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Reporter’s Notebook: We’ve made haranguements

Monday, February 12, 2018 by Elizabeth Pagano

Save Our Strings… Could the city be moving toward declaring musicians as an endangered species? Not yet, but at last week’s meeting of the Austin Music Commission there was a good deal of talk about declaring the city’s music culture as a natural resource that needs to be actively protected from growing development pressures throughout the area. Commissioner Rick Carney used a familiar and beloved local touchstone – Barton Springs – to frame the issue and begin a discussion about the importance of ensuring musicians, venues and other components of the local music ecology don’t get wiped out. “Like Barton Springs, music embodies a lot of what our community is about,” Carney said. “As we have grown so large … part of our economic success is large corporations coming here to draw from a well-educated workforce that are here because of the music and culture of our city. How can we tie all of this together and work some public-private partnerships that would be to the advantage of the music community?” Carney said he’d like the natural resource designation to be incorporated into city policies such as “agent of change” and CodeNEXT to ensure that the importance of local music is clearly stated in the course of future development and economic decisions. The issue drew support from the rest of the commission and was added to the agenda for the next meeting, with city staff agreeing to study the practices and protections granted to UNESCO World Heritage Sites as a methodology to build policy and come up with a possible resolution to forward to City Council.

Rossmo Rage, Part 100… Kim Rossmo clearly did not sign up for the Public Safety Commission to make friends. The latest flare-up (there’s a long list) came in response to a presentation at the Feb. 5 meeting by Scott Johnson, who is pushing to expand the city’s distracted driver ordinance to prohibit drivers from using cell phones at stoplights. While a number of commissioners voiced skepticism of putting in place such a stringent regulation, only Rossmo got into a shouting match with Johnson. “You need to watch your professional conduct,” said Johnson, accusing Rossmo of trying to “shred people” who testify before the commission. “You’re disrespectful.” Rossmo was unapologetic, accusing Johnson of “harassing” him on the phone. “For the record, Mr. Johnson has called me numerous times on my personal cell phone, followed me out after meetings to continue the discussion, debate, haranguements (sic).” Chair Rebecca Webber stepped in to stop the debate. “It seems like there are some personal issues here,” she said. She later apologized to Johnson if he “felt disrespected.”

CodeNEXT shenanigans before third draft release… All work and no play makes city planners a little wacky. At the Feb. 6 Zoning and Platting Commission meeting, the last before CodeNEXT’s third and final draft premieres today (Feb. 12), Opticos Design Inc. consultant John Miki did not recall what “the Drag” was when Commissioner Betsy Greenberg referred to it in a question. “I’ve been to Austin a lot, and I know a lot of places, but I’m not sure if I’ve heard of the Drag,” Miki said at the meeting. “You’ve stumped me!” He eventually remembered after some more prodding. At the end of the meeting, Commissioner Jim Duncan gave a closing “Ode to the Code” in the style of none other than 16th U.S. President Abraham Lincoln, whose birthday happens to be the same date as the third draft’s release. “This community will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what we do here,” said Duncan, paraphrasing the Gettysburg Address. “It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us, that this code, aka CodeNEXT 3.0, shall have a proper review, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall prevail in its adoption.”

Tovo launches re-election campaign… An enthusiastic crowd filled the back room of El Mercado restaurant Thursday night to cheer District 9 Council Member and Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo as she launched her re-election bid. Tovo said she is very proud to serve on a Council that is majority women, noting that “a few years ago we listened to … the voices of some brave city staff who shared their stories” about harassment on the job. “And then we worked with AFSCME and others to create better rules and alternatives at the city for employees who were experiencing discrimination, harassment and retaliation in our city workplace.” She also said that she is happy to have been part of the effort to redirect some Hotel Occupancy Tax money to refurbishing historic places and in helping establish the Sobering Center, which is slated to open in August. Some of the strongest applause was reserved for her assertions that the city can “have land use rules that accommodate growth and change in appropriate places but don’t override neighborhood plans and land-use patterns, and they don’t result in widespread redevelopment and the displacement of residents who are living there.” Another popular statement was, “I believe that we can attract new businesses to our city without providing huge incentives, and we can be a vibrant city with festivals and events on our weekends, but we need to strike a balance between protecting our parkland and lessening the impact on people who live nearby.” Among those in the crowd were Mayor Steve Adler and his opponent in the November election, former Council Member Laura Morrison; Council members Leslie Pool and Ann Kitchen; Ken Casaday of the Austin Police Association; Tony Marquardt of the Austin-Travis County EMS Employee Association; and representatives of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. At this point, Tovo does not have an opponent, and her volunteers are out working to gather signatures to make sure that she is eligible to be on the ballot in November.

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

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