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Reporter’s Notebook: Don’t say that

Monday, July 17, 2017 by Elizabeth Pagano

Yeah, OK, on the record, then… During the May 9 meeting of the Community Development Commission, commissioners took up the issue of developing Levander Loop with affordable housing. After a bit of misunderstanding, Neighborhood Housing and Community Development Assistant Director Rebecca Giello told commissioners that the city had every intention of moving forward with Levander Loop development, and the main holdup is now finding funding. She said that no Request for Proposal had yet been issued, as money was being focused on other projects. Nonetheless, she stressed, were anything to move forward, it would only be after a community engagement process, even with a 2009 City Council resolution and neighborhood plan supporting the affordable housing project. This seemed to agitate Commissioner Fred McGhee, in a way that has agitated us considerably. Here is how McGhee spoke to Giello, after she explained briefly where the city was in the process. (We’ve put the absolutely offensive part in bold for you, and apologize.) “Just to put myself on the record here: This city, when it wants to do something, makes it happen. And it doesn’t really care about community engagement, OK? All of us here can cite a thousand examples of that, OK? And so when I hear, ‘community engagement’ … all of a sudden now you getting warm and moist about it, that’s OK,” said McGhee. “As a general principle it’s a good thing to do.” After a bit more ranting about community engagement, McGhee was cut off, in favor of adjourning the meeting.

Fine, thanks… While reporting this week about the installation of a series of public art projects in the Red River Cultural District, a memory jogged loose of a different music-related and very Austin art project for the area that hasn’t come to pass yet. In 2014 and 2015 there were rumblings that James Moody, co-owner of the Mohawk nightclub and a partner in the Guerilla Suit marketing firm, was getting ready to announce a fundraising effort to pay for a statue of Jeremiah the Innocent, the alien-eyed frog creature made famous by his signature greeting – “Hi, how are you” – in a piece of graffiti just off the Drag by Austin musician Daniel Johnston. The statue was to have been a signifier of sorts for the then-just-formed Red River Cultural District, but the effort never materialized. A text message check-in with Moody on the status of Jeremiah produced the following; “The idea, which can still happen, is a partnership with Louis (Grachos) at The Contemporary, Daniel (Johnston), and the RRCD. The statue would be commissioned by a fund raise, housed at Laguna Gloria, and then begin the process of finding public or private land at/near the RRCD for all to enjoy. I’ve just been too dang busy to put the necessary time and muscle behind it, but it needs to happen and the contemporary is down. #srv”

New comfy chairs for City Hall… The many people who visit Austin City Hall, which opened in 2004 to rave reviews for its design, have never had comfortable seating. Citizens and staff members waiting in the atrium to address City Council or one of the numerous commissions meeting at City Hall have put up with standard, not very comfortable chairs, for more than a decade. But all that changed on Tuesday when these new chairs, and accompanying tables, arrived. Austin General Maintenance Manager Donald Baldwin told the Austin Monitor the price tag was $60,000 for the chairs in the atrium, plus new chairs for the vending machine area on the first floor and some more in the City Council hall on the second floor. Some people will probably complain about the expense, but those who are required to sit and wait probably will not.

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

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