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 Nine Charter Revisions Recommended

Public financing for mayor and council candidates,
an Independent Ethics Commission with teeth, more

by Ken Martin
© The Austin Bulldog 2018
Posted Tuesday May 8, 2018 10:05pm
Updated Wednesday May 9, 2018 9:30am (Charter Review Commission--not Charter Revision Commission)
Updated Monday May 14, 2018 9:22am to link the final verison of the 2018 Charter Review Commission Report to the City Council)
Updated Monday May 14, 2018 3:23pm to remove Terrell Blodgett as an endorser of the Democracy Dollars Vouchers plan)

Will the recommended City Charter changes be on the ballot you see November 6, 2018. That's up to the City Council.Will the recommended City Charter changes be on the ballot you see November 6, 2018. That's up to the City Council.The 2018 Charter Revision Review Commission was mighty happy to finish its seven months of work last night as it put the final touches on nine recommended Charter changes.

Jannette GoodallJannette GoodallCity Clerk Jannette Goodall, Assistant City Attorney Lynn Carter, and Assistant City Clerk Myrna Rios was relieved of the considerable workload they have carried through the process. Goodall even brought brownies for an informal celebration once the commission adjourned.

Matt HershMatt HershThe final report was adopted on a vote of 9-1 with Commission Matt Hersh opposed and Commissioner Joy Arthur absent.

Now the recommendations will go to the City Council for a decision about which of these, if any, you will see on the November 6, 2018, ballot.

Among the high-profile recommendations are public financing for mayoral and city council campaigns, establishment of an Independent Ethics Commission, hiring a Budget and Efficiency Officer to advise the City Council on finance and other issues, allowing the City Council to hire the City Attorney instead of the City Manager, and requiring public hearings and/or voter approval of major new revenue bonds and spending for electric and water projects. (A complete list and details are provided below.)

The Commission met 15 times starting November 6, 2017. Most of the heavy lifting in research and formulating recommendations was done in working groups that brought their work back to the Commission for discussion, refinement, and a vote. Two of the recommendations came from concerned citizens who brought ideas the Commission ultimately adopted.

The Commission scheduled five public hearings, two of which were cancelled due to lack of a quorum. The three hearings actually held—at Anderson High School, Dove Springs Recreation Center, and City Hall—drew a total of just three speakers.

Final report packed with details

The Commission’s 59 93-page 2018 Charter Review Commission Report to City Council, May 7, 2018, reflects the final few votes taken last night. Some of the recommendations were approved at earlier meetings.

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 Central Health Sponsorships Top $200,000

New spending list adds $88,000 to the total
having no connection to indigent healthcare

Investigative Report by Ken Martin
© The Austin Bulldog 2018
Part 7 in a Series
Posted Tuesday May 2, 2018 4:27pm

“Lest We Forget” dollar bill art (courtesy of Dan Tague, dantaguestudio.com)“Lest We Forget” dollar bill art (courtesy of Dan Tague, dantaguestudio.com)It turns out that Central Health, the agency whose sole mission is to provide indigent health care services in Travis County, vastly understated in its original response to a public information request the amount it has handed out to local organizations for luncheons, galas and other events.

The Austin Bulldog reported March 31, 2018, that more than $111,000 in property taxes collected by the agency had been spent in fewer than four years, much it for lavish galas at high-end hotels that included fine food, entertainment and awards presentations, events that have nothing to do with providing indigent healthcare services.

Since then Central Health provided a list of additional expenditures that totaled more than $88,000, bringing the grand total to more than $200,000. (The revised March 31 spreadsheet, with additional expenditures entered in red, is linked at the bottom of this article. It lists each donation, the organization that received it, the date, and a description of the event.) The cost of several other events that research shows Central Health funded have still not been provided by the agency.

The Austin Bulldog’s compilation of the total amount that Central Health gave to each of the 42 organizations from January 2013 to January 2018 is shown in the accompanying chart. (Central Health Funding Recipients.)

Spending squelched by lawsuit, new policy

Mike GeeslinMike GeeslinMike Geeslin, president and CEO of Central Health, declined to address these expenditures for the March 31 story, so he was not contacted to comment for this update.

The number of events sponsored and the individual amounts given by Central Health have been reduced since Geeslin took the helm May 15, 2017—mainly due to a new policy ordered by the Travis County Attorney’s Office.

The new policy limits such expenditures to a maximum of $500, specifies the types of education and outreach events that might justify funding, and requires Geeslin’s pre-approval.

The new policy was implemented soon after Central Health was sued October 18, 2017, over alleged misuse of funds. (Birch et al v. Travis County Healthcare District, dba Central Health, Cause No. D-1-GN-17-005824.) That lawsuit is currently in the discovery phase.

Complete details about the legal restrictions on use of Central Health funds were included in the March 31 story.

Showboating after big tax increase

On November 6, 2012, 54.67 percent of voters approved a big leap in the property tax rate that Central Health could levy, raising it from 7.89 cents per $100 property valuation to 12.9 cents. Suddenly the agency was awash in cash and Central Health strutted its newfound wealth by blowing $30,000 in 2013 to be the “presenting” (or major) sponsor of the Austin Business Journal’s Healthiest Employers Awards presentations.

This annual event recognizes employers that provide programs for the health of employees. By definition, then, these employers, however enlightened and commendable, are not providing indigent healthcare services.

Adding $10,000 sponsorships in 2014 and 2015 for the same event, plus additional expenditures with the publication for women’s events in 2015 and 2016, plus its Commercial Real Estates Awards in 2015, brought Central Health’s spending to more than $52,000, making the Austin Business Journal the chief beneficiary of Central Health’s largesse unrelated to indigent healthcare services.

Central Health boosts Chambers of Commerce

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 Library Director Misled Library Commission

‘Austin Monitor’ reported Roosevelt Weeks said
petitioning banned at ‘majority of urban public libraries’

Investigative Report by Ken Martin
© The Austin Bulldog 2018
Posted Thursday April 12, 2018 9:36pm

Austin Library Director Roosevelt WeeksAustin Library Director Roosevelt Weeks

It appears that Austin’s library director vastly overstated the numbers of urban libraries in this country that ban people from gathering petition signatures on library property.

The Austin Bulldog reported on discussions of library policies at two meetings of the Austin Library Commission. In both meetings Library Director Roosevelt Weeks argued against allowing petitioners to gather signatures outside the city’s public libraries.

In fact, police issued criminal trespass notices to two men, at different library locations on different dates, who were approaching library patrons for signatures on the CodeNEXT petition.

As reported by The Austin Bulldog March 10, 2018, the City later backed off on issuing trespass notices for such activity and agreed to rescind the notices already issued.

What next caught our eye was the March 28, 2018, report in the Austin Monitor by Jessi Devenyns, who covered the March 26 Library Commission meeting. The last sentence in her story, titled “Will petitions be allowed on library property?” states: “Weeks did note that the majority of urban public libraries in the United States do ban petitioning on library property.”

Following up on that statement, The Austin Bulldog filed a public information request April 1, 2018, for any study, report, or other source material that addresses or supports Weeks’ statement.

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 City Charter Changes: Who Cares?

Commission’s public hearings in northwest, southeast
and central Austin draw total of only three speakers

by Ken Martin
© The Austin Bulldog 2018
Posted Monday April 9, 2018 10:24am
Updated Wednesday May 9, 2018 9:40am (Charter Review Commission--not Charter Revision Commission)

The Asian American Resource Center, located at 8401 Cameron Road, is the site of the Charter Revision Commission’s final public hearing on proposed City Charter changes.The Asian American Resource Center, located at 8401 Cameron Road, is the site of the Charter Revision Commission’s final public hearing on proposed City Charter changes.If you were waiting for the last call to make comments about nine proposals to change the Austin City Charter, this is it: the Charter Revision Review Commission will hold its final public hearing April 12 at the Asian American Resource Center at 8401 Cameron Road in northeast Austin.

Many of the Commission’s recommendations being aired are of major importance. For example:

Should the City establish an Independent Ethics Commission that has the power to issue subpoenas, compel depositions and production of evidence, investigate and hold hearings, all under the oversight of a commission whose members are drawn from a pool of applicants and will be empowered to act without other oversight?

Should the City Council establish a Budget and Efficiency Officer with a small staff that would report directly to and advise the council on financial matters?

Should tax money be taken from the general fund to help fund election campaigns for mayoral and council candidates?

That's just a small taste of seven recommendations the Commission has already adopted to change the charter and it’s considering two other proposals.(More details about the recommendations are provided below.)

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 Dining and Shining on Taxpayer Dollars

Central Health spent more than $111,000 for sponsorships
that have nothing to do with providing indigent healthcare

Investigative Report by Ken Martin
© The Austin Bulldog 2018
Part 6 in a Series
Posted Friday March 30, 2018 4:06pm
Updated Saturday March 31, 2018 10:08am to correct date errors

Rosie Mendoza (far left) arrives at the Chair's VIP reception for the Greater Austin Hispanic Chamber of Commerce’s Celebrando Austin, September 13, 2014. Central Health paid $2,500 to sponsor the event. (Photo by Martin do Nascimento/Austin American-Statesman)Rosie Mendoza (far left) arrives at the Chair's VIP reception for the Greater Austin Hispanic Chamber of Commerce’s Celebrando Austin, September 13, 2014. Central Health paid $2,500 to sponsor the event. (Photo by Martin do Nascimento/Austin American-Statesman)

Central Health, the Travis County agency that levies property taxes to pay for indigent healthcare, has spent more than $111,000 to sponsor various community events in fewer than four years. Much of that money put Central Health in the spotlight as it laid out cash for lavish galas at high-end hotels that included fine food, entertainment, and awards presentations.

As the above photo shows with Central Health Board of Managers member Rosie Mendoza, some events were attended by Central Health board members and executives. It is not clear whether these attendees paid to attend or their tickets were included in the sponsorships. The managers and Central Health Board of Managers who would know have declined to comment.

More than $50,000 of that $111,000-plus in spending went to sponsor multiple events for Austin’s Healthiest Employers Awards presentations, the Austin Business Journal’s annual event that recognizes employers who provide programs for the health of employees. Of that amount $30,000 was paid in 2013 to be the “presenting” (or major) sponsor for the event. (Other expenditures large and small will be detailed later in this story.)

These expenditures are totally unrelated to Central Health’s sole mission: to provide indigent healthcare services. In fact no other Travis County governmental agency is permitted to provide that care, nor is the State of Texas allowed to fund it. If Central Health abandons its fiduciary responsibility to the uninsured, underinsured and poor, then its stewardship to taxpayer dollars has run amok.

Mike GeeslinMike GeeslinMike Geeslin, president and CEO of Central Health since May 15, 2017, declined to address these expenditures in an interview with The Austin Bulldog Wednesday, October 28, 2018 Tuesday, March 27, 2018, or to answer numerous other prepared questions related to these expenditures—even though nearly $11,000 of the total was spent since he took this job May 15, 2017.

Geeslin would not even characterize these expenditures as inappropriate and would only comment on a new policy going forward (more about that later).

So what’s the big deal with a government agency being a sugar daddy for handouts to fund things so people can go have a good time, a good meal, and pat backs over the good works they’ve achieved?

It’s only chump change, right?

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 Panel: Forget Amazon, Invest Locally

North Carolina Business Council hosts panel that
advocates investing in growing local business

by Ken Martin
© The Austin Bulldog 2018
Posted Sunday March 18, 2018 3:41pm

Amazon founder Jeff BezosAmazon founder Jeff BezosPut their sentiments into song lyrics and the trio of panelists who discussed the impact of Amazon’s HQ2 would be singing in perfect harmony: “We don’t want it, you can have it, it’s not good for the Tar Heel State.”

Their focus was on what would befall the region should finalist Raleigh, North Carolina, be the pick of the 20-city litter to land the deal.

The nearly two-hour discussion March 14 took place at Elon University, a private institution with a student body of 6,000, both undergraduate and graduate, who study in a half-dozen fields including business, health sciences and law.

Since Austin is also among the 20 finalists trying to reel in what Amazon claims to be a $5 billion investment and 50,000 jobs averaging $100,000 in annual pay, The Austin Bulldog tuned in to cover the webcast.

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City Lifts Ban on Library Petitioning

Attorney Aleshire’s second appeal for relief March 8
gained reprieve for petitioners till library rules revised

by Ken Martin
©The Austin Bulldog 2018
Posted Saturday March 10, 2018, 1:02am

The good news received by attorney Bill Aleshire Friday evening came as a surprise—but a pleasant one.

Bill AleshireBill Aleshire“Well, I’ll be darned,” Aleshire wrote in an email to The Austin Bulldog last night. “I just received this from the City regarding petitioning at public libraries.”

Anne MorganAnne MorganWhat he received was a conciliatory email from City Attorney Anne Morgan sent at 5:45pm Friday that states until the Library Commission considers taking action to revise the Library Use Rules March 26, 2018 “…the Austin Public Library will allow petitioners to solicit signatures on library grounds in a manner that is not disruptive of library services to its customers, or to the library services provided by library staff.” (Copy of Morgan’s email linked below.)

Making the decision to back off all the more timely is the fact that IndyAustin petitioners were already scheduled to petition at Austin Public Libraries today, Saturday, March 10.

Second trespass notice issued

Morgan’s message came a day after Aleshire on Thursday, March 8, sent a letter via email to City Manager Spencer Cronk, Library Director Roosevelt Weeks, and Morgan to request a hearing for his client, Lucas Burdick.

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 Big Charter Changes Up for Scrutiny

Charter Revision Review Commission schedules public hearings
to gather citizen input before finalizing recommendations

by Ken Martin
© The Austin Bulldog 2018
Posted Thursday March 8, 2018 7:59pm
Updated Wednesday May 9, 2018 9:45am (Charter Review Commission--not Charter Revision Commission)

We the citizens of Austin, in reverance to the dignity and enrichment of all people, do ordain and establish this Charter to assure economic, environmental, and cultural prosperity throughout our community.

—Preamble to the Austin City Charter

The Austin City Charter is a fundamentally important document that bestows the “powers, privileges, rights, duties, and immunities” that form the foundation and structure for our municipal government.

Such is the Charter’s importance and the need to maintain stability that it may only be amended every two years and then only by the affirmative approval of each proposition offered at the polls.

From time to time the City Council appoints a Charter Revision Review Commission and charges it with identifying potentially useful changes, vetting the resulting proposed changes with the public, and recommending to the council certain propositions to be placed on the ballot.

Propositions may also be put on the ballot via initiative petitions that contain a sufficient number of signatures of the city's registered voters.

The City Council may on its own authority place Charter amendments on the ballot, as it did in 2014 by offering an 8-2-1 alternative to the 10-1 council structure that got on the ballot through initiative.

The 2018 Charter Revision Review Commission was created last June and has met a dozen times, beginning on November 6, 2017. Now it has reached agreement on numerous propositions that it will offer for public input, and then decide what to recommend the City Council put before voters in the November 6, 2018, election.

The Commission last met March 5 and heard pitches for two additional Charter changes—both of which drew heated debate. This article first will cover these two new proposals and then summarize the proposals already approved by the Commission.

Planning Commission appointments

Fred LewisFred LewisThe first hot-button issue addressed at the March 5 meeting was a staff recommendation on Charter provisions related to terms and appointments of Planning Commission members. Attorney Fred Lewis had studied the issue beforehand and was so adamantly opposed to the recommendation that he immediately moved to table it. (Staff Recommendation linked below.)

Lewis said this was an effort by City staff to “gut the developer prohibition” in the Charter. He was referring to Article X Section 2, which states:

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 IndyAustin Nears Petition Goal

Plans to continue petitioning at city library
facilities despite having been barred before.

by Joey Gidseg
© The Austin Bulldog 2018
Posted Tuesday March 6, 2018 1:42pm

Bill Aleshire provides guidance to IndyAustin membersBill Aleshire provides guidance to IndyAustin members

The Library Commission meeting of February 26 left petitioners with unanswered questions about why City libraries cracked down on petitioners who were gathering signatures on library properties,

But petitioners intend to continue doing so long enough to complete IndyAustin’s CodeNEXT petition drive and submit petitions to the City Clerk by the end of the this month. Detailed written instructions are being given to volunteers on how to conduct themselves when petitioning anywhere but particularly at today’s polling locations and at libraries. (Linked below.)

Instructions cover the do’s and don’ts, including where to stand, to “Be polite at all times,” and what to do if asked to leave: ask for the reason, ask what rule is cited, and if possible get pictures.

IndyAustin members gathered last night at Austin Energy for an update and get some answers from attorney Bill Aleshire of Aleshire Law PC, who is representing the group pro bono in urging the City to back off its stance.

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Library Commission Debates Petitioning Rights

Petitioners appeal for access to library properties,
library director and attorney adamantly opposed

By Joey Gidseg
© The Austin Bulldog 2018
Posted Friday March 2, 2018 2:06pm
Corrected Saturday March 3, 2018 12:20pm re: branch library where Debbie Russell was petitioning

Scott RoyderScott RoyderOn February 17, IndyAustin volunteer Scott Royder received a “trespass notice” from the Austin Police Department, for refusing a library employee’s request to leave library property where he had been gathering signatures for a petition to bring CodeNEXT to a public vote.

The Austin Bulldog’s coverage of that incident triggered a discussion of the Library Use Rules at the February 26, 2018, meeting of the City’s Library Commission at the Pleasant Hill Branch. The discussion addressed whether citizens can distribute materials, including petitions for signatures, on Austin Public Library property.

Several people spoke during citizens communication, including IndyAustin volunteers who shared their experiences and concerns about being asked to leave multiple branch libraries where they were petitioning the same day as Royder.

Petitioners speak their minds

Debbie RussellDebbie RussellDebbie Russell had petitioned outside of the Hampton Branch at Oak Hill [not the Howson Branch as originally published] from 2:30pm to 4:15pm. She said that “an embarrassed and nervous staff member” had told her that she “wasn’t supposed to be there,” but that she had declined to leave.

Russell said she told the staffer she would take her chances with the police if they were called. None arrived during the additional hour Russell spent petitioning.

“I wasn’t harassing anybody. I wasn’t blocking the sidewalk. I was standing on the grass part of the area, about 100 feet from the entrance, and no one indicated they were annoyed with me.”

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 Amazon Bid Made Without Council Okay

Claim city’s contract with Chamber permits
bid on City’s behalf is questionable

Investigative Report by Ken Martin
© The Austin Bulldog 2018
Posted Tuesday February 27, 2018 7:27pm

Amazon founder Jeff BezosAmazon founder Jeff BezosAll that’s known publicly is that Austin’s proposal was good enough to keep it in the running to be home to a second headquarters of the company founded by Jeff Bezos, now reportedly the Richest Man in the World.

Its hardly news that Austin is one of the finalists among 20 U.S. and Canadian cities whose proposals have earned a shot at attracting what Amazon calls its HQ2—and with it up to 50,000 high-paying jobs and $5 billion in construction expenditures.

The Request for Proposals the company issued last September nevertheless indicates the Richest Man in the World is looking for a long list of incentives before deciding where to invest that fortune.

Now it has come to light that the proposal designed to harpoon this Moby Dick of an economic development opportunity was put together—apparently with the City’s tacit approval—by the Greater Austin Economic Development Corporation. That’s an entity within the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce that works on the Opportunity Austin program. The City of Austin has been the major funder of Opportunity Austin since 2005.

The Austin Bulldog’s investigation indicates that while the mayor and some City Council members were aware the Chamber was heading up this effort, the City Council never discussed authorizing that action, not in a public meeting and not in executive session.

Did the City delegate authority for Amazon bid?

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Council Campaigns Funded by Tax Dollars?

Seattle council member elected with Democracy Voucher funds
briefed Austin residents and Charter Revision Review Commission

By Ken Martin
© The Austin Bulldog 2018
Posted Friday February 23, 2018 10:27am
Updated Friday February 23, 2018 12:24pm to add late breaking news at bottom
Updated Wednesday May 9, 2018 9:51am (Charter Review Commission--not Charter Revision Commission)

Teresa MosquedaTeresa Mosqueda“Hi, I'm Teresa and I'm running for City Council as Democracy Voucher candidate. Would you be willing to sign right here?”

They would say, “Sure.”

Then I would say, “Would you give me $10?”

“It was a little awkward,” she told members of the 2018 Charter Revision Review Commission who met in the community room at the Mueller HEB grocery store Monday, February 19, 2018.

That’s how Seattle Council Member Teresa Mosqueda described her first-ever attempt to run for public office in 2017. She said she inserted herself into public marches and walked backwards to talk to people while soliciting support, getting signatures on her petition, and asking for contributions.

At the time she was running, Seattle was having frequent marches, with lots of people in the streets around the time Donald Trump was nominated as the GOP presidential candidate, “marches for women’s rights, human rights, and I was out there walking backwards,” she said.

Mosqueda’s presentation to the Commission was an encore for a longer talk she gave to a larger audience at the Manchaca Branch Library Sunday, February 18, 2018. That presentation, which included the entire slide show (linked at the bottom of this story) lasted nearly an hour and a half, including time to answer questions.

As a 36-year-old Latina and labor activist, Mosqueda said she was virtually unknown to Seattle’s population of 705,000 people. More than 500,000 of them were registered voters, and each had received four $25 Democracy Vouchers in the mail in early January 2017.

How Democracy Vouchers worked

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 IndyAustin Petitioners Barred from Libraries

One IndyAustin petitioner issued a trespass notice to
prohibit setting foot on Spicewood Library property

by Ken Martin
© The Austin Bulldog 2018
Posted Monday February 19, 2018 11:11pm
Updated Tuesday February 20, 2018 12:52pm to add date of Library Commission meeting

A petitioner was issued a “trespass notice” to bar him from the premises of the Spicewood Branch Library.A petitioner was issued a “trespass notice” to bar him from the premises of the Spicewood Branch Library.Last Saturday the City of Austin’s library staff informed IndyAustin volunteers who were petitioning outside several Austin libraries they must leave. One petitioner was issued a “trespass notice” that the issuing officer told him prohibits him from setting foot on the Spicewood Library property for 12 months or he could be arrested for trespass.

The policy was distributed to library staff in an email from Sharon Herfurth at 12:27pm Friday, February 16 that states:

Dear Staff,

Several of you have been contacted by an organization called IndyAustin about being present on Saturday at your locations to collect signatures on a petition to force an election on CodeNEXT.

Herfurth, who is a staff liaison for the City’s Library Commission, included a link to the IndyAustin website in her email. The linked page states, “Volunteers will be outside some Austin libraries gathering signatures from Austinites who want the right to vote on CodeNEXT.”

IndyAustin organizers say they have been petitioning outside library locations for months before this happened and fear that someone has decided to use a heretofore unenforced restriction in Library Use Rules, effective since February 1, 2017, to stifle the petition drive.

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Tovo Shoots for Third Term

Same place, same packed house as her
2014 campaign but with no opponent…yet

By Ken Martin
© The Austin Bulldog 2018
Posted Sunday February 18, 2018 8:02pm

Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo lays out her values and goals in seeking a third term on the Austin City Council.Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo lays out her values and goals in seeking a third term on the Austin City Council.A raucously enthusiastic crowd greeted Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo’s official announcement February 8, 2018, that she would seek a third term as the District 9 council member.

It has really been an honor and a privilege to serve as mayor pro tem and to represent City Council District 9 on the Austin City Council and I want to say, you know I have a very unique experience of serving on the last at-large council and [then] and being [on the] first female-majority council in Austin’s history.”

District 9 is at the very center of the city, stretching from Oltorf and St. Edwards Drive in South Austin to 53rd Street in North Austin, with doglegs to take in parts of North Loop and Delray. Parts of the district stretch as far west as MoPac Expressway and as far east as Manor Road. Austin’s City Hall and the west side of the University of Texas campus fall within District 9 while the Capitol and the east side of the UT campus are jigsawed out to fall within District 1.

In the crowd to support Tovo were Council Members Ann Kitchen and Leslie Poole, former Council Member (and now mayoral candidate) Laura Morrison, and District 8 candidate Bobby Levinski, a former Tovo staffer.

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 Central Health’s Checkup Delivered

Consultants delivered performance review
completed eight months after contract let

by Ken Martin
© The Austin Bulldog 2018
Part 5 in a Series
Posted Wednesday February 14, 2018 1:25am

Central Health, aka the Travis County Healthcare District, got its Valentine’s Day present delivered early. The treat was not a perfect confection but did not ruin the celebration either.

Consultants who made an oral presentation to the agency’s board of managers last night overall ranked the agency average or above average in a half-dozen categories, compared with peers in both Texas and in other states, but pointed out numerous areas that need improvement.

Tracy KulikTracy KulikMatt BollMatt BollThe hour-long presentation was made by Tracy Kulik, Germane Solutions vice president for Health Access, and Matt Boll, Germane’s project leader for the assessment.

The report was delivered against the backdrop of a pending lawsuit against Central Health filed October 18, 2017, to challenge the agency’s practice of using part of its property tax revenue for purposes not authorized by the Texas Constitution and state statutes.

“We definitely validated that you are among the most complex health organizations in the country,” Kulik said, noting that only one other organization examined in the assessment did as much partnering with other organizations to provide healthcare services.

She noted that how Central Health determines the return on its investments “may not be as quantitative” as it should be. Which is an understatement that may allude to Central Health’s payments of $35 million a year to the University of Texas at Austin Dell Medical School, in return for which it gets little or no accountability and minimal indigent healthcare services, according to the lawsuit. (Birch et al v. Travis County Healthcare District, dba Central Health, Cause No. D-1-GN-17-005824.)

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City of Austin Fighting Transparency

On eve of third Open Government Symposium,
City opposing court decisions and open records

by Ken Martin
© The Austin Bulldog 2018
Posted Tuesday February 6, 2018 3:15pm

Photo by Jeff Tran licensed under Creative CommonsPhoto by Jeff Tran licensed under Creative CommonsThe City of Austin has taken positions of late that appear to be at odds with its professed ongoing interest in open government, evidenced by its scheduled all-day Open Government Symposium on March 21. Previous Open Government Symposiums devoted to educating the City and the public on key issues affecting access to open meetings and public information were held in 2013 and 2015. (The Austin Bulldog’s coverage of those symposiums is linked at the bottom of this story.)

Bill AleshireBill AleshireAttorney Bill Aleshire of Aleshire Law PC said the City is being inconsistent in how it is handling open government lawsuits, with the mayor claiming he wants transparency while at the same time the City is appealing a court decision of November 21, 2017, in Lake Austin Collective Inc. v The City of Austin.

(Disclosure: Aleshire has represented the Bulldog in two public information lawsuits against the City of Austin and in a third case to intervene when the county attorney sought to have a trial held behind closed doors.)

In Lake Austin Collective Inc. v The City of Austin the court found the City had violated the Texas Open Meetings Act by not properly describing in the posted agenda that approval of development of a Champion Tract involved not only a zoning change but also granted waivers of watershed and roadway regulations. The court voided the City Council’s approval.

In response to that decision, the item relating to the development of property at 6409 City Park Road (Champion Tract) was reposted for action February 1, 2018 (Item 12). This time the agenda stated the item included approving an ordinance modifying provisions of the Lake Austin Watershed regulations and the Hill Country Roadway regulations. After nearly two hours of discussion the Council voted to postpone action until February 15, despite opposition by the developer’s representative, Richard T. Suttle Jr. of Armbrust and Brown LLP.

Yet while the City Council was attempting to redo the voided action, the City Attorney’s office already had filed notice that it would appeal the court’s ruling in the Lake Austin Collective case. Notice of appeal was filed with the Third Court of Appeals December 28, 2017.

Appeal filed without public Council vote

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 No CodeNEXT Election in May

Four weeks after saying petitions would be
filed by mid-January, IndyAustin is punting

by Ken Martin
© The Austin Bulldog 2018
Posted Thursday January 18, 2018 7:33pm
Corrected January 18, 2018 9:31pm to remove
Robin Rather's name from list of sponsors per her request

Signs similar to this one are displayed in front yards all over Austin.Signs similar to this one are displayed in front yards all over Austin.Though still fired up about forcing an election that would give voters a loud voice in whether—or when—a major revision of Austin’s land development law could go into effect, petitioners are backing off the statement made December 21 that petitions would be filed with the City Clerk by mid-January to force a May 5 election.

Linda CurtisLinda CurtisIndyAustin petition organizer Linda Curtis said in an email today that the decision has been made to instead shoot for a November election.

Curtis provided three reasons for shifting the election to November:

First, the group wants to avoid costing the City an estimated $800,000 to have a May election when nothing else would be on the ballot and the City would have to bear the entire financial burden.

Second, Curtis said, there will be a far larger turnout for a November general election. That’s when U.S. Senator Ted Cruz, all U.S. representatives, Governor Greg Abbott, and many other elected officials will be on the ballot—including Austin Mayor Steve Adler and Council Members Ora Houston, Sabino “Pio” Renteria, Ann Kitchen, Ellen Troxclair, and Kathie Tovo, all of whom are up for reelection.

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 Tax Dollars for Council Campaigns?

Charter Revision Review Commission considering
public financing to boost voter participation
and reduce advantages of personal wealth

by Ken Martin
© The Austin Bulldog 2018
Posted Wednesday January 10, 2018 3:41pm
Correction posted Thursday January 11, 2018 12:47pm (re: Ryan's role in drafting the Seattle measure)
Updated Wednesday May 9, 2018 9:55am (Charter Review Commission--not Charter Revision Commission)

Wayne Barnett and Paul Ryan briefed the 2018 Charter Review Commission January 8, 2018Wayne Barnett and Paul Ryan briefed the 2018 Charter Review Commission January 8, 2018The 2018 Charter Revision Review Commission on Monday evening heard a briefing on a preliminary report prepared by its Campaign Finance and Ethics Work Group. The proposal would utilize property taxes from the City’s general fund to partially finance the election campaigns of mayor and council candidates.

To benefit candidates would have to accept lower contribution limits as well as limits on self-funding and total expenditures. The proposed system would replace the current policy of disbursing funds to candidates who sign the campaign pledge and make it into a runoff.

The proposal also includes establishing a nonpartisan Ethics Commission with enforcement powers to include the ability to issue subpoenas, audit candidate records, and fine offenders. It would be independent of the Council and City Manager, report to a citizen board, and be equipped with expert staff and adequate resources.

The plan unanimously approved by the four-member group requires the Commission’s approval and public hearings before it could be recommended to the City Council for placement on the November ballot.

If placed on the November 2018 ballot and approved by voters the new system would take effect in the 2020 City Council elections.

Public financing would boost democracy

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Two Days Left to Triple Your Impact

Contribute now to hold elected offcials and
government agencies accountable all year

by Ken Martin
© The Austin Bulldog 2017
Posted 1:45pm Friday December 29, 2017

If you were waiting till the last minute to get a tax deduction for your charitable contribution while boosting our nonprofit investigative reporting in the public interest, that time is now.

Due to the generous support of three national foundations and the local Kirk Mitchell Public Interest Investigative Journalism Fund, your tax-deductible contribution to The Austin Bulldog will be matched twice over. But only if contributions are made online no later than December 31st. Contributions made by check must be dated no later than that date. (Mail checks to PO Box 4400 Austin TX 78765.)

Please help us build capacity to publish deep-dive background investigations of mayoral and City Council candidates who will be running for election in 2018. We scour every public record, analyze every one of these documents, and publish reports that cut through the fog of what officeseekers say. We expose their personal history, personal and campaign finances, personal voting records—and much more.

Please help give me the resources to use my 36 years of experience to build a team that can cover the campaigns thoroughly throughout the long season that’s already begun and stay on it right through the November elections and December runoffs.

I’m asking for your support. Together we have an opportunity to build the Bulldog team and make a bigger impact on local journalism.

To make your tax-eductible donation now click this button:
 

Your investment now will pay dividends all throughout 2018.

I deeply appreciate your support.
 
Ken MartinKen Martin

Founder, editor and publish

 

 
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 Push for CodeNEXT Election May 5

Petitioners aim to file with City Clerk
by mid-January to trigger public vote

by Ken Martin
© The Austin Bulldog 2017
Posted 12:05pm Tuesday December 26, 2017
Corrected 11:15am Wednesday December 27, 2017 (to attribute statement to Michael Lavigne that was misattrubted to Chris Allen)

The Austin Bulldog reported IndyAustin’s launch of three petition drives September 12. Now organizers say they’re on track to file petitions with the Austin City Clerk in a few weeks to force an election on one of them: CodeNEXT, a complete overhaul of Austin’s Land Development Code that’s costing the City about $8.5 million.

The other two petitions, to restore the power of referendum and provide a new billboard ordinance, will be timed for the November 2018 election.

If the petition is successful in bringing about an election and voters approve its language, it would require both a waiting period and voter approval before CodeNEXT or any subsequent comprehensive revisions of the City’s land development laws become legally effective.

“This waiting period is to ensure voters can learn about the proposed comprehensive revisions and elect council members with sufficient time to amend or reject the prior council’s adopted comprehensive revisions before these laws go into effect,” the petition states.

Would require unprecedented level of public acceptance

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