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Paid sick leave goes into effect for city employees
Today would have been the day Austin’s hotly debated sick leave policy for local businesses would have gone into effect, but the Texas 3rd Court of Appeals placed a temporary injunction on the ordinance to determine its legality before businesses have to begin operating under its rules. There’s no known timeline for when that decision will be made, but a Sept. 11 city memo stated the city will move forward with providing sick time to all full-time, part-time, temporary and seasonal employees. The Austin Business Journal noted that the final rules of the ordinance are notably harsher for businesses, with larger fines, shorter time periods for recommendations and case closure, and no appeal process, the inclusion of which had been supported by those on both sides of the issue.
Arts and Music commissions focus on the facts
The legal and procedural tiptoeing that city officials and commission members have to perform in most actions related to November’s bond vote played out with the utmost confusion and care at Monday’s joint meeting of the city’s Arts and Music commissions. At issue was Proposition B on the ballot, which seeks to provide $128 million for infrastructure needs for the city’s libraries, museums and cultural centers and also includes $12 million to assist with creative spaces. During discussion on a possible joint resolution of support for the proposition, city staff noted at several points that any official statements about the bond had to be rooted in the facts surrounding the issue and can’t include “persuasive words” that could be interpreted as advocacy. Prior to approving a resolution in support of Proposition B as a whole, the joint commissions voted to form a joint working group to advise City Council on possible ways to utilize the $12 million, if voters approve the proposition.
City collaborates to improve health care in projects
Austin has been selected as one of five metro areas across the U.S. to participate in a one-year program to improve health care outcomes for at-risk residents in community housing projects. The program is a collaboration between CSH (formerly the Corporation for Supportive Housing), the Council of Large Public Housing Authorities, and UnitedHealthCare Community & State, and is funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Medicaid recipients living in assisted housing in the five communities – Columbus and Akron, Ohio; Houston; and Seattle/King County, Washington – will participate in a planning process to align health and housing resources to improve care, address disparities in health, reduce costs and create an ongoing policy road map. At the end of the one-year period each community will receive an implementation and evaluation plan to reduce public health care costs long term.
Friday, September 28, 2018 by Jo Clifton
Study shows demographics of complaints
In a special report to the City Council Audit and Finance Committee on Wednesday, City Auditor Corrie Stokes said the racial and ethnic composition of city employees investigated by her office is comparable to the city’s overall employee population. According to data from the Human Resources Department, 49 percent of city employees are white, 28 percent are Hispanic or Latino and 15 percent are black or African-American, with a small percentage unknown or of other ethnicities. The auditor’s office received approximately 1,255 allegations against city employees between October 2013 and August 2018. Of those, the office looked into complaints about 596 subjects and after further review opened cases on 85 of them, according to the report. Of those 85 cases, 30 complaints were substantiated. The report states that 47 percent of initial investigations were about white employees. Of the 30 complaints that were substantiated, Stokes said, 60 percent of were against white people. Of the remainder, 17 percent were against Hispanic or Latino people and 20 percent were against African-American or black people. The department was unable to determine the gender of 47 percent of the substantiated cases, according to the report, because the Human Resources Department did not provide it. Mayor Steve Adler seemed particularly concerned about making sure that the public knows minorities are not being targeted at the city. Adler asked for the report at the August committee meeting after the NAACP’s Nelson Linder accused the city of targeting African-Americans for investigation. The report is posted on the city auditor’s website.
Friday, September 28, 2018 by Chad Swiatecki
Bond, open houses
The city scheduled a series of 10 community open houses throughout September and October to help residents learn about the November infrastructure bond issue. Voters will be able to vote on seven separate proposals totaling $925 million in new projects in areas such as affordable housing, flood mitigation, parks and recreation facilities, and public safety. In addition to the open houses, the city has posted a variety of educational materials, including a tax calculator, at austintexas.gov/2018bond.
The meetings for District 6 and District 9 were on Sept. 24 and 27, respectively; there is a copy of the presentation here. The rest of the open houses will take place in each City Council district according to the following schedule:
- District 1: Oct. 10, 6-8 p.m., Millennium Youth Entertainment Complex, 1156 Hargrave St.
- District 2: Oct. 8, 4:30-6:30 p.m., Southeast Branch Library, 5803 Nuckols Crossing Road
- District 3: Oct. 25, 6-8 p.m., Montopolis Recreation Center, 1200 Montopolis Drive
- District 4: Oct. 20, 12-2 p.m., Gus Garcia Recreation Center, 1201 E. Rundberg Lane
- District 5: Oct. 22, 6:30-8:30 p.m., Manchaca Road Library, 5500 Manchaca Road
- District 7: Oct. 15, 4:30-6:30 p.m., North Village Library, 2505 Steck Ave.
- District 8: Oct. 16, 5:30-7:30 p.m., Circle C Community Center, 7817 La Crosse Ave.
- District 10: Oct. 3, 4:30-6:40 p.m., Old Quarry Library, 7051 Village Center Drive
Friday, September 28, 2018 by Katy McElroy
ACL smooth cruisin’
As we near the first weekend of the Austin City Limits Festival, it’s time to start talking about transportation. No parking is allowed at Zilker Park, and since thousands of people will be navigating the area during this time, a little bit of planning can make the experience much more pleasant for everyone. One key point: The festival will operate a free shuttle from Republic Square. Service begins at 10 a.m., and the final shuttle returns from the park at 11 p.m. Capital Metro Nos. 801, 803, 2, 7, 10 and 20 bus routes stop regularly at Republic Square. The MetroRail will also run on an extended schedule during ACL: Check your local station schedule for updates. Bicyclists can find bike racks in lots along Toomey Road, with limited parking along Azie Morton Road and Stratford Drive. Dockless enthusiasts can drop off in the lots along Toomey and Azie Morton as well. B-cycle is also an option: There is a station at Barton Springs Road and Sterzing St. near the fest. If you’d rather someone else bike you, the pedicab staging area is on the northeast corner of Barton Springs and Azie Morton roads, close to the festival entrance. Finally, there will be three designated zones for taxis and transportation network companies – one on Wallingwood Drive, one on Lee Barton Drive, and one on Veterans Drive. There will also be a taxicab stand southeast of William Barton Drive. Below is a map of the area, with lane closures, staging areas, and transportation situations of note.
Tuesday’s Parks Board was a no-show
For the first time in a long time, the Parks and Recreation Board adjourned after 30 minutes of casual chit-chat time. Due in part to traffic issues – which seem to be continually causing commissions to convene later than scheduled – only five commissioners showed up to the Sept. 25 meeting. Board Member Frank Ward was on his way to City Hall and would have made the quorum, but was unable to make it in time to beat the city-mandated 30-minute waiting window. As a result, at 6:30 p.m. the board adjourned. Chair Jane Rivera stayed behind just in case presenters or members of the public had pressing concerns that they wished to have her hear.
Thursday, September 27, 2018 by Jo Clifton
Cultural arts contract monitoring lauded
The Office of the City Auditor found little to criticize when it audited the administration of cultural arts contracts by the Economic Development Department’s Cultural Arts Division. The division monitors contracts between the city and cultural arts contractors. The City Council Audit and Finance Committee was pleased to accept the audit report on Wednesday indicating that the division generally follows best practices. The audit was not related to the more controversial question of who gets funding, but auditors did say that the division does not document its process for selecting contracts to review. “Without a consistent risk-based process for selecting contracts, the division may not monitor higher-risk contracts,” auditors noted. Division staff told auditors that they do consider risk factors, such as whether a contractor is new to the program. Auditors also noted that the division does not require its staff “to verify the accuracy of the information provided in the final reports and expense reports.” In addition, auditors said that the department reports audience numbers provided by the contractors as a measure of performance, as opposed to verifying those numbers. Auditors also said that three of the programs are not using a contract template developed by the Law Department, causing some concern that the city’s interests might not be protected, particularly if the city wanted to terminate the contracts. Management agreed with the audit’s findings and has plans to implement changes.
Travis Duncan thinks the future is in hemp
On Sept. 17, Austin mayoral candidate Travis Duncan came to the Electric Utility Commission to offer his thoughts on clean energy – a key focal point of his platform called “ecological wisdom.” Duncan suggested that the commission should focus on sequestering carbon emissions. “I think that we should sell our stake in Fayette (Power Plant) and use those hundreds of millions of dollars to plant hemp,” he said. Not only did he explain that hemp plants were an excellent choice for mitigation, but he also encouraged the commission to look into powering the city with 100 percent renewable energy. “We could be 100 percent renewable in six months if we got our act together,” he explained, making reference to new technologies on the market, like Langenburg Technologies, which claims to “process contaminated and biologically unsafe water and transforms it into clean, highly purified drinking water as well as provides clean energy on a large scale.” Duncan said that the solution to clean energy is going to be found outside the box. “Listen beyond the experts, who are unfortunately a little bit ignorant,” he said. “I never knew it was that easy,” commented commission Chair Cary Ferchill.
There’s no holiday for the EMS
Every month the Austin-Travis County Emergency Medical Services chief of staff comes to the Public Safety Commission to present monthly stats on what the EMS has been experiencing in terms of call volumes. On Sept. 4, Chief of Staff Jasper Brown told the commission that in August, they had received just over 9,300 calls. On an average month, he said 300 to 400 of those are priority one, and August was right on target. “Can we expect to see these numbers rise or fall as we go into fall?” Commissioner Ed Scruggs asked the chief. Unfortunately, we won’t. According to Brown, “There’s not really a big spike season to season” because summertime heatstroke calls are replaced with flu-related emergencies, and outdoor-related injury calls remain high because Austin is an outdoor city year-round. However, Brown did note that the call volumes are increasing year over year and downtown’s District 9 consistently receives the highest number of calls. Austin-Travis County EMS is currently working to fill its 62 vacant field positions to help respond to the increasing demand for its services.
Wednesday, September 26, 2018 by Katy McElroy
Pool fees going up
Effective Oct. 1, Austinites will pay a little more to use city aquatics facilities. The Parks and Recreation Department estimates the fee increase will raise over $1 million in additional revenue. This money will be used toward general maintenance and operations, as well as upgrades and repairs to the existing facilities, as per City Council direction following the approval of the Aquatic Master Plan.
Barton Springs Pool
Wednesday, September 26, 2018 by Katy McElroy
Former CEO of Cap Metro joins national transportation hall of fame
A nonprofit international association of public and private sector organizations has added the former director of the Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority to its hall of fame. Fred M. Gilliam was appointed president/CEO of Capital Metro in 2002 and retired in 2009. He has nearly 50 years of transportation management and operations experience in the field. The 1,500-member American Public Transportation Association annually bestows its Hall of Fame Award on those who have shown great leadership and innovation in public transportation in North America, and Gilliam was one of five professionals honored this year. Aside from his tenure in Austin, he has worked in transportation systems in cities throughout the U.S. including Houston; New Orleans; Denver; Memphis, Tennessee; and Tulsa, Oklahoma, and he has held positions on APTA’s executive committee, board of directors, and the American Public Transportation Foundation. He also contributed to the development of Leadership APTA, a professional advancement and training program where he provided invaluable advice and mentorship to rising leaders in the field, before and after his retirement.
Wednesday, September 26, 2018 by Chad Swiatecki
Music Moves makes moves
Music Moves Austin, the recently formed political activism nonprofit organized around Austin’s music industry, has started circulating a questionnaire for candidates in November’s mayoral and City Council election. Questions focus on support for a “live music venue” land use designation in the city’s land use code, the agent of change concept, allocation of Hotel Occupancy Tax funds, tax relief for live music venues, actions to preserve the Red River Cultural District, city support for musician health and quality of life services, use of the city’s revised business incentive agreements, providing affordable housing for musicians, and equity and diversity measures related to live music. The nonprofit will hold forums for the mayoral and Council races on Oct. 1 and 2 at Antone’s nightclub. It is also pushing to register 2,500 new voters in time for the midterm election.
Wednesday, September 26, 2018 by Chad Swiatecki
Group creates guide to local politics
The creators of the “A Beginners Guide to Local Democracy” activity book and magazine will hold a launch party – 6:30 p.m., Oct. 2 at Gather Venues – that is intended to draw novices and newcomers to the local political process. The project was conceived by a group of local millennials who are disappointed in the low level of political participation in city government, especially among younger voters who vote and engage up to one-seventh as much as senior voters. The event will feature comedians, civic-minded art installations, appearances from City Council members Greg Casar and Delia Garza, and presentations from political leaders who have been successful in carrying out movements at the local level. The activity book is described as an “easy-to-read (and fun) guide (that) walks you through all the basics about how Austin’s local government system works.” Tickets for the event are $10, available here.
Tuesday, September 25, 2018 by Austin Monitor
Join us for our Election Primer
Tonight the Austin Monitor, KUT, Glasshouse Policy, Austin Tech Alliance and A Functional Democracy will be kicking off our series of Austin City Council candidate forums with our Election Primer event. The Election Primer starts at 6 p.m. on Sept. 25 at the North Door at 505 Brushy St. You’ll have a chance to talk one-on-one with candidates, get registered to vote, learn a little about how to exercise your right to vote, and enjoy a drink at the same time.
And be sure to keep an eye out for our candidate forums in October!
District 1 – Oct. 1 at 7 p.m. at Wesley United Methodist Church, 1164 San Bernard St. (RSVP: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/candidate-forum-city-council-district-1-tickets-50076722826)
District 3 – Oct. 3 at 7 p.m. at Tamale House East, 1707 E. 6th St., Austin (RSVP: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/candidate-forum-city-council-district-3-tickets-50076782003)
District 8 – Oct. 10 at 7 p.m. at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, 4801 La Crosse Ave.
District 9 – Oct. 16 at 7 p.m. at Capital Factory, 701 Brazos St.
Mayor – Oct. 22 at 7 p.m. at Wesley United Methodist Church, 1164 San Bernard St.
Tuesday, September 25, 2018 by Jessi Devenyns
Boat docks on Lake Austin now need registrations
Lake Austin boat docks must now be registered with the city and display an address label that is easily visible to those using the lake within the vicinity of the dock. Although this new rule went into effect this July, Environmental Commission Chair Linda Guerrero explained at the Sept. 19 meeting of the commission that this address system is something the Lake Austin Task Force has tried to have Council implement for five years. Daniel Armstrong, a supervisor in the Austin Code Department, noted that the motivation for the change came from a recent tragedy on the lake. “There was a person who was enjoying recreational activities on Lake Austin and … needed immediate help. … They did not know where they were, which compromised public safety’s ability to reach them,” he said. The new dock addresses are meant to assist with public safety efforts. Whoever is in need “can look at the nearest dock and give a frame of reference to where they’re at,” said Armstrong. The Code Department is allowing registration to occur until Sept. 30. Inspections will begin Oct. 1, but those who are not registered will not be subjected to code enforcement fines until April 1, 2019. “We hope there will not be enforcement action. Compliance is always our goal,” said Armstrong. Only 10 applications have been received to date. Going forward, owners of commercial docks will have to renew their registration every two years and residential dock owners will have to renew every five years. The first year there will be no registration fee.
Tuesday, September 25, 2018 by Chad Swiatecki
The city has received another “AAA” bond rating from the three U.S. financial rating agencies, with a stable outlook given to its ability to repay debt for long-term capital improvement projects. The rating represents the eighth year in a row that Standard & Poor’s, Moody’s Investors Service and Fitch Ratings have given Austin the highest bond rating possible, a distinction that gives the city a low borrowing cost to take out bonds. As an example, a round of tax-exempt public improvement bonds with a 20-year term were sold last week at a true interest cost of 2.77 percent. Those bonds are part of a portfolio of debt products the city recently undertook and they will be used to help support affordable housing projects. The high bond rating – which is calculated based on local economic strength, the city’s financial and administrative management, and a variety of debt ratios – will come into play in determining the borrowing costs to secure the bonds for whatever portions of a seven-part series of bond projects that voters will decide in November.
Tuesday, September 25, 2018 by Katy McElroy
Barton Springs University postponed due to flooding
Austin’s yearly day of educational activities related to Barton Springs, Central Texas waterways, and conservation in general has been postponed until further notice. The pool flooded on Saturday after the rain and had to be closed. Barton Springs University organizers held out hope that the event, which was scheduled for Tuesday, could still take place, but on Sunday night they received word that the pool will not be ready to reopen to the public until later in the week. There is no official reschedule date yet, but organizers are looking at the last two weeks of October, after the Austin City Limits Festival.
Monday, September 24, 2018 by Elizabeth Pagano
Central Health reverses Sendero decision
Over the weekend, Central Health board members voted unanimously to rescind a budget decision that threatened to shut down Sendero Health Plans. The vote came after last week’s discussion at the Travis County Commissioners Court, and a Saturday Central Health meeting that saw members of the public pleading to keep the nonprofit insurance company as an option for low-income residents.
Monday, September 24, 2018 by Katy McElroy
The science of safe riding
Last summer, 12 intersections in Central Austin got new bicycle signal faces: Third and Brazos streets, Third and Colorado streets, Third Street and Congress Avenue, Third and Guadalupe streets, Third and Lavaca streets, Fourth and Red River streets, 24th and Rio Grande streets, Airport and Wilshire boulevards, Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and Rio Grande Street, Morrow Street and North Lamar Boulevard, W. Cesar Chavez Street and B.R. Reynolds Drive, W. Cesar Chavez Street and Sandra Muraida Way. The Austin Transportation Department would now like cyclists to register their feedback on the signals through a short survey before Oct. 5. The survey data will be compared with data from a survey conducted before the signals were installed, as part of a study that is gauging how much public perception and knowledge regarding bicycle signals and safety has changed in the past year.