Whispers

Thursday, August 21, 2014 by Elizabeth Pagano

More meters possible in East Austin

As part of the budget process, Transportation Director Robert Spillar mentioned some new parking meter districts could be on the horizon. These districts come at the behest of neighborhoods, who asked the city to consider their areas for meters to address parking congestion. Spillar said his department is currently considering meters in near-East Austin between Eighth and Sixth Streets (presumably along the fairly new and congested East Side bar district) and in an area of the Mueller development near the commercial zone. Spillar said his department responds to requests from neighborhoods and only determines whether they will get meters after conducting a study. Amazingly, the discussion circled back to the Butler Park Pitch and Putt, which has metered street parking along Lee Barton Drive. Spillar explained that these meters were not part of a parking meter district, but a response to people parking on that road long-term for work and use of street parking by nearby businesses.


Thursday, August 21, 2014 by Elizabeth Pagano

Mayor waxes nostalgic for water regs

Tuesday’s budget talks sparked a trip down memory lane for Mayor Lee Leffingwell, who chaired the 2007 Water Conservation Committee. During a discussion about individual water meters for multifamily housing, which was a recommendation from the committee that has yet to be implemented, Leffingwell noted that it might be interesting to see what recommendations had actually taken hold in the past seven years. “I would be curious. The city actually got a Conservationist of the Year Award from the American Waterworks Association for that program. I would be interested to see how much we have done, and if we have to give that award back,” he said. Austin Water Utility Assistant Director David Anders said that, as far as he knew, all of the “major” recommendations had been implemented, but Leffingwell recalled several, presumably “non-major” ones that had not. Those included water-free rinsing stations for dentists, carwash appliance transitions, and soil depth regulations.


Thursday, August 21, 2014 by Jo Clifton

Airport budget a bright spot

At Tuesday’s budget work session, Assistant City Manager Sue Edwards said Austin Bergstrom International Airport is the third-fastest growing airport in the country and has surpassed 10 million passengers. Airport Executive Director Jim Smith laid out more good news for the city, with ABIA revenues climbing to a projected $122.8 million for 2015. Budget writers are projecting more money from terminal rentals and related fees, continued growth in the number of passengers and more revenue from concessions.


Wednesday, August 20, 2014 by Mark Richardson

Clerk’s office to draw for ballot order

The Austin City Clerk’s office will conduct the much-anticipated 2014 Ballot Draw on Wednesday afternoon at City Hall. The drawing will determine the order of candidates’ names on the November ballot for the mayoral and City Council elections. City Clerk Jannette Goodall will do the honors by randomly drawing candidate names by district. Officials expect the drawing to attract more interest than past ballot draws, since it is being held for the first election under the city’s new 10-1 single-member district system. The event is set for 1 p.m. in the Boards and Commissions Room, but if you can’t make it, you can catch it live on ATXN (Cable Channel 6) and on the city website.


Wednesday, August 20, 2014 by Jo Clifton

Code Compliance is now Code Department

The department that receives and responds to complaints about nuisances and dangerous structures shall henceforth be known simply as the Austin Code Department. Department Director Carl Smart unveiled the new name at Tuesday’s budget briefing. The department is expecting to investigate 19,000 complaints this coming year. In 2013, the department investigated 17,779 complaints, and the projected number for 2014 is 18,500. In the coming year, Smart said, the department intends to establish a program for enforcing the universal recycling ordinance and will continue to expand the multifamily inspection and repeat offender programs.


Wednesday, August 20, 2014 by Beth Cortez-Neavel

Commissioners don’t act on ICE jail holds

Travis County Commissioners met with county attorneys in a morning executive session Tuesday to discuss County Sheriff Greg Hamilton’s approval of and participation in the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Secure Communities Program. The program asks local officials to detain immigrants who entered the country illegally and have completed their jail term for ICE. There have been complaints by immigrant rights groups that federal agents are breaking up families and targeting those who allegedly commit minor crimes. At a recent budget hearing, Hamilton sought more funding for employee overtime, but advocates asked that additional funds be withheld as long as the program was in place. Alejandro Caceres of the Austin Immigration Rights Coalition said the program is not making the community safer, but is instead causing a crisis. No action was taken in open court Tuesday, and there was no move to add the item to future agendas. However, commissioners say they are working to persuade the sheriff’s office to drop the program.

 

 


Wednesday, August 20, 2014 by Mark Richardson

Environmental Democrats set to endorse

The Austin Environmental Democrats are holding an endorsement meeting today. The group will be reviewing and voting on candidates in City Council Districts 1, 2 and 3. Candidates’ answers to questionnaires were distributed to members via the club’s website. Only members whose dues are current will be allowed to vote. The group will hold endorsement meetings for Districts 4, 7 and 10 on Sept. 3 and Districts 5, 6 and 8 on Sept. 17. The group held an endorsement meeting Aug. 6 for District 9 and the mayor’s race, but no candidate got the required 60 percent vote to earn an endorsement. The Environmental Democrats meet at 11:30 a.m. at El Mercado South at 1302 South First St.


Tuesday, August 19, 2014 by Mark Richardson

Tree Folks hires Thais Perkins as director

Tree Folks, the Central Texas nonprofit that promotes urban forests, has hired Thais Perkins as its executive director. Perkins, with 10 years of experience in environmental research, policy, and organizational management, was most recently a project coordinator with Austin’s Watershed Protection Department. At the city, Perkins managed environmental commissioning and environmental impact monitoring for Water Treatment Plant 4. Previously, she served as a program coordinator for the University of Texas Environmental Science Institute and as assistant director for Southeastern Louisiana University’s Pontchartrain Basin Research Program. Perkins holds a master’s degree in forest science from Oregon State University and a bachelor’s in biology from the University of Southern Mississippi. Tree Folks plants more than 10,000 trees a year in addition to offering educational programs and fostering community partnerships.

 


Tuesday, August 19, 2014 by Jo Clifton

Smith to run without opposition

Craig Smith, longtime member of the Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer District board of directors, is the lone candidate to file for the Precinct 5 seat in the November election. District General Manager John Dupnik said Monday there are three candidates on the ballot to fill the vacant Precinct 2 seat: Blaine Stansberry, Terry Newton and Ronald Stried. Dupnik noted that anyone who wants to file as a write-in candidate has until Friday to do so.


Tuesday, August 19, 2014 by Mark Richardson

Let’s Go Austin PAC plans rally

The Let’s Go Austin Political Action Committee, formed to campaign for Austin’s November rail and roads bond proposition, will formally kick off its campaign Wednesday with a noon rally on the plaza at Austin City Hall. Let’s Go Austin campaign manager Lynda Rife said the event is the beginning of a three-month effort to educate voters about Proposition 1. The November bond proposal totals $1 billion, with $600 million dedicated to the first phase of the urban rail system and $400 million dedicated to major road projects, a new Austin Traffic Command Center, and engineering studies for future road fixes and expansion of the urban rail system. Council members, business leaders and others are scheduled to speak at the PAC event Wednesday. Early voting for the Nov. 4 election begins Oct. 20.

 


Tuesday, August 19, 2014 by Mark Richardson

Council candidate forums scheduled

The city’s Ethics Review Commission and the League of Women Voters of the Austin Area are co-hosting a series of public City Council candidate forums in September, as well as a forum for mayoral candidates in October. All candidates for mayor and each of Austin’s 10 geographic districts have been invited to participate. The dates, times and locations are: District 1, Sept. 4, 7:30 p.m. at Asian-American Resource Center, 8401 Cameron Road; Districts 4 and 7, Sept. 11 at 6 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. at Northwest Recreation Center, 2913 Northland Drive; Districts 6 and 10, Sept. 15 at 6 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. at Hope Presbyterian Church, 11512 Olson Drive; Districts 5 and 8, Sept. 16 at 6 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. at Austin Community College, 1820 W. Stassney Lane; District 9, Sept. 18 at 6 p.m. at Palmer Events Center, 900 Barton Springs Road; Districts 2 and 3, Sept. 30 at 6 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. at Montopolis Recreation Center, 1200 Montopolis Drive; mayor, Oct. 1 at 6 p.m. at Austin Convention Center, 500 East Cesar Chavez St. The forums will be televised live on ATXN (Channel 6) and rebroadcast and webcast on the city’s website. For questions, email lwvaustin@lwvaustin.org.

 


Monday, August 18, 2014 by Mark Richardson

Manchaca Fire Chief gets top honor

The International Association of Fire Chiefs has named Chief Chris Barron of the Manchaca Volunteer Fire Department as the 2014 winner of the Fire Chief of the Year awards. Barron has served as volunteer fire chief of Manchaca Fire/Rescue and executive director of the State Firemen’s and Fire Marshal’s Association of Texas, both since 2006. As Manchaca Fire/Rescue chief, Barron has led the department’s transition from an all-volunteer to a combination department, serving an area of 12 square miles and a population of more than 17,000 during a period of rapid growth. Winners are selected by a committee appointed by the association and are honored for their dedication and leadership in fire and emergency services. The IAFC will present the annual award Thursday at the 2014 Fire-Rescue International conference in Dallas.

 


Monday, August 18, 2014 by Jenny Blair

City to beef up restaurant inspections

Eight more sanitarians and support staff will soon turn out to inspect Austin restaurants for health violations. According to Carlos Rivera, director of Austin/Travis County Health and Human Services, national standards call for each “fixed food establishment” to receive two inspections a year. Austin’s restaurants are only logging about 1.6, in part because the number of restaurants has jumped 12 percent since 2009. So HHS is allotting $900,000 of its proposed $73 million budget in fiscal year 2015 in order to boost that rate, Rivera told the City Council at Wednesday’s budget work session. He told them that the city’s food poisoning rates aren’t clear, since many cases go unreported.

 


Monday, August 18, 2014 by Elizabeth Pagano

One Voice gets louder at budget time

At the end of their discussion about the city’s Health and Human Services budget, City Council members briefly touched upon a proposition by the group One Voice Central Texas
to increase that department’s social service contracting budget by $15 million. Council Member Laura Morrison brought up their proposal, which points out that the city is not keeping up with the social service demands. Mayor Lee Leffingwell said the prospect of that increase made his eyes bug out. Kathie Tovo asked for more information from staff about whether the idea was workable. “I’m compelled that there is a really dramatic need in this community to increase those services,” said Tovo.  That work, according to staff, has already begun. The proposed Heath and Human Services Department budget is currently $52.2 million. One Voice Central Texas is a coalition that was established in 1983. It is made up of more than 80 heath and human services nonprofits. Morrison said the group is planning on discussing their plan at this week’s Public Health and Human Services Committee meeting.


Sunday, August 17, 2014 by Mark Richardson

Saldaña plans to run for District 6 AISD seat

Austin native and community advocate Paul Saldaña has announced he will file today to run for the District 6 seat on the Austin Independent School District board. Saldaña has more than 20 years of experience in civic and governmental affairs. He has served on the board of directors for the Greater Austin Hispanic Chamber of Commerce; as an assistant and staff member for former Mayor Gus Garcia; as Tri-Chair, Austin ISD Community Committee on Neighborhoods & Schools; and as Tri-Chair, Austin ISD Superintendent’s Task Force on Strategic Plan Review. He is currently a board member of the RBJ Geriatric Center and the National Council of La Raza and owns his own public relations firm, Saldaña Public Relations.

 

 


Friday, August 15, 2014 by Elizabeth Pagano

Campaign finance complaint filed in District 3 race

On Wednesday, Montopolis resident Stefan Wray filed a complaint with the Ethics Review Commission against District 3 candidate Susana Almanza. His complaint states that in Almanza’s July 15 campaign finance report, 23 individuals who contributed $250 or more to Almanza’s campaign were not identified by occupation or employer, which is a violation of city code. In a news release, Wray explained that he decided to keep a close watch on Almanza’s campaign after a copy of La Voz listed several campaign treasurers from other districts as Almanza supporters. “I decided to file this complaint not because I want to bring financial harm to Almanza and her campaign,” said Wray. “However, I think that Almanza’s lack of attention to detail should send a signal to voters about her capacity to run city government.” When asked for comment, Almanza told the Austin Monitor that the omissions were an error and had been corrected. She pointed out that errors will happen, especially in a field of candidates who may be new to politics, as evidenced by a handful of other candidates in City Council races who had made the same mistake. Almanza said her campaign had clearly been targeted by Wray.


Friday, August 15, 2014 by Alex Dropkin

ARR director says Austin needs more fiber in its recycling

In Austin Resource Recovery director Bob Gedert’s report to the Zero Waste Advisory Committee on Wednesday night, he noted that waste composition studies indicate 40 to 45 percent of the city’s recycling materials are glass or trash. Gedert said, “I don’t think we’re capturing as much paper and paper fiber from the households as what we could, and if the paper fiber was at its proper level of capture in the blue carts, the percentage of glass would be lower. I don’t think the glass numbers are up there because we’re heavier drinkers. I think that’s (just) the common explanation.” Austin was recently named one of the country’s heaviest drinking cities in a national survey.

 

 


Friday, August 15, 2014 by Mark Richardson

Monday is final day to get on Council ballot

The end of business Monday is the deadline for City Council candidates to file paperwork to get their name on the November ballot. Forms must be filed in the City Clerk’s office at City Hall by 5 p.m. to reserve a place on the ballot for mayor or one of the 10 Council District seats. As of Thursday afternoon, a number of people had filed their paperwork this week, including Todd Phelps in the mayor’s race; DeWayne Lofton and Valerie Menard in District 1; Fred McGee and Ricardo Turullols-Bonilla in District 3; Daniel Buda and Jason Denny in District 5; Mackenzie Kelly and Don Zimmerman in District 6; Pete Salazar Jr. in District 7; Darrell Pierce in District 8; Chris Riley in District 9; and Mandy Dealey in District 10. So far, about 40 of the approximately 90 candidates who filed Campaign Treasurer forms have signed up to get on the ballot. Expect a crowd of candidates Monday at City Hall. The Nov. 4 election will decide the city’s first 10-1 District City Council, or at least the top two candidates in most districts. The runoff election is Dec. 16.


Friday, August 15, 2014 by Mark Richardson

Barton Springs Aquifer board declares drought

Not necessarily by popular demand, but the drought is back at the Barton Springs segment of the Edwards Aquifer. The aquifer board voted Thursday night to call a Stage II drought alert for the aquifer, which after heavy winter and spring rains had been at normal (Stage I) until late June. The aquifer’s two drought triggers — the Lovelady well in Hays County and the flow meter at Barton Springs — have fallen below the normal levels in the past two weeks. Stage II means that commercial water customers must reduce the amount of water they pump by 20 percent until the restriction is lifted. The Barton Springs move comes on the heels of the Edwards Aquifer Authority in San Antonio declaring Stage IV conditions on the entire Edwards Aquifer, meaning its commercial customers must reduce their pumping by 40 percent until further notice.


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.


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