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Whispers

Friday, July 21, 2017 by Jo Clifton

Confusion with city campaign finance laws

When the Austin Monitor asked David Foster, treasurer of the Texas Vote Environment political action committee, why he did not file a campaign finance report with the Office of the City Clerk for the first six months of 2017 like other PACs did, he responded that it was not necessary because he filed a report with the Texas Ethics Commission. He explained that, unlike PACs that are set up for special purposes like those working for local City Council candidates or specific bond elections, the law did not require a general PAC to file with the city clerk except when it had local contributions and expenditures. That was on Wednesday, two days after reports were due to the city clerk. On Thursday, after checking with the clerk’s office, however, Foster reported the following via email: “The city is telling me I need to file a report, even though we did nothing in this reporting period on Austin elections.” However, he went on to cite § 2-2-23 B of city code, which states: “A general purpose committee that makes contributions or expenditures in connection with a City election must file with the city clerk a copy of each campaign finance report filed with the Texas Ethics Commission. This requirement shall apply to all reporting periods in which the general purpose committee makes 50 percent or more of its expenditures in connection with a City election, or makes an expenditure of $2,500 or more in connection with a City election. The filing date for filing with the city clerk is the date established under the Texas Election Code for filing with the Texas Ethics Commission.” Foster said his group did not work on any Austin-related issues or elections between Jan. 1 and June 30, so the report will show zero contributions and expenditures. Even though it isn’t clear why he has to file the documents, Foster said he would do so. He added that he hoped the city would clear up the confusion when it works on the campaign finance regulations again.


Friday, July 21, 2017 by Elizabeth Pagano

Your weekend traffic update

Weekend traffic on I-35 promises to be extra terrible this weekend, with word of full mainline closures in both directions on Friday and Saturday night for the partial demolition of the Oltorf Street Bridge (which will also be closed). The process will start at 9 p.m. on July 21 and 22, leading to full closures at 11 p.m., and the lanes will reopen the following mornings at 10 a.m. While crews work, traffic will be redirected to the frontage roads.


Friday, July 21, 2017 by Nina Hernandez

City seeks organizations to work with at-risk youth

Earlier this week, Austin Public Health sent out a call for community organizations capable of providing services to at-risk youth in the 78744 ZIP code, which includes Travis and Akins high schools. Public Health will choose multiple organizations to receive the Community Youth Development money over a 12-month period. During that time, the selected groups will address several key areas that affect juvenile delinquency in that area: family bonding and communication, school involvement, individual self-esteem, positive peer association and community involvement. The deadline for applications is Aug. 7 at 5 p.m.


Thursday, July 20, 2017 by Jo Clifton

Kitchen files late campaign report

Council Member Ann Kitchen filed her campaign finance report with the Office of the City Clerk on Wednesday, two days after the deadline for filing the report covering contributions and expenditures for the first six months of 2017. Kitchen, like most of her colleagues, reported receiving no contributions. She also reported making no political expenditures as well as the fact that she still owes herself $43,200 from her 2014 campaign. Only Council members Jimmy Flannigan and Ellen Troxclair have accepted contributions this year.


Thursday, July 20, 2017 by Elizabeth Pagano

Talk traffic, eat ice cream

If you love ice cream and complaining about traffic, does the Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority ever have the event for you. On Wednesday, July 26, the transportation authority will host “Traffic Jam! A la Mode,” which is a discussion with some national experts about different transportation modes, with free ice cream. The event will take place from 5:30 to 8 p.m., at Huston-Tillotson University’s King-Seabrook Chapel at Huston-Tillotson University Davage-Durden Student Union. (More details are available on Facebook.) As a side note, we’d like to talk about the name of this thing. It’s kind of a pun, right? (because of the two different modes.) But do people eat ice cream and jam together? Is that a thing? Please @ us.


Thursday, July 20, 2017 by Elizabeth Pagano

We welcome our new (potential) librarian leaders!

At least one department is moving forward with its search for a new director, and this week the city is asking you to join in on the fun with a town hall meeting with the final candidates for director of Libraries. The town hall will feature the final five candidates (out of a pool of 51 resumes) for the position. Finalists will give a short speech before taking audience questions. Following the more formal part of the evening, a meet-and-greet will allow the audience to mingle with the candidates. After that, Assistant City Manager Sara Hensley will decide which candidates will move on to a final interview with Interim City Manager Elaine Hart. The town hall will take place on Thursday, July 27, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at the Carver Branch of Austin Public Library.


Thursday, July 20, 2017 by Lisa Dreher

Is a veterans art show on the way?

A local group is trying to organize an arts festival that showcases the work of veterans. Glenn Towery, chair and founder of the Veterans Suicide Prevention Channel, presented the idea to the Arts Commission during its regular meeting Monday night. Towery, a Vietnam War veteran, founded the channel that creates videos to provide psychiatric help and guidance for veterans facing post-traumatic stress. Towery said a city veterans’ art festival could have different art museums participate, with different themes, as well as a vendor walk where veterans may sell their artwork. When Commissioner Bruce Willenzik asked Towery about the festival’s location and date, Towery responded that he did not have an exact answer except for having the festival possibly spread across different art museums in Austin. Towery said he hopes to make a festival that is famous nationwide and would be specific to Austin. “It is something that can bring a lot of wellness to veterans; art has already been proven (to be) great therapy,” Towery said. “It is also something that will allow veterans to express to the world their feelings about having served, and allow the world to come in and see the art.” Commissioner Brett Barnes suggested Towery collaborate with other art groups that work with veterans to build more concrete plans.


Wednesday, July 19, 2017 by Elizabeth Pagano

Tech alliance says ‘no’ to bathroom bills

Yesterday was, of course, the start of the Texas State Legislature’s special session. It was also a very busy mail day for Gov. Greg Abbott. With bathroom bills back on the table, the Austin Tech Alliance formally registered its opposition to legislation that would restrict bathroom accessibility for transgender Texans and weaken non-discrimination protections in Texas cities. More than 400 members of the alliance signed the letter, which warns that the legislation “will make it more difficult for us to attract the very best talent to Texas, and that, in turn, will impact our ability to innovate and succeed” and further marginalize Texans who are more at risk for violence than a risk to others. (The letter is available online here.)


Wednesday, July 19, 2017 by Elizabeth Pagano

Mayors, Adler ask for serious talk about property tax

Yesterday, Mayor Steve Adler continued to celebrate his July break by working. This time, Adler and 17 other Texas mayors got together to ask for a meeting with Gov. Greg Abbott to talk about property taxes. As Adler explained on Facebook, “(Abbott) has declared property tax increases the top special session priority. If he’s serious, he must ask the legislature to fix our broken school finance system. Most (75%) of the total Austin property tax increase is school taxes, a direct result of the legislature’s failure to fix broken school finance system. The Governor’s proposed city tax cap would save less than $2 a month, which miniscule compared to your school tax increase that is 10 times bigger! It’s time to focus on our real challenge – the broken school finance system.” The letter from all the mayors is available online.


Tuesday, July 18, 2017 by Chad Swiatecki

Merck announces Austin plans

Life science giant Merck Sharp & Dohme Corp. announced Monday it will open a data center in Austin that will benefit from more than $800,000 in economic incentives from the city. City Council approved the incentives package in April but the company waited to formally announce its plans. The confirmation follows the state of Texas agreeing on a $6 million incentive agreement that will come out of the Texas Enterprise Fund. The $28 million IT hub will bring 600 jobs to the area, with a median wage of $79,000. Austin’s agreement will pay the company $86,500 per year through 2026. The deal marks the first time since 2014 that Council agreed to give an incentive package to a major employer. The 2014 deals brought investment and job creation from Websense, Dropbox and Athenahealth – with the total investment of $23 million, or just over 75 percent of what Merck will spend here. Such deals could become more rare in coming years since city staff is working to revamp the 380 Agreements behind incentive packages to emphasize middle-class jobs, workforce training and small business retention and focus less on attractive eight- and nine-figure projects from national employers.


Tuesday, July 18, 2017 by Nina Hernandez

From Austin to Amsterdam

It’ll be even easier to get a flight out of the country during South by Southwest this year. You heard it: Yesterday, Delta Air Lines announced it will offer four nonstop, round-trip flights between the Airport Schiphol in Amsterdam and the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport in March. Around 1,000 people are expected to benefit from the flights. According to Jim Smith, ABIA’s executive director, the flights “will make it even easier for global customers to experience SXSW, which last year saw 400,000+ attendees at this convergence of music, interactive, and film industries.” The Austin Chamber of Commerce also weighed in on the announcement on Monday. The chamber’s Air Services Task Force Chair Doug Driskill lauded the plan as a “major victory for the Central Texas region,” in a press release. “These four round-trip flights will serve as an additional gateway into Austin for employers, entrepreneurs, and influencers from Europe during SXSW and provide greater exposure for all that our region offers. We encourage Austin-based employers to take advantage of this opportunity to showcase their businesses to those who will be travelling to Austin, and to deepen engagement with this critical European market,” he said.


Tuesday, July 18, 2017 by Nina Hernandez

Airport hosts teen bands this week

For the 11th year, the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport is hosting Kid Band Week. The program gives kids ages 10 through 18 a chance to showcase their musical talents to a wide audience. Catch a slate of teenage bands from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. every day this week at the airport’s Asleep at the Wheel stage, which is located near Gate 10. Yesterday the Child Bloom Guitar Ensemble, made up of kids ages 12 through 16, kicked off the series. This afternoon Annie & Kate, both 18, will play classic tunes. Learn more about the other sessions here.


Monday, July 17, 2017 by Jo Clifton

Doggett, citizens blast proposed cuts to Medicaid

Several hundred people gathered in downtown Austin Sunday to hear Congressman Lloyd Doggett (D-Austin) blast the proposed changes to the Affordable Care Act. He said the U.S. Senate bill is actually a tax bill, “masquerading as an insurance bill.” In addition to Doggett, those in attendance heard from Texas residents who described their personal experiences and explained their need for continued stable funding of the federal Medicaid program. Doggett told the audience about half of Texas children rely on Medicaid to help with their medical care. One of those children is Braden Brown, who attended the meeting with his family, including his mother, Crystal, and father, Brien. Crystal Brown explained to the crowd that Braden has complex, chronic medical needs, which the family cannot afford to treat without the assistance of Medicaid, even though Brien is an Austin firefighter. Crystal said Braden is the only member of the family covered by Medicaid. “I’m not here to ask the government to take on the entire burden of our son’s needs. My husband, Brien, is an Austin firefighter and a member of Texas Task Force 1. We are blessed that he is able to provide for our basic needs as a family of five. When it comes to providing the straightforward medical needs of a special needs child, the cost can be insurmountable and unpredictable. We have primary health insurance through the city of Austin but it is crucial that we have Medicaid as a secondary insurer because not all of Braden’s medications, therapies and procedures are covered under that (city) plan. The process to obtain Medicaid is already exceptionally difficult,” she said. The current proposals in the U.S. Congress “will place hard-working families like mine in a devastating position. Not only would we no longer qualify for Medicaid due to income restrictions, the block grant amount would be insufficient when applied to the medically fragile population.” Without Medicaid, she said, the 20 percent copays for various treatments that Braden undergoes would greatly exceed the family’s monthly income. The Senate is not expected to vote on the measure until at least next week, due to the absence of Arizona Sen. John McCain for medical reasons.


Monday, July 17, 2017 by Nina Hernandez

Burn ban in effect

Since last week, all city of Austin parkland has been under a burn ban. That means parks, greenbelts and reserves have been closed to fires and grilling. Yes, that includes wood and charcoal pits, grills and smokers. Parkgoers are allowed to use propane stoves in designated picnic areas, however. Anyone caught disregarding the ban could face a fine of up to $500. And the burn ban doesn’t end at city limits, either. Travis County has been under a ban since July 6. Both the city and county will alert residents when the bans are no longer in effect.


Monday, July 17, 2017 by Nina Hernandez

Be Water Forward this summer

Get out of the house this summer and learn more about Water Forward, the Austin Water Utility’s effort to fashion a water resource plan for the next century. The Water Forward Summer Series is coming to an Austin Public Library branch in each City Council district and will give residents a chance to get all their water-related thoughts off their chests. As an added incentive, there will be water and Popsicles available, in addition to kids’ activities. The festivities kicked off last Saturday in District 7. The next meeting is scheduled for tonight in District 6 at the Spicewood Springs branch from 6 to 7:30 p.m. Find a full list of the remaining meetings here.


Monday, July 17, 2017 by Lisa Dreher

Commission for Women meeting canceled

The Commission for Women’s July meeting was different not only because it was in the Austin History Center rather than the Terrazas Library, but also because it was canceled abruptly because two commissioners could not make it and so they did not reach quorum, according to Debbie Maynor of the Human Resources Department. At noon, when the meeting would have started, the commission’s website did not say the meeting was canceled, and unless a special called meeting is made, we will wait ’till next month to see what commissioners are up to.


Friday, July 14, 2017 by Jo Clifton

Democrats warn Texas on voter information release

The Texas Democratic Party warned Texas Secretary of State Rolando Pablos Thursday not to fully comply with a request from the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity and requested a copy of all communications between that commission and the Secretary of State’s office. Writing on behalf of the party, attorney Chad Dunn wrote, “Apparently the President of the United States believes that your office (as well as others around the country) have failed to ensure the integrity of the election process. A commission unilaterally commissioned by the President, in an unprecedented move, has sent letter requests to election officers around the country seeking confidential election information about the state’s citizens.” The purported reason is the massive election fraud claimed by President Donald Trump, but which is not supported by any data. Democrats want to know how much of the requested information Pablos intends to supply to the commission. The request includes voter names, addresses, dates of birth, Social Security numbers and party affiliation, as well as voter history back to 2006. The information is on hold, however, while a federal court decides whether to issue an injunction preventing the commission from gathering the information. A nonprofit group filed suit saying that release of the information would be an invasion of privacy and could give those intending to commit fraud access to information on many millions of Americans. Texas alone has 15 million registered voters. According to information released by the Secretary of State’s office, Texas does not intend to release either full or partial Social Security numbers, which is consistent with state law. In addition, the state does not track party affiliation, but the Secretary of State intends to release information on voter history, including which primaries voters have participated in. All of this information is available to the public. The state will not release individual dates of birth, however, those birthdays are available in a group request, with exceptions for certain law enforcement officers and judges. The Austin Monitor asked whether the Secretary of State intends to charge the presidential commission the same amount it would charge any person making the same public information request. According to Sam Taylor, a spokesperson for the office, the feds will have to pay the same fee as anyone else. He noted that anyone requesting the information for one specific year would have to pay about $1,500. The commission is asking for 11 years’ worth of information, so that will cost more, but the Secretary of State has not calculated that number, he said. Taylor said the court in Washington, D.C., is expected to rule on the request for an injunction next week. The American Civil Liberties Union has also sued the commission because of its failure to provide public information concerning its meetings. The first meeting was held by teleconference, according to the ACLU. “Our election process must be secure, fair and transparent,” said Sophia Lin Lakin, a staff attorney with the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project. “Yet the commission is conducting its work deep in the shadows, making it alarmingly suspect.”


Friday, July 14, 2017 by Chad Swiatecki

GigaTECHs App Competition application deadline looms

Monday is the last day for potential applicants to submit their projects for Austin and U.S. Ignite’s GigaTECHs App Competition for developers working on gigabit applications with a civic or governmental focus. The $38,000 awards need to address one of five target areas – transportation, education, clean energy, health and safety – via an app utilizing gigabit-speed Internet. The competition was announced during this year’s South by Southwest conference as part of a “smart cities” initiative to utilize high-speed data networks to improve government performance and quality of life. To be eligible for the award, the majority of an entering team’s members must live in the Austin metropolitan area, including Bastrop, Caldwell, Hays, Travis and Williamson counties. Find more information on the city’s website.


Friday, July 14, 2017 by Nina Hernandez

Austin Parks Foundation hands out community grants

Yesterday was a big day for Austin’s green spaces. That’s because the Austin Parks Foundation announced the winners of its 2017 Austin City Limits Music Festival Park Grants Program. The funds, totaling more than $240,000, will go to projects focused on improving city parks, trails and other green spaces. That can include anything from playscapes to park irrigation systems and meeting places. Here are a few of the now-funded projects: Wooten Park was awarded $70,000 for a community pavilion; Oak Springs Elementary School now has $50,000 to replace its playscape, which was recently lost in a fire; and a $12,000 irrigation system will be installed at Wright Field in Zilker Park. Learn more about applying for Austin Parks Foundation grants here.


Friday, July 14, 2017 by Elizabeth Pagano

Doggett town hall this weekend

Departing from a new local tradition of sarcastic congressional town halls, U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett will host (and attend) a heath care town hall this weekend. The event is being held to hear from constituents about how they are, and will be, impacted by efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act. Joining Doggett (and constituents) will be a number of health care advocacy groups including Children’s Defense Fund, Cover Texas Now, the Coalition of Texans with Disabilities, ADAPT of Texas, Indivisible Austin, Young Invincibles and the Center for Public Policy Priorities. The town hall will take place at 2 p.m. this Sunday, July 16, in the great hall of the First United Methodist Church, which is located at 1300 Lavaca Street. A previous version of this whisper erroneously said the event would be Saturday.


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