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Reporter’s Notebook: Not our jam

Monday, May 15, 2017 by Austin Monitor

Bit of turbulence during that pilot program… An attempt by the city’s Parks and Recreation Department to make “data driven decisions” went slightly off the rails at Tuesday’s City Council work session, where Council members learned that a “parks pass” pilot program may be having unintended consequences. The pass, which is a voluntary program implemented to allow the parks department to track how the parks were being used, and who was using the parks, had an end goal of creating a more equitable distribution of resources. But, given recent anti-immigration sentiment, action and legislation, it’s scaring people. Acting Director Kimberly McNeeley explained the “unfortunate” timing. “Admittedly, I think it made some of our residents and some of our community members uncomfortable, but that was not the intention,” she said. “We could either put a hard-and-fast rule in that says everyone will have a card, but we don’t believe that’s appropriate because we don’t want to disenfranchise people. So we’ll have to have a system that’s the best we can and the conditions under which we’re living right at this particular moment, because we believe it’s important to serve individuals.” After some discussion among staff and Council members about whether the parks passes were even an effective way to collect data, and an exploration of how bad the existing means of collecting demographic data at facilities is, Council Member Delia Garza made a push to abandon the pilot. “I just feel that we are in a different political climate right now that affects members of our community differently, and we should not have a policy that has the appearance that could possibly create a situation where parts of our community are not using our rec centers. I don’t see why we have to implement this right now,” she said, making the point that an audit of the parks department said they needed a better way to track who was attending programs, not this system in particular.

Pun step forward… If traffic is the most pressing issue about your city, things could be a lot worse. To that end, it’s good to see Austin approach its mobility issues with a wry tongue or two in the cheek. Of course, even the hometown of the groanfully wondrous O. Henry Pun-Off has its limits. On Friday, Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority Community Involvement Manager Jackie Nirenberg pushed those limits. Announcing the sequel to March’s Traffic Jam – a top-notch dad joke of a name for a transportation policy open house – Nirenberg told her collected board of directors that the latest iteration will focus on discussing new transportation modes, such as light rail or, say, urban funiculars. Nirenberg revealed the name of the event will be – wait for it – Traffic Jam a la Mode, an eye-rolling mashup of wordplay that elicited from the small contingency of City Council aides a chorus of irrepressible snorts. Muttered one suffering aide, with the unanimous sympathy and agreement of all journalists present, “Jesus.”

Alternate facts… During the most recent meeting of the Board of Adjustment, Board Member Bryan King questioned whether it was appropriate to have an alternate fill in for recently resigned Board Member Melissa Neslund at their previous meeting. (The Board of Adjustment is a quasi-judicial board and has standing alternates, unlike other city commissions.) Assistant City Attorney Brent Lloyd explained that while there is no clear case law that answers the question, in a legal sense, when board members resign their position “they remain technically in a holdover capacity.” Lloyd did acknowledge that the question of whether an alternate can sit in for a position that is vacant is an interesting one in general. He said that, yes, that “holdover” filling of the position by the resigned member made it OK. However, he said that in cases where a supermajority was required, the rules were slightly different. King pointed out that the language in the city code and board bylaws was “very blurry” and suggested they be cleaned up in the future in the interest of transparency.

This week’s Reporter’s Notebook comes from the notebooks of Elizabeth Pagano and Caleb Pritchard.

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