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Reporter’s Notebook: Grave concerns

Monday, July 30, 2018 by Elizabeth Pagano

We only know how to bury ledes… A very strongly worded memo from the Parks and Recreation Department’s Acting Director Kimberly McNeeley warns that failure to extend a contract for interment and burial services in city cemeteries could have serious results. “Without the contract extension, the City will be placed in a position that threatens its ability to maintain the cemeteries in a manner that does not endanger the public’s health, safety, comfort or welfare,” warns the memo. Why the dire words? Recently, a solicitation for bids on an interim contract that would allow Parks and Rec to start their own in-house operations “did not receive any bids for consideration.” Because the city is not actually ready to take over in-house operations, this puts the department in a bit of a bind, to say the least. If the current company, Interment Services Inc., does not sign a holdover agreement, they will be gone by the end of November. To prevent that, City Council will be asked to take action in August on finding a way to maintain services.

Disc golf course gets a name… Although an extremely popular disc golf course, the 18 holes at Roy G. Guerrero Park remain nameless. However, at the last meeting of the Parks and Recreation Board, Acting Director Kimberly McNeeley said that she hopes to change that shortly by bestowing the moniker Raul Alvarez on the course. Alvarez is a former City Council member. McNeeley explained that in 2006 the former director of Parks and Recreation committed to naming a future disc golf course after Alvarez. McNeeley confirmed this to be the case by reading the meeting minutes. “When a Council member was finished with his or her term it was customary for departments (to name something) after them,” McNeeley told the board. The department’s original intention was to name a disc golf course at “Solo Star,” now Little Walnut Creek Greenbelt, after the Council member. However, the course never materialized. Since a commitment had been made though, “I thought it might be appropriate for us … to consider naming (the Guerrero Park disc golf course) after former Council Member Alvarez,” McNeeley said. She said she received support from Environmental Commission Chair Linda Guerrero, whose father the park is named after, and the Montopolis Neighborhood Association “did not find any reasons why they could not support it.” The Disc Golf Association was not thrilled with the chosen name, she said, “but they weren’t vehemently opposed to it.” Although McNeeley has the authority to name park features without Council approval, she asked the parks board for its support, which it granted unanimously. Board Member Rick Cofer was off the dais at the time of the vote.

Flush with options… Last week saw more action on the epic quest to get a public restroom downtown. Recently, the city ended a pilot program that moved a temporary public restroom between five locations in an effort to nail down the best location for a permanent restroom. According to a July 26 memo about the pilot program, city staff is recommending one location from the the study and two other locations that were not part of the pilot. In the pilot, “The temporary restroom facility was made available 24 hours a day for approximately five weeks at each location, with the exception of Location 4 (removed after 2 days due to complaints). As a result of the limited time at Location 4, Location 1 was repeated and also identified as Location 6.” In addition to collecting data on use, the memo notes, “Observations on the surrounding streets of public urination and defecation (not including alleys and green spaces) were also tracked in the vicinity of the temporary unit locations before, during, and after each placement. With the exception of Location 5, observations of public waste generally decreased during and after deployment of the temporary restroom unit.” In the end, after taking that into account (and things like increased use during the South by Southwest festival), staff has recommended the first two locations. Location 2, located on the 500 block of Brazos Street, would require the removal of “at least one parking space.” The other location, under Interstate 35, is also recommended, kind of. The memo notes that the permanent location would be closed during upcoming construction of the highway, so the parking lot of the Austin Municipal Court would be a good alternative. Finally, there’s the option to go outside of the pilot program entirely: “In addition to the two permanent locations recommended above, a location on Trinity Street near Brush Square Park is being considered. The unit at this location would be a joint effort between ATD, the Parks and Recreation Department (PARD), Austin Convention Center, and Capital Metro and will be proposed to be included as part of the purchasing agreement for the other two permanent bathroom facilities. This third location will primarily serve patrons of the new Capital Metro downtown station and the park but will be available to the general public. An interlocal agreement will be brought to Council outlining a partnership between the City, using Great Streets and other parking funds, and Capital Metro, using funds from the station construction program.” Anyway, look for more about this in upcoming city budget talks.

This week’s Reporter’s Notebook comes from the notebooks of Jessi Devenyns and Elizabeth Pagano.

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