Whispers

Wednesday, November 5, 2014 by Michael Kanin

Clarification to temp worker story

In Tuesday’s story about City of Austin temporary employees, we neglected to note that the average wage of a city temporary worker between 2012 and 2014 applied to workers making less than $11.50 an hour. In 2012, that figure represents 2,498 of 3,586 employees; in 2013, 2,744 of 3,947; and in 2014, 3,287 of 4,595.

 


Tuesday, November 4, 2014 by Mark Richardson

Statesman rescinds Pressley endorsement

The Austin American Statesman has rescinded its endorsement of candidate Laura Pressley in the race for the District 4 Council seat. The move came after media outlets such as the Austin Monitor, KUT Radio and the Austin Chronicle, among others, reported that prior to her current campaign for Council, Pressley has been out and about expressing views that many consider to be “on the fringe.” In the past, Pressley has campaigned against fluoride in Austin’s drinking water, concern over radiation from Austin Energy’s wireless “smart meters,” and belief in the notion that the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center were an “inside job” perpetrated by the federal government. Reporters’ questions about some of her more extreme views have been deflected, with Pressley chiding them for not sticking to queries on her current views on issues such as affordability, urban rail and homestead exemptions. It’s not unusual for politicians for reinvent themselves to run for office, but considering the fact that Pressley’s last Council run was only two years ago, it’s a little surprising that the reinvention held this long. Though the statement came after the close of early voting, Statesman Viewpoint’s editor Tara Trower Doolittle said they would not endorse any District 4 candidate in today’s election but would examine the candidates closely should there be a runoff.


Tuesday, November 4, 2014 by Elizabeth Pagano

Novel campaign tactics in District 10

Contributing to the rush of last-minute creative campaigning, District 10 candidate Robert Thomas recently sent out a letter to supporters of opponent Mandy Dealey. In the letter obtained by the Austin Monitor dated Oct. 29, Thomas writes, “Your contribution was to Mandy Dealey. My name is Robert Thomas, one of the candidates she is running against. I am writing to you because Mandy is using your money to run a vicious smear campaign against me. She is unfairly and wrongly misleading people, and maligning me.” The smear, Thomas’ three-page letter goes on to explain, is that he is a member of the Tea Party. He clarifies that he is not. In the letter, Thomas goes on to acknowledge that he may not be the candidate for Dealey supporters, saying, “This letter is not about trying to get you to vote for me, and there is a good chance I am not the candidate for you, but it is to set the record straight.” Thomas goes on to list the facts of the election, and concludes by asking contributors to consider their part in the election, and urges them to make their own decision.


Tuesday, November 4, 2014 by Elizabeth Pagano

Old-school campaigning in District 3

While compiling the seemingly-endless list of campaign parties last night, one of the Monitor’s reporters was startled to hear a loud voice outside the window encouraging her to vote for District 3 candidate Susana Almanza. Since compiling the list of election night parties took several hours, it was reasonable to assume that it was an election-related hallucination, but further investigation (running outside) revealed that there was, in fact, a mid-sized sedan slowly driving down the street encouraging residents to vote via megaphone, and vote for Almanza. It’s a small world, after all.


Tuesday, November 4, 2014 by Elizabeth Pagano

Ebola risk is called low for Austin

A panel of medical experts told Public Safety Commissioners that the risk of an Ebola outbreak in Austin remains significantly low. Dr. Philip Wong Hwang, medical director of Austin/Travis County Health and Human Services Department, told commissioners that his agency continues to closely monitor the outbreak and that the department and its health care partners have protocols in place to respond to any potential Austin Ebola case. “The risk of transmission in our community is very low, but I think we are prepared,” he said. Commission Chair Kim Rossmo said commissioners asked for an update to understand the relative risk, response, and any proposed recommendations to deal with the Ebola virus.

 


Monday, November 3, 2014 by Elizabeth Pagano

Early voting total hits 22 percent

Early voting in Travis County ended Friday with 144,519 ballots cast, according to the County Clerk’s Office. That is 22.15 percent of registered voters in Travis County and roughly the same percent of early votes cast in the 2010 midterm elections. The total was well below the presidential elections in 2008 and 2012. It took a final-day surge of almost 23,000 votes to reach the tally, with the usual heavy voting in West and South Austin polling stations. Some poll watchers had predicted a heavy early turnout for this election, with the new 10-1 District Austin City Council and the $1 billion transit bonds, or Proposition 1, on the ballot along with major elections in Travis County, the Austin School District, Austin Community College, state representatives and senators, and statewide officials including governor and Texas members of the U.S. House and Senate. In the final tally, the Randall’s at Research and Braker had 13,706 votes, the Ben Hur Shrine Center had 10,013 votes, the ACC Highland Campus had 9,754 votes and Randall’s at Brodie and Slaughter had 9,518 votes. Some of the polling places with the lowest vote totals were in East and Southeast Austin. It is problematic to try and link the number of votes at an early voting site to any Council districts, since Travis County allows registered early voters to cast ballots at any polling place. Polls will be open for the Tuesday General Election from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. For more information and to find your polling place, check the Travis County Elections website.


Monday, November 3, 2014 by Jo Clifton

PAC active in several Council races

Political action committees both supporting and opposing District 9 candidate Chris Riley have been busy. For example, a PAC called Vote ’em In Vote ’em Out PAC paid the Austin Chronicle $972 last week for an ad chastising Riley for voting against limiting surge pricing for Uber, the alternative ride service. This is apparently the only ad this PAC has bought for this campaign. The PAC lists its treasurer as Jane L. Marshall, who prefers to be called Lynn. According to campaign finance reports filed with the city clerk’s office late Thursday, the group received contributions of $1,250 each from Ronald and Keri Aladeniyi and $2,500 from Kathleen Connolly of Georgetown. Keri Aladeniyi is a real estate agent. Both she and Ronald have also contributed to the Better Austin Today PAC recently. On the other hand, the Real Estate Council of Austin Good Government PAC reported donating $3,500 on Thursday to the Austin Firefighters PAC to fund phone banks in support of Riley. Another committee that hasn’t participated in the past called Keep Austin Livable for Everyone paid Kelly Graphics nearly $4,000 to produce a mailer on behalf of District 7 candidate Ed English last week. It is not clear who is behind this committee. There is one city ordinance that all PACs doing advertising seem to be violating. Under Section 2—2-33a of the City Code, “a political advertisement … paid for in whole or in part by an independent expenditure, must conspicuously display on the communication the names of the five biggest donors in the preceding 12 months to the person making the independent expenditure.” (Thanks to attorneys Jim Cousar and Bill Aleshire for their assistance in finding some of this information.)


Monday, November 3, 2014 by Elizabeth Pagano

APD tape, comments anger candidates

The release of a video that features Austin Police officers Mark Lytle and Michael Castillo joking about rape received national attention over the weekend. Subsequent comments by incoming Austin Police Association President Kenneth Casaday proved too much for mayoral candidates (and current Council Members) Mike Martinez and Sheryl Cole. Both issued statements in response to Casaday’s categorization of the tape as “clowning around.” In a statement, Martinez said, “Rape will continue to go underreported if victims of sexual violence do not feel that their cases will be taken seriously by law enforcement. The President of the Police Association failed to take the issue of sexual violence seriously when he described an officer’s catcalling and joking about rape as an example of mere ‘clowning around.’ Mr. Casaday’s statement was offensive and wrong. He should apologize publicly and treat any incidents like this in the future with the seriousness and professionalism they deserve.” Cole’s response states that “rape is no laughing matter” and is widely underreported to police as it is. “It is distressing to note that at least 6% of rape victims don’t report because they believe that the police are biased,” writes Cole. “The days where we protect work cultures that diminish sexual assault and protect abusers over victims are coming to an end. … It was by chance that the rape jokes came to light. The cameras did their job. An apology is not enough; it’s time to address the culture that fosters these kind of demeaning comments.” Cole also said that she is currently looking into providing body cameras for all officers and, as mayor, would continue to pursue that acquisition. The Austin Police Department has apologized for the tape and launched an internal investigation.


Monday, November 3, 2014 by Mark Richardson

City wins affordability award

The City of Austin has received the 2014 Robert C. Larson Housing Policy Leadership Award for its efforts in meeting future affordable housing needs. The Urban Land Institute’s Terwilliger Center for Housing named Austin and Pasadena, Calif., winners of this year’s awards. The institute’s program recognizes exemplary efforts of real estate and public policy leaders to expand affordable and workforce housing opportunities. The awards honor model programs that provide affordable, well-designed and accessible housing choices for a mix of incomes. Winners were recognized recently at the ULI’s fall meeting in New York City.


Friday, October 31, 2014 by Jo Clifton

Early voters flocking to the polls

A lot of Austinites apparently woke up on Thursday morning and decided it was time to vote. With 14,660 voters casting ballots on Thursday, the early vote total stands at 121,077, or 18.56 percent of those registered in Travis County. The number will probably be even higher today, which is the final day to vote early. At the most popular place to vote, the Randalls at Braker and MoPac, nearly 1,500 voters cast ballots Thursday, bringing the total for that location to 12,055. Another popular spot was the Randalls at Brodie and Slaughter in District 5, where 300 more voters cast ballots on Thursday than on Wednesday. The overall total at that location is 7,328. The Dan Ruiz Public Library at 1600 Grove Blvd. in District 3 had its best day this early voting season, with 190 people casting ballots. Still, the total there is only 1,231. However, it’s easier to cast a ballot at the grocery store and pick up some dinner than it is to stop at the library where you might not otherwise have business. We can anticipate that there will be at least as many, and probably more, voters casting ballots today, so it might be wise not to wait until the last minute. Tuesday is Election Day, of course. In May 2012, the last time Austinites elected a mayor and Council members, only 10.7 percent of the electorate participated. So, assuming those voting early get that far down on the ballot, this election might already be considered a success.


Friday, October 31, 2014 by Elizabeth Pagano

Meet the new boss

After several months, Preservation Austin has settled on a new executive director, Kate Singleton. In a news release announcing Singleton’s new position, the group explained her background, touting “over 30 years of experience in historic preservation, downtown revitalization and economic and community development.” The statement says: “(Singleton) has served as Chief Preservation Planner for the City of Dallas, Planning Manager for Downtown Dallas, Inc. and State Coordinator of the Arizona Main Street program as well as Main Street Manager in Waxahachie and Grapevine.” Preservation Austin also bid adieu to interim director Angela Reed in that same announcement, noting that she had “decided to pursue other professional opportunities outside of Preservation Austin.” The statement said that although Reed’s last day will be Nov. 5, she will continue to volunteer with the organization.


Friday, October 31, 2014 by Mark Richardson

EMS wins award for flood rescues

Members of the Austin-Travis County EMS Special Operations rescue team, accompanied by Chief Ernesto Rodriguez, traveled to Woodcliff Lake, New Jersey, recently to accept the Higgins and Langley Team Award at the 2014 National Association of Search and Rescue conference. The team was given the award for its work during the 2013 Halloween Floods in Austin and Travis County. A night of heavy thunderstorms had unleashed torrential flooding in several parts of the city and the county, destroying property and threatening the lives of hundreds of residents. During the incident, which occurred one year ago today, ATCEMS Special Operations members rescued 22 people by shallow water crossing, 57 by rescue swimmer and 80 to 100 people and numerous pets by boat. The Special Operations team has been the recipient of the Higgins and Langley Team Award three times since 2001.

 


Thursday, October 30, 2014 by Michael Kanin

KUT, LBJ School, Monitor plan CitySummit

The Monitor is again joining forces with our reporting partners at KUT and the LBJ School of Public Affairs to produce a half-day seminar designed to look at key issues facing the City of Austin as it moves into the post-10-1 world. It’s set for Dec. 5 at UT’s Thompson Center. The topics for the day will be mobility, planning and revenues (read: how we pay for it all), each covered by its own panel. Attendees can expect to come away with a better understanding of the issues and some ideas about how to deliver on impact. Registration begins at 9:30 a.m. The event is set to conclude at 2:30 p.m. Tickets are $15-$20. Sign-up is here. Panelists for the three sessions will be announced Nov. 10.


Thursday, October 30, 2014 by Jo Clifton

Former Mayor Cooksey endorses Cole

Former Austin Mayor Frank Cooksey (1985-88) has endorsed Sheryl Cole to lead the new 10-1 Council. Cooksey is just the latest in a series of mayors to endorse in this hard-fought race. Mayor Lee Leffingwell endorsed Steve Adler on Monday, and former mayors Gus Garcia and Will Wynn have endorsed Mike Martinez. Cooksey will join Cole at a coffee meetup for supporters at 10 a.m. today at Chez Zee, 5406 Balcones Drive. St. Edwards University’s student newspaper, Hilltop Views, has announced endorsements in the mayor’s race and two Council district races. Mike Martinez won the nod for mayor. Like The Daily Texan, Hilltop Views chose Chris Riley as the District 9 candidate best suited to represent student positions. And in District 3, which surrounds St. Ed’s, the editorial board endorsed Susana Almanza.


Thursday, October 30, 2014 by Jo Clifton

Place 4 candidate quits, backs Pressley

Place 4 candidate Marco Mancillas suspended his campaign Wednesday and endorsed one of the better known candidates in the race, Laura Pressley. In a news release entitled “Collaboration is more powerful than competition,” Pressley said Mancillas had “made the decision to halt his campaign” and support Pressley. In the release, Mancillas told Pressley that out of the eight candidates running for District 4, “you’re the right person for the job, and that’s why I’m jumping on your team to help you get there.” In addition, the duo took aim at the other presumed front-runners in the race, Katrina Daniel and Greg Casar. Mancillas criticized Daniel for allegedly taking money from lobbyists and Casar for taking money from donors who live outside of Austin. Asked to comment, Casar responded, “It’s unfortunate but not surprising (based on his policy positions) that Mancillas is standing alongside tea party leaders and Ron Paul activists supporting Pressley.” Although Pressley got the Statesman endorsement, Casar and Daniel have received the majority of other endorsements. According to their latest campaign finance reports, Casar and Daniel each maintained about $20,000 in the bank. Casar had raised about $15,000 in the last month, and Daniel about $13,000. Pressley reported that she had raised about $5,000 and maintained $15,000 as of last weekend. Mancillas’ most recent campaign finance report showed that he had spent more than $13,000 and had a little more than that left in the bank. However, he received only $350 in the last month, according to his report.


Thursday, October 30, 2014 by Mark Richardson

Election app, guides available online

If you are planning to vote in the Nov. 4 election (and you know you should), there’s an app for that. There are also voting guides, candidate profiles, district maps and lists of polling places, all online. The League of Women Voters is sponsoring  “The Voting App” in Austin for this election. You can download the app to your tablet or smartphone from iTunes or the Google store. Once installed, enter your address, and the app will provide you with information on all the candidates in your district. The app was developed by ThinkVoting for the League of Women Voters, who say if the Austin test goes well in this election, they plan on taking it nationwide. In addition, the City of Austin is providing online information for the 10-1 Council elections. Go online to find information about each district’s Council and mayoral candidates, their official video statements, and demographic information for each district. It will also show you a map of your district. If you like your election information with an environmental spin, check out the Austin EcoNetwork’s Election Navigator. It provides each candidate’s environmental record as well as environmental issues in each Council district. And for basic information such as where to find your voting precinct on Election Day, there’s the always the reliable Travis County Elections page.

 


Wednesday, October 29, 2014 by Elizabeth Pagano

Early voting continues this week

As of Tuesday night, almost 14 percent of the registered voters in Travis County have cast early ballots for the Nov. 4 election. According to the Travis County Clerk, 13.9 percent — which translates to 90,712 voters — have participated in the election so far. The busiest polling place continues to be the District 10 Randalls at Research and Braker, which saw 1,297 voters. Coming in second place, once again, is the Ben Hur Shrine, which saw 861 voters cast ballots Tuesday. All told, 10,407 voted on Tuesday. Early voting ends Friday. For more information and a list of polling places, go to the Travis County Elections website.


Wednesday, October 29, 2014 by Tyler Whitson

Plan: Dogs out at ‘Barking Springs’

The Parks and Recreation Board voted unanimously at Tuesday’s meeting to recommend that City Council approve PARD staff’s proposed code amendments to allow people – but not dogs – to swim in the Barton Springs Spillway. That’s the area of Barton Creek between Barton Springs and Lady Bird Lake. The amendments also advise taking other measures to enforce the existing off-leash dog restrictions and continue monitoring water quality in the area. Staff presented the results of a study that found there is a consistently higher level of fecal-matter-indicating E. coli bacteria in Barton Creek below Barton Springs than in Barton Springs Pool. The study showed that the levels spike during the weekend and occasionally — but not on average — exceed the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality’s contact recreation safety standard. The spillway, also known as “Barking Springs,” is a popular location for people to swim and allow their dogs to play and swim off-leash, despite the fact that city code currently prohibits both actions. Council directed the city manager to seek code amendment recommendations from the board and the Animal Advisory Commission in an August resolution.

 


Wednesday, October 29, 2014 by Michael Kanin

COTA: $1 billion in economic impact

As has been widely reported, a consultant hired by Circuit of the Americas reports that the facility is responsible for $897 million worth of economic impact on the Austin area. According to Greyhill Advisors, that figure includes events held at the track, including music performances and other sporting activities. However, Greyhill put the F1 event — its headliner — at $507 million. All told, the combined direct “visitor spending” for track events was worth $423 million.

 


Wednesday, October 29, 2014 by Jo Clifton

Cole wins EMILY’s List endorsement

Mayoral candidate Sheryl Cole has won support from the national political action committee EMILY’s List. The group supports pro-choice Democratic women running for office. Cole is currently serving as mayor pro tem and hopes to take over as mayor of the new 10-1 City Council in January. Denise Feriozzi, political director of EMILY’s List, released the following statement: “Sheryl Cole has been a champion of affordable housing, education and ending gender discrimination in pay during her three terms on the Austin City Council, and we need more mayors across the country like her.” The group’s name means Early Money Is Like Yeast. Cole’s major opponents are Steve Adler and Mike Martinez.


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