. She pointed out that the city members of the commission currently outnumber the county members 10 to one, so when they vote on how many members to add, there will be only one person to speak up for the county.

“The county puts a lot of money into the Animal (Advisory) Commission,” Houston said. Although the county does not actually put any money into the commission itself, it does pay around 8 percent of the animal services bill. For Fiscal Year 2015-16, the total animal services budget was $11.7 million, of which $1.4 million came from Travis County, according to a city spokesman.

She said more complaints come from her district, District 1, and Districts 2 and 3: “We have more complaints about animal services than any other districts in the city. And most of them are from outside in the county.” So in equitable terms, she said, it would not be fair for only one member of the commission to be advocating for the county when it came to the question of adding more members from outside of Austin.

Larry Tucker, former chair and a member of the commission currently designated to represent the interests of Travis County, along with the current chair, David Lundstedt, told the committee that the commission had not taken up the question of expanding its membership. Commission members voted to add to the scope of their work for Travis County so that it aligns with the work they do in advising the city of Austin.

Lundstedt said, “Our recommendation at this time does not include adding any members. So I don’t think it would be proper for you to take a vote on that.”

They explained that it was important to change the bylaws on the scope of work before adding any new members to the commission. Tucker said the city’s bylaws were changed in 2008 to allow the commission to weigh in on a variety of animal welfare concerns. As a result of an oversight, the bylaws did not allow the commission to do the same for Travis County.

The next meeting of the Animal Advisory Commission is June 13, and the next scheduled meeting of the Audit and Finance Committee is June 22, just one day prior to the final Council meeting before the summer break. Tovo promised that the item would return for that June 22 committee meeting so the full Council could consider the matter on June 23.

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