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Whispers

Thursday, February 8, 2018 by Katy McElroy

Eckhardt to deliver State of the County today

It’s time for the State of the County address. Every year, Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt delivers a speech covering the previous year’s accomplishments and setting out goals for the next year. This year’s State of the County will be tonight at 6 p.m. at the Travis County Administration Building, 700 Lavaca St., first floor. Everyone is welcome.


Thursday, February 8, 2018 by Jo Clifton

Chief Kerr announces return to Fort Lauderdale

Chief Rhoda Mae Kerr, who has served as the leader of Austin’s Fire Department since 2009, is returning to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, where she began her career as a firefighter 18 35 years ago. Interim City Manager Elaine Hart announced Wednesday that Kerr had accepted the position of fire chief at the Fort Lauderdale Fire-Rescue Department, where she started in 1983 before becoming fire chief in Little Rock, Arkansas, and then in Austin. Her retirement is effective July 1, which will give Austin’s new City Manager Spencer Cronk time to get his feet on the ground before choosing a new chief. When Kerr came to Austin, she was the first female chief and exemplified the city’s push to hire more female firefighters. She will also be the first female chief for Fort Lauderdale. Although the local firefighters union has voted to censure her twice, it has not stopped her from rising through the ranks in the International Association of Fire Chiefs. She served as president of that organization as well as president of the Metropolitan Fire Chiefs Association during 2015-16. In Austin, Kerr established four-person staffing on all fire apparatus and started the first Wildfire Division. Kerr also helped to create the Austin Fire Foundation and expanded the department’s outreach to distribute free smoke alarms every year. Although the Austin department is considerably larger than Fort Lauderdale Fire-Rescue, the Florida city was recognized as having the busiest fire station in the nation in 2014.


Thursday, February 8, 2018 by Elizabeth Pagano

Kitchen organizes blood drive for Craig

Council Member Ann Kitchen has an update on Senior Policy Advisor Ken Craig and information on how to help. Craig was in a serious accident last month on the Slaughter Bridge during the ice storm. Kitchen said her office is collecting cards for Craig and has organized a blood drive for March 19 at City Hall. To donate blood in his name, visit the We Are Blood website and use the group code C874. In addition, people can spread the word about this drive using this poster, or donate blood using the group code at other We Are Blood clinics located at 4300 N. Lamar Blvd. and 3100 W. Slaughter Lane. Reservations at those clinics can be made by calling 512-206-1266.

Kitchen also relayed a message from Craig, which reads:

Thanks for the prayerful support of all of you. I have been able to complete the first stage of my recovery and am now engaged in inpatient rehabilitative care. Due to the virulent nature of this particular strain of flu in the area, this being cold season, and my compromised respiratory system, my ability to receive visitors will be extremely limited.

I will always be grateful for each of you. Thank you.


Thursday, February 8, 2018 by Katy McElroy

Anderson Mill open house this weekend

The city of Austin has been working on improvements to Anderson Mill Road between Spicewood Parkway and U.S. Highway 183. Last year, staff gathered community input and combined it with technical assessments to create a draft of “recommendations to improve mobility, safety and connectivity for all roadway users.” Now, the city would like some feedback on these recommendations. The feedback will be used to inform the preliminary engineering report, which is planned to be released in March 2018; the design phase should begin shortly after. To offer feedback, attend the open house this Saturday, Feb. 10, from 10 a.m. to noon at Hope Presbyterian Church’s Activities and Education Center (11559 Spicewood Parkway). District 6 City Council Member Jimmy Flannigan would love to see you there!


Wednesday, February 7, 2018 by Katy McElroy

Reduced traffic delays on Cesar Chavez due to traffic signal retiming

Noticed quicker travel times on Cesar Chavez Street recently? It’s not just a seasonal phenomenon. According to the Austin Transportation Department, the traffic signals on Cesar Chavez were retimed after the opening of the MoPac Express Lanes, and this appears to have resulted in reduced rush hour delays in the area. The news release mentions that the department has noticed reductions in both the morning and evening rush hours. Travel time reductions range from 25 to 30 percent, which means travelers are arriving at their destinations about 2 to 5 minutes faster than they were before the signal retiming. The department plans to continue monitoring travel times in the area to keep improving the experience for commuters.


Wednesday, February 7, 2018 by Katy McElroy

Austin Public Library debuts the ‘eCard’

If you’ve been meaning to get a library card but you are unable or can’t find the time to visit a branch, the Austin Public Library now has an option for you. Austinites aged 18 and older can now register for a library “eCard” completely online by submitting an application and uploading a copy of a valid (not expired) acceptable photo ID and proof of current residence address. Applications take two to three business days to process, and you can find the form here. Once approved, you will receive an email with your eCard number, which will provide you with access to all the electronic resources that are in the Virtual Library, such as streaming entertainment and e-books. If you decide one day that you’d like to check out physical books or movies, you can convert your eCard account to a full-access account by bringing your ID and residence documentation to any library branch. Note: You already have access to the full Virtual Library if you already have a library card.


Tuesday, February 6, 2018 by Jo Clifton

Tovo re-election kickoff Thursday

Kathie Tovo, who represents District 9 on the Council and also serves as mayor pro tem, will officially launch her re-election campaign at El Mercado on Thursday. Volunteers have already been collecting signatures in the various neighborhoods of District 9, but Tovo is hoping to get more signatures and more volunteers at Thursday’s party. Tovo is gathering signatures because she has served two terms, one under the at-large system and one under the current system, and it’s foggy how term limits work in this case. She was not certain whether she needed the signatures because of a difference of opinion about the matter, but she decided last fall to collect the signatures as soon as she could do so, and eliminate any doubt as to her eligibility. She needs to collect signatures of 5 percent of voters in her district. She told the Austin Monitor that she needs “somewhere in the neighborhood of 3,700, but I’m aiming for 5,000” signatures, adding, “We’re hoping to get it done quickly.” Longtime campaign consultant David Butts and media specialist Dean Rindy are assisting with the campaign, Tovo said. So far, no one has announced intentions to run against Tovo, who is popular with the neighborhood activists and environmentalists. She defeated incumbent Randi Shade for her at-large seat in 2011, and then ran against and defeated a fellow Council member, Chris Riley who withdrew from the runoff, in the first district race in 2014.

This whisper has been edited to clarify that Riley withdrew from the Council election.


Tuesday, February 6, 2018 by Elizabeth Pagano

City Council to talk sick leave today

Sad that City Council isn’t meeting this week? Don’t worry, they are. Council will convene at City Hall today at 1:30 p.m. in order to discuss the upcoming paid sick leave ordinance (a draft of which is posted here.) The meeting was scheduled for 1 p.m., but Council Member Greg Casar allowed that the meeting would likely start later than planned due to various commitments on the dais. City Council is scheduled to vote on the ordinance on Feb. 15, and discuss it again at the work session prior to that meeting, on Feb. 13. If it passes, the new city law would mandate Austin employers offer paid sick leave to employees.


Tuesday, February 6, 2018 by Katy McElroy

Loyola bridge construction underway

Construction of the Loyola Lane bridge over the future 183 South Expressway has begun. As a result, for about a year, the Loyola Lane crossing over U.S. Highway 183 will be closed. The crossing will be closed to bicycles and pedestrians as well. Loyola Lane west of 183 will also close for about two months to allow crews to construct the new general-purpose lanes and connect them to Loyola. Expect travel delays near these areas. Eventually, the 183 South Expressway will pass underneath Loyola Lane. View the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority website here for maps of the affected areas, planned traffic impacts of this project and suggested detours for drivers.


Tuesday, February 6, 2018 by Chad Swiatecki

Erwin Center plans develop

We’ll soon start learning more about the future home of the University of Texas’ basketball programs. That’s because companies interested in building the school’s replacement for the Frank Erwin Center have until March 8 to submit plans under a recently published request for qualifications and proposal for a developer and operator of the new facility. The current arena site is expected to be utilized as part of the growing health care innovation district on the east edge of downtown Austin, with the parking lot located south of Mike A. Myers Stadium believed to be the most likely spot for the new arena. There is also a chance the arena could be located just south of Darrell K. Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium, though that would mean replacing at least two other existing structures as well. Development teams selected from the initial qualification round will then have a June 18 deadline to submit a full proposal.


Monday, February 5, 2018 by Jack Craver

Shane Sexton withdraws from District 8 race

The race for the District 8 City Council seat just got a little less crowded. Shane Sexton, one of four left-of-center candidates vying to unseat Council Member Ellen Troxclair, the only conservative elected official left in city government, announced in a Facebook post on Saturday that he was getting out of the race. In a text message to the Austin Monitor on Sunday, Sexton said that the field of candidates had become overcrowded. “It divides the voters and resources in support of progressive candidates,” while those on the right will be united in support of Troxclair, he said. “I entered the race to better my community and the city and there are other good candidates that can help accomplish that now,” he said, adding that he plans to meet with the other challengers next week and has not yet decided who he will support.


Monday, February 5, 2018 by Elizabeth Pagano

Council members have police contract ideas

The Austin Police Association is ready to resume contract negotiations, but, in the meantime, there are some City Council members looking for a stopgap measure. According to a post on the City Council Message Board from Council Member Ora Houston’s office, co-signed by Council members Alison Alter, Jimmy Flannigan, Ann Kitchen and Ellen Troxclair, there will be a resolution on the Feb. 15 agenda. The post explains, “At this time, we have developed a set of recommendations to move forward that we feel achieves these goals. It includes guidance on an overall spending limit and details on other fiscal and non-fiscal items. The details we have developed and agreed upon as a group will be delivered to the new City Manager as soon as possible. Because the negotiations may take some time, we believe it is critical that we bring forward a Council resolution to set some items back in place for the short term while an interim agreement is negotiated. With this resolution, we will recognize the direct impact to our officers in the absence of a contract and show our effort to move forward with respect and in good faith. We don’t assume however, that any or all of the items put in place in the short term will necessarily continue in an interim or final agreement, but are important to sustain our officers while the process continues.”


Monday, February 5, 2018 by Katy McElroy

Construction begins today at Congress/Oltorf

Construction begins today on the intersection of South Congress Avenue and Oltorf Street. The project is funded by money from the 2016 mobility bond as part of the Intersection Safety/Vision Zero program. It is the third intersection to be enhanced as part of that program. According to the news release, “Improvements include construction of center medians on Congress Avenue near the intersection to reduce unsafe left turns; redesign of access driveways and construction of a shared-use path to reduce conflicts between people walking or biking and people driving; installation of new high-visibility crosswalks; and more.” The goal for completion is summer 2018. View the project fact sheet here.


Monday, February 5, 2018 by Katy McElroy

Final draft of MACC plan available for feedback

After an extensive planning and public input process, the final draft of the Emma S. Barrientos Mexican American Cultural Center Master Plan is here. The plan was presented by CasaBella Architects at the third public meeting on Jan. 20, and it is now available here to view and respond to using a short survey. Feedback from this survey will be used to prepare the final design presentation that will be made to City Council, boards and commissions.


Friday, February 2, 2018 by Jo Clifton

Ken Craig recovering from serious injury

Around City Hall, people have been missing Ken Craig, senior policy advisor to District 5 Council Member Ann Kitchen. Craig suffered serious injury when his truck apparently hit ice on a Slaughter Lane overpass on Jan. 16 and fell 30 feet from the overpass. Mayor Steve Adler and Kitchen both spoke warmly of Craig during Thursday’s City Council meeting. Kitchen noted that he was in an intensive care unit for some time but has now moved to rehabilitation. She did not give out his location, saying that she did not want to encourage visitors because of the current flu epidemic. However, she did encourage Craig’s friends to send cards and warm wishes. Kitchen also said that because Craig had to have transfusions after the wreck, there would be a blood drive at City Hall at some point in the future. Although he was badly injured, Kitchen stressed that he is recovering. His companion did not survive the crash and some observers questioned whether the overpass should have been closed during the rare icy weather.


Friday, February 2, 2018 by Katy McElroy

Another record-breaking year at ABIA

The Austin-Bergstrom International Airport just released its 2017 passenger numbers: 13.8 million travelers passed through the airport this year. That’s an 11.5 percent increase over 2016, and this is the eighth year in a row of record-breaking passenger traffic for the airport. The news release also notes the addition of 10 new nonstop destinations, for a total of 70, “which included 10 carriers initiating or announcing 29 new routes.” The airport has been undergoing renovations to keep up with this service growth, and improvements include terminal expansion and a new six-story parking garage that should be open in 2018. And, the release notes some quirkier stats as well: 61.5 tons of brisket and 684,199 breakfast tacos served; 18,300 bottles of Shiner Bock and 111,557 T-shirts sold (Keep Austin Weird and ACL shirts led the pack in T-shirt popularity); over 80 artworks exhibited, with $4,000 of artwork purchased by travelers directly from artists; and 1,500 live music performances hosted, for a total of 11,500 live performances since 1999.


Friday, February 2, 2018 by Jo Clifton

Council OKs Circuit of the Americas applications

In a vote of 9-2, City Council approved authorizing the Circuit Events Local Organizing Committee to act on the city’s behalf to seek funding from the Texas Events Trust Fund for two events. Under the resolution, the committee will seek funding for the FIA World Rallycross events and for future MotoGP events to be held at the Circuit of the Americas facility. Council Member Leslie Pool and Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo voted no, but Council members Jimmy Flannigan, Ora Houston and Delia Garza strongly defended taking the money. Flannigan pointed out that the money is not local tax money. If it does not come to Austin it will go to another city in Texas for some other event. Pool noted that she has voted against taking the money in the past and will continue to oppose giving state funds “to the wealthy gentlemen” who stand to gain from taxpayer subsidies. Garza said Circuit of the Americas brings in $14 million to her district, District 2, and has been very helpful to the Del Valle Independent School District. Houston said she had only been out to the Circuit of the Americas one time, but she saw many people who live in District 1 who have jobs there. In addition, she said she saw “a number of vendors that were from District 1 who get an opportunity to participate in getting some of the revenue. So I think it’s a worthwhile obligation. In the beginning, I too was against it, but now that I’ve seen the results I think it’s worthwhile and I’ll be voting for it.”


Friday, February 2, 2018 by Elizabeth Pagano

It’s official, we have a city manager

After more than a year and a rather awkward hiring process, Austin officially has a new city manager. City Council voted unanimously to finalize the hiring process Thursday, extending a $325,000 salary to the current city administrator in Minneapolis, Spencer Cronk. His official start date is Feb. 12. Interim City Manager Elaine Hart is now free to return to her position as chief financial officer for the city.


Thursday, February 1, 2018 by Katy McElroy

Austin Energy to credit customers with high fall bills

The city of Austin has been investigating August and September’s unusual water bill activity. Yesterday, Austin Energy, which manages the billing for city utilities including water, announced that it will be sending out refunds in the form of bill credits to around 7,400 customers. The city plans to send out a letter to those customers by Feb. 15; customers should expect to receive their letters by Feb. 28. These credits are “not large, averaging approximately $20 and not exceeding $80 in most instances,” according to a statement by the city. In addition, “approximately 700 customers who had significantly higher September use than in previous years and who may qualify for an additional High Bill Administrative Adjustment if their elevated use was unintended or unexplained” will receive a letter by Feb. 28 as well. Jackie Sargent, general manager of Austin Energy, apologized for the confusion and customer inconvenience in the utility’s statement. “We should have found this faster and we should have found it ourselves,” she said. “We should have had better safeguards against unreasonable water meter reads. We apologize to those affected by this anomaly and we hold ourselves accountable for improving our processes so that they do not recur. Customers must have confidence that their utility bills are measured and billed accurately. We are working with Austin Water and have put in place additional protections that will provide more data when there are questions about a water bill.” Sargent also explained that as one of these safeguards, meter-reading technicians have begun photographing all residential water meter readings, which amounts to “well over 200,000 per month. And there is more that we can do and are doing,” she promised. View the full statement here for more information, including the current state of the investigation and the utility’s process for determining bill credit amounts.


Thursday, February 1, 2018 by Katy McElroy

City of Austin recognized for supporting commuting employees

The city of Austin has been chosen as one of the Best Workplaces for Commuters in 2018. The program coordinator for the national designation, Julie Bond, praised the city for its commuter benefits, which include free Capital Metro passes and B-cycle memberships, flexible work schedules, subsidized vanpools, lockers and showers for active commuters, and a commuter incentive program. “The City of Austin is on the cutting edge of a national movement,” Bond said in the news release. “They have listened to their employees’ challenges with traffic congestion and their concerns over reducing emissions. By offering a range of commuter options, the City of Austin gives its employees the support they need to get to and from work so they can be at their best. The companies on this list understand the importance and impact commuter options have on their employees and the value they bring to the environment.” Austin Transportation Director Rob Spillar said the city was proud to receive the designation. “In 2017, the City of Austin as an employer set a new goal to reduce commute trips by 30 percent by 2022,” he said. “The City of Austin has also challenged other employers in Austin to follow suit through our region’s transportation mobility association, Movability Austin. Together, we can reduce traffic and reach this goal.”


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