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Reporter’s Notebook: We get procedural

Monday, May 9, 2016 by Elizabeth Pagano

Let the autopsy commence!… On election night, David Butts, chief strategist for Our City, Our Safety, Our Choice, said that opponents had overplayed their hand, but he also praised the media for exposing inaccuracies in Proposition 1 advertising. “The press,” he said, “did a really great job of exposing (deceptive advertising). “It’s one thing for us to say it; it’s another thing for the press to say, you know, this is not the whole story, they’re basically leaving part out, they’re making this part up — and they just constantly got hit with that over and over again.” But Proposition 1 supporters thought that if they kept putting out the same information, people would buy into it, and a lot of people did, Butts said. He added that some of those who voted for Proposition 1 did so for reasons unrelated to the ridesharing question. Some simply voted for the ballot measure because they do not like the current Council. Travis County Commissioner Brigid Shea, who was a leader in the campaign to pass the Save Our Springs Ordinance in 1992, compared the Proposition 1 election to the ’92 contest. Shea said, “The last time we had a victory that was this lopsided, where we were outspent 80 to 1, was when we passed SOS. Because the ordinary people of Austin defeated the man who owned the world’s largest gold mine (Jim Bob Moffett of Freeport-McMoRan Inc., which opposed the environmental regulations) and (to whom) money was no object. They probably spent in their day the equivalent of $10 million. And I said to people, ‘Uber is this generation’s Jim Bob.'” Shea explained that she had been working against Proposition 1 at polling places on election day and found some drivers for Uber and Lyft voting against the ballot measure. “The headline that I saw that I thought was the most accurate was from something called Jalopnik, which said, Uber spends $8 million to make Austinites hate them. I thought it was brilliant. It was so accurate.” (The headline actually said, ‘Ride-Hailing Companies Spent $8 Million To Make Everyone In Austin Hate Them.’) Shea added, “I heard more comments from people going in to vote today that they were furious that Uber was blowing up their cellphones, texting them, calling them, sending massive volumes of mail — it was just offensive. They were about as tone deaf as Jim Bob.”

Rules of order… It’s likely unrealistic to expect every volunteer who sits on one of Austin’s dozens of city commissions to master the intricacies of parliamentary procedure. That’s what city staff is there for, right? Last week, however, every member of the Public Safety Commission, as well as the chief police liaison to the panel, was revealed to be utterly oblivious to one of the most basic tenets of commission activity. During discussion of a resolution aimed at reforming the way police report the gender of those involved in crimes, Commissioner Kim Rossmo, until recently the commission chair, insisted that members of the public who had come to comment on the issue were not allowed to speak until after the commission had voted on the matter. “I’m confused,” said Chair Rebecca Webber. “Why can’t speakers who are here about something we’re about to take action on speak before we take action?” Rossmo replied, “Those are the rules. It’s your job as chair to know the rules.” Webber, baffled by such an illogical proposition, asked Assistant Police Chief Brian Manley for his opinion. Manley said he would have to consult with the legal department but believed Rossmo was correct. Commissioner Daniela Nunez, the author of the resolution, said it didn’t make sense not to let people speak before the item was acted on, to which Rossmo issued another dismissal: “I didn’t set the rules. The rules have been in place since well before you were born.” He also asserted that that was the case for all commissions. Rossmo’s apparent confidence in his position succeeded in convincing every member of the commission, some of whom have been members for years, that he was correct. It was only after Manley ran out to consult with the city legal department that the commission discovered that Rossmo was incorrect. Public testimony proceeded.

Om-nibus… In true creative fashion, the Austin Music Commission’s Monday meeting was a swirl of energies, ideas and “free form” discussions directed at providing details on Mayor Steve Adler’s omnibus resolution, outlining its next steps forward. After several hours, commissioners were able to narrow down a rather lengthy list of the resolution’s priorities to a less lengthy list, and the decision was reached only after questioning staff members multiple times about what exactly their assignment entailed.

The City of Austin's Music Commissioner Don Pitts sports a rather unique shirt at the Austin Music Commission Monday meeting.

Music Commissioner Don Pitts sports a rather unique shirt at the Austin Music Commission’s Monday meeting.

In addition, commissioners heard three, also lengthy, somewhat separate propositions from city staff, industry experts and the Austin Arts Commission. All three propositions took vastly different shapes and offered vastly different best practices. But, Bruce Willenzik, a longtime arts commissioner, summed up the tone of the discussion nicely, stating, “The problem with prioritizing is to understand that each of these things will make a little splash. A little splash is only a little splash, but when you put all those little splashes together in the same direction, you get a wave. And, the wave carries energy.”

Happy belated?… During last week’s City Council budget work session, Council members took a minute to celebrate the birthday of their youngest colleague, Council Member Greg Casar, who turned 27 last week. “We all had different ‘frequently asked questions’ during our campaigns. During mine, there were several people that asked me if I didn’t want to be a bit older,” said Casar. “I made a campaign promise that I would work on it every single day, and today is the culmination of one year’s worth of work.”

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