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Reporter’s Notebook: Vultures everywhere

Monday, August 29, 2016 by Austin Monitor

Reply all … Over the weekend, Public Safety Commissioner Mike Levy put Austin Neighborhoods Council President Mary Ingle on blast over the upcoming transportation bond election. It all started last week, when ANC held a panel on the upcoming bonds. That panel was held in front of a packed, interested house – but it was not accompanied by ANC taking an official stance on the election. Ingle told the Austin Monitor that was because the timing of the bond is too tight this year and that passing a resolution takes at least two months. Given ANC’s meeting schedule and the fact that the bond language was only recently approved, it just wasn’t in the cards at this time, said Ingle. However, over a personal exchange with activist Linda Curtis (about Curtis’ unsanctioned taping of the panel), Ingle was a little more descriptive in her reasons for avoiding taking a stance on the issue. To be precise, she wrote, “If I can help it, ANC will not take a position on the bonds – we need to keep our powder dry! These bonds are a stupid idea – what was the hurry about? I fear that the Mayor was given bad advice without taking the pulse of real people whose property taxes are out of control right now.” In response to that, Levy raised the question, “What would possibly be more important than something like this for ANC to keep its collective ‘powder dry’ for?” … and copied a fair chunk of Austin on the conversation in the process. The bulk of Levy’s email is a colorful take-down of the proposed bond, Mayor Steve Adler and the city’s transportation department in a rant that ends with, “The good news is that the voters have noses, and they will quickly figure out this bond Bundle smells like there is rotting flesh inside it, that it’s a Big Lie.” Speaking to the Monitor about the exchange, Ingle explained that her email expressed a personal opinion and that she was not able to speak for ANC as a whole. As for the fairly public nature of the exchange, Ingle had this to say: “There are vultures everywhere, and I’m not roadkill yet.”

Austin’s newest media mogul… Following a Thursday press conference announcing that an agreement had been reached between Austin Energy and two environmental groups over coal use, Kaiba White, a policy analyst for Public Citizen, asked the small crowd of media if there were any questions. The only person who responded was Paul Robbins, the longtime environmental and consumer activist who has been a thorn in the city-owned utility’s side for years. Why, he asked, did the rate settlement touted by Public Citizen, Sierra Club and 18 other businesses and advocacy groups raise electricity rates for customers in the lowest tier of electricity use? “Any questions from the press?” interjected Dave Cortez of the Sierra Club, trying to deflect the question. “I am the press!” Robbins cried, an assertion he seemed to sell by scribbling notes as Mayor Steve Adler responded to the question. Asked for the basis of his claim later by the Monitor, Robbins pointed out that he is the editor of the Austin Environmental Directory, a “user-friendly guide to readers for learning about environmental issues, for identifying and purchasing environmental products, and for becoming involved in environmental organizations” that is available online and in print. Robbins created the last edition in 2013 but said he is working on a new edition. “I guess I could be loosely defined as the press,” he said.

Troxclair seeking campaign contributions… City Council Member Ellen Troxclair sent a message to supporters last week urging them to contact other Council members and ask them to focus on affordability in the upcoming budget. This message has been a major theme of Troxclair’s service on the Council, so that part of her message was not surprising. However, at the end of that message she also asked for a contribution. Troxclair is not one of the five Council members up for re-election in November, but because Council Member Don Zimmerman won a part of his lawsuit to overturn the city’s campaign finance rules, those not up for election can seek contributions at any time. Zimmerman is still challenging the $350 limit on the amount individuals can give to candidates and has asked a federal judge to reverse his ruling upholding that limit. It seems unlikely that the judge would reverse that part of the ruling, and both Zimmerman and the city are expected to appeal to the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals. In the meantime, the mayor and his colleagues are allowed to collect campaign contributions if they choose to do so. Council could still enact a new blackout period, allowing contributions only during the 12 months before an election. But the body is pretty busy, not just with five members running for re-election but also with putting together the budget, selecting an interim city manager and, after that, selecting a full-time city manager, among other things. So, it might not get around to considering campaign finance for quite a while.

This week’s Reporter’s Notebook comes from the notebooks of Jo Clifton, Jack Craver and Elizabeth Pagano.

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