Whispers

Thursday, August 14, 2014 by Mark Richardson

Sheriff’s groups say deputies need pay raise

Brett Spicer of the Travis County Sheriff’s Law Enforcement Association and James Hodge of the Travis County Sheriff’s Officers Association told Travis County Commissioners Wednesday they need a pay raise for the department’s least experienced officers. They explained how much more the Austin Police Department pays its officers than Travis County does and concluded by asking for a $4 million increase to the budget. However, a member of the county’s budget staff said the overall increase would actually be about $5.7 million for all of the county’s peace officers. County Judge Sam Biscoe said he recognized the need for a pay raise for those officers but it was not clear exactly how much they might get. Also Wednesday, four citizens came to the court to ask that the budget for Sheriff Greg Hamilton receive no increase so long as he continues to participate in the Secure Communities Program with federal immigration authorities. There have been numerous protests by lawyers and rights groups in recent months over the controversial program, which places “immigration holds” on some prisoners after they complete their sentence.


Thursday, August 14, 2014 by Mark Richardson

Counties push legislature to increase health care funding

The six major Texas urban counties, including Travis, are pushing for increased funding and access to health care coverage for low-income earners during the interim. County judges from Bexar, Dallas, El Paso, Harris, Tarrant and Travis sent the state’s Health and Human Services Committee a letter detailing the fiscal burden indigent health care places on county governments throughout the state. Sen. Judith Zaffirini (D-Laredo), whose sprawling 21st District includes parts of Travis and Hays counties, is on the HHS committee. The letter states that the Health Care Treatment Act of 1985 mandates all counties lacking a public hospital or hospital district must provide health care for impoverished residents. This costs up to 8 percent of a county’s general tax levy, and urban counties with high populations must continue to provide health care even if the cost exceeds 8 percent of the tax levy, the letter states. Travis County spent $270 million in the 2011 Fiscal Year on indigent health care. Overall, private and public providers throughout the state spend $4 billion a year on uncompensated care. In 2012, the Kaiser Foundation reported that Texas was last in the nation, with 24 percent of its residents without health insurance.


Thursday, August 14, 2014 by Mark Richardson

Kyle city manager takes top job in Converse

Kyle City Manager Lanny Lambert has accepted a job as city manager of Converse, a small city just outside of San Antonio. The job will be a move home for Lambert, who has maintained his residence in another San Antonio suburb, Helotes, since Kyle hired him in December 2010. Lambert said he began looking for new employment after the Kyle City Council failed to renegotiate his contract in January and showed no signs of moving forward. He was caught between the transition from former Mayor Lucy Johnson to new Mayor Todd Webster, who took office in June. Lambert, who has previously served as city manager for Abilene, Balcones Heights, Big Spring, Brownsville and Leon Valley, will start his new position in mid-September. The Kyle City Council will appoint an interim manager until a permanent replacement is hired.


Thursday, August 14, 2014 by Michael Kanin

Meetings

The Council Committee on Austin Energy meets at 2 p.m. in the Boards and Commissions Room at City Hall . . . The Austin City Council meets in a special called session at 3 p.m. in the Boards and Commissions Room at City Hall . . . The Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer Conservation District board meets at 6 p.m. at headquarters at 1124 regal Row in Manchaca. They will be looking at the levels in their monitor wells and deciding whether to cut consumption in response to the ongoing drought.


Wednesday, August 13, 2014 by Elizabeth Pagano

Vallera enters Council race in District 3

Add another candidate to the overstuffed District 3 City Council race. On Tuesday, third-generation Tamale House owner Jose Vallera filed his campaign treasurer appointment and application for placement on the ballot. Congressman Lloyd Doggett appointed Vallera to the United States Military Academy at West Point, where Vallera was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant. He served in Iraq in 2003. After graduating from the University of Texas School of Law, Vallera went on to practice intellectual property law at Wilson Sonsini Goodrich and Rosati. In 2012, he opened Tamale House East with his family. In a news release, Vallera promised to focus his campaign on affordable and equitable living, increasing opportunities for quality education, effective transportation solutions and public safety. Vallera’s candidacy brings the suspected number of candidates to 10 in District 3, though Vallera is only the fifth candidate to officially file for a place on the November ballot. The candidate filing deadline is Aug. 18. For ongoing coverage of all of the candidates, remember to visit the Hall Monitor.


Wednesday, August 13, 2014 by Beth Cortez-Neavel

County burn ban in effect

Commissioners approved a burn ban for unincorporated areas of Travis County on Tuesday. The last burn ban was lifted May 13. Fire Marshal Hershel Lee said the fire danger runs from “moderate” for the eastern half of the county to “high” and “very high” for the western portions. “The extreme heat and lack of significant rainfall increases the chances that fires can get out of control and spread quickly.” Under the burn ban, the public should not litter cigarettes, park recently driven or running vehicles on dry grass or operate poorly maintained machinery on dry grass. Prescribed burns and grilling in a closed container with a lid are allowed.


Wednesday, August 13, 2014 by Mark Richardson

Water levels in Central, South Texas aquifers dropping

You’d think with all the rain and storms lately, the drought would be a thing of the past. But that is not the case. Tuesday, the Edwards Aquifer Authority in San Antonio voted to impose Stage IV restrictions on pumping, saying the aquifer’s water level has fallen below the critical threshold of 630 feet above sea level. That means water customers in Bexar and Medina counties and parts of Atascosa, Caldwell, Comal, Guadalupe and Hays counties must cut pumping by 40 percent. The north end of the Edwards, the Barton Springs segment in parts of Travis, Hays and Bastrop counties, could face a similar change in status this week. The Barton Springs aquifer district board meets Thursday and will consider the state of its portion of the underground river. As of Tuesday, the aquifer’s two drought triggers – the Lovelady Well level and the flow at Barton Springs – were at or below the threshold to send it into Stage II status, meaning a 20 percent reduction in pumping. Board members took the aquifer out of drought status in late June but warned at the time that hot summer weather could draw it down again.


Tuesday, August 12, 2014 by Mark Richardson

Last week to submit a ballot application

After today, there will be just one week left for candidates in the Nov. 4 City Council election to make it official and submit an application to get their name on the ballot. Applications are due at the City Clerk’s office by 5 p.m. Aug. 18. Several new candidates filed for places on the ballot late last week, including Randall Stephens in the Mayor’s race; Andrew Bucknall in District 1; Robert Perez Jr. in District 4; Ann Kitchen in District 5; Edwin E. English and Leslie Pool in District 7; Eliza May in District 8; and Kathie Tovo in District 9. Of the 60 or so people who filed paperwork naming campaign treasurers, only about half have signed up to be on the ballot with a week left to go.


Tuesday, August 12, 2014 by Beth Cortez-Neavel

Chief Medical Examiner resigns, interim appointed

Travis County Medical Examiner Dr. David Dolinak is resigning his position, effective Aug. 18, and Travis County Commissioners have appointed Dr. Satish Chundru to step in for the interim until a new chief is hired. Dr. Dolinak was the chief for eight years. The Medical Examiner‘s office has until November to hire a permanent replacement.


Tuesday, August 12, 2014 by Michael Kanin

Today’s Most Interesting Meeting?

The Council Audit and Finance Committee will have a lot on its plate this morning as it grapples with the results from audits of the Neighborhood Housing and Community Development Department related to contract compliance; small and minority business participation goals for the Small and Minority Business Resources Department; and a safety audit of Austin Resource Recovery. Committee members will also be asking questions about whether the Budget Office has adequately documented cost allocations for internal services. There has long been a suspicion that Austin Energy and Austin Water Utility are being overcharged. According to a briefing document provided ahead of the meeting, city auditors found that the Budget Office “does not have a well–documented cost allocation plan for CTM (the Communications & Technology Management Department). However, the budget office argues that “they took over responsibility for administering the cost allocation plan in FY2013, and documentation for the plan was not available from CTM.”


Tuesday, August 12, 2014 by Michael Kanin

Group to hear Mayor candidates tonight

South Austin Democrats will be offering their members an opportunity to hear candidates for Mayor and vote on an endorsement for that office tonight. However, they will not be making an endorsement, as we originally reported. The group meets at El Gallo Restaurant, 2910 S. Congress, beginning at 5:30 p.m.


Tuesday, August 12, 2014 by Michael Kanin

Also at the Audit and Finance Committee

Also, the Economic Development Department will be discussing its progress in implementing Council resolutions from 2012 related to assisting small local businesses. Rebecca Melançon, executive director of the Austin Independent Business Alliance, is scheduled to discuss that same topic with members of the committee. The committee is also scheduled to talk about bylaw amendments for the Parks and Recreation Board plan to eliminate the navigation committee, which no longer meets. Another change will allow the board chair to serve as a nonvoting member on any committee, which is already occurring, according to Deena Estrada, boards and commissions coordinator.


Tuesday, August 12, 2014 by Michael Kanin

CAMPO names Cooper to board

The Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization Transportation Policy Board voted Monday night to appoint Wade Cooper as the newest board member. Cooper will replace John Langmore, whose term ended in June. Cooper is the manager of Jackson Walker, a law firm with 340 attorneys and an annual budget of more than $200 million. “I think Mr. Cooper will be a great addition to the board,” Williamson County Commissioner Cynthia Long said.


Tuesday, August 12, 2014 by Michael Kanin

Special aquifer board meeting

There will be a special called meeting of the Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer Conservation District board of directors at 6 p.m. tonight. They will be considering the district’s official comments on TxDOT’s draft Environmental Impact Statement for SH 45 SW. The district’s scientific staff have expressed strong doubts about the science and data behind the proposed environmental statement. The staff version of their official comments called the information in the draft document “incomplete and deficient,” and recommended that state officials go back to the drawing board to complete the project. But the board has the final say and may well decide to water down those criticisms.


Tuesday, August 12, 2014 by Michael Kanin

More meetings

The Council Audit and Finance Committee meets at 10 a.m. in the Boards and Commissions Room at City Hall . . . The Urban Transportation Commission meets at 6 p.m. in the Boards and Commissions Room at City Hall . . . The Planning Commission meets at 6 p.m. at One Texas Center, 505 Barton Springs Road . . . . The Ethics Review Commission meets at 6:30 p.m. in Room 2016 at City Hall . . . The Travis County Commissioners Court meets at 9 a.m. in Chambers at 700 Lavaca St. . . . The Williamson County Commissioners Court meets at 9:30 a.m. in the Williamson County Courthouse in Georgetown . . . The Hays County Commissioners meet at 9 a.m. in the Hays County Courthouse in San Marcos. . . .


Monday, August 11, 2014 by Michael Kanin

Notables named to city commissions

Austin City Council members made two notable appointments as part of their regular consent agenda Thursday. Council Member Laura Morrison put former Council Member Jackie Goodman on the city’s Zoning and Platting Commission, and Council Member Mike Martinez sent former Austin Energy honcho Michael Osborne to the Electric Utility Commission. Both selections are marked by the level of experience carried by each of the new commissioners, ahead of what could be extreme change brought on in the wake of the coming 10-1 system.  Other appointments include Meredith Walker, nominated by Council Member Spelman, to the Downtown Austin Community Court Advisory Committee; Shubhada Saxena (Tovo) to the Asian-American Quality of Life Advisory Commission; Heather Dalby (Tovo) to the Animal Advisory Commission; Rebecca Webber (Morrison) to the Public Safety Commission; and Robert Shaw (Spelman) to the Animal Advisory Commission.


Monday, August 11, 2014 by Michael Kanin

More confirmed candidates

With the addition of Randall Stephens on Thursday, there are now four mayoral candidates on the ballot. The others of course are Mike Martinez, Steve Adler and Ron Culver. We can expect Mayor pro tem Sheryl Cole to add her name to the ballot any day now… There are three official candidates on the ballot in District 1 with the addition of Andrew Bucknall on Friday. Ora Houston and Sam Osemene had already filed… Delia Garza remains the only candidate in District 2 to have achieved ballot status… District 3 candidates on the ballot officially include Susana Almanza, Mario Cantu and Sabino Renteria… Of a large number of candidates filing campaign treasurer designations in District 4, only Laura Pressley and Roberto Perez Jr. on the current ballot list… In District 5, likely front runner Ann Kitchen put her name on the ballot last week, joining Mike Rodriguez and David Senecal… In District 6, only Jimmy Flannigan and Jay Wiley are currently set to be on the ballot… In District 7, new candidate Leslie Pool joined Jeb Boyt, Ed English, Jimmy Paver and Melissa Zone on the ballot list… Eliza May joined Rebecca Bray on the District 8 ballot list on Friday. Council Member Kathie Tovo filed the appropriate documents to be on the ballot for District 9 on Friday… No one new joined the list for District 10 last week. Margie Burciaga, Sherri Gallo and Matt Lamon remain on that list.


Monday, August 11, 2014 by Michael Kanin

Meetings

The Sign Review Board/Board of Adjustment meets at 5:30 p.m. at Town Lake Center721 Barton Springs Road . . . The Waterfront Planning Advisory Board meets at 6 p.m. in the Boards and Commissions Room at City Hall . . . The Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization Transportation Policy Board meets at 6 p.m. at the Joe C. Thompson Center on the University of Texas Campus, Red River and Dean Keeton streets.


Friday, August 8, 2014 by Michael Kanin

TxDOT refuses to withdraw draft EIS

The Texas Department of Transportation has refused to suspend or withdraw the draft environmental impact statement, called an EIS, for the roadway design of SH45 Southwest, as requested by Austin City Manager Marc Ott July 23. The agency has also declined to extend the period of time during which citizens can comment on construction of the disputed roadway, as Ott requested. The deadline for comment is Aug. 13. Ott expressed disappointment but said “we want to continue to be part of the process and will submit comments that will allow us to be part of their record.” For more information, read this.


Friday, August 8, 2014 by Michael Kanin

Casar backs push for Municipal IDs

At a news conference called in support of potential new City of Austin municipal identification cards, District 4 City Council candidate Greg Casar got a prime spot next to sitting Council Member Laura Morrison and Mayor Pro Tem Sheryl Cole. Casar, as did all assembled before the mic, spoke in favor of the IDs, citing a number of public safety concerns. The politics here are also worth noting. Morrison, after all, was forced to quash a rumor (in these pages) that she’d be support Casar opponent Laura Pressley in the November elections. Though she didn’t indicate her favorite in her part of that statement, she did say that there was a candidate that she preferred.


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