Whispers

Wednesday, September 10, 2014 by Elizabeth Pagano

Citizens for Tax Relief NOW protest budget

The group “Citizens for Tax Relief NOW” drew a crowd of reporters Tuesday at a news conference to address the city budget process taking place across the river. As may become typical in this election, speakers probably outnumbered attendees, with candidates and political figures each making their pitch toward lowering taxes. Speakers included mayoral candidate Todd Phelps, District 6 candidate Jay Wiley, District 10 candidate Bill Worsham, District 3 candidate Julian Limon Fernandez and Travis County judge candidate Mike McNamara. The conference also featured Americans for Prosperity Texas Policy Director Peggy Venable, who released a statement saying that government spending and debt was outpacing Austin’s growth. She wrote: “Local government debt in Texas is a growing threat to our economic freedom.” Highlights of the news conference included a promise from Fernandez to lower property taxes by 20 percent, a promise from Phelps to lower the property tax rate immediately, and a warning from Phelps that Council was planning to ban all cellphones. Though Citizens for Tax Relief NOW identify themselves as a “nonpartisan citizen-led issue organization,” they do seem to share a photographer with the Austin Texas Tea Party, with each of their websites using the same picture of Austin.

 


Wednesday, September 10, 2014 by Mark Richardson

Guy Herman to retire as probate judge

Travis County Commissioners voted Tuesday to accept the resignation of longtime probate judge Guy Herman, who has announced his retirement.  Commissioners named Herman’s associate judge, Dan Preshner, as interim probate judge until a permanent judge is in place. Commissioners may call a special election to fill the seat.

 


Wednesday, September 10, 2014 by Elizabeth Pagano

Council reduces fees for street patios

One of the last changes to City Council’s budget session Tuesday came at the behest of Council Member Chris Riley. That change will reduce the fee for businesses to install “street patios,” which is a new category for the city that allows downtown businesses to use their street parking as outdoor patio space. After the approval, participation in the program will cost $2,400 per space per year, instead of the proposed $4,000. Though the $4,000 fee was based on the revenue that would be lost from the absence of a space, Riley argued that there was a public benefit that should be taken into account, as is done with valet spaces. The concept was tested as part of a pilot program at the Congress Avenue location of Royal Blue Grocery. The rate change passed unanimously.


Wednesday, September 10, 2014 by Elizabeth Pagano

Orshalick to launch Mayor campaign

Mayoral Candidate David Orshalick, who has been fairly quiet since getting on the ballot in August, will officially launch his “bold mayoral campaign” tonight. In a news release, Orshalick announced that he will kick off his campaign at the Upper District 7 Candidate Forum, which is taking place at 7 p.m. at the St. Albert’s Church on Metric Boulevard. In his news release, Orshalick promises to “shake things up” at City Hall, writing, “Austin is worth saving. The time has come to move away from the ineffective, nonresponsive City government that led us to this precipice … Together, we can create and implement a plan that leads Austin into a vibrant and viable future where residents and visitors alike can experience the affordable high quality of life we deserve.”


Tuesday, September 9, 2014 by Mark Richardson

City imposes burn ban on parks

The Austin Parks and Recreation Department is temporarily prohibiting the building of fires and smoking in all city parks, greenbelts and preserves due to the dangerous fire hazard conditions that currently exist in the Central Texas area. This includes the use of wood or charcoal BBQ pits/grills/smokers. Propane stoves are allowed in designated picnic areas only. PARD is working with park police and park rangers in the enforcement of the fire-building and smoking ban in order to provide for the public’s safety. Violations of this burn ban may result in a fine between $300 and $500. PARD will evaluate conditions to determine when to lift the ban.

 


Tuesday, September 9, 2014 by Elizabeth Pagano

Funding to restore public library hours

Among the many budget items City Council approved yesterday was $507,000 for Austin public libraries. That money will go toward restoring library hours that were cut in prior budgets. The money will allow the libraries affected by cuts to reopen on Thursdays and Fridays. The money is a boon for library patrons, as it was not requested by Austin Public Library director Brenda Branch, who had planned to request the money in conjunction with the opening of the new, downtown Central Library.


Tuesday, September 9, 2014 by Elizabeth Pagano

BoA meeting shifted to break room

Ongoing renovations at City Hall continued to take a toll last night. The latest victim? Arguably, everyone who attended the Board of Adjustment meeting, which was stuffed into the Austin Energy break room at the last minute. The meeting was held among the buzzing vending machines, but the board may hold a surprise meeting next week, in a room more suited to the purpose. Of course we will keep you posted if that happens, in addition to covering the break room meeting held last night.


Monday, September 8, 2014 by Jo Clifton

Stonewall Dems pick Adler, Garza, Renteria

After listening to the candidates for mayor and four of the new City Council district seats, the Austin Stonewall Democrats made the following endorsements last week: for mayor, Steve Adler; District 2, Delia Garza; and District 3, Sabino “Pio” Renteria. There were dual endorsements in two of the races. In District 7, the group endorsed Leslie Pool and Melissa Zone. In District 9, they endorsed both Chris Riley and Kathie Tovo. According to Rich Bailey, endorsement chair for the Stonewall Democrats, the threshold for an endorsement is 60 percent, but no candidate reached that threshold in the two races, so the group decided to issue the dual endorsements.


Monday, September 8, 2014 by Jo Clifton

Aquifer district trustee home from hospital

Craig Smith, a member of the board of the Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer Conservation District, was hospitalized on Saturday, over fears that he had suffered a “small heart attack.” Mary Ann Neely said Smith had gone to the Barton Springs pool, where he swims daily, but was in too much pain to swim and drove himself to the St. David’s Hospital in South Austin. He was released from the hospital Sunday evening. Smith is also an assistant county attorney for Travis County. Neely advises friends to call before visiting.


Monday, September 8, 2014 by Elizabeth Pagano

Austin Interfaith news conference today

Members of Austin Interfaith will hold a news conference today at 9 a.m., just before City Council’s budget session begins, in order to “address the injustice of the proposed budget.” A statement from the group explains that the proposed budget is “an immoral document that does not reflect the values and priorities of our great city.” In that same release, Austin Interfaith criticizes the amount of money spent on public safety instead of child poverty. A list of budget priorities for next year penned by the organization identified just under $130 million in funding for social service contracts and city departments. The news conference will be held at 721 Barton Springs Road.


Friday, September 5, 2014 by Michael Kanin

AFA to bring city’s ‘best offer’ to rank & file

In an email sent to union members, Austin Firefighters Association head Bob Nicks said this week that he is disappointed in the latest contract offer from city management, saying the terms of the offer would mean an “erosion of our professional standards.” Nicks is referring to a potential new contract for the city’s firefighters. The city and the firefighters union have been negotiating a new agreement since June, when Austin and the U.S. Department of Justice settled a lawsuit over the city fire department’s minority hiring practices. Nicks said, “Based on the recent membership survey results and the AFA’s commitment to abide by the will of the membership, we have agreed to forward the management team’s ‘final and best offer’ to the membership for review and vote.” Nicks said the vote will happen online between Sept. 23 and 25.

 


Friday, September 5, 2014 by Mark Richardson

Saldaña kicks off AISD trustee campaign

Paul Saldaña kicked off his campaign for Place 6 on the Austin Independent School District Board of Trustees Thursday at the Serranos Southpark. The native East Austinite and community organizer told his supporters, “I am passionate about public education, which is a driving variable that impacts our quality of life, and it’s absolutely important that we elect leaders that will serve as a strong voice for our children, families, teachers and neighborhood.” AISD is the fifth-largest school district in Texas, serving approximately 87,000 students at 129 schools. AISD District 6 includes 18 AISD campuses in South Austin. Saldaña has more than 20 years of experience in civic and governmental affairs and owns his own public relations firm, Saldaña Public Relations.


Friday, September 5, 2014 by Elizabeth Pagano

District 3 keeps Ethics Commission busy

This time, it’s District 3 candidate Fred McGhee who is the subject of a formal ethics complaint. The complaint, filed by fellow District 3 candidate Shaun Ireland, alleges that McGhee has violated city code “by printing and mailing a postcard for the purpose of political advertising, without a required disclosure notice.” The postcard in question is an advertisement for McGhee’s book, History of Montopolis. McGhee’s campaign logo and information about his campaign Facebook page are included on the postcard by way of a return address. In a news release, Ireland expressed respect for his opponent. “I would like to consider this lack of disclosure an honest mistake, but Dr. McGhee has run for other offices,” wrote Ireland. “I am sure he is well aware of the requirements of city code and state law.” McGhee told the Monitor that the purpose of the mailers was to promote his book, not his campaign. “It’s a relatively minor matter,” said McGhee. “There are many, many more important things for the 12 candidates in District 3 to be talking about.”

 


Friday, September 5, 2014 by Elizabeth Pagano

Almanza ethics complaint set for review

The Ethics Review Commission will consider a complaint against District 3 City Council candidate Susana Almanza this evening at a specially called meeting. The complaint, filed by Montopolis resident Stefan Wray, alleges Almanza did not include information about the employers of 23 donors who contributed $200 or more to her campaign, as is required by city code. Almanza has stated that the mistake was unintentional and has already been corrected. She also has pointed out that the mistake is a common one made by several other candidates running for office in Districts 1, 2, 8, 9 and 10. The commission will meet at 6 p.m. at One Texas Center. Almanza has waived a personal appearance at the hearing and is not expected to attend.


Thursday, September 4, 2014 by Mark Richardson

ACLU wants single-sex schools investigated

The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU Foundation of Texas have filed a civil rights complaint against the Austin Independent School District over the opening of a pair of two single-sex middle schools, the Gus Garcia Young Men’s Academy and the Bertha Sadler Means Young Women’s Leadership Academy. The civil rights organizations want an investigation by the U.S. Department of Education into whether the new schools discriminate against students based on sex and race. The district transformed Pearce and Garcia middle schools into the single-sex campuses. Both schools’ student bodies are mainly Hispanic and African-American. The ACLU claims that Pearce and Garcia were two of AISD’s poorest-performing schools. As of Wednesday, AISD officials said they had not seen the complaint.

 


Thursday, September 4, 2014 by Mark Richardson

Commissioners fund new family court

Caught between a critical need for an additional judge for family court and a promise to hold the line on tax increases, Travis County Commissioners voted Wednesday to allocate $424,000 for a new court to hear child protection cases. Earlier in the budget process, District Judge Lora Livingston told the commissioners that children and parents involved in abuse and neglect cases get an average of only 10 minutes to present their case, while most needed at least 30 minutes. She also said that caseloads were so high, they had to hire private attorneys to represent some of their clients. (See Austin Monitor, Aug. 25.) Livingston told the commissioners during their budget markup session Wednesday that it had been almost 20 years since the county had given the civil courts a new associate judge, but during that time their child protective services caseload had grown exponentially.  Despite the apparent lack of available funds, Commissioner Bruce Todd said they had to find a way to make it happen. If we don’t fund this, I can’t say we’ve had a successful budget. Not only is it legally mandated, but it’s morally mandated,” he said. “I would not be embarrassed to tell anyone I raised their taxes to pay for this.” Judge Sam Biscoe said they would likely fund an additional associate judge and three staffers through a one-time expenditure from reserves, meaning they will have to find the funds again in the next budget cycle. Commissioners approved the budget addition, 3-0-2, with Commissioners Margaret Gomez and Ron Davis abstaining.


Thursday, September 4, 2014 by Elizabeth Pagano

Candidate Martinez calls news conference

City Council Member Mike Martinez will hold a press conference today where he will, according to a news release, “take on Steve Adler’s so-called tax ‘plan’ that will force the average middle class renter to pay for expensive tax breaks for millionaires.” The event will take place at 11:30 a.m. at the Austin City Hall Plaza, 301 West Second St.


Thursday, September 4, 2014 by Mark Richardson

Travis County employees get a raise

Travis County Commissioners granted rank-and-file employees a flat $1,000 a year raise, and granted peace officers such as sheriff’s deputies and park rangers a one-step increase in their pay scale. The raises, which are limited to employees who make less than $100,000, will cost the county about $5 million. Commissioner Ron Davis objected to spending that much, because it exceeded the $4.3 million reserve fund budgeted for next year. He wanted the raises limited to $750 per employee, but ended up on the short end of the 4-1 vote. For some peace officers, it’s the first pay increase in five years.


Thursday, September 4, 2014 by Jo Clifton

Stonewall Dems to hold 2nd endorsement session

Stonewall Democrats of Austin will hold a meeting tonight to consider endorsements for five races for City Council. Starting at 6 p.m., the group will hear from candidates for mayor and for Districts 2, 3, 7 and 9. The group will meet at Smith Auditorium of the Congregation Beth Israel, 3901 Shoal Creek Blvd. This is their second endorsement meeting. They have already endorsed in Districts 1, 4, 5, 6, 8 and 10.

 


Thursday, September 4, 2014 by Elizabeth Pagano

First city candidate forum takes place today

The District 1 City of Austin candidate forum will be held tonight, at the Asian-American Resource Center. The forum is the first of a series that will be held by the city’s Ethics Review Commission and Austin’s League of Women Voters. The forum will take place at 6 p.m. at 8401 Cameron Road.


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