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Reporter’s Notebook: Let’s talk talk

Monday, April 2, 2018 by Austin Monitor

Talking to themselves… Do the members of the Commissioners Court and their staff need to take some time to discuss how they discuss things? Well, last Tuesday, the court discussed that very question! Concerning an upcoming retreat, Commissioner Brigid Shea remarked on the single-focused agenda by declaring, “I don’t think we need to spend an entire day on communication issues.” Commissioner Gerald Daugherty concurred. “I can’t imagine why anybody would think that we would need to have a meeting about how we get along and how we do business up here,” he said. “ It almost sounds like we’re getting together so we can size each other up,” Commissioner Margaret Gómez chimed in. “And I don’t think we need to do that.” Despite that opposition, County Auditor Nicki Riley urged the commissioners to participate in the exercise, which would also explore how they communicate not just among themselves but with their staff and other county employees. “Soft skills, those are the future,” Riley said. “Those are what millennials want. They want to be able to communicate. They want to feel like they’re included. They want the culture to represent someplace where they want to go to work.” In the end, after some cajoling from Judge Sarah Eckhardt, Shea, Daugherty and Commissioner Jeff Travillion voted to endorse the retreat over Gómez’s opposition. Explaining his reasoning, Daugherty said, “It’s a little mushy for me. But I can get mushy every once in a while.”

Another puzzle… The posting at 3 p.m. on Good Friday of Monday’s meeting of the Music Commission included an item that at least suggests that commission is going to stick its hand out for funds from November’s bond election vote. That’s about the only way to interpret a new business item that reads: “Discussion and Possible Action of recommended music capital program in November 2018 city bond election.” There’s some political game-making going on there possibly, since for close to a year boosters of Austin music have looked at Mayor Steve Adler’s “downtown puzzle” policy package as the best chance to boost the local music economy since it called for about $3.5 million per year to be dedicated to commercial music in Austin. But that package is currently on hold while it undergoes an analysis by students and experts at the University of Texas. Many music leaders behind the scenes are worried that the puzzle, which hinges on dollars unlocked from a plan to expand the Austin Convention Center, will wind up being put on the shelf in an election year for Adler and some key City Council members and may never be seen again. If so, that makes bond funding the next sizable pool of public money from which to draw for music interests, though the bond package has been envisioned as being all about infrastructure and the city’s physical needs and not the economic development and promotional efforts that the money from the puzzle was intended for. Also figuring into the matter, the city’s bond advisory task force has already delivered to Council its recommendations totaling $851 million that didn’t include any considerations for music – or the combined $50 million the Arts Commission and Emma S. Barrientos Mexican American Cultural Center want added on as well – though Council has the final say in the size and composition of the package.

First prize is not a Cadillac Eldorado… This past Thursday, civic enthusiasts and would-be civic leaders joined up over beer at the North Door for the first Center4ATX Games. The event marked the end of the inaugural ATXelerator – a nonprofit designed to train candidates for local office. The final event saw nine candidates tackling a lengthy city puzzle involving economic incentives, historic preservation and basically anything else that could complicate a city issue. The nine finalists were asked to respond to the problem, and then went through a mock City Council meeting, run by former Mayor Lee Leffingwell. In the end, judges Rep. Donna Howard, Texas Facilities Commission Chair and former Council candidate Robert Thomas, former mayoral aide and political consultant Matt Curtis and former KVUE news anchor Olga Campos selected three winners. District 3’s Samuel Franco took home the gold, with District 7’s Kyle Kerrigan and Jennifer Deegan taking home silver and bronze, respectively.

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

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