About Us

Make a Donation
Local • Independent • Essential News

City attorney presence could be scaled down at land-use commission meetings

Thursday, December 1, 2016 by Joseph Caterine

The city’s land-use commissions may lose their on-call legal counsel, according to Mitzi Cotton, assistant division chief at the Law Department, who presented at the Nov. 29 joint meeting of the Planning Commission and the Zoning and Platting Commission.

After the city adopted its 10-1 City Council system, then-city attorney Karen Kennard decided that the Law Department would cover all commission meetings in anticipation of some road bumps during the transition.

But now, Cotton said, the department is reconsidering its commitment. “I feel like the service we provide is not particularly helpful,” she said at the meeting.

She reassured commissioners that nothing is set in stone and that her staff is still brainstorming a solution, but as of now she thinks things should go back to the way they were before 10-1, when city attorneys would attend meetings only when they were needed – for example, if an ordinance was on the agenda. Most of the time, however, city attorneys do not have enough forewarning to research cases accordingly, Cotton said.

“The heart of the matter is preparation,” said Planning Commission Chair Stephen Oliver. “When we receive info three days before meetings at best, it becomes very difficult to be adequately prepared. We’re all working behind schedule in being prepared for these meetings.”

Planning Commissioner James Shieh said that not having a city attorney present at every meeting made him uncomfortable. “It makes me nervous that opposition to an item could bring their own attorney, and then we wouldn’t have any legal representation,” he said.

Cotton reiterated that despite the concerns, there are logistical limitations. “It’s a manpower issue,” she said.

Photo by Tate English made available through a Creative Commons license

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.

You're a community leader

And we’re honored you look to us for serious, in-depth news. You know a strong community needs local and dedicated watchdog reporting. We’re here for you and that won’t change. Now will you take the powerful next step and support our nonprofit news organization?

Back to Top