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Reporter’s Notebook: Vows, complaints and questions

Monday, October 30, 2017 by Austin Monitor

Not half bad… The Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s board of directors has been challenged to walk its talk. At last Tuesday’s work session, activist Zenobia Joseph took aim at the agency’s proposed bus network redesign and the claims that it will put hundreds of thousands of residents within a half-mile walk from a transit route. Echoing a consensus that holds that bus passengers typically prefer walks of less than a quarter mile, Joseph asked the board members to take her half-mile pledge. “Park your car half a mile from where you live, whether you’re tired or not, and then walk home and walk back so you can at least feel what it’s like,” Joseph suggested. “Do it during inclement weather or at dawn and dusk and then you will understand what is happening.” None of the board members immediately volunteered to take the pledge.

AISD accused of breaking state law… Last Friday, the Travis County Taxpayers Union submitted a request to Travis County Attorney David Escamilla to criminally investigate the Austin Independent School District for allegedly overstepping its role in this year’s bond election. The state of Texas prohibits school districts from advocating for any bond, restricting them to only providing information to voters. TCTU submitted evidence to support its claim, including election stickers with the bond check-boxes ticked that were sent home with students as well as an email to an AISD employee that asked, “Can we count on you to support our kids and vote for Prop A?” Tori Moreland, a consultant with TCTU, told the Austin Monitor that a school district campaigning for its own bond would not be presenting a fair picture. “It’s all the benefits and none of the drawbacks,” she said. “As a watchdog organization, it’s kind of our moral duty to call out what we believe to be unethical practices.” Although a formal response to the request will not be issued before election day, at the very least, Moreland said, TCTU hopes to alert voters of the issue before they cast their ballot. An attorney for AISD told the Austin American-Statesman that the district had not violated the law.

What was canceled?… A special-called meeting of the Historic Landmark Commission was canceled just a couple of hours before it was scheduled to take place Wednesday afternoon. Thankfully, since the meeting was supposed to take place at 3 p.m., as opposed to the usual 6 p.m., the Monitor reporter who showed up to the vacant Board and Commission Room did not have to endure rush hour traffic during the cross-town drive there and back. There are conflicting accounts of why the meeting was called in the first place, as well as why it was canceled. The commission chair, Mary Jo Galindo, told the Monitor on Friday that she believed the meeting had been scheduled to give the commission additional time to deal with a resolution concerning CodeNEXT, but since it had gotten that done at its regular meeting two days before, the special meeting was canceled. The agenda for the meeting backs that theory up. However, Historic Preservation Officer Steve Sadowsky said that the meeting had been called to review a number of proposed legal changes to the commission and that it was canceled because the Law Department was still working on them. The Monitor is committed to getting to the bottom of this.

Next steps… A look at the airport check-ins for Don Pitts, the former director of Austin’s Music and Entertainment Division, suggests he’s becoming an in-demand expert in the world of music ecosystem development and management of music-related noise complaint issues. Pitts, who stepped down from his city job in April following accusations he mishandled an employee discipline issue, has agreed to consult with the city of Pittsburgh to conduct a study on growing the music economy there. Recent Facebook check-ins at airports in Washington, D.C., New Orleans and Memphis, which was the host of last month’s Music Cities Convention, suggest that Pitts has other deals brewing to try to grow music scenes in other major cities. Reached by email, Pitts told the Monitor he’s in talks with leaders in multiple cities across the country but wouldn’t elaborate on where else his new company Sound Music Cities would be doing business. He was also mum on any developments with attempts by the city’s Ethics Commission to punish him for allegedly not responding to a subpoena to appear as a witness in the hearing this spring regarding his former employee.

This week’s Reporter’s Notebook comes from the notebooks of Caleb Pritchard, Jack Craver, Joseph Caterine and Chad Swiatecki.

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