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Fire Marshal reclassifies six positions
Five Travis County Fire Marshal deputy assistants and one assistant will move from the county’s classified pay scale to the Peace Officer Pay Scale starting Sept. 1. The Travis County Commissioners Court approved the motion Tuesday, with Pct. 3 Commissioner Gerald Daugherty voting no. Commissioner Ron Davis abstained and Commissioner Bruce Todd was absent. The move in pay scales would increase pay to these six positions by a combined $33,392 for the 2015 fiscal year. The move takes effect one month before the fiscal year begins so that the Fire Marshal’s office may begin posting to fill vacant positions. Todd Osbourne with the Human Resources Management Department said the Fire Marshal’s office has had trouble filling these positions with qualified applicants due to the low salary.
County Commissioners OK Code changes
The Travis County Commissioners Court unanimously approved two motions to change parts of the County Code this week. Caitlin Brown, policy director for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, asked last week to amend parts of the Drug and Alcohol Policy to encourage, rather than discipline, employees seeking help for substance abuse through the HR department. The code did not previously differentiate from on-the job policy violations and those seeking help without violating the policy during working hours. The code will now allow employees to self-disclose without any disciplinary action. The court also approved revising the code to include a Catastrophic Sick Leave Policy. Employees can opt-in to donate hours into an annual pool and get extra paid time-off hours, after they use all of their sick leave hours, in case of injury or illness. Once hours are donated to the pool, they are not returned to the employee.
A story in Thursday’s edition incorrectly state the numbers of new sanitarian positions the Health and Human Services Department plans to hire in 2015. The agency plans to hire eight new sanitarians for restaurant inspections.
There is an app for that
Austin 311 has a new Smartphone App. The app allows residents and visitors the opportunity to connect with the city. Some requests available on the app are Graffiti Removal, Pothole Repair, Sidewalk Repair and Waste Water Report. Residents will be able to select from a list of service requests, take a picture, add a location and submit from their mobile devices. This app allows residents to become more engaged in their community and provides the opportunity for increased efficiency within the city. Residents can get the app in the iTunes store or Google Play under the name “City of Austin Texas.” They can also download the app.
Cemetery Master Plan meeting set
The Austin Parks and Recreation Department will hold the third community meeting for the Cemetery Master Plan process Aug. 23. This will be the third of five community meetings to be held as part of the planning effort for the City’s five historic municipal cemeteries, which include Austin Memorial Park Cemetery, Evergreen Cemetery, Oakwood Cemetery, Oakwood Cemetery Annex and Plummers Cemetery. The meeting will present the project team’s assessment of the conditions of natural and human-made features found in the five historic city-owned cemeteries. The team will also share examples of heritage and cultural programming in other cemeteries around the United States and receive input from the public. The city selected AmaTerra Environmental, Inc. to develop the master plan, which will take a year to complete. The master plan will include recommendations related to historic preservation, tree care and cemetery management issues. The meeting is set from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at the Austin Public Library Ruiz Branch, 1600 Grove Boulevard. For more information, click here.
Two groups issue Council endorsements
The Network of Asian American Organizations PAC seems to be the first group to issue endorsements, with Capital Tejano Democrats not far behind. The Asian American PAC endorsed Steve Adler for Mayor and released the following statement: “We greatly appreciate the service of Mayor Pro Tem Cole and Council Member Martinez; however, we feel that changing to the new 10-1 system of council representation brings a historic opportunity for new leadership and a fresh perspective. Steve Adler will bring the effective leadership style he’s demonstrated through his community service.” The group also endorsed Fred McGhee in District 3; Greg Casar in District 4; Ann Kitchen in District 5; Eliza May in District 8 and Kathie Tovo in District 9 . . . The Capital Tejano Democrats met with candidates for Mayor, and District 2 City Council Saturday. According to CTD President Yolanda Riojas Pedraza, the group voted to endorse Mike Martinez for Mayor and Delia Garza for District 2. Riojas Pedraza said, “It was very clear to our members that Mike was the most experienced and had the best perspective needed to handle this very important job.”
The Austin City Council meets in a Budget Work Session at 9:30 a.m. at Town Lake Center, 721 Barton Springs Road.
Zimmerman explains decision to run
Longtime Republican stalwart Don Zimmerman said Tuesday he made the decision to put his name on the list for City Council District 6 because he had been disappointed by the lack of some wealthy Republican who would be able to buy the job. Asked if the reason might be because being on the City Council is not such a great job, Zimmerman replied, “It’s a terrible job but Marsha Farney ponied up a quarter of a million dollars” to fund her successful campaign for the State Board of Education. And that’s a really terrible job, he opined. Farney is now a State Representative from Georgetown. So, lacking a candidate he liked, Zimmerman said he would take on the task himself. As for his platform, Zimmerman offered the following: “We believe it is outrageous that Austin city government has promoted staggering increases in debt and taxes to subsidize wealthy mega-businesses like Apple, and the wealthiest university in the nation (University of Texas) with their property-tax-subsidized medical school, on the backs of renters, homeowners and small businesses.” He added that he intends “to expose the misinformation of the ‘urban rail’ campaign which would waste over a billion dollars and do virtually nothing to relieve traffic congestion.”
Martinez, Phelps spar over rideshare policies
Mayoral candidate Mike Martinez sparred with a much lesser known opponent, Todd Phelps, Tuesday before members of the city’s hospitality industry as well as other downtown business people and residents. Phelps essentially accused Martinez of single-handedly preventing ridesharing services from operating in Austin. Martinez did not take that credit but said he believes that such services are not currently safe. Phelps argued that the companies, Uber and Lyft in particular, would police their own drivers and that the public would be safe. Sometime this fall, the city manager is expected to bring a proposal back to Council on how to deal with such services. Martinez said the companies had agreed to the plan but then backed out. Their remarks were part of a forum Tuesday by the Austin Hotel & Lodging Association, the Austin Restaurant Association and the Downtown Austin Neighborhood Association. How to deal with Austin’s transportation problems was just one of eight questions posed to candidates Sheryl Cole, Steve Adler, Martinez and Phelps by James Walsh, president of the lodging association.
Seton names Vasquez to run teaching hospital
Seton Healthcare has named Christann Vasquez as the first president of the Seton Medical Center at the University of Texas. She will begin in August. The medical school is already under construction and scheduled to open in 2016. Most recently, Vasquez was been the executive vice president and chief operating officer of University Health System in San Antonio. In that role, she was responsible for operations for the University Hospital, Texas Diabetes Institute, Community Medicine Associates as well as 16 outpatient facilities and clinics, among other duties. Vasquez was also CEO of the Houston-area Memorial Hermann Healthcare System and chief financial officer for Harris County Public Health and Environmental Services.
Memorials dedicated for two APD officers
The Austin Police Department unveiled memorial markers for officers John Gaines and Tom Allen Tuesday as part of the Austin Police Officer Memorial Project. Officer John Gaines, the only African-American officer on the Austin police force at the time, was shot by George Booth, a deputy constable involved in a disturbance, at Sixth and Trinity streets Nov. 19, 1913. Booth shot Gaines while the officer was on the telephone summoning help from the police station. At that time, African-American officers were not allowed to arrest whites. Officer Tom Allen, Austin’s only African-American police officer since the death of Gaines two years earlier, was shot and killed at Jennings’ drugstore on East Sixth Street. The shooting followed an argument between Allen and the editor of a San Antonio-based black newspaper. The memorials were dedicated Tuesday and will remain at the corner of Sixth and Trinity streets.
City to accept electronics recycling
Austin residents and businesses now can bring used or damaged electronics to the City of Austin’s Resource Recovery Center for recycling at no cost. Through a recycling processing contract with Dallas-company ECS Refining, the Resource Recovery Center now accepts most consumer electronics, including TVs, computers, mobile devices, printers, scanners, copiers, fax machines, video consoles and digital cameras. In addition, the center also accepts appliances such as air conditioners, water heaters, dryers, stoves, refrigerators, microwaves and all types of metals. The Resource Recovery Center is open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. at 3810 Todd Lane.
The Austin Water Public Information Meeting on policy changes for line installations is set for 6 p.m. at Waller Creek Plaza, 625 East 10th Street.
Commissioners to vote on incentives for Charles Schwab
In a late addition to its agenda, the Travis County Commissioners Court will hold a public hearing today on a proposed economic incentive agreement with Charles Schwab Corporation, which is proposing a major a expansion of its Austin operations. Last week, the Texas Enterprise Fund approved a $4.5 million investment in Schwab’s Austin expansion, which is expected to create 823 new jobs and bring $210 million in capital investment into Austin. Commissioners will consider a 48.4 percent tax rebate based on the financial services company’s job creation and capital investment over a 10-year period. County officials did not put a dollar figure on the agreement, but critics of the deal are saying it could cost as much as $8.4 million. Commissioners will not vote on the deal until next week. ChangeAustin.org, Brian Rodgers’ public interest group, plans to be on hand for today’s public hearing to protest the deal.
LCRA cracking down on water pirates
The Lower Colorado River Authority said Monday it is cracking down on people who take water from the Highland Lakes or Lower Colorado River without a valid contract. The agency is asking anyone who spots a possible violation to report it to LCRA. Many of those believed to be taking water without a contract are people who live along the Highland Lakes and pull water directly from the lakes to water their lawns. LCRA General Manager Phil Wilson said though the amount of water estimated to be illegally diverted is small in comparison to the amount of water in the Highland Lakes and the Lower Colorado River, every gallon of water is important, especially during this severe drought. Wilson is expanding LCRA’s enforcement team by bringing in additional personnel from other areas of LCRA, including Water Conservation, Water Surface Management and the LCRA Rangers. The increased lake patrols will begin Aug. 1.
Public meeting on service line installations
The Austin Water Utility is making changes to its policies and procedures that cover water and wastewater service line installations. The utility is holding a public meeting Wednesday, to discuss these changes, which include updates on changes in internal processes that govern installation of water and wastewater service lines, including providing new service to legal lots and changes in regulations on service lines being relocated and/or adjusted due to redevelopment. Austin Water is also recommending that a regulation, commonly known as the “four- lot ordinance,” be revoked. This ordinance requires the utility to install water and wastewater service for certain properties being re-subdivided. For more information, contact Alice Flora or Randi Jenkins. The meeting is set from 6 to 7 p.m. Wednesday in Room 104 at Waller Creek Center, 625 E. 10th Street.
Austin Water wins award for use of GIS system
Austin Water Utility has received international acclaim for its use of Geographic Information Systems technology to support a variety of water conservation activities within the city. AWU was presented the Special Achievement in GIS Award at the 2014 Environmental Systems Research Institute International User Conference in San Diego. The nomination stood out among 100,000 user sites from around the world. The GIS tool was developed to help the City of Austin manage water resources while dealing with a major drought and rapid growth of the Austin area over the last 20 years.
The Ethics Review Commission meets at 6 p.m. at One Texas Center, 505 Barton Springs Road . . . The Texas Department of Transportation and the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority will hold public hearing at 6 p.m. regarding the proposed construction of State Highway 45 Southwest in Travis and Hays counties at Bowie High School, 4103 West Slaughter Lane. The open house for this hearing begins at 5 p.m. . . .The Travis County Commissioners Court meets at 9 a.m. in Chambers at 700 Lavaca St. . . . The Williamson County Commissioners Court meets at 9:30 a.m. in the Williamson County Courthouse in Georgetown . . . The Hays County Commissioners meet at 9 a.m. in the Hays County Courthouse in San Marcos. . . . The Austin Hotel and Lodging Association is holding a Mayoral forum from 3-5 p.m. at the AT&T Hotel and Conference Center, 1900 University Ave. The association asked that those interested in attending pre-register but you may still be able to sign up.
Monday, July 28, 2014 by Michael Kanin
Nerds seek more library money
Self-described nerd J.C. Dwyer and 900 other citizens have signed a petition urging the City Council to put more funding into Austin’s libraries this year. Dwyer says he and others have had productive conversations with several members of Council and their staff and feels like they have a good chance to increase the limited funds that caused libraries to cut their hours several years ago. They “run a pretty tight ship,” he said. “They just barely have enough resources to do their job.” Last year’s priority was getting enough funds to put RFID (radio frequency identification) in the books of each branch to cut down on theft. In addition to the petition, Dwyer’s group has sponsored a letter writing campaign, which produced a multitude of hand-written letters, including some from children, to get Council’s attention.
Monday, July 28, 2014 by Michael Kanin
Council returns for budget hearing
On Thursday, Council members will hold their first budget work session since May, officially ending their summer break. That’s going to be at Town Lake Center at 9:30 a.m. We hope the staff has figured out an easy way to make Wi-Fi available to everyone. That’s just one of the little things that has cropped up as a problem since City Hall has been under reconstruction.