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Jo Clifton is the Politics Editor for the Austin Monitor.
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Thursday, March 4, 2021 by Jo Clifton
Council makes Planning Commission appointments this week
City Council is making clear to those concerned – including Attorney General Ken Paxton – that it will absolutely abide by a city charter provision that requires two-thirds of all planning commissioners to be lay members.
Paxton has sued previous members of the commission on two separate occasions, charging that their presence on the 13-member commission was an apparent violation of the 1994 amendment to the city charter requiring that “a minimum of two-thirds of the (commission) shall be lay members and not directly or indirectly connected with real estate and land development.”
At Tuesday’s work session, Council Member Mackenzie Kelly affirmed that she would be appointing Jennifer Mushtaler, a doctor, to replace Greg Anderson, who works for Habitat for Humanity. Council Member Alison Alter said she would be appointing Grayson Cox, a project manager at engineering firm KSA, to the seat currently held by Patricia Seeger. And Council Member Vanessa Fuentes indicated that she would be appointing Solveji Praxis, described on the city’s website as a housing advocate.
Mushtaler, Praxis and Cox, as well as every member of the commission currently serving, answered no in response to the city’s question: “Are you actively developing or financing the development of property within the city of Austin’s planning jurisdiction in a manner that requires changes to applicable regulations or entitlements, including zoning or rezoning, or which requires approval of a final subdivision plat?”
Mayor Steve Adler’s appointees include Awais Ashar, a graduate research assistant; Yvette Flores, who works at the Texas Department of Transportation; and Realtor James Shieh. Mayor Pro Tem Natasha Harper-Madison and other members of Council indicated that they would be reappointing their current members. These include Patrick Howard (Harper-Madison’s appointee); Jeffrey Thompson (Council Member Pio Renteria); João Paulo Connolly (Council Member Greg Casar); Robert Schneider (Council Member Ann Kitchen); Todd Shaw (Council Member Leslie Pool); Claire Hempel (Council Member Paige Ellis); and Carmen Llanes Pulido (Council Member Kathie Tovo). There are also two ex officio members, Ann Teich and Don Leighton-Burwell, from the Austin Independent School District and the Board of Adjustment, respectively.
City Clerk Jannette Goodall told Council the major change for commissioners is that their terms will start in March, just like the terms for other commissioners. It took an amendment to the city charter in 2018 to change that, but this is the first time for March appointments, she said.
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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.
City of Austin Planning Commission: This commission addresses issues of land use as assigned to it by Austin's City Code. These include the abilities "[t]o make and amend a master plan, recommend approval or disapproval of proposed zoning changes and control land subdivision within neighborhood planning areas and submit, annually, a list of recommended capital improvements." It has sovereign authority, or the right to make final decisions on certain cases.