Whispers

Tuesday, August 5, 2014 by Michael Kanin

Travis County to vote on incentive agreement

Travis County Commissioners are scheduled to vote today on the request from Charles Schwab, a San Francisco-based brokerage and banking corporation, for an $8.5 million economic incentive agreement to expand its offices in Austin. If the court approves the motion, the corporation will also get $4.5 million from the state. The Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce and the Greater Austin Asian Chamber of Commerce support the agreement, while local taxpayer organizations like ChangeAustin.org oppose. More citizens might show up to oppose the measure today, since there was only a three-day notice that the item was going on last week’s agenda last week.


Tuesday, August 5, 2014 by Michael Kanin

Environmental Democrats meet

Austin Environmental Democrats will gather Wednesday to hear candidates for Mayor and City Council District 9 and make endorsements in those races. The group will meet from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. at El Mercado Restaurant on South First Street. Only members who paid their dues by July 6 will be eligible to vote. The group decided to limit proxies to one per member attending in order to prevent the practice of sending one member with numerous proxies for a particular candidate. Council Members Sheryl Cole and Mike Martinez and attorney Steve Adler completed the group’s questionnaire in the mayoral race, as did Council Members Chris Riley and Kathie Tovo in District 9. The group plans further endorsement meetings later in August.


Tuesday, August 5, 2014 by Michael Kanin

Meetings

The Austin City Council meets in a work session at 9 a.m. at Town Lake Center, 721 Barton Springs Road in the Boards and Commissions Room at City Hall . . . The Zoning and Platting Commission meets at 6 p.m. in One Texas Center, 505 Barton Springs Road . . . 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 4, 2014 by Michael Kanin

Getting an early jump on endorsements

The Austin Police Association political action committee has endorsed several candidates running for Austin City Council in the fall election. Their endorsement is an important sign of strength for each of those gaining their support. In District 1, the APA PAC selected neighborhood leader Ora Houston. In District 2, the group unsurprisingly endorsed Delia Garza, an assistant attorney general who previously served as an Austin firefighter. So far, Garza’s campaign has been more visible than that of her opponent, neighborhood leader Edward Reyes… The police PAC also endorsed District 4 candidate Katrina Daniel, one of three strong contenders, we think, in a district divided by I-35. Daniel will have to beat Greg Casar, Laura Pressley and seven other candidates in this district if all those who have designated treasurers actually file for the office…Robert Thomas was the APA PAC choice for District 10. Thomas, of course, faces Mandy Dealey, Jason Meeker, Sherri Gallo, Margie Burciaga, Tina Cannon, Matt Lamon and Bill Worsham in a race that could easily go into a Dec. 16 runoff… Dealey has the support of the Network of Asian-American Organizations, which praised her longtime involvement with charitable, cultural and civic organizations, including service on six boards and commissions over the years… The police association political arm did not immediately endorse candidates in the other races.


Monday, August 4, 2014 by Michael Kanin

New District 7 candidate

Zachary Ingraham joins seven other of candidates running to represent residents of District 7. Ingraham filed documents indicating that he would serve as his own campaign treasurer Friday.


Monday, August 4, 2014 by Beth Cortez-Neavel

Appraisal District seeks $2.9 million budget increase

The Travis Central Appraisal District is asking for an extra $2.9 million budget increase for Fiscal Year 2015 from the county. The Travis County Commissioners Court will discuss, and possibly vote on the increase at Tuesday’s regular session. The district’s board of directors asked that Chief Appraiser Marya Crigler provide recommendations to the court regarding allegations from citizens regarding perceived inequities in the appraisal system and provide a budget to help fund those recommendations. The money would assist district court litigation on appraisal protests from commercial properties. The funds would also go to hiring new appraisal staff to handle the increased volume of protests,  research property sales information for commercial properties, and for purchasing fee appraisals to help calibrate and validate the accuracy of the current appraisal process.


Monday, August 4, 2014 by Michael Kanin

TDHCA announces affordable housing loans

More than $62 million in 2014 Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs loan recommendations were announced Thursday, and there was good news for some local affordable housing projects. The agency made its award recommendations for the competitive 9 percent housing tax credit program, which helps many of the state’s most affordable housing projects. This year, the state recommended that about $4.2 million be allocated to five projects in Region 7, which includes Austin. Three of those projects, including Foundation Communities’ Trails Phase II, South Lamar’s Bluebonnet Studios and the Rutledge Spur Apartments, won recommendations. Also named were Liberty Manor in Williamson County and the Art at Bratton’s Edge project. If completed, the five projects will bring 426 affordable units to the region.


Monday, August 4, 2014 by Michael Kanin

Meetings

The Council Comprehensive Planning and Transportation Committee meets at 2 p.m. in the Boards and Commissions Room at City Hall . . . The Public Safety Commission meets at 4 p.m. in the Boards and Commissions Room at City Hall . . . The Austin Music Commission meets at 6:30 p.m. in the Boards and Commissions Room at City Hall.


Friday, August 1, 2014 by Michael Kanin

New view of bond language

City Council watchers and those with a particular interest in the upcoming transportation election have been expecting a ballot item that includes $600 million for rail and an additional $400 million for road improvements. The language currently floating around City Hall would provide for both but in a different way than many had anticipated. It begins with approval of issuance of $600 million in bonds for rail systems, etc., with a requirement that the city obtains “match funding or financial assistance …from one or more public or private sources.” So, as Mayor Lee Leffingwell has been saying, if the city does not get federal funds in the same amount (or some other source), then the city would not issue the bonds. In addition, the city would provide funding of “not less than $400 million” for transportation projects “of regional significance that are designed to relieve congestion” in various corridors, including I-35, US 183 and RM 620, FM 1626 and FM 2222, Parmer, Lamar Boulevard and Loop 360 corridors, and levy a tax to pay for that. That authority would give the City Council flexibility to issue certificates of obligation. “The proposal is a billion dollars but we don’t need a billion dollars of bond authorization to spend that,” said Council Member Bill Spelman, because some of the funds could come from cash and some could come from previous bond authorizations. “We’re making a promise we’re going to spend $400 million in these corridors,” he said. In order to do that, he said, voters must approve the bond proposition and the federal government (or some private benefactor) must provide the other $600 million for the rail system.


Friday, August 1, 2014 by Michael Kanin

Pent-up demand on Council Agenda

Council members will be voting on the bond language Aug. 7, as part of their very long agenda. Leffingwell said during Thursday’s budget work session that there are currently 169 items on the agenda and likely more to come. Then he asked for a motion to cancel a planned Aug. 21 Council meeting because the Travis County Commissioners’ chambers are not going to be available, as the city had previously planned. That means the next meeting, Aug. 28, will be even longer than it might have been. Spelman objected to giving up that meeting, asking whether staff could not find another spot to meet and Mayor Pro Tem Sheryl Cole suggested that they should meet in a school since school will not have started. Leffingwell explained that the logistics of moving meetings was not so simple, what with security and communications equipment requirements. However, he agreed to postpone consideration of the item until next week.


Friday, August 1, 2014 by Michael Kanin

Homestead exemption discussion debated

Though City Council was scheduled to discuss the possibility of a general homestead exemption at Thursday’s budget session, those talks will now take place during next week’s City Council work session. Faced with a busy meeting, Council opted to postpone the briefing, but Council Members Mike Martinez and Kathie Tovo resisted Mayor Lee Leffingwell’s suggestion that the briefing could take place after the budget was complete. Though Leffingwell argued that any homestead exemption “can’t be a part of this year’s budget anyway,” and could be held when Council had more time to talk about the idea, Martinez disagreed. “I think the point of the item was to bring it forward this budget cycle, because we are going to get continued requests as to why (we) are not entertaining the Homestead Exemption,” said Martinez. “We need to have that briefing to clearly demonstrate to our citizens that the 20 percent Homestead Exemption is going to cost us $35.5 million, and it is going to be very difficult. I think it’s important that we have that briefing during this budget cycle.” Sponsor Tovo agreed, saying she thought it would be better to discuss the proposition in the context of this year’s budget session. Leffingwell clarified that he had “no problem with any of that,” but pointed out that Council work sessions tended to be full without briefings, and predicted “folks would probably be bailing out” of the work session around noon, regardless of what was being discussed.


Friday, August 1, 2014 by Michael Kanin

Fire Marshal reclassifies six positions

Five Travis County Fire Marshal deputy assistants and one assistant will move from the county’s classified pay scale to the Peace Officer Pay Scale starting Sept. 1. The Travis County Commissioners Court approved the motion Tuesday, with Pct. 3 Commissioner Gerald Daugherty voting no. Commissioner Ron Davis abstained and Commissioner Bruce Todd was absent. The move in pay scales would increase pay to these six positions by a combined $33,392 for the 2015 fiscal year. The move takes effect one month before the fiscal year begins so that the Fire Marshal’s office may begin posting to fill vacant positions. Todd Osbourne with the Human Resources Management Department said the Fire Marshal’s office has had trouble filling these positions with qualified applicants due to the low salary.


Friday, August 1, 2014 by Michael Kanin

County Commissioners OK Code changes

The Travis County Commissioners Court unanimously approved two motions to change parts of the County Code this week. Caitlin Brown, policy director for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, asked last week to amend parts of the Drug and Alcohol Policy to encourage, rather than discipline, employees seeking help for substance abuse through the HR department. The code did not previously differentiate from on-the job policy violations and those seeking help without violating the policy during working hours. The code will now allow employees to self-disclose without any disciplinary action. The court also approved revising the code to include a Catastrophic Sick Leave Policy. Employees can opt-in to donate hours into an annual pool and get extra paid time-off hours, after they use all of their sick leave hours, in case of injury or illness. Once hours are donated to the pool, they are not returned to the employee.


Friday, August 1, 2014 by Michael Kanin

Correction

A story in Thursday’s edition incorrectly state the numbers of new sanitarian positions the Health and Human Services Department plans to hire in 2015. The agency plans to hire eight new sanitarians for restaurant inspections.


Thursday, July 31, 2014 by Michael Kanin

There is an app for that

Austin 311 has a new Smartphone App. The app allows residents and visitors the opportunity to connect with the city. Some requests available on the app are Graffiti Removal, Pothole Repair, Sidewalk Repair and Waste Water Report. Residents will be able to select from a list of service requests, take a picture, add a location and submit from their mobile devices. This app allows residents to become more engaged in their community and provides the opportunity for increased efficiency within the city. Residents can get the app in the iTunes store or Google Play under the name “City of Austin Texas.” They can also download the app.


Thursday, July 31, 2014 by Michael Kanin

Cemetery Master Plan meeting set

The Austin Parks and Recreation Department will hold the third community meeting for the Cemetery Master Plan process Aug. 23. This will be the third of five community meetings to be held as part of the planning effort for the City’s five historic municipal cemeteries, which include Austin Memorial Park Cemetery, Evergreen Cemetery, Oakwood Cemetery, Oakwood Cemetery Annex and Plummers Cemetery. The meeting will present the project team’s assessment of the conditions of natural and human-made features found in the five historic city-owned cemeteries. The team will also share examples of heritage and cultural programming in other cemeteries around the United States and receive input from the public. The city selected AmaTerra Environmental, Inc. to develop the master plan, which will take a year to complete. The master plan will include recommendations related to historic preservation, tree care and cemetery management issues. The meeting is set from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at the Austin Public Library Ruiz Branch, 1600 Grove Boulevard. For more information, click here.


Thursday, July 31, 2014 by Michael Kanin

Two groups issue Council endorsements

The Network of Asian American Organizations PAC seems to be the first group to issue endorsements, with Capital Tejano Democrats not far behind. The Asian American PAC endorsed Steve Adler for Mayor and released the following statement: “We greatly appreciate the service of Mayor Pro Tem Cole and Council Member Martinez; however, we feel that changing to the new 10-1 system of council representation brings a historic opportunity for new leadership and a fresh perspective. Steve Adler will bring the effective leadership style he’s demonstrated through his community service.” The group also endorsed Fred McGhee in District 3; Greg Casar in District 4; Ann Kitchen in District 5; Eliza May in District 8 and Kathie Tovo in District 9 . . . The Capital Tejano Democrats met with candidates for Mayor, and District 2 City Council Saturday. According to CTD President Yolanda Riojas Pedraza, the group voted to endorse Mike Martinez for Mayor and Delia Garza for District 2. Riojas Pedraza said, “It was very clear to our members that Mike was the most experienced and had the best perspective needed to handle this very important job.”


Thursday, July 31, 2014 by Michael Kanin

Meetings

The Austin City Council meets in a Budget Work Session at 9:30 a.m. at Town Lake Center, 721 Barton Springs Road.


Wednesday, July 30, 2014 by Michael Kanin

Zimmerman explains decision to run

Longtime Republican stalwart Don Zimmerman said Tuesday he made the decision to put his name on the list for City Council District 6 because he had been disappointed by the lack of some wealthy Republican who would be able to buy the job. Asked if the reason might be because being on the City Council is not such a great job, Zimmerman replied, “It’s a terrible job but Marsha Farney ponied up a quarter of a million dollars” to fund her successful campaign for the State Board of Education. And that’s a really terrible job, he opined. Farney is now a State Representative from Georgetown. So, lacking a candidate he liked, Zimmerman said he would take on the task himself. As for his platform, Zimmerman offered the following: “We believe it is outrageous that Austin city government has promoted staggering increases in debt and taxes to subsidize wealthy mega-businesses like Apple, and the wealthiest university in the nation (University of Texas) with their property-tax-subsidized medical school, on the backs of renters, homeowners and small businesses.” He added that he intends “to expose the misinformation of the ‘urban rail’ campaign which would waste over a billion dollars and do virtually nothing to relieve traffic congestion.”


Wednesday, July 30, 2014 by Michael Kanin

Martinez, Phelps spar over rideshare policies

Mayoral candidate Mike Martinez sparred with a much lesser known opponent, Todd Phelps, Tuesday before members of the city’s hospitality industry as well as other downtown business people and residents. Phelps essentially accused Martinez of single-handedly preventing ridesharing services from operating in Austin. Martinez did not take that credit but said he believes that such services are not currently safe. Phelps argued that the companies, Uber and Lyft in particular, would police their own drivers and that the public would be safe. Sometime this fall, the city manager is expected to bring a proposal back to Council on how to deal with such services. Martinez said the companies had agreed to the plan but then backed out. Their remarks were part of a forum Tuesday by the Austin Hotel & Lodging Association, the Austin Restaurant Association and the Downtown Austin Neighborhood Association. How to deal with Austin’s transportation problems was just one of eight questions posed to candidates Sheryl Cole, Steve Adler, Martinez and Phelps by James Walsh, president of the lodging association.


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