Monday, September 30, 2019 by Austin Monitor

Reporter’s Notebook: Questions and apologies

Barrientos raises questions… Former Texas state Senator Gonzalo Barrientos has raised questions about the convention center expansion, Hotel Occupancy Taxes and Proposition B in a letter sent to Austin City Attorney Anne Morgan. Specifically, Barrientos questions the community benefit associated with the proposed expansion and whether music and preservation can be funded through the extra 2 percent in hotel occupancy taxes recently approved by the city. According to a press release accompanying the letter, “Barrientos, who supports Proposition B because he believes Austin voters should have the right to vote on any expansion of the Convention Center, raises further questions about the total projected cost of the currently proposed expansion, including demolition costs, loss of revenue during construction, the cost of acquiring the 2.5 blocks to the west, loss in property tax revenues, and total building costs.” A spokesperson for the city told the Monitor that they had not yet responded to the letter. Read the letter in its entirety below.

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Before you plan that vacation… Though City Council just passed its new budget, because of new state legislation, city management is already mapping out next year’s process. And while much has been made of new limitations on how much the city can increase property taxes without voter approval, that’s not the only change headed our way. A memo from Deputy Chief Financial Officer Ed Van Eenoo reveals that new deadlines may force Council’s traditional summer break to change from July to mid-June, with budget adoption anticipated on Aug. 12. Plan accordingly!

Well, everyone heard that… If you missed it, over the weekend Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt apologized for a comment made at TribFest. Her remark, that the governor “hates trees because one fell on him,” was apparently well-received in the room, but that was not the case anywhere else. Eckhardt apologized on Twitter and was inundated with calls to resign and a lot of confirmation that people don’t understand a county judge does not preside over court proceedings.

What happens when you go off your talking points… Last week’s announcement of the formation of Planning Our Communities was focused dominantly on the group’s younger makeup and the importance of cultivating new activists who can work for equity in housing and land use around the city. Mayor Pro Tem Delia Garza expressed her enthusiasm for the new group, but in doing so found herself apologizing to fellow City Council Member Pio Renteria, who most diplomatically could be described as “seasoned.” “I’m really excited about an opportunity to see young faces, to see diverse faces here. Young faces, old faces … sorry, Pio,” Garza said, before earning a roomful of laughs. “I was thinking we’ve got the young generations, but then I remembered Pio is standing behind me. That’s what happens when you go off of your talking points.” Renteria, who noted he will soon turn 70, laughed off the gaffe and said he became an activist when he was roughly the same age as the other folks in attendance, a fact that gives him hope for what lies ahead for the city.

This week’s Reporter’s Notebook comes from the notebooks of Elizabeth Pagano and Chad Swiatecki.

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Key Players & Topics In This Article

Austin City Council: The Austin City Council is the body with legislative purview over the City of Austin. It offers policy direction, while the office of the City Manager implements administrative actions based on those policies. Until 2012, the body contained seven members, including the city's Mayor, all elected at-large. In 2012, City of Austin residents voted to change that system and now 10 members of the Council are elected based on geographic districts. The Mayor continues to be elected at-large.

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