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Reporter’s Notebook: Taking to task

Monday, August 26, 2019 by Austin Monitor

Council calls out enemies among us… Council had no qualms Thursday shaming the Texas Legislature for its arrogance in passing the “shot clock” bill, House Bill 3167. In the words of Council Member Leslie Pool, the bill demonstrates that the state “has zero understanding about the complexities involved in Land Development Code and processes.” A few of the Council members also reserved a healthy portion of contempt for those in the Austin community who pushed for the aggressive new mandates on subdivision review timelines. “We have a lot of the same people who are advocating from the building community for Land Development Code changes (who) are at the same time advocating the state Legislature to make it harder for us to do permitting processes that lead to health and safety and allow us to pull whatever code we have,” Council Member Alison Alter said. Alter cited a list of those local groups, from regional associations to individual homebuilders, that Council Member Kathie Tovo and Pool both read from on the dais. Pool said Council will make sure the “big, long list” is included in the minutes of Thursday’s meeting for the public to read through as well. “All of these folks worked against the best interests of the city of Austin in advocating for these changes to our processes, and I really take exception to that,” Pool said.

Not up for the task (force)… Having moved on from gentrification and racism, Council voted to form a new task force on gun violence Thursday, sparking a small protest from Council Member Natasha Harper-Madison and Council members Greg Casar and Jimmy Flannigan. “I think maybe more questions than concerns – well, no, equal measure,” Harper-Madison explained. “Something I’d like to preface the conversation with is by saying one of my earliest and most traumatic memories was one of gun violence, and so this is a situation where I want to make certain that as a municipality we’re paying the closest possible attention to the issue. But given my opportunity to really speak candidly with some members of my community and constituents, something I hear often is, why do we have so many commissions? Why do we have so many task forces? Why do we so frequently hire consultants? And you know, these are questions generally speaking I can answer. But this one is one I really am having a hard time being able to answer for my constituents … I just have questions about efficacy here. I also have questions about whether or not there are task forces that already are in existence that could do what it is that we’re directing this task force to do. Additionally, I just want to make certain that we don’t put ourselves in a position to where we create a task force that can’t produce actionable items.”

Later in the meeting, the discussion about the task force grew more heated, in a conversation where ideological concerns clashed with more practical inquiries about where a conversation about gun violence should best take place. “I can’t believe we’re actually arguing over whether to establish a task force on gun safety and gun violence,” said Council Member Pool, in a statement that Harper-Madison and Flannigan found insulting. “It just strikes me as bizarre.”

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

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