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Reporter’s Notebook: Contact

Monday, May 14, 2018 by Austin Monitor

H2Oh no… Like country rubes dazzled by the mystic arts of the boardwalk illusionist, sometimes we journalists are so awestruck by an apparent attempt at math that we lose all professional incredulity and report it with gushing deference. Such it was then that when Travis County Commissioner Brigid Shea recently told a gaggle of reporters that the 10 million gallons of drinking water saved each year by a new reclaimed water line at the county’s downtown complex is equal to the usage of 15,000 single-family households, we all drank it right up. On Friday, however, county spokesperson Hector Nieto issued a correction stating the corresponding savings are, in fact, a little lower. Instead of 15,000, the actual amount is 150 single-family households. The mystifying math, Nieto said, came from the city of Austin*.

* Nieto called the Monitor on Monday to let us know that, in fact, the city simply provided the raw numbers. The mystifying math was purely a product of the county.

Work to be done… Are Austin’s neighborhood planning contact teams operating in compliance with the Land Development Code? Not really, according to a frustratingly mysterious memo from Planning and Zoning Department director Greg Guernsey. After an audit of the neighborhood planning process revealed widespread problems, Guernsey explained, staff reviewed the contact team bylaws to see if they were in compliance with city code, telling the teams that they had until the end of 2017 to get it together. At the time of the May 11 memo, 13 of the 30 contact team bylaws were in compliance. Twelve contact teams were in the process of fixing their bylaws, and five contact teams were described as “non-responsive,” aka “non-contact teams.”

Tovo gets hacked… Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo has never been much of a tweeter. The world of Twitter, with its rampant abbreviations and utter indifference to punctuation, is perhaps not a natural fit for a former assistant English professor who once, in an interview with an Austin Monitor reporter, corrected herself after stranding a preposition. That’s why two unintelligible tweets originating from her account last week were so suspicious. Alerted to their existence by a Monitor reporter, Tovo confirmed that her account had been hacked. In a text message, she said, “Not sure what the imposter Kathie Tovo was even tweeting about (in sentence fragments).”

Unsocial media… Tovo may have hoped that the same hacker who was responsible for her bizarre tweets may have also been the source of a tweet sent from Council Member Jimmy Flannigan’s account during Thursday’s Council meeting. The tweet suggested that Tovo had acted unethically in proposing an amendment that $50,000 in fees generated by a development on West Riverside Drive go to South Central Austin Community Development Corporation, which Tovo once led when she was the president of the Bouldin Creek Neighborhood Association eight years ago. Alas, it was definitely Flannigan, not a bot, who composed the tweet. Tovo’s amendment was approved, over Flannigan’s objection. An hour later, at the end of the Council meeting, Tovo had discovered the tweet, which she called “unfortunate,” and she proposed that Council take a vote on the amendment again if anybody on the dais felt she had acted unethically. Mayor Steve Adler said he didn’t feel it was necessary, as she had disclosed her relationship to the organization during the debate. Flannigan reiterated that he was concerned that the money was being allocated outside of the normal procurement process. Council Member Leslie Pool said that Flannigan should apologize for his tweet on social media, adding that she thought that term was a misnomer: “It’s not social media, it’s unsocial media.”

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

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