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City of Austin

Marc Ott: City of Austin Upholds Domestic Partner Benefits


by: Edward Garris

Tue Apr 30, 2013 at 04:40 PM CDT

The fallout from yesterday's opinion on domestic partner benefits by Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott continues.  Equality Texas this morning issued a press release arguing that the opinion letter had, in fact, given a domestic partners and their public employers a way forward - a roadmap for how to achieve their aims while complying with the laws of the state of Texas.  

This afternoon, Marc Ott, City Manager for the City of Austin, responded with a resounding "whatever."  In an open memorandum, Ott stated:

"While we will continue the evaluate the Attorney General's opinion, it continues to be our belief that the City's domestic partner group benefits program is not prohibited by the Texas Marriage Amendment, and that the Texas Legislature did not intend the Amendment to have that effect when it was placed before the voters in 2005."

"The Attorney General's opinion does not require the City to take any specific, action, and we do not intend to change domestic partner eligibility for our benefits program at this time."

Notably, the City of Austin and its domestic partner eligibility program had been one of the specifically enumerated programs in State Sen. Dan Patrick's request for an opinion to the Attorney General.  The full text of Marc Ott's response can be read here.

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Towards Ending Austin's 'Meetingopoly'


by: Julio Gonzalez Altamirano

Mon Jan 21, 2013 at 11:53 PM CST


This past November Austinites replenished our municipal democratic practices by shifting towards geographic districts and moving elections from May to November.  However, much work remains to be done to ensure that city government is truly open to the community's diverse perspectives. A high priority for reform is the City of Austin's approach to lobbying and public input.  

The city manager, city staffers, and council members are full-timers who work typical day hours (i.e. "9 to 5"). Presently, our policymakers routinely receive public input while the typical employed adult Austinite is working.   One-on-one policy advocacy and lobbying also happens during work hours.

Even when public hearings are scheduled during evenings or weekends, these sessions take place at a specific place during a set time.  If you can't get a babysitter, or you are out of town for work, or have a conflicting civic commitment, or can't afford/find the transportation to the location, then you are out of luck.  While a few superstar citizens persevere, these barriers create a 'meetingopoly' that favors professionals compensated to navigate pet issues through the process.  

In my experiences I've found that council members and civil servants are responsive to new voices; many are deeply sincere in seeking out exhaustive public input.  The problem I am identifying is that it is very hard for people to successfully and consistently engage without it being their job.

Truly democratizing public participation in Austin requires adoption of proven reforms including:

- Increasing the importance of digitally-submitted public input

- Shifting from exclusively paying consultants to chat with NGO leaders and civic junkies towards actually engaging the average Austinite through citizen juries and deliberative polling

- Adopting publicly-financed clean elections

As an initial step, I've requested that the City of Austin adopt the White House's approach to digital petitions.  This move will facilitate collective action, encourage the transition towards digital public input, and create easily-accessible, transparent accounts about where policymakers stand. Please join me in supporting this request here.

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Vote FOR City of Austin Bonds, Props 12-18


by: Burnt Orange Report

Mon Oct 22, 2012 at 00:30 PM CDT

Vote FOR City of Austin Propositions 12-18, to provide funds for a broad range of community improvements without raising our tax rate.

The combined $385 million in bonds are within our existing bonding capacity, so there will be no property tax increase to fund these projects. This is a great deal for voters, and an important way to invest in the Austin we love.

Projects were vetted and prioritized by a citizen's committee, and rely on our shared community values to address the tremendous infrastructure and human needs of our rapidly growing city. These are important investments in Austin that will not impact our cost of living, and we urge voters to vote FOR all of them.

Proposition 12 supports transportation projects including road improvements, bikeways, and trails.
Proposition 13 funds the purchase of environmentally sensitive land to protect it from development.
Proposition 14 funds badly needed parks and recreation projects in our large and small public parks.
Proposition 15 provides funds to build, repair, and renovate low-income housing.
Proposition 16 funds public safety projects.
Proposition 17 supports health and human services projects, including expanding our women's and children's shelter.
Proposition 18 supports our public libraries and cultural arts facilities.

This is a balanced package that addresses some of the most urgent needs in our community while also supporting our unique quality of life. We urge a vote FOR City of Austin Propositions 12 through 18.


Early Voting: Monday October 22 - Friday November 2 --- Election Day: Tuesday, November 6

Click here for a map of Travis County Early Voting Locations. For all other counties, please contact your County Clerk's office.

Endorsements are made based on a weighted consensus of the staff, which guides the type and tone of endorsement. Members of the Burnt Orange Report staff employed by campaigns abstain from voting on those races.

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Vote YES / FOR City of Austin Propositions 10 and 11


by: Burnt Orange Report

Mon Oct 22, 2012 at 00:00 PM CDT

Propositions 10 and 11 will bring added fairness to City employees who are not already covered by state civil service statutes through the creation of a Civil Service Commission that will oversee employment and compensation practices at the City of Austin.

Essentially, these propositions will create a "just cause" system that will provide worker protections in the hiring, firing, and discipline processes at the City of Austin. Our current "at-will" system basically means that City employees can be fired by management without justification or review. This proposition will create a review process through which employees can dispute the process.

Proposition 10 provides labor protections for most city employees who are not already covered by the state civil service statute. Proposition 11 provides a civil service personnel law for EMS employees. This must be done separately, hence two props.

Our hardworking public employees -- especially those who bring the ambulance when you call 911 -- deserve fair labor practices. We urge a vote YES vote on City of Austin Proposition 10 and a vote FOR Proposition 11.


Early Voting: Monday October 22 - Friday November 2 --- Election Day: Tuesday, November 6

Click here for a map of Travis County Early Voting Locations. For all other counties, please contact your County Clerk's office.

Endorsements are made based on a weighted consensus of the staff, which guides the type and tone of endorsement. Members of the Burnt Orange Report staff employed by campaigns abstain from voting on those races.

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Vote YES on City of Austin Propositions 5 through 9


by: Burnt Orange Report

Mon Oct 22, 2012 at 11:30 AM CDT

A YES vote on City of Austin propositions 5 through 9 is a vote for good government. These five ballot propositions will provide transparency and accountability, and increase fairness and parity into our governing system. We encourage Burnt Orange Report readers to vote YES on all of them.

Proposition 5 will amend the charter to formally declare that council members hire and manage their own staffs. Technically, that power currently lies in the hands of the City Manager. This will formalize the actual council staff management process and increase transparency and accountability.

Proposition 6 moves the City Attorney from the control of the City Manager to the City Council. This is an important step for accountability here in Austin. Currently the City Attorney cannot be directly fired by Council even if the person disobeys a directive from our elected officials. Instead, the City Attorney reports to the City Manager. Given issues that have arisen with various City Attorneys over the last decade, it is important that council members -- who are accountable to the voters -- have an attorney representing the city who is accountable to them.

Proposition 7 brings citizen-initiated ordinances and referendums in line with the number needed for charter amendments. Currently, it is easier to gather enough signatures to amend the city charter -- the most significant document in our municipal governance -- than it is to gather enough to force a public vote on an ordinance or referendum. This is a boon to citizen engagement and will lower barriers to more citizen-driven reforms.

Proposition 8 allows city council members to continue to raise funds for 30 days after the election date. The practical effect will be to decrease the amount of campaign debt that council members carrying from cycle to cycle.

Proposition 9 will allow our city to help our public schools, by granting the city the ability to lease parkland to an independent school district for park purposes. This is wonky and procedural but given the tragic underfunding of our public schools by the Legislature, it is a critical move that will provide more mechanisms to help our cash-strapped ISD's.

Burnt Orange Report endorses a YES vote on City of Austin Propositions 5 through 9.


Early Voting: Monday October 22 - Friday November 2 --- Election Day: Tuesday, November 6

Click here for a map of Travis County Early Voting Locations. For all other counties, please contact your County Clerk's office.

Endorsements are made based on a weighted consensus of the staff, which guides the type and tone of endorsement. Members of the Burnt Orange Report staff employed by campaigns abstain from voting on those races.

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Vote YES on City of Austin Proposition 4


by: Burnt Orange Report

Mon Oct 22, 2012 at 11:00 AM CDT

Burnt Orange Report unanimously endorses a YES vote on Proposition 4, which will provide geographic, balanced, inclusive and fair representation on our Austin City Council.

Few people would argue that Austin's current at-large system of municipal government best addresses the needs of our vibrant and rapidly growing city. We will be better served with a larger council comprised of both district and at-large representatives. The current Gentleman's Agreement marginalizes minority candidates, and our all at-large system has resulted in the majority of council members coming from a few hallowed West Austin zip codes. Currently, no member of the Austin City Council resides south of the Colorado River.

Proponents of a hybrid system argue that if a constituent is at odds with their own district representative, they may be out of luck getting City Hall to address their needs. At-large representatives provide an additional option for those who do not see eye-to-eye with their district member on a given issue. Additionally, some issues -- such as traffic, waste, water, and utilities -- can benefit from a city-wide perspective other than that of the mayor.

If our goal is to increase representation in terms of geography and diversity, a hybrid plan accomplishes both through the creation of district seats and preservation of at-large seats, which can support the election of disparate minority groups.

The current system is broken. Burnt Orange Report unanimously endorses a YES vote on Proposition 4 to create a hybrid Austin City Council.


Early Voting: Monday October 22 - Friday November 2 --- Election Day: Tuesday, November 6

Click here for a map of Travis County Early Voting Locations. For all other counties, please contact your County Clerk's office.

Endorsements are made based on a weighted consensus of the staff, which guides the type and tone of endorsement. Members of the Burnt Orange Report staff employed by campaigns abstain from voting on those races.

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No Endorsement on City of Austin Proposition 3


by: Burnt Orange Report

Mon Oct 22, 2012 at 10:30 AM CDT

Burnt Orange Report cannot offer an endorsement on Proposition 3, as our staff split evenly between advocating YES and NO votes.

Those in support of Prop 3 argue that the 10-1 single member districts plan is still an improvement over our all-at-large system, and that since the two dueling propositions are not in opposition on the ballot, there is no reason not to vote for both of them. Supporters of Prop 3 suggest that this plan is the best way to increase minority representation and end the so-called "Gentleman's Agreement," which basically allows a majority-white electorate to select the sole Hispanic and African-American members of council, rather than their own communities.

Those against Prop 3 argue that an all-district plan makes it more difficult to elect dispersed minority groups, such as Asian-Americans, LGBT folks, and women. There are concerns that an all-district council will tend towards NIMBY "ward mentality" politics in which each representative only looks out for his or her own narrow interests. Several staff members also take serious issue with much of the fine print attached to the 10-1 districts plan, especially the independent redistricting commission, which threatens to exclude experts and will likely marginalize young and minority voters who do not participate regularly in municipal elections.

Proposition 3, like the other propositions on the ballot, is a charter amendment, which means if it passes, it will be written into the City of Austin's most fundamental governing document, and will require further elections to make any changes.

Given the divided nature of our staff and contentious nature of this issue, however, we cannot arrive at a consensus endorsement on Prop 3. We encourage voters to consider these issues, do additional research and come to their own conclusion.


Early Voting: Monday October 22 - Friday November 2 --- Election Day: Tuesday, November 6

Click here for a map of Travis County Early Voting Locations. For all other counties, please contact your County Clerk's office.

Endorsements are made based on a weighted consensus of the staff, which guides the type and tone of endorsement. Members of the Burnt Orange Report staff employed by campaigns abstain from voting on those races.

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Vote YES on City of Austin Propositions 1 and 2


by: Burnt Orange Report

Mon Oct 22, 2012 at 10:00 AM CDT

A YES vote on City of Austin props 1 and 2 is a vote for "little-d" democracy in a system that desperately needs it.

Prop 1 will move our current 5% turnout May municipal elections to Novembers, when a broader and more inclusive range of Austin voters casts a ballot. Prop 2 will move the election to November and institute 4-year terms, limit 2 per council member, to be staggered and elected in even-numbered years.

With turnout barely in the double-digits percentage wise, our municipal electorate is older, wealthier, whiter, and often disproportionately concerned with niche issues that do not reflect our broader community needs. Props 1 and 2 will immediately address our abysmal turnout, and will arguably do more to increase turnout than any single member district plan or campaign finance deregulation.

Furthermore, the City of Austin will save millions by holding their contests concurrently with the November election. A vote FOR Props 1 and 2 is a vote for fiscal responsibility and greater accountability of our elected officials to a wider range of the electorate.

We strongly urge a vote FOR City of Austin Props 1 and 2. The tortured municipal election process you save may be your own.


Early Voting: Monday October 22 - Friday November 2 --- Election Day: Tuesday, November 6

Click here for a map of Travis County Early Voting Locations. For all other counties, please contact your County Clerk's office.

Endorsements are made based on a weighted consensus of the staff, which guides the type and tone of endorsement. Members of the Burnt Orange Report staff employed by campaigns abstain from voting on those races.

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Projection: City of Austin Turnout of 9.2% on 37,726 Voters


by: Karl-Thomas Musselman

Sun May 06, 2012 at 10:00 AM CDT

I've just finished running my models for estimating turnout of the City of Austin municipal elections. There is very little variation in the grand scheme of things other than to say we are on track for yet another low turnout election.

This election 'feels' like the 2006 mayoral re-elect for Will Wynn (against Danny Thomas and Jennifer Gale), and according to the data, that's the level of turnout we are experiencing right now. Wynn's re-election had just under 18,000 early votes cast in it, not unlike the roughly 20,000 we are expected to see this year.

Problem is, in 2006 a full 67% of the vote was cast on Election Day. This year, the Election Day vote will make up less than 50% of ballots cast. The folks I trust with numbers seem to think E-Day will be just 46% of the vote. That's how we get to just 37,726 total votes cast, or 9.2% projected turnout of the 408,000 City of Austin voters (which is under-registered as it is).

So that means the Leffingwell-Shea-Dafoe contest isn't ginning up voter excitement on even a Wynn-Thomas-Gale level!

In terms of raw votes cast, our TOTAL turnout in 2012 is flirting with the total number of votes Roy Butler received (34,099) in Austin's first direct election of its Mayor in 1971. Or, if you aren't a Butler fan, the 33,992 votes cast in favor of the measure on the same ballot, to put fluoride in our water supply.

The two elections really do provide a certain poetry to this election, the beginning and the end of a system of government and an odd fixation with fluoride. A city whose registered voter base grew by over 435% during this time, saw the number of municipal voters actually drop by 35%. A rather large percentage of the municipal electorate is made up by those who regularly vote, including some who have probably voted in every election for Mayor since 1971. In fact, I'm willing to bet that the number of votes that Dr. Laura "Fluoride" Pressley gets is damn near close to the number of votes against fluoridizing the city's public water supply in 1971. That number would be 12,893, which would hypothetically give her about 34% against Mike Martinez.

There's another way to put the current turnout in perspective visually for you. Check it out below the fold.  

There's More... :: (5 Comments, 223 words in story)

Roger Duncan, historic Austin leader, retires


by: Chris Searles

Sat Feb 27, 2010 at 00:26 PM CST

2/27/10 -- Austin Energy's general manager, the much revered and very inspiring Roger Duncan, retired yesterday after more than 30 years of public service. During his Austin centric-career Roger achieved world renown in green utility implementation,  co-founding one of the world's most progressive energy efficiency programs (dubbed "Energy Star" in the 80's, a name the federal government would later use), co-creating the WORLD'S FIRST green building program (no kidding), and achieving too many other things to list.

In many ways Roger is responsible for motivating people like me to believe we can do more.

And he encourages it. Big thanks to Roger: a great leader and civil servant.

Here's wishing Mr. Duncan and his family a very happy and fulfilling retirement.

##

A recent video of Roger.

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