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Reporter’s Notebook: Kitten tsunami

Monday, July 25, 2016 by Austin Monitor

Ignorance and arrogance… In her bid to stall the creation of the WildHorse Ranch public improvement district, City Council Member Ora Houston found support this weekend from none other than the Austin American-Statesman. The editorial board of the Lady Bird Lake real estate concern on Sunday published a piece accusing Travis County officials of “ignorance or arrogance” for not reaching out to Houston, whose District 1 would contain the PID. By omission, the paper that once endorsed for Council a candidate who advocated the notion that the federal government perpetrated the 9/11 terrorist attacks exonerated Houston for her own failure to reach out to Travis County officials during what has been a lengthy and, by at least one outlet, well-covered public process. If only there were a way for the city’s officials and thinkfluencers to better monitor civic happenings …

Quid pro whoa… Last Tuesday, a platoon of lawyers showed up to Travis County Commissioners Court to stand in opposition to proposed changes to the security procedures at the Blackwell-Thurman Criminal Justice Center. Several even spoke to the court and complained about the metal detector screenings in a fashion that only Texas attorneys could. Lawyer Joe James Sawyer seemed on the verge of tears when he noted that he might have to immodestly remove his belt and boots in front of sheriff’s deputies. “We were once a respected part of this community,” said Sawyer, clearly forgetting for a moment that society generally regards lawyers only somewhat higher than cockroaches, Fred Durst and journalists (in that order). Former Judge Charlie Baird took a more self-effacing approach. “We’re liberal tree-huggers,” said Baird. “We’re almost like Quakers. Most of us are like me and don’t even own a gun. And I promise you, there’s not a person in the Austin Criminal Defense Lawyers Association who could ever figure out a way to put a weapon inside of a belt.” Baird also pointed out that the judges – whom the rule change is ostensibly designed to protect – fraternize with lawyers at social and political events. Baird noted that they are elected officials just as the members of the court are. “Every one of those judges, at one point or another, and probably a majority of y’all, are going to write all of us a letter and say, ‘Contribute to my campaign,’ and we’re going to meet you at Scholz Garten and give you a check, and there’s not going to be a threat to anybody,” Baird said, a comment that attracted the curiosity of the court’s lone Republican. “Me, too?” asked Commissioner Gerald Daugherty, drawing laughter from the largely Democratic defense attorneys. “Yes, sir,” replied a chuckling Baird. “Depending on your vote, we will include you as well.” County Judge Sarah Eckhardt then interceded, saying, “I think that’s a quid pro quo for a campaign contribution.” Baird deftly responded, “I think it’s a joke.”

Yes, we are pandering… This week, Austin Monitor reporters got deeper into Austin’s stray cat breeding scene than we ever expected. It turns out that summer and fall, from May to November, are kitten seasons. “We’re usually hit like a tsunami with kittens,” said Ellen Jefferson of Austin Pets Alive! But she’s seen hundreds fewer kittens this year, meaning that for some reason Austin’s cats just haven’t been in the mood. What’s likely is that, like the rest of us, the cats have been suffering from the extreme heat and that numbers will be back up next year. But in the meantime, while almost everyone loves kittens, having fewer homeless cats “is a wonderful problem to have,” said Animal Advisory Commissioner Larry Tucker.

If wishes were horses… Over the weekend, you might have gotten wind of a new push to ban smoking on Austin’s patios. But that’s not the only thing our fair citizens would like to see banned in the city. This weekend also saw momentum gather behind a petition to ban horse-drawn carriages. The petition cites high temperatures and unfriendly road surfaces as reasons for the ban. It does not make specific reference to transportation network companies or mobility bonds, however.

This week’s Reporter’s Notebook comes from the notebooks of Cate Malek, Caleb Pritchard and Elizabeth Pagano. The Austin Monitor’s work is made possible by donations from the community. Though our reporting covers donors from time to time, we are careful to keep business and editorial efforts separate while maintaining transparency. A complete list of donors is available here, and our code of ethics is explained here.

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