Chamber selects chairman, board members
On Thursday, the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce announced its new chairman, chair elect, and members to its Board of Directors. The Chamber selected Gene Austin, who is the president and CEO of Bazaarvoice, as the Chamber’s 2015 chairman of the board. It also selected Tony Budet as the chair elect. Budet is president and CEO of University Federal Credit Union.
New members of the Board of Directors, who will serve until December 31, 2017, are:
Ray Almgren, Vice President, Corporate Marketing, National Instruments
Paul Arcediano, CEO, R&R Limousine & Bus
Denise Bradley, Vice President, Communication & Community Affairs, St. David’s HealthCare
Rich Gergasko, President & CEO, Texas Mutual Insurance Company
Neville Letzerich, Chief Marketing Officer, Websense
Carlos Lopez, South & Central Texas Office Leader, HNTB
Demetrius McDaniel, Shareholder, Greenberg Traurig
Richard Rhodes, President & CEO, Austin Community College District
Amy Updegrove, Publisher, Texas Monthly
Ray Wilkerson, President, Ray Wilkerson Companies, Inc.
Matt Williamson, Managing Director, the Beck Group
James Wood, Vice President & General Manager, Sterling Acura of Austin
#IAMBLACKAUSTIN portrait unveiling at City Hall
On Jan. 27, the Greater Austin Black Chamber of Commerce will open the #IAMBLACKAUSTIN Modern Black Portrait Exhibit at Austin City Hall from 6 p.m. until 8 p.m. Images from the exhibit will remain on display through Feb. 3. The #IAMBLACKAUSTIN exhibit is an interactive campaign “highlighting the multidimensional expression of Black life in Austin, Texas.” Individuals represented in the exhibit have contributed to the African-American community in the (rapidly gentrifying) city, and the collection aims to “serve as a visual historical reference that reclaims a space that would otherwise be forgotten.” Throughout the exhibit, individual members of the community will be highlighted, and portraits at the unveiling will include City Manager Marc Ott, Deputy City Manager Michael McDonald, Chantell Moody, DJ Hella Yella and Ebony Stewart. Click here to RSVP for the unveiling.
Website says COTA could be in trouble
For those who missed it, motorsport.com ran an extensive story on Austin’s own Formula One racetrack this year. The article, titled “Is America’s only Formula One track in trouble?” can be read here in its entirety. Recommended for anyone curious about the future — and history — of Austin’s Circuit of the Americas, and maybe Austin in a more general sense. Despite the overwrought references to rattlesnakes, it’s an interesting read.
New Council making changes
On Thursday, City Council will announce details on the proposed structural and procedural changes that, in the words of a statement released Wednesday, “promise to increase public engagement, assure a more deliberative and thoughtful process, and to increase the efficiency of city council meetings.” We will keep you posted on the changes, as well as their implementation.
Travis Commissioners to begin work sessions
After letting them fall by the wayside for a while, the Travis County Commissioners Court is bringing back the practice of having work sessions twice a month. At their Tuesday meeting, Commissioners approved meeting on the second and fourth Thursday of every month, beginning in February. “This is just re-instituting what had previously been the practice of the court,” said Judge Sarah Eckhardt. “Commissioner (Margaret) Gomez suggested that we bring back the practice of work sessions on every other Thursday.” Eckhardt said the meetings would be scheduled from 1:30 p.m. to 5 p.m., with the first set for Feb. 12.
DAA welcomes new president
Starting Feb. 2, Dewitt M. Peart will be the president and CEO of the Downtown Austin Alliance. Peart will replace Charlie Betts, who held the position for the past 18 years. Currently, Peart serves as executive vice president of economic development at the Allegheny Conference on Community Development, president of the Pittsburgh Regional Alliance and president of the Greater Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce. Peart spoke about the move in a statement released Wednesday. “I am truly excited about this opportunity,” Peart said. “Downtown Austin is the heart of such a dynamic region and the economic driver for the entire Central Texas economy. It’s hard to follow a leader like Charlie Betts, but I welcome the opportunity to work with our downtown stakeholders and partners, as well as the entire community.”
City studies corridors
Currently, the Austin Transportation Department has two corridor studies underway. The South Lamar Corridor study, which received a lot of attention from the previous City Council, has a survey available for those who use the road. That survey can be found here. The other, the Guadalupe Street Corridor Study, released documents detailing existing transit service and peak hour traffic volumes Wednesday.
District 4 recount, recounted
After several hours and thousands of dollars spent, a recount of the votes in District 4 found the same results to those on election night. The recount was over in time for City Council Member Greg Casar to be sworn in to office along with his colleagues. Because the totals were the same, Council did not canvass the results of the recount. Laura Pressley, who initiated and paid for the recount, has indicated that she is not satisfied with the results. Pressley will be refunded about half of her $13,600 recount deposit.
Eckhardt lays down rules for speakers
Most observers of Travis County Commission meetings over the past several months would probably agree that much of the Citizens Communications segment has become a parade of sometimes outrageous commentary that has little or nothing to do with the court’s business, and occasionally strays over into being racist or profane. In fact, it had gotten so bad that outgoing Judge Sam Biscoe suspended CitCom for his final two meetings. New Judge Sarah Eckhardt has decided to keep it, but not without a warning to those speakers who might abuse the privilege. “I would just like to remind folks what’s been in the rules for a long time with regard to Citizens Communication. It’s not the intention of the Travis County Commissioners Court to provide a public forum for the demeaning of any individual or group. Neither is it the intention of the court to allow a member or members of the public to insult the honesty or integrity of the court as a body, or any member or members of the court individually or collectively,” she said, also banning language that is profane, threatening, racist or sexist. Eckhardt added that speakers who get out of line could have their time revoked, be escorted from the Commission Chambers, cited for contempt or receive one of several other criminal sanctions state law may provide. Most of Tuesday’s speakers were members of the public or county staff with informative messages. However, two speakers — regulars Carlos Leon and Jon Kim — managed to push the limits, with Leon calling former Judge Biscoe a liar and Kim complaining (for perhaps the 100th time) that Gov. Rick Perry and other state official are “terrorists” for not responding to his letters. Eckhardt did not confront either one for making comments that were arguably over the line, but did give them a stern glare — this time. Could be interesting next week if they return.
Meet the new Travis County staff
Though the City Council switch has kept Monitor staff pretty busy, there have also been big changes over at the Travis County Commissioners Court. County Judge Sarah Eckhardt and Precinct 2 Commissioner Brigid Shea both attended their first meeting Tuesday since the election. Both have also hired some familiar staffers. Eckhardt named Peter Einhorn, who worked with her when she was a commissioner, as her chief of staff. She also rehired executive assistants Joe Hon and Loretta Farb and brought on Maya Reisman. Shea has hired Barbara Rush, who most recently worked for Council Member Laura Morrison, and Travis County Democratic Party political director Kristian Caballero. Shea has also brought aboard Melissa Velasquez, who previously worked for former County Judge Sam Biscoe.
Morrison swears to relax, kind of
Though her former staffers are already at work after being swiftly hired by other local officials, former City Council Member Laura Morrison told the Monitor that she plans to take a break. Her current agenda has significantly fewer items than Council is used to and most prominently involves a few good books and a dive into synchronized swimming. Morrison explained that she adopted tap dancing at her last milestone, and synchronized swimming will be her next pursuit after a neighbor gifted her with all of the gear she needs to become the next Esther Williams. (Or so we predict.) Morrison was successful in her fight to keep Bartholomew Pool open year-round, and was last seen trying to recruit teammates for a synchronized swimming team (troupe?) that would take advantage of its new heating.
Happy Inauguration Day!
As widely reported — and anticipated — this evening the 10 new City Council members and mayor will be inducted into office. While we love the pomp and circumstance as much as the next guy, we will be there mostly to see which five Council members draw the short straw and serve two-year terms, and which will land four-year terms, as dictated by City Charter. (Mayor-elect Steve Adler will serve a guaranteed four years.) Council members will also decide who their next mayor pro tem will be. Though most insiders wager it will be the only returning member — Council Member Kathie Tovo — we have heard that at least one of the new members would like the selection to be random.
New ordinance in court today
This morning, a federal court will consider a temporary restraining order that could block implementation of the city’s recently passed Source of Income ordinance. The Austin Apartment Association filed suit to overturn the ordinance almost immediately after it passed last month. If implemented, the new ordinance would prevent property owners from discriminating against potential renters based on their source of income. The ordinance is scheduled to take effect on Jan. 12. The court hearing has been scheduled for 10 a.m. today.
District 4 recount scheduled today
In a rather unorthodox kickoff to Inauguration Day, the District 4 recount will, indeed, be taking place. Though there was some question whether Laura Pressley would come through with the $13,600 deposit required for the recount, she showed up with the deposit just a hair before the (extended) 5 p.m. deadline. (The Austin Monitor ran into her in the City Clerk’s office at 4:55 p.m.) Pressley lost by about 30 percentage points to Council Member-elect Greg Casar in the Dec. 16 runoff. In her petition for a recount, Pressley is requesting a “manual recount of the results using the actual, stored ballot images. In addition, in the recount, the voter’s name associated with the ballot image must be reconciled with the voter’s registration number and the corresponding voter’s signature on the combination form used at the polling locations to ensure accurate accounting.” The recount will take place at 11 a.m. today at the Travis County Elections Division Office, 5501 Airport Boulevard. Election officials say they should have the recount completed in time for today’s 6 p.m. inaugural ceremonies.
Mock Council meeting scheduled
A practice City Council meeting designed to familiarize new members with meeting procedures has been scheduled for Jan. 20, according to the City Clerk’s office. The meeting will run through various cases that Council members might be faced with and allow them to have a rehearsal before the big event on Jan. 29, in the hopes that their meetings will run as smoothly as the previous Council’s right off the bat. Though we at the Monitor remain torn about attending (and whether skipping it would mar an otherwise perfect attendance record), we are very, very interested in the promise of staff acting out the Citizens Communication portion of the meeting.
Over the holidays, the Austin Monitor will join our readers in taking a little time off to enjoy the season. During these last weeks of 2014 and first weeks of 2015, join us in looking back on the past year and toward the next year (or so). We will return to our regular content in January, rested and ready to tackle Austin’s City Council shift in the way that you’ve come to expect. Until then, happy holidays!
City Council roster
In December, Austin solidified its first single-member district City Council. Its inaugural meeting will take place on Jan. 29, with members sworn in to office on Jan. 6. At that time, five members will randomly be selected to serve two-year terms, and the other five will serve four-year terms. On Dec. 30, the city will canvass the runoff election results. Austin’s new City Council is, for reference:
Mayor:Steve Adler, District 1 :Ora Houston, District 2:Delia Garza, District 3:Pio Renteria, District 4:Greg Casar, District 5:Ann Kitchen, District 6:Don Zimmerman, District 7:Leslie Pool, District 8:Ellen Troxclair, District 9:Kathie Tovo, District 10:Sherri Gallo
Distracted Driving Ordinance in effect January
As of Jan. 1, Austin’s new Distracted Driving law will be in effect, and enforced. The ordinance prohibits the use of hand-held devices while operating a vehicle or bicycle. While drivers (and cyclists) will continue to be allowed to use hands-free systems and affixed GPS systems while driving, the following are prohibited under the new law:
- portable music players
- handheld navigation systems
- gaming devices
- other portable computing devices
According to the city’s website, distracted driving includes texting, “using a cellphone for any reason,” eating and drinking, talking to passengers, grooming, reading maps, using a navigation system, watching a video and adjusting the radio.
Austin Oaks PUD takes a holiday
The controversial Austin Oaks PUD was postponed indefinitely at the Zoning and Platting Commission on Tuesday night. Planning and Development Review Department’s Jerry Rusthoven explained that the planned unit development was a complex one, and developers and staff were still in negotiations. “A PUD has to reach a level of superiority, or at least superiority in the eyes of City Council,” said Rusthoven. “At this point, staff is not prepared to make a recommendation.” Rusthoven added that, in his experience, working out the details and approving a PUD takes about a year. He said the department was asking for an indefinite postponement because it was not sure when it would be ready to bring the case forward. Neighbors asked that the postponement be limited to 60 days, and while commissioners were not prepared to grant that request, they did ask for an update at their Feb. 17 meeting.
Cemetery meeting scheduled
Next month, the city will hold its final Austin Cemetery Master Plan community meeting. At that meeting, cemetery master planners will present an overview of the proposal and its findings and recommendations, and also will accept input from the public. A news release from the city did not address whether the meeting will tackle the findings of a recent city audit that revealed some disturbing things about the Parks and Recreation Department’s management of the city’s municipal cemeteries. The meeting will take place from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on Jan. 24 at the Carver Branch of the Austin Public Library, 1161 Angelina St. The full plan will be available in mid-January.