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Reporter’s notebook: Old endings, new beginnings

Monday, December 19, 2016 by Caleb Pritchard

Love actually… Bob Gedert, who has served as director of Austin’s Resource Recovery Department since 2010, is retiring for love. Following his final appearance before City Council on Thursday, Gedert was standing outside Council chambers when the Austin Monitor caught up with him. He said he was moving to Cincinnati and would become a consultant there. Asked why he wanted to move to Cincinnati, Gedert, wearing a broad smile, turned to the lady by his side, whom he introduced as “Kathy, my fiancée.” He explained that he and the lady started dating during college but had gone their separate ways for many years. They more recently became reacquainted, and he has been going back and forth between Austin and Cincinnati for perhaps a year, according to a member of his staff. Gedert is best known for transforming the department from a simple trash division (when it was known as the Solid Waste Services Department) to a genuine resource recovery department, Gerry Acuña, chair of the Zero Waste Advisory Commission, told the Monitor. “Bob came with incredible goals and ambitious aspirations. It was the right time for the city of Austin, going from a trash department to a resource recovery department, and he really had some vision,” Acuña said. “He introduced us to the next level.” Gedert has been working in recycling and waste reduction efforts throughout his career, which began in 1975, according to interim City Manager Elaine Hart. The department has about 400 employees and is responsible for residential trash pickup, recycling, yard trimmings collection, street sweeping, household hazardous waste collection, bulky item pickup, litter abatement and storm debris cleanup. He is also president of the National Recycling Coalition. Taking over the job of interim director on Jan. 6 will be Sam Angoori, who has more than 16 years of service with the city of Austin, including a position as deputy director of the Public Works and Resource Recovery departments.

Alternate ending… Perhaps for old times’ sake, outgoing City Council Member Sheri Gallo and her longtime nemesis on the dais, Council Member Leslie Pool, got into one last public scrape last week, and much like Gallo’s dismal showing in her runoff election on Tuesday night, Pool walked away with another tally in her win column. The minor clash erupted over Gallo’s attempt at Thursday’s Council meeting to remove her appointee from the Parkland Events Task Force, a group that had just recently wrapped up its ad hoc assignment. Gallo included her request to torpedo Carol Lee in a larger slate of board nominations made by her colleagues, but Pool pulled the item from the consent agenda and asked to vote separately on the fate of Lee, whom incidentally Pool lists as a supporter on her campaign website. “I had hoped to do this quietly,” Gallo said with apparent frustration. She explained that she was keen to kick her appointee to the curb after hearing reports that Lee had broken federal law by stuffing fliers into mailboxes. Council members Don Zimmerman, Ora Houston and Ellen Troxclair voiced support for the notion of deferring to Gallo’s discretionary judgment when it comes to her own appointments. However, Pool claimed to have a letter from Lee denying the allegations. She also argued that while individual members can make suggestions about their individual appointments, the prerogative for action still rests with the full Council. Ultimately, the vote to remove Lee failed, 4-4-3, with Gallo, Houston, Troxclair and Zimmerman supporting it. Pool, Mayor Steve Adler, Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo and Council Member Greg Casar stood against it, while Council members Ann Kitchen, Delia Garza and Pio Renteria abstained. With the loss, Gallo’s record on the year for removing her Pool-friendly appointees stands at 1-1. Earlier this fall, the District 10 representative managed to eject Alison Alter, another Pool ally, from the Parks and Recreation Board after Alter had decided to launch a challenge – ultimately successful – to Gallo’s bid for re-election.

With a little help from the feds… As is the case with many transit agencies across the country, the Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s ridership has been sagging in recent years. At least, that’s what we at the Austin Monitor have been dutifully reporting based on the agency’s available data. Of course, we’re the first to tell you that journalists generally suck at math, but our confidence in our conclusions have been bolstered by consistent corroboration by Capital Metro officials in budgets and board meetings dating back to the first half of the decade. Which is why we were struck a little dumb by a recent post on the agency’s blog that touted a small increase in ridership dating back to 2015. The post cited a recent a Texas Tribune report on Houston METRO’s transit network reconfiguration that led to a substantial boost in that agency’s business over a 10-month period. In that same interim, Capital Metro’s ridership ticked up by half a percentage point, according to data obtained from the Federal Transit Administration by the Tribune‘s Brandon Formby. However, using records from Capital Metro, the Monitor’s math shows a 14 percent drop in ridership during that period. When asked about the discrepancy, an agency spokeswoman said simply, “Brandon got his data from the FTA website, which is compiled differently than what you find on ours.” Our attempts to ask the FTA about its math fell on deaf answering machines in Washington, D.C.

This week’s stories come from the notebooks of Jo Clifton and Caleb Pritchard.

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