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Reporter’s Notebook: Communication

Monday, July 23, 2018 by Austin Monitor

They don’t want to talk to you… Staff from the Development Services Department repeatedly told members of the Zoning and Platting Commission at their Tuesday meeting that they were legally obligated to approve a site plan for the controversial Champion project. A few of the commissioners were unconvinced that the advice they were receiving from staff was correct and wanted to hear it from a city attorney. However, not only were no city attorneys present, but clearly no city attorneys wanted to be present. Commission liaison Andrew Rivera informed the commission that the legal department had responded to the commission’s request for help with a one-sentence response telling the commission to do whatever the Development Services Department told them to do. But some of the commissioners just couldn’t take a hint. Later on Chair Jolene Kiolbassa asked Rivera if a city attorney would be coming and interrupted herself upon hearing sirens outside, joking, “Is that their police escort?” Richard Suttle, the lobbyist representing the Champion developer replied, “No, that’s their ambulance. They just had a stroke.”

You’re all terrible… Tom Nuckols, who earlier this month stepped down from the Planning Commission, has vehemently criticized the tactics of anti-CodeNEXT activists, including their petition to put CodeNEXT on the ballot and their reaching out to Attorney General Ken Paxton over the fact that too many members of the Planning Commission work in the real estate industry. But in a recent comment on the #ATXUrbanists Facebook group, Nuckols told urbanists that they weren’t blameless either. “If (CodeNEXT) goes down, that brand of arrogant urbanists will bear part of the blame. They’ll all point fingers at (the Austin Neighborhoods Council) and the preservationists and say ‘We weren’t wrong. They were!’ But that’s just one set of foolish extremists in the kettle calling the other set of foolish extremists in the pot black. I spent a lot of time away from my family on CN, and all I see now are arrogant extremists on both sides puffingly posturing, rather than negotiating in good faith about public policy.”

Not that kind of joint meeting… A combination of a time crunch, multiple working groups and conflicting calendars led to an elongated rendition of “who’s on first?” at last Monday’s meeting of the Arts Commission. At issue was concern over the $12 million suggested for inclusion in a November bond election to help address Austin’s creative space issue, and possible strategies for how to use the money. With City Council expected to decide in early August on the final size and composition of the bond package, commissioners said they need to show their representative Council members how that money would play out compared to other priorities such as affordable housing, job creation and general governmental spending of tax dollars. With the space issue also affecting the music community, it was suggested that the two boards discuss strategy by holding a joint meeting, convening a separate working group for the bond issue, along with a variety of other options that were made difficult or impossible because of public notice or other rules covering meeting scheduling procedures. At one point it was even suggested that a quorum of the Arts Commission attend the Aug. 6 Music Commission meeting and convene their own meeting to, in effect, make that gathering a joint meeting. The end result saw the commission pass a motion to have the chairs of the Music and Arts commissions work to schedule a special joint meeting of the two groups far enough in advance of the Aug. 9 Council meeting to allow Council members to receive and consider their feedback.

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

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