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Monday, August 8, 2016 by Elizabeth Pagano

Reporter’s Notebook: Resignations and resignation


“Sent using OWA for iPhone”… On Friday, the Austin Monitor reported that Neighborhood Housing and Community Development department executive Steve Ritchie had quit, following the sudden retirement of Director Betsy Spencer over the public release of allegations of harassment and retaliation. Ritchie’s resignation letter, sent on Wednesday, Aug. 3, read, “I tender my resignation effective two weeks from today. As a courtesy to the City of Austin, My last day of employment will be Thursday, August 18, 2016. I’ve been subjected to a hostile work environment and the City namely Bert Lumbreras released an incomplete 1sided report to the press slandering and defaming my name and character. I’ve worked hard for the citizens of Austin as my track record demonstrates. Our inside and outside partners, former staff and current staff mostly African American women have inundated me with calls of support and stating they know my character and stand with me. It has been a pleasure working with you and I really appreciate your devotion to the programs that serve the poorest citizens of Austin. I wish all the success in the future.”

A crappy joke… It started with an unintentional double entendre: Assistant City Manager Bert Lumbreras referred to a proposed project to build a public restroom as “fluid,” eliciting a round of sympathetic snickers from City Council members during last week’s budget work session. Wanting to get in on the bathroom humor, Council Member Don Zimmerman, an avowed opponent of the proposed project, tried a few puns of his own. First, he proposed that the bathroom be located next to the Willie Nelson statue across the street from City Hall, suggesting that Willie’s music play in the facility. In an apparent attempt to deliver a urine-based pun, Zimmerman specifically suggested “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain.” His colleagues were manifestly unimpressed, but Zimmerman was undaunted, moving on to a joke about another bodily fluid. It started with a reference to Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s suit against City Hall’s gun ban. “I suggest that we move the metal detector and the gun-free zone signs to the Portland Loo and that we also put up a sign that says, ‘No Gambling Allowed.’ So if it’s a gun-free zone and a gambling-free zone, there will be no excuse for people going in there to shoot craps.” Fellow Council members and city staffers responded to Zimmerman’s zinger the same way they often react to his political arguments: silence.

Thanks, reddit… Over the weekend, there was much speculation about the mysterious case of the missing tax credits, which revealed itself late in Thursday’s City Council meeting. We wrote about Elysium Park here but are still awaiting word on why state Rep. Celia Israel did not endorse the tax credits. However, while we took our day off, the Internet sleuths of the Austin subreddit continued slaving away in their never-ending search for knowledge. In the process, they found this blog post from February that celebrates Israel’s plan to remain neutral. It includes a letter from the state office, which reads in part: “Lack of affordable housing remains a major impediment to our quality of life and our future economic viability, but this project didn’t meet guidelines essential to a successful community endeavor. My first duty is to the constituents of House District 50, and aspects of this project caused me some concern.”

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Key Players & Topics In This Article

affordable housing: This general term refers to housing that is affordable to Austinites, with or without subsidy.

Austin City Council: The Austin City Council is the body with legislative purview over the City of Austin. It offers policy direction, while the office of the City Manager implements administrative actions based on those policies. Until 2012, the body contained seven members, including the city's Mayor, all elected at-large. In 2012, City of Austin residents voted to change that system and now 10 members of the Council are elected based on geographic districts. The Mayor continues to be elected at-large.

City of Austin Neighborhood Housing and Community Development Department: This city department provides housing and community development services for Austinites. To that end, they administer programs, provide grant services, and work with non-profit and agencies to provide housing for eligible residents. The department also provides small business development services.

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