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Whispers

Thursday, June 21, 2018 by Katy McElroy

Adler and Council members in Tornillo to protest ‘tent city’

Mayor Steve Adler is in Tornillo today to visit the “tent city” there that is housing children who have been separated from their families at the border. From a press release from the mayor’s office about the trip: “President Trump’s recently implemented ‘zero-tolerance’ immigration policy, which includes separating children from their parents as they try to cross the border to seek asylum, stands in stark contrast to the ideals of our nation. It is immoral, un-American, it is hurting families without justification, and it needs to change. This (is) a defining moment for our country.” Adler will be part of a delegation of mayors, including Mayor Steve Benjamin from Columbia, South Carolina, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, Miami Mayor Francis Suarez, Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan and Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller, from the United States Conference of Mayors. Eight Council members are also in attendance, and a press conference is planned for 9 a.m. Council members Ellen Troxclair and Ora Houston are not on the trip. The mayors also adopted a policy resolution at their last conference to register their opposition to the U.S. immigration policies that resulted in the separation of families. The president signed an executive order on Wednesday afternoon to stop separating families, however, it’s unclear how this will immediately affect the children who are currently housed in the tents in Tornillo.


Thursday, June 21, 2018 by Katy McElroy

License recovery clinic Friday

Any Austinite who has lost their driver’s license due to Department of Public Safety surcharges can attend a clinic this Friday to learn how to start the process to get it back. A form of ID will be required upon entry, which can be either a license, photo ID, utility bill, social security card or library card. The free clinic is from 3 to 6 p.m. at 1520 Rutherford Lane. Licenses will not be reinstated on-site. No arrests will be made at the clinic.


Thursday, June 21, 2018 by Jessi Devenyns

Austin Energy and Austin Water try advertising to encourage energy savings

If you feel like you’ve been seeing ads for Austin Energy and Austin Water everywhere, it’s because you have been. At the June 18 meeting of the Electric Utility Commission, Debbie Kimberly, the vice president of customer energy solutions and corporate communications at Austin Energy, explained that Austin Energy and Austin Water are expanding their public information campaign this season. In the face of the hotter-and-drier-than-normal weather that has been predicted by the National Weather Service, Kimberly said that the goal of the utility is to “help our customers deal with the seasonal increase.” According to her, in the months of June through September, Austin Energy customers “consume 45 percent of the power they use all year long.” With that in mind, the energy utility is working to get the message out to customers about how they can save energy and thereby lower their summertime bills. On June 4, Austin Energy launched its summertime savings website where it offers tips to manage energy and water bills. Simultaneously, in an effort to raise awareness about energy conservation and get people to take advantage of its programs, the utility is running a summer campaign that includes media buys in print, television and radio. There will also be four community events for members of the press in areas of town that experience higher bills. With all the dollars and effort that the utility is putting into educating the public, Kimberly dared the commissioners not to run across one of its ads. “Our intent here is (that) we get through this campaign … and we will have reached all of our customers,” she said.


Wednesday, June 20, 2018 by Chad Swiatecki

Survival guides

Along with details of several existing or in-development programs to increase musician compensation from the city’s Music and Entertainment Division, attendees at Monday’s musician income summit at City Hall could grab a free copy of The Indie Band Survival Guide, a 2012 book that for a time last year looked like it was going to be the foundation of the city’s educational program for musicians looking to make more money. Such an educational component was an important piece of City Council’s Music and Creative Ecosystem Omnibus policy package, and authors Randy Chertkow and Jason Feehan had developed an online learning platform that was something of an extension of the book. Former music division head Don Pitts was working toward establishing an agreement with the pair when he resigned from his post amid controversy around his handling of an employee disciplinary matter. That’s how the office came to be in possession of several dozen copies of the paperback, with Monday’s summit doubling as a chance to do some departmental closet cleaning, since the contract was never completed and Erica Shamaly, who was hired last summer as the music office’s new director, opted to pursue other options. She said Monday that an Austin-based nonprofit group is going through the procurement approval process to be the lead organization in charge of educating Austin musicians on how to grow the business side of their artistic output. That contract is likely to be completed this summer.


Wednesday, June 20, 2018 by Chad Swiatecki

The game is afoot

It’s been something of a quiet week (so far) concerning Austin’s flirtation with the Columbus Crew SC and the wish of the team’s owners to relocate to Central Texas by next spring. It’s all likely the calm before the storm, however, since the agenda for next week’s City Council meeting – the last before the July recess – contains two soccer-related resolutions that appear to run somewhat counter to one another. There are a few more details dripping out about a development proposed for the McKalla Place property that is also the most likely location for the eventual 20,000-seat stadium the team would use. Developers John Chen and Marcus Whitfield’s McKalla District plan is designed to feature 50,000 square feet of grocery store retail, 75,000 square feet of senior living space, a 45,000 square foot wellness center and 250,000 square feet of office space. It would also feature 125 affordable rental units, another 125 affordable units for purchase, 325 market-rate units for purchase and another 30 retail spaces. Chen and Whitfield had given a broad conceptual presentation of the development at a community meeting earlier this month, but the recent release of a draft 2016 appraisal of the McKalla property and other diligence on the 24-acre parcel has allowed them to start fine-tuning the usage and square footage of the mixed-use project. One of the resolutions on next week’s agenda aims to open the property up to a full request for proposal process, while another would direct the city manager to begin negotiations with Crew owners Precourt Sports Ventures on a possible stadium deal.


Wednesday, June 20, 2018 by Katy McElroy

AISD adopts $1.6B budget

Monday night, the board of trustees of the Austin Independent School District adopted a $1.6 billion budget. “Austin ISD will continue to prepare students for college, career and life as we enhance school security and reinforce key academic programs to encourage student success,” said Superintendent Paul Cruz in a press release announcing the new budget. “I am proud to work with our board of trustees and staff to adopt a fiscally responsible budget that will further our goal to reinvent the urban school experience.” Priorities within this year’s budget include safety and security investments, a 1.5 percent salary increase for all employees and “support for academic reinvention projects aimed at bringing innovative programs to students.” The Austin American-Statesman reported that this year the district’s state recapture payment is expected to total about $670 million, and the budget could require as much as a $29 million dip into the district’s reserves. “Austin ISD remains committed to serving the students, staff and community despite the array of budgetary constraints we face due to rising inflationary costs beyond our control, revenue losses, and the budget pressures mounting from our ballooning recapture payments,” said Nicole Conley Johnson, chief business and operations officer for the district. “As our legislators convene this winter, we will continue our efforts in encouraging them to implement solutions to fix the school finance system so this can become one of our last years we are required to pass a deficit budget. Nevertheless, we will do what is needed to serve as the cornerstone of our community and provide the necessary educational services to our AISD students and families.”


Wednesday, June 20, 2018 by Katy McElroy

Southeast Library reopens in July

The Southeast Branch of the Austin Public Library has been undergoing foundation repairs, but the city has released a statement that it will be ready to open on July 9. In preparation for the reopening, the temporary programs and services at the Dove Springs Recreation Center have ceased, except for the Bookmobile Lending Services, which will continue until July 5 on Tuesdays and Thursdays 5-8:30 p.m. and Wednesdays 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Bookmobile will be closed on July 4. The Manchaca Road, Ruiz Branch, and Pleasant Hill branches are all good alternatives until the Southeast Branch is open. Many Dove Springs Recreation Center programs will be moved to the Southeast Branch when it is open; check the library calendar for updates.


Tuesday, June 19, 2018 by Jo Clifton

CodeNEXT consultant John Fregonese dies

Planners and other people associated with the CodeNEXT effort were shocked to learn Monday that John Fregonese had died, and they passed this information on to the Austin Monitor. Fregonese and his associate, Alex Steinberger, were leading the effort to understand affordable housing and housing capacity as it interacts with land use regulations. Fregonese was well known in Central Texas before the CodeNEXT effort, in part because he was the lead consultant for Envision Central Texas. Evidently, Fregonese indicated that he was ill and that he would not be back in Austin two or three weeks ago. Prior to starting his firm, Fregonese Associates, in 1998, Fregonese was director of community development for Portland, Oregon, and before that he had the same title in Ashland, Oregon. The lead consultant on the project is Opticos Design Inc.


Tuesday, June 19, 2018 by Elizabeth Pagano

Austin has a new police monitor

On Thursday, Austin officially got a permanent police chief. And on Monday, City Manager Spencer Cronk announced his decision to appoint Farah Muscadin as the new police monitor. In a June 18 memo, Cronk explains that Muscadin has been in the position on an interim basis since January 2018, “and has taken the lead in researching and evaluating the needed changes that will determine the best future model for police oversight and accountability for our community.” Muscadin, who is an attorney, has worked in city government for the past 15 years, including Austin’s Innovation Office and Office of Telecommunication and Regulatory Affairs.


Tuesday, June 19, 2018 by Elizabeth Pagano

It’s summer, pools are closed

An update to the state of Austin’s pools had some bad news, as expected, on June 15. A memo from acting Parks and Recreation Department Director Kimberly McNeeley to City Council explained that several pools will be closed while repairs are made.

  • The Chestnut Splash Pad was expected to open June 18, 2018
  • Mabel Davis Pool is expected to open July 2018
  • Shipe Pool and Wading Pool is expected to open Summer 2019
  • Govalle Pool is expected to open Summer 2019

In addition, the memo notes, the city “is still in need of approximately 220 additional trained lifeguards for the summer season. The lifeguard numbers can affect how the pools are operated, as well as affecting the accessibility to the public, until we are fully staffed. … Due to staffing numbers, not all pools are fully operational. When visiting a pool you may find that diving wells, baby pools and other amenities are not open. As we get lifeguards through the training and onboarding process we will fully open pools.”


Tuesday, June 19, 2018 by Katy McElroy

Equity Assessment Tool finds strengths, weaknesses

The city’s Equity Office, in partnership with the Center for Place-Based Initiatives at the Dell Medical School, has released its first report created from utilizing its new Equity Assessment Tool. Programs and services within eight city departments were analyzed and categorized in areas of Strength, Weakness, Opportunity and Threat. Hiring and recruitment practices came out as a key strength. Data collection was the weakest area. A memo from Equity Officer Brion Oaks to the mayor and City Council explained this finding: “Weaknesses in data collection pointed to the lack of a process to collect, aggregate, or analyze client data, including demographic information and client surveys, for input in, or to measure the effectiveness of, its programs and services. Only a few departments had data regarding the race and ethnicity of their contractors and consultants. … Having disaggregated data by race and ethnicity is one of the essential first steps in advancing equity. Without segmented data to inform decision‐making, it is difficult for the City to assess the impact or lack of impact it is having on communities of color and other marginalized populations.” The departments that were analyzed as part of this first group were Economic Development, Austin Public Health, Austin Water, Human Resources, Libraries, Parks and Recreation, Public Works, and Transportation. The Equity Office is already using the tool on another set of departments, and it should have a report to share by the end of 2018. View the full pilot report here.


Monday, June 18, 2018 by Katy McElroy

Central Health shaping the future of Rosewood-Zaragosa Health Center

The Rosewood-Zaragosa Health Center is undergoing major renovations, and Central Health is holding a community conversation to share what kinds of programs and assistance will be there. Representatives from 12 organizations – including Austin Public Health, City of Austin Refugee Services, Travis County Health & Human Services and the Latino HealthCare Forum – will be on hand to discuss their services, and residents will also be able to complete surveys about what they would like to see offered at the center in the future. The open house will take place today, June 18, 6:30-8 p.m., at the Rosewood-Zaragosa Neighborhood Center (next door to the former Rosewood-Zaragosa Health Center), 2800 Webberville Rd. Contact communications@centralhealth.net to arrange for language accommodations.


Monday, June 18, 2018 by Katy McElroy

A long and winding path

Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo and three of her colleagues on City Council – Ora Houston, Alison Alter and Leslie Pool – will be holding a press conference this week to share their priorities regarding CodeNEXT, the city’s rewrite of the Land Development Code. Titled “A PATH Forward to a Livable Austin for Everyone,” the press conference will be at City Hall this Tuesday, 10 a.m.

This whisper has been corrected to reflect the fact that this event is a press conference, not a meeting.


Monday, June 18, 2018 by Katy McElroy

East Metro playgrounds ready for business

Travis County Parks is having a “first official Saturday of the summer” celebration to feature a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the four new playgrounds at the East Metropolitan Park. There will also be other festive activities, such as face painting and free giveaways, as well as free snacks and drinks. Head to 18706 Blake Manor Road, Saturday, June 23, 10 a.m.-noon.


Monday, June 18, 2018 by Jo Clifton

Top job open at Economic Development

The city of Austin has officially started its search for a new director of the Economic Development Department. Kevin Johns, who served as director for eight years, stepped down in December. His LinkedIn profile indicates that he is now the CEO of Future Economies LLC. Upon Johns’ departure, Interim City Manager Elaine Hart named Rebecca Giello to take over the job on an interim basis. Giello, who came to the job as assistant director of the Housing and Community Development Department, told the Austin Monitor that although she has enjoyed working with the staff in Economic Development, she does not intend to apply for the permanent job. The interim position, she said, has “further highlighted for me the intrinsic connections of housing, transit, economic development policy – and the importance of connecting talent in the organization to move projects. I remain committed to the interim role as the recruitment process continues.” According to the city website, Scott Reilly with Affion Public will be leading this search. “To be considered, candidates must submit a compelling cover letter and comprehensive resume via email to resumes@affionpublic.com. Please Reference: COADED. Candidates should apply by the close of business on July 12, 2018.”


Friday, June 15, 2018 by Katy McElroy

Council votes to reduce racial disparities in policing

Late last night, City Council voted unanimously to approve two resolutions sponsored by Council Member Greg Casar. The first is related to discretionary arrests for minor, nonviolent offenses. Casar said he was inspired to address the issue after seeing data from the Austin Police Department that showed that discretionary arrests are “heavily skewed by race.” Casar posted the main objectives of his resolution on the City Council Message Board on June 5, which include:

1. Directing the City Manager to take steps to end the use of discretionary arrest for nonviolent misdemeanors in cases where a citation/ticket is feasible and where there is no immediate public safety threat to anyone;

2. Asking the City Manager to provide quarterly reporting to review progress; and

3. Asking the City Manager to craft more recommendations to reduce racial disparities in arrests and to work with community members to do so.

The second resolution focuses on Austin’s immigrant community and aims to ensure that communication between law enforcement, elected officials and the public about immigration enforcement remains fair and transparent and that immigrant residents know their rights. Over 100 people signed up to speak on the items, the majority expressing support for the spirit behind the measures. Austin Police Association President Ken Casady said that while APD supports Casar, they “did not appreciate having the department called a racist organization.” Earlier in the week, some questions were raised about the accuracy of Casar’s interpretation of the APD data, but he reaffirmed on Thursday that he stands by his conclusions. “We have real, undeniable racial disparities in our city,” Casar said. He acknowledged the issue is complicated and won’t be solved easily. “But just because the problem is complex,” he said, “doesn’t mean we cannot face it.” Council members Ellen Troxclair and Delia Garza were not present for the vote.


Friday, June 15, 2018 by Jessi Devenyns

City Council Candidate Forum locations selected

It’s election season again, and on Nov. 6, the position of mayor and the council member positions for districts 1, 3, 5, 8 and 9 will be on the ballot. In an effort to more widely and comprehensively educate voters, the city of Austin, in partnership with the Ethics Review Commission and the Austin League of Women Voters, will conduct a series of single-member district City Council Candidate Forums. At each forum, candidates will share their views on the hot topics of the day as well as answer questions from the audience. Questions for forums will be open to the public ahead of time. At the June 13 meeting of the Ethics Commission, Lara Foss from the city’s Public Information Office asked commissioners, since they are part of the effort, to submit questions for the forums. “We stress the questions we ask are to highlight the differences in candidates and their opinions,” she said. ATXN will stream the videos live as well as make them available in the archive.

For those who wish to attend the forums in person, districts 5 and 8 will be combined into one central location at the South Austin Senior Activity Center, and the mayor and District 9 forums are both proposed for City Hall. District 1 will have their forum at the Asian American Resource Center and District 3 will host theirs at the Pan Am Recreation Center. Foss explained that venue choice is limited because the forums are generally well attended, and the city looks for good parking and free event space. Location information for all the forums will be sent out in the PowerPlus inserts of city electric bills, although, Foss quipped, “I wonder how many people look at it.”


Friday, June 15, 2018 by Jack Craver

Council approves funding for new fire stations

City Council Member Delia Garza’s complaints about the lack of fire stations in Southeast Austin appear to have had an effect. On Thursday Council approved $6 million for the design and construction of five new fire stations over the next five years, beginning with one in Del Valle in two years. Garza said she hopes that means “two years from today.” Garza, herself a former firefighter, has said that some of her constituents in her southeastern district have seen their home insurance rates go up as a result of the lack of fire stations in the area.


Friday, June 15, 2018 by Jessi Devenyns

New Ethics Review commissioner comes on board

There’s a new face on the dais of the Ethics Review Commission as of its June 13 meeting. Council Member Jimmy Flannigan appointed Tray Gober to the 11-member commission, where he will serve for the next four years. “It’s eerie in the sense that I recognize a lot of voices,” Gober said when he introduced himself. He admitted that he was “probably the only person” to listen to the recordings of the commission and has been absorbing background information from the sidelines. “I’m not as uninformed as I could be,” he said. Gober is a personal injury attorney who does a lot of pro bono work. Commissioner Debra Danburg noted that if he’s used to volunteering his time, he’ll “feel at home here.”

At the same time, Commissioner Meagan Harding tendered her resignation for personal reasons. Her husband, Vincent Harding, the outgoing head of the Travis County Democratic Party, announced this week that he will seek election to Council Member Ora Houston’s seat. He is the fourth candidate for the position, joining Natasha Harper-Madison, Mariana Salazar and Lewis Conway Jr.


Friday, June 15, 2018 by Jack Craver

Council approves interim fire chief

Amidst all of the hype around City Council’s approval of Brian Manley as permanent Austin police chief, leadership changes at the Fire Department have flown under the radar. On Thursday, Council also voted to approve the appointment of Austin Fire Department Chief of Staff Tom Dodds as interim fire chief. In brief remarks in support of Dodds’ candidacy, City Manager Spencer Cronk said he was confident that Dodds, who has been with the department for over 30 years and served as the No. 2 department official under outgoing Chief Rhoda Mae Kerr, would do an “extraordinary job.” The city manager has directed staff to hire a consulting firm to conduct a national search for candidates to be permanent fire chief, which could takes months. That is in contrast to the Manley appointment, which was made without soliciting applications, over the protests of many police accountability advocates.


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