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Reporter’s Notebook: Lord of the files

Monday, December 3, 2018 by Austin Monitor

Pig-headed politics… At a recent City Council work session, Council members were discussing proposed changes to the ordinance that dictates the extent to which people can exercise their First Amendment rights on library grounds. Specifically, what limits, if any, should be placed on those canvassing for candidates or gathering signatures for petitions outside of libraries. Library Director Roosevelt Weeks explained why he wanted a 15-foot limit from the entrances. The previous month, he said, somebody placed a severed pig’s head on the fence at the entrance to the Twin Oaks library branch on South Fifth Street. The head was accompanied by a message calling the Democratic Socialists of America “capitalist pigs.” Weeks noted that the vandalism was apparently conducted based on the mistaken belief that the DSA would be holding a meeting at the library. Whoever is responsible appears to be linked to the Red Guards of Austin, a group of self-professed “Marxist-Leninist Maoists” who on their website have proudly displayed images of similar acts of vandalism committed against other leftist groups they view as being insufficiently revolutionary.

Passing the belt… From among the crowded field of mayoral candidates it was hard to discern and remember many of the candidates’ positions on issues facing Austin. So give familiar City Hall face and pedicab driver Alex Strenger credit for finding a way to stand out from the competition, thanks to the self-commissioned “mayor” championship belt he kept on display as often as possible during campaign events. Now, in a display of true political sportsmanship, Strenger plans to present the belt to Mayor Steve Adler today in a 2 p.m. ceremony at City Hall. Adler bested Strenger and closest competitor Laura Morrison by a wide enough margin to avoid a runoff election. His mayoral hopes dashed, Strenger said he plans to work with Adler on issues related to traffic, pedestrian safety and affordability. “I am excited to work with the mayor on making downtown Austin safer and less congested for vehicles and pedestrians alike. I’m especially interested in finding ways to make Austin safer for pedicabs, rideshares, electric cabs, dockless scooters, taxis, and pedestrians,” he said in a statement.

The more things change… The Planning Commission heard a historic designation zoning case in its most recent meeting. The home was built in 1948 by a man whose family ran the Schumacher Company, and was sold to the champion football player and University of Texas assistant coach known as “Iron Mike” Michalske in 1952, who then sold it to Philip Creer in 1957. Creer was a professor and dean at the UT School of Architecture who was known for his liberal and hands-on approach to teaching. In 1974, Creer also became the first chair of the city’s Historic Landmark Commission. According to Steve Sadowsky, the city’s historic preservation officer, Creer was known for the effort he put into talking to property owners and encouraging them to landmark their buildings in order to preserve Austin’s heritage. Commissioner Jeffrey Thompson was concerned about the home’s recent renovations, and felt that the current homeowners skirted the system by making changes to the home before asking for historic zoning, which offers significant tax breaks. He guessed that getting the zoning prior to the remodeling would’ve made the process more difficult and expensive. Sadowsky agreed with Thompson that the case did not go through the historic zoning process in the most ideal way, but he reassured the commission that the home was actually restored more to its original architecture through the most recent renovations. He said that although the owners had added on to the home, the historic integrity of the building remained intact because the style of the house was still close to its original look. In the end, Planning Commissioners recommended the zoning in a vote of 8-3-1 with commissioners Thompson, Tracy Witte and Conor Kenny against, and James Schissler abstaining.

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

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