Austin Neighborhood Council Gains Ground on Key Austin Commissions

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Seeing Chris Bradford's piece today on the new makeup of some of the key City of Austin Board and Commission memberships, I'd thought I'd expand a bit in laying out the membership of two of them which he was referring to. In either case, his original post is still worth reading in it's entirety though I do quote from it here.

It is well known that the City of Austin Planning Commission is a pipeline for higher office and whose appointed membership greatly effects the direction and design of the city. This May's race between Chris Riley and Perla Cavazos, both former Planning Commission members being case in point. But with the current retirements, expirations of terms, replacements, and upcoming term expirations, it's clear that the Planning Commission as a whole has drifted towards a heavier influence by the Austin Neighborhoods Council.

Here is the new make-up of the Planning Commission with the year in which their terms expire (so most recent appointments are at the top).

2011: Chair, Dave Sullivan (Reappointed- Shade)

2011: Vice Chair, Jay Reddy (Reappointed- Riley)

2011: Danette Chimenti (Spelman)

2011: Kathie Tovo (Morrison)

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

2010: Mandy Dealey (Wynn)

2010: Clint Small (Wynn)

2010: Saundra Kirk (Cole)

2010: Dave Anderson (Wynn)

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

2009: Gerardo Castillo (Martinez)*

*term expires this Friday

The bolded names are brand new to the board and both are very closely aligned with the ANC. Councilman Spelman's appointment Danette Chimenti was Morrison's successor to the ANC. Morrion's appointment Kathie Tovo, former Bouldin Creek Neighborhood Association President, was almost a candidate this spring in the Place 1 race and is thought to still have council aspirations. Commission member Dealey ran previously in 2005 for Council, losing in a 4 way race to Jennifer Kim.

With the Planning Commission having in the last year lost Chris Ewen (not reappointed) this indicates a shift on the board. A close eye should be given to Martinez's next appointment as Castillo's partial term expires this Friday. Beyond that, Mayor Leffingwell will get to replace all 3 of Mayor Wynn's appointments next summer so given his close relationship with Martinez, will make or break the direction and diversity of the Planning Commisison in its next iteration.

Also of note from Bradford's piece was the Board of Adjustment which is the funnel through which variance requests are routed (for instance, business designations for noise requests). Another 9-member board like the Planning Commission, two “nay” votes can kill a variance request.

Councilwoman Morrison has appointed quintessential neighborhood activist, and once again, former ANC President Jeff Jack to the Board of Adjustment where he will join former ANC President Bryan King who Bradford notes as “a reliable nay vote”. The other appointments from last week include former ANC South Central Representative Clarke Hammond (Leffingwell) and the reappointment of Nora Salinas (Martinez).

And then there's Morrison's choice of Mary Arnold for the Waterfront Planning Advisory Board which guides the development debate along Lady Bird Lake. That one's already stirred up controversy beyond Bradford with the Austin Chronicle critiquing the choice as not following the Waterfront Overlay ordinance's commands for a diverse professional board with specific categories of representation which Arnold may or may not particularly fit.

In sum, none of this is to say that appointments to city boards and commissions will behave or vote in similar patterns just because they have similar backgrounds in their activism and interaction with the City. But Bradford's closing statement in his article is all to true, and is reflective of what happens under our current system of local government.

Someone should just draw up a list of the dozen or so neighborhood representatives who seem to serve on every board and commission.   When one is appointed, we can cross her off the list and move to the next name.  When we get to the end of the list, we can simply return to the top of the list.

I thought Austin had a deeper pool of neighborhood activists.

I've commented on this before. So long as Austin is captivated by low turnout and lack of interest from the broader electorate, we will be captivated by a limited pool of dedicated activists whose ranks are not growing in proportion to the city's population. While some of those long time activists are revered institutions and others reviled (it often just depends on which side of a local skirmish you are on), the question might be would Austin's citizen-government be improved by having more activists on top of just long time activists?  

On a personal note– it is easy to offer a critique in Austin and I think that's healthy to the larger debate we as a community are having on the nature and structure of our government (single member districts, campaign finance, public financing, etc). But in addition to words, there is action. And along those lines, I'm now serving with the newly created Austin Bike Theft Task Force which is making some real progress, and am in discussions to help restart my own inactive neighborhood association, Kealing, in Central East Austin.  


About Author

Former Publisher & Owner of the Burnt Orange Report. Political Thinker, Digital Explorer, and Time Traveler.


  1. Some more things
    1. The BoA is where cases like Shady Grove will be heard (I don't know if Jack himself will get to hear their case due to timing). All the 'music venue' restaurants who are forced to get variances because the 'cocktail lounge' use requires additional things they won't be able to build will now have to face Jeff Jack.

    2. My coverage of this points out that, perhaps, those of you who thought Morrison had somehow become a progressive rather than a reactionary should be kicking yourselves. Or let me do it for you. She is doing precisely what I told you she'd be doing: doing what the self-appointed leaders of a few old neighborhood associations want: keeping old Austin safe for the landed gentry.

    • on the flip side…
      Does Jeff Jack being on a board reduce his activism on lobbying on behalf of other issues in front of other boards and commissions? That applies to anyone really, so that's just an example. What's the expected practice or rule on that? Curious to hear from others in the comments who do serve in official appointed capacities.  

      • My memory is hazy
        but I think I recall Jeff Jack having served on boards and commissions in the past, and it didn't seem to slow him down.

        It did slow ME down to serve on the UTC, of course.

  2. City Board Appointments
    It is time that the neighborhoods had voices on the Boards.  We have had way too many friendly developers on the boards.  Thus, we have tall buildings downtown with no view of the two most important buildings in town – the Capitol and the Tower.  And, will those buildings will filled?  Neighborhoods make Austin, have always made Austin, and should have a strong voice.  Neighborhoods have to fight for every quality of life we have and it's nice to have support.

  3. David Kobierowski on

    Mike, lets have you and Jeff on 91.7FM Radio to discuss this

    Mike (M1EK),

    Would you accept my invite to have you as a guest, in-studio, at 91.7FM Radio with Jeff Jack to discuss?  (Our East Austin studio. It'll need to be an upcoming Wed., 12:00noon-12:45pm, since that's the time of our show).

    I'll moderate.  I'll be fair to each of you.  Anyone that knows me can confirm I'm very fair to all sides and opinions.

    Jeff has already agreed.  Will you accept the invite?

    Let me know soon.  Contact info is below.  

    I'm happy to chat before you accept this invite if you have any questions.

    David Kobierowski

    91.7FM KOOP Radio

  4. geez louise,
    it's hard to grasp that only a handful of people have so much influence over how the city is being planned, built and regulated.


    I don't know whether this is a good thing or should we be leaving these decisions up to people who were actually elected directly and not rely on delegation of power to those whom don't really have to directly respond to the people and taxpayers of Austin.

    Not everybody that lives in Austin shares a similar vision as those who serve on these boards and commissions. Most of these people live within a few mile radius of City Hall, yet their decisions affect all of us from Oak Hill to Anderson Mill, just think about it.

  5. ANC and key Austin Commissions
    Bravo to you, Karl-Thomas, for your efforts to restart Kealing Neighborhood Association!

    Neighborhood involvement is not an exclusive club. The price to participate is pretty cheap and easy if there is already an active neighborhood association in your area.

    1. Show up (at your individual neighborhood association, at one of the various sector meetings of Austin Neighborhoods Council, and/or at Austin Neighborhoods Council meetings.)

    2. Participate in discussions, propose ideas. If you think a side of an issue isn't being represented, represent it. If you think there is an issue we should be working on and we aren't or a type of discussion we should be having that we aren't having, propose it, ideally at a neighborhood association meeting or an ANC sector meeting.

    Lisa Harris

    Co-Secretary, Austin Neighborhoods Council

    • Government by those with the most time on their hands
      Voter turnout for City Council elections, as bad as it is, likely exceeds that for neighborhood association officer elections (especially given that many of the core NAs discourage participation from renters or even multi-family homeowners).

      NA's self-select for the retired and the marginally employed (themselves disproportionately represented by the landed gentry who don't need 9-5-ish day jobs). For instance, can anybody tell me what Jeff Jack does for a living? What did Laura Morrison do before running for council?

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