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Whispers

Thursday, January 27, 2022 by Amy Smith

City neighborhood adviser Gibbs retires

Anyone who’s been knee-deep in neighborhood issues over the years has probably had contact with Carol Gibbs, the friendly adviser, facilitator and translator of bureaucratese with the city of Austin. Now, after 13 years as the face of the Neighborhood Assistance Center, Gibbs is retiring from the city, but it’s likely she’ll continue to be called on in times of neighborhood need. Throughout her tenure she has worked in four different yet similar departments, including Neighborhood Planning and Zoning, Planning and Zoning, Planning and Development Review and Development Services. Multiple City Councils have come and gone under her watch. The current Council will send her off today, Thursday, with a proclamation from Council Member Kathie Tovo. We wish Gibbs well in her retirement.


Thursday, January 27, 2022 by Tai Moses

MCS Commission seeks members

Applications are being accepted for service on the Municipal Civil Service Commission, the “ruling body on appeals of disciplinary actions by covered city of Austin employees.” According to the announcement, the five-member volunteer commission “hears and makes final, binding decisions on appeals of city employees resulting from a disciplinary probation, disciplinary suspension, demotion, discharge, or denial of promotion. If rule revisions are brought forward by the MCS director, the MCS Commission will recommend modifications to the City Council.” If that all sounds appealing, apply here. You can also submit a resume, cover letter and other supporting documentation to Stephanie Hall, Boards and Commissions coordinator, at Stephanie.Hall@austintexas.gov. City Council will review the applications for two full three-year terms that will run from the date of appointment through May 2025.


Thursday, January 27, 2022 by Tai Moses

City suspends bulk collection

Austin Resource Recovery, like so many other establishments, is suffering from a Covid-related staffing shortage on top of difficulty filling open positions. In an effort to attract entry-level workers and experienced drivers, ARR has hiked its starting wages to $17/hour, with pay increases tagged to more training and additional licensing. In the meantime, starting Feb. 21, ARR is suspending large brush and bulk collection for residential curbside customers until further notice. A news release explains, “Any missed collection during the interruption will be rescheduled once services resume.” What are customers to do in the meantime? ARR explains that you may drop off large brush at the Hornsby Bend Biosolids Management Plant if possible. Curbside customers may donate or give away unwanted bulk items if they’re in good condition, or just hold on to them until service resumes. You can also schedule a collection through ARR’s Clothing and Housewares program at no additional charge. Want to work for Austin Resource Recovery? Peruse job openings here.


Wednesday, January 26, 2022 by Elizabeth Pagano

Council committee assignments on hold

Though there are preliminary discussions about City Council committee assignments on the City Council Message Board, it looks like Mayor Steve Adler will be waiting a little longer to flesh out the groups. At Tuesday’s work session, Adler noted that, while city ordinance asks Council to discuss assignments at its first work session of the year, the timing of yesterday’s election made making actual decisions somewhat premature. Which means that those eager to know the new makeup of Council committees will have to wait a little bit longer.


Wednesday, January 26, 2022 by Tai Moses

Broadmoor Station breaks ground

One of Capital Metro’s two planned MetroRail Red Line stations broke ground last week. When it opens in early 2024, the Broadmoor station at 11501 Burnet Road will merrily convey passengers to the Domain and the new, mixed-use UptownATX project. Charles Schwab, which has an office nearby, and Brandywine Realty Trust, the developer of UptownATX, participated with the city in planning the station. As Assistant City Manager Gina Fiandaca pointed out in a news release, “Transit is less about what it does and more about what it means for our community. Putting together a public-private partnership to really deliver meaningful transit that’s transformative is just an amazing opportunity.” The other Red Line station, McKalla Station, is still in the design phase and will be located near Austin FC’s Q2 Stadium. Read more about Project Connect, Austin’s new transit plan, here.


Tuesday, January 25, 2022 by Jo Clifton

Election day arrives in District 4

Voters in Austin’s District 4 have their final chance today to select a new City Council member. With Greg Casar stepping down to run for Congress, voters in this district have the opportunity to select a new representative at City Hall. As of the close of the early voting period on Friday, just 1,874 voters, or 5.41 percent of voters, in the district had cast ballots, with turnout Friday twice that of any of the days before that. Candidates hoping people will come out to vote today include Monica Guzmán, Amanda Rios, Melinda Schiera, José “Chito” Vela, Jade Lovera, Ramesses II Setepenre and Isa Boonto. Setepenre and Boonto have not been campaigning much and both failed to file the required campaign finance report last week. Find voting locations here.


Tuesday, January 25, 2022 by Jo Clifton

DAA wants to postpone vote on downtown court

The Downtown Austin Alliance has written to City Council asking it to postpone consideration of three items on Thursday’s agenda that are necessary for renovating the old Municipal Building on Eighth Street so it can serve as the new Downtown Community Court. Council members have been talking about doing this for some time, but the DAA argues that they cannot take an informed position on the proposed relocation without a “transparent engagement process involving the community.” While the DAA has not officially taken a position on the relocation, according to a letter to Council from DAA President and CEO Dewitt Peart, “many downtown property owners, business owners and residents have expressed concerns, primarily over the lack of a transparent process.” Council Member Kathie Tovo, whose district includes downtown, told the Austin Monitor she intends to signal her intent to request a postponement of the court-related items from this Thursday’s agenda at today’s work session. Those include approving the issuance of $27 million in certificates of obligation to pay for the renovation of the building, as well as approving a resolution to use the design/build method of contracting for the renovation. Tovo said she had anticipated asking for a one-week postponement before receiving the DAA’s request that the item not be heard before March. So, it seems likely that the item will be postponed for at least a week. Tovo said she needed to talk to Peart to fully understand the group’s request.


Tuesday, January 25, 2022 by Tai Moses

People’s Gallery puts out call for artists

Each year, the city’s Economic Development Department puts on a curated exhibit at City Hall called the People’s Gallery. The free exhibit, which displays over 100 pieces of artwork in a variety of mediums by Austin-area artists, draws more than 200,000 visitors a year. As Sylnovia Holt-Rabb, acting director of the EDD, explained in a news release, the exhibit “is designed to showcase local creativity and to encourage understanding and enjoyment of visual art. City Hall is a symbol of public dialogue and we are proud to bring visual elements that spark discussion around the impact of the arts in Austin each year.” All artists who live in or have an art studio in Bastrop, Caldwell, Hays, Travis or Williamson counties are welcome to apply. Applications will be accepted until Feb. 22. Apply online at austintexas.gov/peoplesgallery.


Monday, January 24, 2022 by Tai Moses

Audit ATX wraps first season

The first season of Audit ATX, a podcast series from the Office of the City Auditor, has wrapped. The podcast was launched in 2020 “to provide more transparency and accessibility to local government,” according to a city news release. Each episode is about 10 minutes long and generally features interviews with audit staff describing how audits and investigations are conducted and what they reveal. The most recent episodes follow the paper trail of a technology purchases audit and an investigation of an employee who conducted private work for personal benefit. Audit ATX co-host Kelsey Thompson said the podcast’s listeners tell her that the popular series has opened their eyes to how the city really works.” All 20 episodes of season 1 are available through Spotify and Apple Podcasts.


Monday, January 24, 2022 by Tai Moses

Don’t shoot the messenger

Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but if you own a home or business property, your property taxes are due – and must be postmarked by – Monday, Jan. 31. However, with more than 160 new residents flooding into Travis County every day, all of that extra mailed-in paperwork has the tax office and the postal service scrambling to keep up. That’s why Travis County is urging residents to pay their taxes online using the simple eCheck system available at TravisCountyTax.org. It costs only a buck and instantly emails you a proof of payment receipt. Child’s play! As Travis County Tax Assessor-Collector Bruce Elfant explains, “There are other ways to pay, but eCheck provides a contactless way to pay your taxes and is much safer than mailing in your payment.” Too scared to open your property tax bill? You’re not alone.


Monday, January 24, 2022 by Tai Moses

Trail Foundation seeks creatives

The Trail Foundation is putting out a call for artists to collaborate with artist Stacy Levy, Austin-based curators Public City and TTF on the design and installation of an eco-art project called “Common Waters.” The project is part of TTF’s Arts + Culture Plan and “will merge artistic components with ecological function” along the Butler Hike-and-Bike Trail. TTF invites people with nearly every type of creative ability to apply, according to the announcement: “This call is for (but not limited to) visual, literary, spoken word, music, sound design, performance, dance, textile, and environmental arts backgrounds; designers in the fields of environmental, fashion, graphic, industrial, and similar design fields; as well as people who practice creative cultural traditions.” Phew, have we left anyone out? Find the full application packet here. Applications are due Feb. 4.


Friday, January 21, 2022 by Jo Clifton

Early voting ends today in District 4 race

As of Wednesday night, 1,199 voters had cast ballots in the City Council District 4 race – that’s less than 3.5 percent of those registered in the district. Voters who do not make it to the polls before 7 p.m. tonight (here are the early voting locations) can vote on election day, Tuesday, Jan. 25. So far, five of the seven candidates to replace outgoing Council Member Greg Casar have filed campaign finance reports that were due Tuesday. Those reports cover the period from Dec. 17 to Jan. 15.

Candidate Jade Lovera reported total contributions of $8,250. That amount included $135 in cash donations received on Dec. 18 and $500 in cash received on Dec. 23. It is not unusual to see small amounts of cash listed on campaign finance reports. In fact, there’s a specific line on page 2 of the report that asks for “total political contributions of $50 or less (other than pledges, loans or guarantees of loans), unless itemized.” Lovera reported $30 in that category, not the $635 one might have expected. Lovera told the Austin Monitor that on both occasions people contributed cash in a jar that was passed through the crowd. Yet, it is not clear whether this reporting passes muster for two reasons. Political consultant Alfred Stanley, who is not working for any candidate in this race, referred to the Texas Ethics Commission rules, which states, “A candidate, officeholder, or specific-purpose committee may not knowingly accept from a contributor in a reporting period political contributions in cash that in the aggregate exceed $100. Violation of this section is a Class A misdemeanor.”

It may be true that these contributions came from multiple people, but Stanley agreed that collecting $500 in cash in allowable amounts was a little bit more difficult to believe. City regulations also prohibit any individual from donating more than about $400 per campaign. Also assisting Lovera is a political action committee that has sent out a mail piece attacking José “Chito” Vela. The group, Voices for District 4, spent $35,000 to oppose Vela and support Lovera. It received its funding from two other political action committees, the City Accountability Project and the Restore Leadership ATX PAC.

The other candidates to file their financial reports on time were Monica Guzmán, Amanda Rios, Melinda Schiera, and Vela. Guzmán reported contributions of $8,666 and said she was maintaining about $14,000. Guzmán also had good news from the environmental group Clean Water Action, which recently endorsed her candidacy. Rios reported collecting $4,850 in contributions and had about $3,300 in the bank. Schiera reported that she had raised a little more than $600, but had no money in her campaign account as of Jan. 15. Vela, who has garnered the most endorsements and contributions, reported raising a little less than $37,000 and still had about $29,000 in the bank. Candidates Ramesses II Setepenre and Isa Boonto had not filed reports as of Thursday afternoon.


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