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Reporter’s Notebook: Field trips and missteps

Monday, August 28, 2017 by Austin Monitor

Why extend the deadline when you can eliminate it?… During a budget work session on Wednesday morning, Council Member Ora Houston asked whether the deadline for submitting items to the budget concept menu was Tuesday night or Wednesday night. Don’t worry, she was assured, she still had until midnight to submit items. What followed was a half-hour discussion about whether the deadline should be extended and whether there should be any deadline at all. Mayor Steve Adler reminded his colleagues that the point of the deadline was to provide greater transparency, allowing the public ample time to get a glimpse of budget proposals before City Council voted on them. It was “an effort to try to discipline ourselves for the community’s benefit,” he said. Council Member Jimmy Flannigan also signaled concern, saying that it would be hard for city staff to assess and come up with cost estimates for items submitted so close to budget adoption. Council Member Ann Kitchen landed somewhere in the middle: “I don’t care if we have a deadline. I’m also OK if we don’t have a deadline. But I don’t think the deadline should be today.” In the end, they came to a compromise. There will be no definitive deadline, but items submitted after the original Aug. 23 deadline will be designated as late, with the understanding that staff may not be able to have time to vet them.

Homecoming… Most of Austin’s civic business happens downtown, so it’s a rare treat when one of your faithful Moniteers has an excuse to leave the bubble for the suburban hinterland. However, a recent transit adventure to Round Rock drove home the old adage about absence making the heart grow fonder. Hours and hours spent on various buses and trains traversing regional highways and byways connecting various bedroom communities put in stark relief the hustle and bustle of city street energy that we encountered upon our return to the urban core circa lunch time. The unflinching excitement was hardly dampened by our encounter on West Third Street with an unnamed member of Council who, upon being reminded of Round Rock’s recent arrangement to use a combination of federal and local funds to pay Capital Metro for transit service immediately remarked – and allow us to mildly paraphrase – “I friggin’ hate that thing so much.” No finer place, for sure.

Sturm und Drang… Over the weekend, a lot of Austinites stayed out of the weather and on social media, trying to keep tabs on Harvey. One of those people, apparently, was Council Member Leslie Pool who managed to create a small storm of her own with a tweet about the flooding in Houston with a reminder that zoning (and impervious cover restrictions) matters.

The tweet was immediately met with criticism and fighting about CodeNEXT, because not even a hurricane can stop that. Here’s a sample:

Undeterred, Pool doubled-down on the point with a link to the Texas Tribune’s investigation that detailed how “unchecked development” increased flood risk in Houston.

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

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