Whispers

Wednesday, November 12, 2014 by Mark Richardson

Guadalupe Street Corridor meeting set

The city will host its first public meeting for the Guadalupe Street Corridor Study to discuss the purpose of the study and listen to community feedback. Area residents will talk about how to improve the Guadalupe Corridor for pedestrians, bicycles, public transportation and cars. The goal of the study is to recommend short-term to long-term improvements to enhance mobility, safety and the quality of life along the Guadalupe Corridor. The study area includes Guadalupe Street near the UT Austin campus, with approximate boundaries of MLK Jr. Boulevard to the south, West 29th Street to the north, Rio Grande Street to the west, and a block into the UT Austin campus to the east. The meeting is set for 6 p.m. Dec. 3 at University Presbyterian Church, 2203 San Antonio Street.


Wednesday, November 12, 2014 by Elizabeth Pagano

Young Chamber adds board members

The Austin Young Chamber of Commerce is adding five new members to its board for 2015. The new board members for AYC include Adam Flagg, Lauren Galea, Andrew Martin, Diana Nogueira and Ashland Viscosi. “We have members from the tech community, civic engagement, finance, real estate, hospitality (communities) and so much more,” said Executive Director Matt Glazer. “The fact that our 2015 board members include Austin natives along with people from across the country and world, puts us in a unique place to serve our members and greater Austin effectively. I know we are all excited about what is coming up in 2015.” Glazer said in a news release that the nonprofit is focused on “identifying and engaging the next generation of Austin leaders.”


Tuesday, November 11, 2014 by Mark Richardson

Final Monitor BBB session Nov. 18

Council Members Laura Morrison and Bill Spelman are set to help the Monitor close out its 2014 Beers Brains and Betterment discussion series with what we’re calling an exit interview Nov. 18. As always, the event is at the North Door, 501 Brushy St., where doors will open at 7 p.m. Tickets are free and can be found here. Also as always, we expect a candid discussion.

 


Tuesday, November 11, 2014 by Jo Clifton

Phelps endorses Adler for mayor

Todd Phelps, who finished fourth in last week’s mayoral race, announced Monday that he is endorsing front-runner Steve Adler in the runoff election. Adler, who won 37 percent of the vote, faces Council Member Mike Martinez in a Dec. 16 runoff. Martinez garnered 30 percent of the vote on Nov. 4. Phelps, who got about 10 percent of the vote but took only one precinct, Precinct 232, sent out a news release stating, “At this point, I feel that it is in the best interest of preserving the culture and soul of Austin, as well as planning for the future of our city, that I am endorsing Steve Adler in the runoff election for Mayor of Austin. I am urging all of my supporters and those who voted for me to put their support behind Steve at this time.” Phelps, a country singer and entrepreneur, was one of the more conservative candidates in the race for mayor. Mayor Pro Tem Sheryl Cole, who came in third behind Adler and Martinez, has not indicated whether she intends to endorse one of the runoff candidates, but she will likely make a decision on that this week.


Tuesday, November 11, 2014 by Elizabeth Pagano

Sierra Club talks Austin water tonight

The Austin Sierra Club will tackle water resources planning at its monthly meeting tonight. The group will look at the work of the Austin Water Resources Planning Task Force, which was created by City Council in March to address the city’s future water needs. The meeting will feature task force member Sharlene Leurig, who directs the Sustainable Water Infrastructure Program at Ceres, writes about Texas springs on her blog, and serves on the board of directors of the Hill Country Alliance and on the advisory council of the Environmental Science Institute at University of Texas at Austin. The meeting will take a look at the work of the task force, which, according to a statement from Sierra Club, “recommended a water future based on efficiency, reuse, decentralization and stewardship of existing and local sources. The recommendations contrast sharply with the long-existing orientation of Austin’s water utility to ‘grow the business’ by selling more and more water. The task force also rejected proposals for expensive schemes to pipe in groundwater from Lee, Milam and Bastrop counties.” The meeting takes place at 7 p.m. in the north dining room of Scholz Garten, 1607 San Jacinto Blvd.

 


Tuesday, November 11, 2014 by Michael Kanin

KLRU/Leadership Austin Forums begin

A series of City Council runoff forums hosted by KLRU, Leadership Austin, the Annette Strauss Institute for Civic Life and our City Hall reporting partners at KUT kicks off this evening at KLRU’s studio 6A. All of the remaining Council candidates will participate in discussions focused on the “leadership values and qualities each person will bring” to Austin. Monitor publisher Mike Kanin will moderate a handful of the conversations. RSVP to attend here.


Monday, November 10, 2014 by Jo Clifton

Campaign finance reports reveal oddities

First-time mayoral candidate Todd Phelps, who came in fourth in the Nov. 4 election with about 10 percent of the vote, evidently has some odd interpretations of campaign finance law. Phelps’ reports, generally not filed on time, also leave out the names of most contributors. But he seems to have gotten the most bang for the buck, spending just 84 cents per vote. Some of the contributors he does name are familiar to Austin political watchers. For example, Travis County Pct. 2 Commissioner Gerald Daugherty reportedly gave Phelps $350. The same report indicates that Jim Skaggs, the head of the anti-rail PAC known as Citizens Against Rail Taxes, or CART, contributed $700. That seems unlikely. It was probably Skaggs and his wife who contributed that amount, since $350 is the legal limit for individual contributors. However, most of Phelps’ contributors remain anonymous, which the law does not allow. Phelps also filed one report on Oct. 6 showing he had loaned his campaign $4,600. He also filed five separate reports on Election Day showing loans from himself to the campaign on various dates. Phelps says he loaned himself a total of $26,700. As far as can be determined, Phelps spent about $15,000. He won Precinct 232 in far West Austin, with 29 percent of the vote, or 33 votes. Council Member Mike Martinez and attorney Steve Adler, who advanced to the runoff last week, both received 28 votes in that small precinct, or 25 percent of the vote. Also, Skaggs’ PAC finished the election a winner and reported more than $266,000 still in its treasury. Skaggs contributed $50,000 to the PAC on the last report. Because it is a special purpose committee, it cannot now support a candidate with those funds, according to longtime Austin fundraiser Alfred Stanley. Stanley said if the PAC has not received corporate money, it could contribute $350 to candidates of its choosing. However, he added, the PAC may not now turn all of its money and efforts to supporting a candidate because it does not have the name of the candidate in its title. So we’ll keep an eye on where that money goes next.


Monday, November 10, 2014 by Michael Kanin

Riley bows out of runoff, Tovo in

As was widely reported late Friday afternoon, Council Member Chris Riley will withdraw from the District 9 runoff. His move clears the way for Council Member Kathie Tovo to become the District 9 representative, and ends the would-be runoff in that race. “I remain dedicated to the ideals and policies I’ve championed, and I feel there is a path to victory in the runoff,” Riley wrote in a release announcing his decision. “But I also feel that, as we begin this new era with a new council, a contest that creates negativity and division is not how we should set the tone for Austin going forward. I would rather work together with Kathie and with the new council members, as an advocate, to solve the challenges we face.”


Monday, November 10, 2014 by Mark Richardson

Travis County OKs hiring consultant

Travis County Commissioners approved hiring an impartial consultant Friday to verify if the cost estimate for the planned Ronald Earle Building is accurate or needs to be rebid. The building, at 416 West 11th St., will house the district attorney’s staff. The county hired a contractor, Flintco, as a construction manager, and that firm came back with an estimate of $45 million, quite a bit above the $34.5 million the county originally budgeted. County staff is divided over what to do. Purchasing Agent Cyd Grimes thinks the county needs to increase the budget, but Facilities Manager Roger El Khoury wants to terminate the contractor and rebid the project. Both approaches will probably cost the county extra time and money, but without a reliable cost estimate, it’s hard to know how much. Commissioners, over the strenuous objections of Commissioner Ron Davis, voted 4-1 to hire a consultant to look at the plans for the building and develop a qualified estimate. “I think we may be setting a precedent here,” Davis said, “meaning if someone (in the future) is not comfortable with whatever we used as far as our cost estimate figures, then they can come in and we’ll have to do this all over again.” The study will take about three to four weeks once a firm is hired and will cost up to $50,000, according to staff.

 


Monday, November 10, 2014 by Mark Richardson

City, County adopt new wildfire plan

Both the City of Austin and Travis County adopted the Community Wildfire Protection Plan last week. The plan is the culmination of a joint effort between the city and county, along with state and federal officials. Following the devastating Bastrop wildfires in 2011, a Joint Wildfire Task Force was formed to study ways to prevent future disasters as well as develop a coordinated plan to deal with wildfire. Officials say the plan will link multiple agencies, including firefighters, emergency responders, mitigation and prevention managers, planners and others, to coordinate the plan. “This is all about wildfire,” said Danny Hobby, Travis County executive for emergency services. “It’s a resource document for communities across the county to utilize. This particular plan is not something that’s enforcement; it’s something that is best practices.” The plan was developed in coordination with Travis County’s Emergency Services and Transportation and Naturals Resources, Austin’s Fire Department Wildfire Division, Water Utility Wildlands Division and Homeland Security and Emergency Management office. Others participating include Emergency Services Districts 4 and 6, the Texas Forest Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Public input sessions were held in numerous parts of the county in developing the plan. An adoption ceremony with city, county and state officials is planned for Nov. 14.

 


Friday, November 7, 2014 by Mark Richardson

Travis Commissioners meet today

If you usually attend the Travis County Commissioners’ regular Tuesday meeting, we assume you are already planning your time off next week. The Commissioners will not meet on Nov. 11 because of Veterans Day activities, but will instead meet today to take care of business. County Judge Sam Biscoe said there are a number of mostly routine items on the agenda and that he hopes to have the 10 a.m. meeting over and done with before lunch. The Commissioners will meet in chambers at the Travis County Building at 700 Lavaca St.

 


Friday, November 7, 2014 by Beth Cortez-Neavel

Council gets social services proposal

City staff members brought the controversial social services final contract proposal to the full City Council on Thursday. The proposal would allocate $16,065,227 to 40 different programs for the 2016 fiscal year. Some organizations continue to protest that the funds are not enough. The proposal would require the city to shift an additional $2,250,000 toward the contracts, which have been under discussion since January. Council Member Mike Martinez, chair of the Public Health and Human Services Commission, said the end result was a hybrid proposal based on the original scoring process and on previously existing relationships with organizations already receiving support for services provided to the public. Martinez urged Council to keep this proposal intact when it is brought up for a vote at the next Council meeting on Nov. 20. “If you move something, someone else is going to get cut,” Martinez said. “We just don’t have those funds. We have a finite amount of resources.”

 


Friday, November 7, 2014 by Mark Richardson

ABIA’s passenger traffic still growing

Austin Bergstrom International Airport was a busy place this week, trying to get everyone leaving town after the Formula 1 weekend on their planes and in the air. Monday’s crowd didn’t break last year’s record following the race, but more than 21,000 people managed to squeeze through the terminal on their way home. Those numbers will show up in ABIA’s monthly report in a few weeks, but passenger traffic data for September was also released this week, and the airport continues to grow. In September, passenger traffic was up 9 percent over the same period in 2013, making it 56 out the last 57 months that ABIA’s monthly passenger volume has increased. Airport officials recently announced that they plan to add seven gates to the east concourse by late 2017, with longer-range plans to build two new concourses that would add another 24 more gates.

 


Friday, November 7, 2014 by Tyler Whitson

Council makes board appointments

City Council approved a few nominations to boards and commissions at Thursday’s meeting. Council Member Chris Riley nominated Craig Wright to the Building and Standards Commission, and Mayor Lee Leffingwell nominated Dr. Tyra Duncan-Hall, Edwina Carrington and Isaac Robinsons to the Housing Authority.


Thursday, November 6, 2014 by Michael Kanin

Spelman recovering after surgery

Council Member Bill Spelman had surgery to remove “a small growth” on his adrenal gland two weeks ago. In an email statement issued Wednesday, Spelman said that “the operation was successful, and after some follow up treatment for an infection, I am recovering at home.” Spelman had surgery in 2012 to remove a tumor from his pancreas. He said he is planning on making it to today’s Austin City Council meeting, but will play it by ear.

 


Thursday, November 6, 2014 by Elizabeth Pagano

Finally! It’s back to City Hall today

After several months of displaced meetings while City Hall was being renovated for the new, larger City Council, the Council chambers are once again open, and today’s meeting will be held there. We at the Austin Monitor are excited to see the changes, which should include a larger dais, more space for media and, hopefully, a more diffuse way of distributing cold air than the previous system. At Tuesday’s work session, Council Member Laura Morrison predicted that today’s meeting will “probably be pretty crazy.” It’s safe to assume that can be translated into “will be a super-long meeting.” Stay up-to-date through our Twitter accounts for real-time updates on when the excitement wears off.


Thursday, November 6, 2014 by Mark Richardson

City’s coyote plan concerns county

Citing complaints by constituents and concerns by wildlife officials, Travis County Commissioners voted Tuesday to send a letter to the Austin City Council asking them to delay a vote today on proposed changes to the city’s coyote conflict management policy. After an extended process, a city working group proposed a set of changes to the policy  — based partly on Austin’s status as a “no kill” animal shelter city — that eliminates the option of using lethal force in most situations. The policy would also ban the use of all traps other than live-release box traps. It recommends “hazing” the animals through yelling and making noise to drive them out of neighborhoods. Wildlife officers told Commissioners that they believed the policy is dangerous, and that eliminating the option of killing rogue animals would simply embolden the most aggressive coyotes and make the situation more dangerous for homeowners and their pets. Commissioners approved a letter Tuesday asking the City Council to once again postpone action on the policy so that city and county officials could discuss it before moving forward. A vote on the policy is on today’s Council agenda.


Thursday, November 6, 2014 by Jo Clifton

Martinez seeks to debate Adler (again)

With the Nov. 4 election in his rearview mirror, Council Member Mike Martinez wasted no time in returning to the campaign trail Wednesday. Martinez garnered 30 percent of Tuesday’s vote with attorney Steve Adler in the lead at 37 percent. Martinez issued a challenge to Adler via press release for three debates. Martinez said he wanted the debates to focus on affordability, transportation and the environment. While there has not been that much discussion of the environment during the campaign so far, every candidate has talked about affordability and transportation. Adler campaign manager Jim Wick told the Monitor, “We’ve had more than 40 debates and forums thus far, and fully anticipate participating in more. We’re happy to talk to the Martinez campaign about some sort of debate schedule.” So we hope you’re ready for more debates and forums, because the mayor’s race is just one of nine runoff elections at this point, and we’re pretty sure this is not the only race in which the candidates want to debate.


Wednesday, November 5, 2014 by Jo Clifton

Stansberry wins aquifer district seat

Civil engineer Blaine Stansberry has won a seat on the Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer Conservation District board. Stansberry, a 40-year resident of Manchaca, won the Precinct 2 seat with 51.37 percent of the vote. Terry Newton, a professor at St. Edwards University, came in second with just shy of 26 percent of the vote and retired veterinarian Ronald Stried got about 23 percent. Stansberry founded a local engineering company in 2004, and through that has worked on a wide range of infrastructure, commercial, residential and public projects. She cited the main issues in the race as dealing with growth over the aquifer, the construction of State Highway 45 Southwest, and dealing with the drought. “Whether you are for or against the growth and construction in our area, the pressure to grow is here and we have to deal with it,” Stansberry told the Monitor via email. “Any projects built in our community should use the best development practices to ensure our drinking water stays clean and available.”


Wednesday, November 5, 2014 by Elizabeth Pagano

More campaign ethics reviewed

The Ethics Review Commission continues to stay busy, and recently reviewed ethics complaints against District 4 candidates Greg Casar and Monica Guzman. Only one charge against Casar was substantiated. Though the commission determined that his failure to disclose a donor’s occupation and employer was unintentional, they issued a Letter of Notification sanction to avoid a repeat of the situation. The claim that Casar failed to disclose a bundler was dismissed. Also dismissed were two charges against Guzman. One claimed that she had not entered into a voluntary campaign contract with the city by the deadline. The other alleged that Guzman had not been a resident of District 4 for the six-month period required by charter.


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