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Reporter’s Notebook: Why not?

Monday, December 11, 2017 by Austin Monitor

Wrestling with a tough decision… Austin’s chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America party scored a significant boost this weekend when Council Member Greg Casar agreed to sign up as an official member. The District 4 representative spoke at a DSA town hall on Friday evening alongside national health care activist and Party World Rasslin’ promoter Tim Faust. The affair was a mildly more reserved reunion of two men whose previous onstage collaboration involved an explosion of rubber snakes in the squared circle at a previous PWR event (as God is our witness, we’ve tried to find any video of that miraculous moment). After Faust gave an impassioned lecture about the benefits of a single-payer health care system, Casar spoke of the burgeoning local campaign to mandate paid sick leave, a thing that roughly a century after the peak of the American labor movement is apparently not a thing that, say, your average 7-11 clerk is entitled to. During the Q&A portion of the evening’s program, Casar was presented with one query from a fellow in the back of the room who wondered whether the second-term Council member would be interested in officially joining the DSA as a card-carrying member. Put on the spot, Casar wavered for almost two beats before conceding, “I guess I should. Why not?”

A very special events ordinance… If there’s a trophy for longest-gestating piece of city policy, it’s going to be tough to ever take it from the city’s proposed special events ordinance, which will enter its fifth calendar year of stasis once Jan. 1, 2018, rolls over. It appeared City Council was going to approve the third reading of the ordinance at Thursday’s meeting but city staff recommended delaying that move until April so that a series of concerns – most notably about the requirement for neighborhood notification on smaller events – could be addressed and the ordinance possibly modified before passage. There was also a push for one more meeting of community stakeholders to evaluate the ordinance, which was first considered and given first reading in 2014, before it is passed and put into effect. Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo moved Thursday to have the item added to the Feb. 1 council agenda for final reading, with staff on hand saying they’d gather community input and make the needed changes by that deadline. That motion was approved without objection.

It’s all tech to me… During a discussion about traffic congestion at last week’s Council work session, Transportation Director Robert Spillar said that employers increasingly view public transit and transportation demand management options, such as setting up carpooling programs or allowing workers to commute outside of rush hour, as key to attracting and retaining top-notch employees. “A very good example, there’s a national company, Facebook, looking for a new place to locate, and they are very focused on TDM and transit services as part of whatever community they’re looking at,” he said. Moments later, he added a disclaimer: “I don’t want to mislead people. I know nothing about the Facebook proposal for anything,” he said. Indeed, it’s Amazon, not Facebook, that is looking for a new location.

Legal matters matter?… Before adjourning Council’s work session on Tuesday, Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo, who was leading the meeting in the absence of the mayor, announced that Council was about to go into a closed-door executive session. In accordance with state law, she read a statement describing, in very lawyerly terms, what would be discussed during the session, including the legal details of a proposed interlocal agreement between the city and the Texas Facilities Commission over the Texas Capitol Complex Master Plan. As she made her way out of the room, she stopped to answer questions from an Austin Monitor reporter about the Capitol plan. The conversation was soon interrupted by a panic-stricken city attorney, who informed Tovo that she had neglected several significant words in her statement describing the executive session. Specifically, she had mentioned only that Council planned to discuss “legal matters” relating to the Capitol Complex Master Plan, failing to note that it was also going to discuss “real estate matters.” Tovo had no choice but to summon her colleagues back into the room so that she could read the statement again. That effort turned out to be in vain, however, as the video recording system had apparently stopped. Later that day, Tovo, distraught by the prospect that the handful of citizens who had watched the work session had been misinformed about the contents of the executive session, called the Monitor to report that Council had not ended up discussing “real estate matters” after all. Legal crisis averted.

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

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