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Reporter’s Notebook: Who stands alone?

Monday, September 24, 2018 by Austin Monitor

You can’t say that… During a discussion at Thursday’s City Council meeting about a city home repair program for low-income households, Mayor Steve Adler took an opportunity to remind those watching about the $250 million affordable housing bond that will be on the ballot this November, stressing that it would provide funds for repairs to low-income homes. “So I urge everyone to vote for that Proposition A,” he said. A few minutes later Council Member Ellen Troxclair responded. “I just want to mention that we’re not supposed to advocate for or against ballot measures with city time or resources, so I wanted to maybe give you the opportunity –,” she said, hinting that the mayor should walk back his comment. That was not an opportunity Adler seized. “I would certainly hope that when I’m on the dais talking to the community that I’m allowed to advocate as mayor of this city for something that I really strongly support,” he said. City Attorney Anne Morgan appeared to sidestep the question about Adler’s express advocacy. “You can certainly educate the public anytime you like about the bonds,” she said. Responded Adler: “I’m educating by saying it’s a really good thing.” Troxclair was clearly annoyed, but did not push the point. A request for comment from the city’s Law Department garnered another elusive response. The department provided city ordinance language that prohibits the use of public funds for campaigns, but it did not comment on whether an elected official can speak during a government meeting on behalf of a candidate or ballot measure.

Nothing but love for almost all of you… Perennial citizen speaker and long-shot mayoral candidate Gus Peña seemed to indicate that he was not up for the job that he is campaigning for. “I do want to thank y’all for your hard work,” he said. “I couldn’t put up with it.” Later, he revised his plaudits to exclude one unnamed Council member. “I do appreciate the hard work y’all do,” he said, “except for one person, I won’t mention his name.”

Dark connections… During Wednesday’s Ethics Review Commission meeting, discussions on possible violations of the city’s campaign finance disclosure law talk turned briefly to the tight-knit nature of Austin’s political community and possible conflicts of interest for commissioners, most of whom are practicing or former attorneys. Commissioner Mary Kahle said she’d need to recuse herself from any action on the “dark money” issue surrounding the Proposition K campaign for the November ballot because she’s longtime friends with attorney and Prop K backer Fred Lewis. The commission took note of the recusal and Chair Ben Stratmann observed the delicate balance of professional relations and impartiality when political matters come before the group. “Let’s all be realistic. If you have a toe or even half a toe in Austin political waters, I’m sure that we are all connected in some way to these folks,” he said. Stratmann also drew some chuckles during discussion on possible speakers or witnesses for the Prop K issue, noting that Lewis’ frequent appearances at various commission and City Council meetings would make him an easy “get” for the commission. “If we wanted someone to just come and talk about it, I know Fred Lewis probably worse than anyone on this dais, but from what little I know about him, he’ll scoot up here in a heartbeat with a box of books and binders and have a great old time talking to us. I bet we could get him here right now if we wanted to.”

We’re number 11!… As often as Austin gets named the belle of the ball on national lists related to business, economic and lifestyle concerns, a recent analysis of critical business factors related to the selection of Amazon’s HQ2 search puts the city in the middle of the pack. New Jersey-based relocation consulting firm the Boyd Co. took a look at costs of payroll and benefits, utilities, amortization, property and sales taxes and some other factors for a corporate headquarters of an equivalent size and scale for what HQ2 is believed to be. Austin came out 11th in the analysis, with an estimated annual operating cost of just over $7.3 billion. Nashville took the top spot with an estimated cost of $6.6 billion, while Dallas, the only other Texas metro among the 20 finalists, came in seventh with an estimated annual operating cost of $7.1 billion. If Amazon does pick Austin – before the end of the year and, presumably, after the November elections – there is the question of where exactly to put a $5 billion campus with 50,000 workers. In a recent op-ed, Austin Business Journal editor Colin Pope offered two possibilities that would make sense because of their locations and surplus of available property. The first is the 66-acre Broadmoor tract near the Domain, while the second is the Robinson Ranch property farther north of MoPac Expressway near Round Rock.

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

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