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Reporter’s Notebook: ‘Not like this city does’

Monday, October 28, 2019 by Austin Monitor

One step over the line… The Planning Commission held a rare weekend hearing Saturday to listen to public input on the latest iteration of the Land Development Code. While the expected clashes took place during the hearing, for which more than 200 people signed up to speak, there was also a clash outside of the meeting. Per the city clerk’s office, in a message to city officials, “I wanted to inform you of an incident that occurred at city hall today regarding petitioners. The Planning Commission had a public hearing on the LDC. Fred Lewis and others were there collecting signatures for recall petitions. The election judge informed them with assistance from Building Services that since city hall is a polling location that activity would have to occur outside of boundaries marked by the judges for electioneering. They were given multiple warnings. Someone actually moved the markers closer to the entrance. Travis County Clerks Office handled moving the markers back to the correct distance.” The Austin Monitor spoke to Lewis, who said he was in no way affiliated with the recall effort. In an email, he explained, “No. Absolutely not. (Community Not Commodity) and I had and have nothing to do with the recall petition. We were having a rally Saturday morning against the current CodeNEXTv4. We also were discussing protest rights under Local Government Code 211.006(d). CNC has no position on the recall petition and has never discussed it at any time. Nor did we speak about it at the rally; we talked about the proposed code, the purpose of the rally … The recall petitioners were approaching people at the rally and PC hearing to sign their recall petition. We had no right to stop them; that doesn’t mean we support the recall. It means we respect their rights to petition. We respect a lot of people’s rights that we don’t agree with.”

If we recall correctly… Speaking of recall petitions, Our Town Austin PAC, which is seeking to recall six City Council members, released a statement on the motivation behind its effort to unseat Mayor Steve Adler and Council members Natasha Harper-Madison, Pio Renteria, Ann Kitchen, Page Ellis and Kathie Tovo. “Our Town Austin is a non-partisan, city-wide grassroots network of citizens united in this effort. Voters from across Austin districts, political parties, and socio-economic status have come together to demand a change in leadership at City Hall. This action comes after a couple of years of contentious and controversial local policy decisions and development issues that have caused friction among City Council and the public. Voters from all districts are frustrated by the lack of transparency and lack honest public engagement between Council members and constituents on numerous issues like the homeless crisis, the new Land Development Code, rising property taxes, massive corporate tax incentives, and declining affordability.” However, Sharon Blythe, the head of the PAC, also told CBS Austin her motivation. “It really pushed me over the edge when the homeless issue was established and then they really didn’t do anything to it last Thursday to really repeal it. They just kind of amended it,” Blythe said. This should come as no surprise to those paying extremely close attention to all that happens at City Hall. At the Sept. 20 meeting of City Council, Blythe complained, “There is junk, unbelievable Juarez, Mexico, junk, between all the way up 183 Frontage Road South between about Duval to Capital of Texas. 311 tells me they cannot take my call. They are not allowed to take my call. And Mr. Manager, I want to know why your staff is telling the public that. Because it’s junk, it’s a roadway. I don’t live in Juarez, Mexico. … Quite frankly, I think you are trying very hard to push the old white women out of this city … and I’m very offended by these racial comments. It’s not a racial issue, it is a public issue.” Council Member Renteria said he found Blythe’s comments offensive, noting, “Juarez takes care of their people and their homeless, not like this city does.”

As we noted in last week’s story about the new PAC, until recently Blythe was best known for her scrutiny of the city’s cemeteries. In 2015, however, that notoriety was overtaken by a failed attempt to join the city’s Parks and Recreation Board. Blythe, appointed by former Council Member Don Zimmerman, was ultimately not appointed after a letter from then-Parks and Recreation Director Sara Hensley was circulated. The letter accused Blythe of confronting a parks employee using “profane and abusive language” and a “derogatory racial slur.” Blythe denied the allegations as “completely false and untrue.”

This week’s Reporter’s Notebook comes from the notebook of Elizabeth Pagano.

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