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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.
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.
Counties push legislature to increase health care funding
The six major Texas urban counties, including Travis, are pushing for increased funding and access to health care coverage for low-income earners during the interim. County judges from Bexar, Dallas, El Paso, Harris, Tarrant and Travis sent the state’s Health and Human Services Committee a letter detailing the fiscal burden indigent health care places on county governments throughout the state. Sen. Judith Zaffirini (D-Laredo), whose sprawling 21st District includes parts of Travis and Hays counties, is on the HHS committee. The letter states that the Health Care Treatment Act of 1985 mandates all counties lacking a public hospital or hospital district must provide health care for impoverished residents. This costs up to 8 percent of a county’s general tax levy, and urban counties with high populations must continue to provide health care even if the cost exceeds 8 percent of the tax levy, the letter states. Travis County spent $270 million in the 2011 Fiscal Year on indigent health care. Overall, private and public providers throughout the state spend $4 billion a year on uncompensated care. In 2012, the Kaiser Foundation reported that Texas was last in the nation, with 24 percent of its residents without health insurance.
Kyle city manager takes top job in Converse
Kyle City Manager Lanny Lambert has accepted a job as city manager of Converse, a small city just outside of San Antonio. The job will be a move home for Lambert, who has maintained his residence in another San Antonio suburb, Helotes, since Kyle hired him in December 2010. Lambert said he began looking for new employment after the Kyle City Council failed to renegotiate his contract in January and showed no signs of moving forward. He was caught between the transition from former Mayor Lucy Johnson to new Mayor Todd Webster, who took office in June. Lambert, who has previously served as city manager for Abilene, Balcones Heights, Big Spring, Brownsville and Leon Valley, will start his new position in mid-September. The Kyle City Council will appoint an interim manager until a permanent replacement is hired.
Thursday, August 14, 2014 by Michael Kanin
The Council Committee on Austin Energy meets at 2 p.m. in the Boards and Commissions Room at City Hall . . . The Austin City Council meets in a special called session at 3 p.m. in the Boards and Commissions Room at City Hall . . . The Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer Conservation District board meets at 6 p.m. at headquarters at 1124 regal Row in Manchaca. They will be looking at the levels in their monitor wells and deciding whether to cut consumption in response to the ongoing drought.
Wednesday, August 13, 2014 by Elizabeth Pagano
Vallera enters Council race in District 3
Add another candidate to the overstuffed District 3 City Council race. On Tuesday, third-generation Tamale House owner Jose Vallera filed his campaign treasurer appointment and application for placement on the ballot. Congressman Lloyd Doggett appointed Vallera to the United States Military Academy at West Point, where Vallera was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant. He served in Iraq in 2003. After graduating from the University of Texas School of Law, Vallera went on to practice intellectual property law at Wilson Sonsini Goodrich and Rosati. In 2012, he opened Tamale House East with his family. In a news release, Vallera promised to focus his campaign on affordable and equitable living, increasing opportunities for quality education, effective transportation solutions and public safety. Vallera’s candidacy brings the suspected number of candidates to 10 in District 3, though Vallera is only the fifth candidate to officially file for a place on the November ballot. The candidate filing deadline is Aug. 18. For ongoing coverage of all of the candidates, remember to visit the Hall Monitor.
Wednesday, August 13, 2014 by Beth Cortez-Neavel
County burn ban in effect
Commissioners approved a burn ban for unincorporated areas of Travis County on Tuesday. The last burn ban was lifted May 13. Fire Marshal Hershel Lee said the fire danger runs from “moderate” for the eastern half of the county to “high” and “very high” for the western portions. “The extreme heat and lack of significant rainfall increases the chances that fires can get out of control and spread quickly.” Under the burn ban, the public should not litter cigarettes, park recently driven or running vehicles on dry grass or operate poorly maintained machinery on dry grass. Prescribed burns and grilling in a closed container with a lid are allowed.
Wednesday, August 13, 2014 by Mark Richardson
Water levels in Central, South Texas aquifers dropping
You’d think with all the rain and storms lately, the drought would be a thing of the past. But that is not the case. Tuesday, the Edwards Aquifer Authority in San Antonio voted to impose Stage IV restrictions on pumping, saying the aquifer’s water level has fallen below the critical threshold of 630 feet above sea level. That means water customers in Bexar and Medina counties and parts of Atascosa, Caldwell, Comal, Guadalupe and Hays counties must cut pumping by 40 percent. The north end of the Edwards, the Barton Springs segment in parts of Travis, Hays and Bastrop counties, could face a similar change in status this week. The Barton Springs aquifer district board meets Thursday and will consider the state of its portion of the underground river. As of Tuesday, the aquifer’s two drought triggers – the Lovelady Well level and the flow at Barton Springs – were at or below the threshold to send it into Stage II status, meaning a 20 percent reduction in pumping. Board members took the aquifer out of drought status in late June but warned at the time that hot summer weather could draw it down again.
Tuesday, August 12, 2014 by Mark Richardson
Last week to submit a ballot application
After today, there will be just one week left for candidates in the Nov. 4 City Council election to make it official and submit an application to get their name on the ballot. Applications are due at the City Clerk’s office by 5 p.m. Aug. 18. Several new candidates filed for places on the ballot late last week, including Randall Stephens in the Mayor’s race; Andrew Bucknall in District 1; Robert Perez Jr. in District 4; Ann Kitchen in District 5; Edwin E. English and Leslie Pool in District 7; Eliza May in District 8; and Kathie Tovo in District 9. Of the 60 or so people who filed paperwork naming campaign treasurers, only about half have signed up to be on the ballot with a week left to go.
Tuesday, August 12, 2014 by Beth Cortez-Neavel
Chief Medical Examiner resigns, interim appointed
Travis County Medical Examiner Dr. David Dolinak is resigning his position, effective Aug. 18, and Travis County Commissioners have appointed Dr. Satish Chundru to step in for the interim until a new chief is hired. Dr. Dolinak was the chief for eight years. The Medical Examiner‘s office has until November to hire a permanent replacement.
Today’s Most Interesting Meeting?
The Council Audit and Finance Committee will have a lot on its plate this morning as it grapples with the results from audits of the Neighborhood Housing and Community Development Department related to contract compliance; small and minority business participation goals for the Small and Minority Business Resources Department; and a safety audit of Austin Resource Recovery. Committee members will also be asking questions about whether the Budget Office has adequately documented cost allocations for internal services. There has long been a suspicion that Austin Energy and Austin Water Utility are being overcharged. According to a briefing document provided ahead of the meeting, city auditors found that the Budget Office “does not have a well–documented cost allocation plan for CTM (the Communications & Technology Management Department). However, the budget office argues that “they took over responsibility for administering the cost allocation plan in FY2013, and documentation for the plan was not available from CTM.”
Group to hear Mayor candidates tonight
South Austin Democrats will be offering their members an opportunity to hear candidates for Mayor
and vote on an endorsement for that office tonight. However, they will not be making an endorsement, as we originally reported. The group meets at El Gallo Restaurant, 2910 S. Congress, beginning at 5:30 p.m.
Also at the Audit and Finance Committee
Also, the Economic Development Department will be discussing its progress in implementing Council resolutions from 2012 related to assisting small local businesses. Rebecca Melançon, executive director of the Austin Independent Business Alliance, is scheduled to discuss that same topic with members of the committee. The committee is also scheduled to talk about bylaw amendments for the Parks and Recreation Board plan to eliminate the navigation committee, which no longer meets. Another change will allow the board chair to serve as a nonvoting member on any committee, which is already occurring, according to Deena Estrada, boards and commissions coordinator.