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Reporter’s Notebook: Lessons learned

Monday, August 21, 2017 by Austin Monitor

A parking pittance… Members of City Council listening to a lengthy presentation on the Development Services Department budget Wednesday didn’t suggest any major changes to the way the department is running or spending its money. But a number of Council members were bothered by the parking policies the department has implemented at One Texas Center, its current home base on Barton Springs Road. Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo wondered why it had installed parking meters when virtually everybody visiting the building – developers and property owners seeking permits or consult with city development review staff – get their parking ticket validated and don’t pay. Development Services Director Rodney Gonzales replied that the department had had issues with other downtown workers using the lot during the day. Other Council members were vexed by One Texas Center offering full-day validation, up from its previous policy of two free hours. Gonzales also defended that policy – which costs roughly $400,000 a year – as part of the city’s efforts to speed up the development review process. The department would rather an applicant stay for five hours and get their permits in order in one go than come back multiple times, he said, adding that the department has made up for the lost revenue by increasing other fees. Council Member Delia Garza pointed out that those engaged in day-long meetings with city staff are generally there for multimillion-dollar projects. “I can’t imagine how spending for four hours of parking for that huge project really affects the cost of that project,” she said. Council Member Ann Kitchen also didn’t like the idea that other fees – including those paid by customers of more modest means – were being raised to subsidize parking for the largest developers. “We are paying for people to park there,” she said.

A well-founded fear… While every Council meeting begins with an invocation from a different local community of faith, not every invocation manages to dive into the spirit of local government. This week proved an exception, with a rare appearance from Pastor Lee Lever of the Austin Mennonite Church. Lever explained that his faith usually steered well clear of politics, though recent politics at a national and state level had given him reason to break from tradition. He then gave the best reason for their historical stance: “We like separation of church and state,” he said. “A City Council about 500 years ago arrested an early Mennonite leader. He escaped in the winter and escaped across the river that had thin ice. And one of his pursuers, a guard who was pursuing him, fell through the ice and this man, Dirk Willems, turned around to rescue the person who was chasing him. He was arrested and went back to jail and was executed. So I’m nervous about being in front of you all.”

In praise of photogs… Television news cameramen (and women!) are the old pickup trucks of journalism: constantly put upon yet consistently reliable, key to all glory but never afforded their fair share of recognition. The job requires stoic humility, technical talent, improvisational creativity, confident strength and a physical durability that should make postal carriers jealous. Such as it is, we mollycoddled writers whose largest chore is deciphering our own rushed script or finding a spare pen in one of our various empty pockets have nothing but great sympathy for these great Clydesdales of Videography, and admire their eternal ingenuity in the face of great conflict, like, for example, on Wednesday when a group of activists held a rally in front of City Hall during the height of the blazing sun. Lo, the photogs assigned to cover the event exhibited the quiet cunning required of their great profession when faced with the dilemma of getting the story or dying of exposure. We noted – from the air-conditioned confines of the lobby inside – that each one of them staked out a vantage dozens of feet from the rally beneath one of the shade trees near the street. Wise and prudent and effective, and we almost mourn the day when people learn to accommodate these great innovators by not having outside press conferences on a vast open plaza at noon in August.

And, finally, God bless Twitter…

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

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