Whispers

Thursday, June 24, 2021 by Jo Clifton

DeBeauvoir running for reelection

Dana DeBeauvoir, who has served as Travis County Clerk since taking office in 1987, told the Austin Monitor she intends to run for reelection next year. In addition to conducting elections, the Travis County Clerk’s Office manages court records for the probate court and county courts at law, maintains official deed records, issues marriage licenses and keeps track of minutes of the Travis County Commissioners Court. DeBeauvoir is a staunch Democrat and any viable opponents she might have would have to run in the Democratic primary next March. DeBeauvoir has been an advocate for advanced voting machines, including the type the county currently uses that provide a paper record. Her last run for reelection was in 2018, at which time her only opponent was a Libertarian. She has served with the International Foundation for Electoral Systems as a consultant preparing for elections in Bangladesh (1995), Sarajevo, Bosnia (1996), and Pristina, Kosovo (1999); and as a United Nations elections observer at the 1994 election in South Africa. One other candidate, Kurt Lockhart, has announced his intention to run for the clerk’s job in the Democratic primary. Lockhart’s emphasis is on voter registration, which in Travis County is handled by Bruce Elfant, the tax assessor-collector and voter registrar. Elfant recently reported that 97 percent of those eligible to vote in Travis County had been registered.


Thursday, June 24, 2021 by Jo Clifton

We didn’t get the memo

After Deputy City Manager Nuria Rivera-Vandermyde announced she would be leaving Austin to become city manager in Boulder, Colorado, City Manager Spencer Cronk named City Attorney Anne Morgan as interim deputy city manager and her deputy, Deborah Thomas, as acting city attorney. Cronk announced these changes in a memo to mayor and City Council but we can find no public acknowledgment of the changes. In fact, Morgan seemed to be acting as city attorney after the memo came out, but on June 10, Mayor Steve Adler referred to Thomas as “our city attorney” during a Council meeting. At any rate, our faces are a little bit rosy as we congratulate Morgan and Thomas on their promotions, even if temporary.


Thursday, June 24, 2021 by Tai Moses

New arts program fosters mental health

Austin Safely Creates, a new program in partnership with the Economic Development Department, “will employ teaching artists who lost employment or income due to Covid-19 and will engage them in the creation of community-enhancing artwork,” according to a city news release. The program’s activities will be led by professional artists who will work with community members in “interactive art-making, self-expression and healing” from the impacts of the pandemic. As Sylnovia Holt-Rabb, acting director for the EDD, explained, “This program is an innovative effort to help our creative sector get through these challenging times. This pandemic impacted many industries, but as a city known for its creative spirit, the hit to our local artists is felt particularly deep. Our artists are a core part of Austin’s identity and an essential part of our long-term recovery.”


Wednesday, June 23, 2021 by Jo Clifton

Virden to seek mayor’s seat

Real estate agent Jennifer Virden, 53, who ran unsuccessfully for the District 10 seat on the Austin City Council in 2020, has announced via Twitter that she will be running for mayor in 2022. She says she is focused on public safety and other “core municipal services, including water, waste, electricity, roads, and parks.” Virden, a Republican, is also the plaintiff in a federal lawsuit challenging one of the city’s campaign finance regulations. In a press release about the lawsuit, Virden claimed that only being able to raise money for one year before an election disadvantages challengers in particular. She has been quite vocal in her opposition to the current Council’s decision to “reimagine public safety.” She is scheduled to be in court this Friday to seek a federal injunction against the city’s campaign finance law that prevents her from legally raising money until November. No other candidates have announced for mayor so far.


Wednesday, June 23, 2021 by Tai Moses

Exhibition explores era of Jim Crow

The Bullock Texas State History Museum is hosting a traveling exhibition titled Black Citizenship in the Age of Jim Crow, organized by the New York Historical Society, that “explores the national struggle for full citizenship and racial equality that unfolded in the 50 years after the Civil War.” Bullock Museum Director Margaret Koch explained in a press release, “We are in a time of examining the root causes of inequality in order to create a better and more equitable future. This exhibition helps provide the foundation for those seeking a stronger understanding of not just the injustices of our past, but how disenfranchised citizens remained resilient and moved the country forward.” Among the many artifacts on display in the exhibition are an 1850s ballot box, a Burroughs adding machine and a Jim Crow segregated bus sign. Early audio recordings and rare historic footage round out the experience. Said Koch, “We are proud to bring this poignant and powerful exhibition to Texas. We hope to offer a safe space that is based on historical records to have conversations and dialogue about divisive aspects of our history so that we can continue the journey towards a more perfect union.” The exhibition will be on view until Nov. 28. Reserve tickets and time slots here.


Wednesday, June 23, 2021 by Tai Moses

Forklift screens ‘Trash Dance’

Forklift Danceworks is celebrating its 20th anniversary with a free, outdoor film screening of the documentary Trash Dance, which depicts the company’s collaborative performance with Austin Resource Recovery. ARR sanitation operators will also be on hand to discuss their work protecting the environment. Allison Orr, Forklift founder and artistic director, said, “We’re honored to rejoin our partners at ARR with this film screening and community conversation. When I think back to The Trash Project, I’m still in awe of the incredible performance our city sanitation workers made, as well as the love and support for these employees Austin audiences shared. And now as Austin recovers from Covid, it’s never been more important to highlight the workers who keep our city moving.” Find more info and order tickets here. Saturday, July 10, at Pioneer Farms, 10621 Pioneer Farms Drive. Doors open at 7 p.m.; screening begins at sundown.


Tuesday, June 22, 2021 by Tai Moses

Host a pop-up vaccine clinic

Austin Public Health’s mobile vaccination program is inviting businesses and organizations to host pop-up Covid-19 vaccination clinics in an effort to provide residents with convenient locations to get vaccinated. As APH interim Director Adrienne Sturrup explained in a news release, “We have seen success in reaching populations through place-based clinics that are linguistically and culturally appropriate. These efforts include providing clinics at churches, schools, construction sites, businesses, libraries, recreation centers, apartment complexes, flea markets, naturalization ceremonies, and homes.” Groups that would like to host a pop-up clinic may complete this online form. The mobile clinic will also make home visits to give Covid vaccinations to homebound Austinites, their families and caregivers. Schedule a home visit by calling 311 or (512) 974-2000 and leaving a message with your contact info.


Tuesday, June 22, 2021 by Tai Moses

Fortlandia installation graces Butler trail

An installation titled territories., an “interactive urban greenspace experience” that was featured in last year’s popular Fortlandia event at Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, is coming to the Butler Hike and Bike Trail. The installation, which has been “re-imagined to reflect the new site” by designer Mark Odom Studio, can be found here on the east side of the trail at Lakeshore Park, and will be officially unveiled this Friday, June 25, from 9-11 a.m.  According to Odom, the new iteration of the piece features “wayfinding and sight lines from different access points” and will allow “even more people the chance to engage and perhaps stay a little longer out in nature.” Trail Foundation CEO Heidi Anderson said, “We’re thrilled to be partnering with our friends at the Wildflower Center to host territories., and can’t wait to see children and adults alike enjoying this new creative, interactive feature.”


Monday, June 21, 2021 by Tai Moses

AISD shutters virtual learning for fall

Austin ISD students will be returning to the classroom in the fall, with no remote learning options offered. Chief of Schools Anthony Mays said in a news release, “By following guidelines from Austin Public Health, the CDC and more, we’re confident we can safely reopen to all our students.” As the release notes, “this will be the first time back in a school building for tens of thousands of students” who spent the pandemic year doing virtual school in front of a screen. “We know and realize that this will be a big shift for our students, so we’re committed to doing everything possible to help them in that regard. We’re preparing our counselors, school mental health centers, teachers and more to make sure our students feel safe from the opening bell to leaving for school at the end of the day,” Mays noted. Austin ISD has launched a website with resources and information to help families prepare for the 2021-22 school year.


Monday, June 21, 2021 by Tai Moses

Lakes officially ‘infested’ with zebra mussels

It’s official, says the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department: Lake Brownwood, Inks Lake and Medina Lake in the Colorado and San Antonio River basins are now considered “infested” with zebra mussels. To reach infested status, a lake must have an “established, reproducing population” of the invasive mollusks, and recent sampling shows that the mussels are “fully established” in the three bodies of water. Monica McGarrity, a senior scientist with TPWD, said in a news release, “As zebra mussels are continuing to spread westward and southward to new areas in Texas and as those lakes become fully infested, nearby lakes have an increased risk of being invaded and it is vital that boaters take steps to clean, drain and dry boats to help slow the spread. Boats owned or recently purchased that have been stored in the water must be decontaminated before moving them to another lake to prevent the spread of these highly invasive mussels.” With zebra mussels now inhabiting 32 Texas lakes – with 27 of them designated fully infested – TPWD has kicked its prevention and boater education program into high gear in an effort to protect the rest of the state’s lakes from invasive species.


Friday, June 18, 2021 by Tai Moses

Coalition offers free conflict mediation

Perfect Manner, Life Anew Restorative Justice and Austin Justice Coalition have teamed up to provide free conflict mediations for Travis County residents. The three groups note that the region has seen an increase in violence in recent months, and “in an effort to prevent more violence and to promote peace and to mediate conflict,” they are asking all community members who may be aware of any conflicts brewing in their families or communities to take advantage of their services. “Our goal is to help people to navigate through those conflicts related to stress and trauma through mediation instead of violence.” Use the contact info below:


Friday, June 18, 2021 by Tai Moses

Central Health hosts budget talks

Central Health held some informational community conversations yesterday, in English and in Spanish, “to share highlights from fiscal year 2021 and present proposed budget priorities and budget development timeline for fiscal year 2022.” Central Health will also host a public hearing on Sept. 2 to give community members an opportunity to offer public feedback on the proposed budget. A survey launching on June 25 will also give the community a chance to weigh in on Central Health’s fiscal year 2022 priorities; stay tuned for information about how to access the survey online. The final proposed budget will then be presented first to the Central Health Board of Managers, followed by the Travis County Commissioners Court, for approval. Watch the Facebook Live recordings in English or Spanish.


Friday, June 18, 2021 by Elizabeth Pagano

Pleasant Valley construction begins Monday

Beginning Monday, June 21, the city will begin resurfacing North Pleasant Valley Road between Prado and Willow streets. The project, which is expected to last about 10 weeks, promises to make traffic less than pleasant during busy travel times, so plan accordingly. The city’s Transportation Department assures the public that the street – and driveways – remain open to traffic throughout construction, though lanes may be closed and traffic may be rerouted “at times.”


Thursday, June 17, 2021 by Jo Clifton

Environmental Commission likely to continue review of water extension requests

Members of the City Council Audit & Finance Committee agreed Wednesday that the city’s Environmental Commission should continue to review Austin Water’s proposals to extend service within the Drinking Water Protection Zone. They will forward their recommendation to the full Council. The department had planned to streamline its extension procedures by eliminating presentations not only to the Environmental Commission, but to the Zoning and Platting Commission, Planning Commission and Resource Management Commission. Assistant Director Joseph Gonzales told the committee he had met with Bobby Levinski, an attorney with the Save Our Springs Alliance, when environmentalists expressed concerns about eliminating input from the Environmental Commission. Gonzales explained that Austin Water was now recommending continuing to brief not only the Environmental Commission but also the Resource Management Commission. Members of the Council committee will recommend to the full Council that they adopt a policy that eliminates trips to the two zoning commissions but maintains reporting to the other two groups. The Environmental Commission recently voted to oppose granting a wastewater service extension request in the environmentally sensitive Bull Creek Watershed. As a result, Council postponed voting on the matter until July 29. Levinski was among those urging Council not to grant the request.


Thursday, June 17, 2021 by Chad Swiatecki

CesiumAstro moves to Austin, then space

Opportunity Austin has announced expansion plans for CesiumAstro as well as a move into Austin, with the space communications company launching its first space mission in September. The company, which manufactures communications payloads and satellites for customers such as NASA, the U.S. Navy and the Missile Defense Agency, will convert its 10,000-square-foot location in the Hill Country Galleria into a facility to introduce new products. At the same time, the company’s engineering and corporate functions are moving to a new 29,000-square-foot space on Bee Cave Parkway. CesiumAstro was named one of BuiltInAustin’s 21 companies to watch in 2021, and has 55 local employees. The expansion is part of Austin Chamber’s Opportunity Austin initiative, which was launched in 2004 and has helped bring more than 400,000 jobs to the Central Texas area.


Thursday, June 17, 2021 by Elizabeth Pagano

Smart City hosts two policy summits

Smart City Policy Group has scheduled two policy summits this summer at Austin Central Library, focusing on mobility innovation and rental policy of short-term rental properties. The mobility policy summit takes place Aug. 31 and will feature Capital Metro CEO and President Randy Clarke, Austin Energy electric vehicles manager Karl Popham and Austin assistant city manager for mobility Gina Fiandaca among the roster of speakers. The rental policy summit – Smart City’s third on the topic – takes place Sept. 1 and includes discussion of data trends, compliance solutions and examples of best practices. Find more information and registration options here.


Thursday, June 17, 2021 by Tai Moses

Some city offices close for Juneteenth

A number of city offices and public facilities will be closed Friday in observation of the Juneteenth holiday, which commemorates the emancipation of enslaved people in the United States. Austin Public Library branches, Central Library and the Austin History Center will be closed Friday and Saturday. The Austin Animal Center will close on Friday, reopening Saturday. There will not be any changes in trash pickup schedules or schedules at Parks and Recreation facilities. All Austin Public Health Covid-19 vaccination sites will remain open (see walkup clinic hours here) and the health department will be providing vaccinations at several pop-up community events over the Juneteenth weekend.


Wednesday, June 16, 2021 by Tai Moses

Cycle through Black history on Juneteenth

Photo by Tamir Kalifa

What better way to celebrate Juneteenth than with a history tour of Black Central East Austin – by bicycle. The Juneteenth Social Ride, hosted by Black History Bike Ride – founded by Austin resident Talib Abdullahi – is “an effort to preserve Austin’s history while pushing forward on the social justice movement sparked last year after the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis.” Participants will make stops at the Clarksville landmark Haskell House, the Barbara Jordan statue, Huston-Tillotson University, Oakwood Cemetery, the Victory Grill and more. Said Abdullahi, “As a Black man who has lived in Austin for over 12 years, I have noticed that there could be a lot more awareness about the local Black community history by a lot of residents generally in Austin. So my hope initially was just to take my personal friends out, and the word accidentally got out. It turns out a lot of other people wanted to learn about these things and also do it on a bike.” The ride starts at the Texas African American Memorial, just west of 11th Street and Congress Avenue on the Texas Capitol grounds. Saturday, June 19, 10 a.m.


Wednesday, June 16, 2021 by Tai Moses

Get vaccinated on Saturday!

Been putting off that Covid vaccination? This Saturday, June 19, is your chance to get the lifesaving vaccine for free at the offices of Associated Builders and Contractors of Central Texas (ABC Central Texas), 2600 Longhorn Blvd., Suite 105, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. While the event aims to attract construction industry workers and their families, all area residents are welcome. The Pfizer vaccine is available for all participants age 12 and older; no pre-registration, insurance or ID required. The event is sponsored by the U.S. Hispanic Contractors Association, with support from the Austin Latino Coalition, the Associated General Contractors of America Austin Chapter, the Texas Division of Emergency Management, Curative, Associated Builders and Contractors of Central Texas, Austin Public Health, and the Home Builders Association of Greater Austin.


Tuesday, June 15, 2021 by Tai Moses

Helpful robots invade downtown

A fleet of 10 personal delivery devices – i.e., robots – are being implemented throughout the South Congress District and surrounding neighborhoods to help with last-mile deliveries like takeout meals, packages and grocery store orders. The three-wheeled Rev-1 robots, which take up about as much space as a person on a bicycle, are owned by Refraction AI and are supervised by a remote operator “using a host of sensors and cameras.” The nimble, busy bots have arrived in Austin thanks to a May 2017 resolution in which City Council directed city staffers “to explore the robotic delivery model” in an effort to reduce traffic and single-driver car trips. A complementary resolution in August 2017 outlined the parameters of a pilot program for the robots. The Rev-1s are currently being escorted by Refraction AI team members, who are “happy to answer any questions you may have when you see them out and about,” cheerfully performing their duties.


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