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Reporter’s Notebook: Art and other concerns

Monday, May 22, 2017 by Austin Monitor

Austin artists aren’t good enough?… As part of its consent agenda on Thursday, City Council approved three contracts with firms and artists to provide artwork to the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport and an Austin Energy cooling plant. Council approved the electric utility to spend up to $202,500 for the cooling plant artwork, to be provided by Beili Liu, an Austin-based artist. Another contract authorizes payment of up to $1.55 million to New York-based artist Marc Fornes from the Airport Enterprise Fund on artwork for a new parking garage and administration building. Another Big Apple artist, Janet Zweig, won a $950,000 contract to provide artwork as part of the ongoing expansion of the terminal. Council Member Ellen Troxclair asked to be shown voting no on the three contracts. “I just (don’t) think in this time where we’re having affordability crisis and a difficult budget year that spending nearly three million dollars on public art is the highest and best use of our tax dollars,” she said. Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo rebutted the criticism, arguing it was not accurate to call the funds “taxpayer dollars” since they come from separate enterprise funds that are derived from airport and utility revenue, not taxes. Troxclair furrowed her brow in response but did not comment further. Asked for comment by the Austin Monitor, she responded via text message: “Just because it’s an enterprise fund doesn’t mean it’s not public dollars. Together this is $3 million that is coming out of the capital budget of either AE or the airport, with the vast majority going to NYC artists.”

No (open) love for The Donald… Determining President Donald Trump’s support among members of City Council leads to the same question that underpins computer technology: Is it 0 or 1? An interview recently with Troxclair, the only remaining Council member with ties to the Republican Party, failed to produce an answer. The conservative Council member laughed when asked how she’d voted in November, referencing the “beauty” of the secret ballot. Would she have been less hesitant to divulge her vote following the 2012 presidential election, when her party’s nominee was decidedly more conventional? “I don’t know,” she said. “Probably.”

CodeNEXT, always CodeNEXT… Not wanting to miss out on the fun of the endless flurry of CodeNEXT meetings taking place at City Hall and all over town, Council is edging toward a plan of its own to tackle the hefty Land Development Code rewrite. During last week’s work session, Tovo suggested that it base its strategy on that the previous City Council employed when tackling changes to Austin Energy rates. To that end, she offered to start piecing together a schedule of topics to address, to make sure the discussions are focused and all of the issues in the hefty tome that is the Land Development Code are addressed. During the work session, Mayor Steve Adler offered that discussions could also incorporate “clarity moments” that come from social media or community discussions. There is also the possibility that future discussions will be held on Wednesdays – once that slot is no longer being taken up with budget talk. According to a post by Tovo on the City Council Message Board, Council will take up on June 6 proposed procedure and process changes in the draft code, the timeline of CodeNEXT and the code corrections process.

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

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