Colored drawing by Anthony Jensen

Friday, April 8, 2011

Better Austin Today's City Council Endorsements

The only broad community political action committee in Austin, of which I'm a member, makes its picks in the May, 2011 election and calls on even its endorsees to step up their game:

Community Coalition's Where it's AT!

As an organization comprised of neighborhood, local and small business, environmental, social equity and other community leaders, Better Austin Today (BAT)’s vision for Austin’s future encompasses a wide range of issues. Thus, winning our endorsement requires candidates to go beyond appealing to a single constituency or limited area of City policy. Instead, our broad coalition of interests ensures that anyone we endorse is the “best all-around” candidate in the race who will bring a comprehensive view to office and act with the big picture in mind and a commitment to open, inclusive government. Endorsements require a challenging 60 percent vote of this diverse board (a full list of members is on our website).

The public safety unions came out before the filing deadline with their endorsements, meeting with none of the challengers, and the developer dollars started rolling in for incumbents before 2011 even began. BAT members, meanwhile, have been attending candidate forums and meeting one on one or in groups with the candidates over the last two months, taking time to give consideration to all the candidates responses in many different venues and from a variety of questionnaires.

The Buck Doesn't Stop at the Endorsement

BAT is a group representative of all the interest of all the citizens of Austin. Although there are a great many pressing issues and problems that the council has and must continue to address, one of, if not the most, pressing issue the that amount of funding that has been dedicated to improving the quality of life of the most under-served and under-resourced community (a mere $700,000 on the African-American Quality of Life Initiative in its 5-year span while millions are thrown to non-local developers).

"We, as a community, have acknowledged the need for improving the quality of life for African-Americans and Latinos, yet, the actions of the City have not reflected the urgency necessary to make the vital changes necessary to turn a declining situation around. We hope that our endorsement is not mistaken as a tacit approval of this lack of urgency." - Richard Franklin, BAT board member

BAT intends to be ever more vigilant with regards to the improvement of the quality of life for all residents of Austin and we will hold all elected officials accountable.


Better Austin Today endorses Kathie Tovo for Place 3 and Laura Morrison for Place 4; no consensus was reached for Place 1.

Kathie Tovo - a strong advocate for open, inclusive and accountable government: Ms. Tovo's academic background, steady demeanor and extensive experience in a variety of public policy matters in the past 19 years she's lived here is exactly what Austin needs to bring balance to the dais. From social services to education to neighborhoods to the arts to the environment and planning, her broad swath of public service provides her much-needed context to serve our diverse population at a critical time as we grapple with an out-of-control budget where the special interests gain and the under-served lose. Her intellect is matched by her creativity when faced with difficult problems. Her forthrightness in addressing the critical issues and her integrity as an inclusive mediator of interests demonstrates her commitment to the entire community.

PLACE 3 CHALLENGERS: We feel it's important to make special note of the other challengers to the incumbent in this race. Max Nofziger has brought special attention in his candidacy to the extraordinary rise in the City's expenditures since his last time in office, when he voted on our first budget that surpassed $1 billion. Since his tenure, we've well surpassed $2 billion and are poised in one of the next few budget cycles to hit $3 billion - which he explains as an unsustainable frenzy of spending. He points out that Councilmember Shade is the biggest spender we've ever had on Council. See his explanation here. While there are some criticisms of Nofziger's tenure in office, a trait most agree on was his responsiveness as a Councilmember--one of the main characteristics BAT seeks in candidates. Kris Bailey is running primarily on a police accountability platform, which also resonates with BAT, especially in terms of setting budget priorities and implementing practices such as focusing on investigating/clearing public safety matters involving victims versus arresting increasing numbers of people for victimless crimes. We'd like to see Ms. Tovo more emphatically adopt some of these messages the other challengers bring to the table - many of which she's already aligned with; and while she's shown no indication otherwise, seek to match if not surpass Nofziger's reputation for responsiveness.

Laura Morrison - a proven leader on important community issues: Councilmember Morrison is far and away the best choice for Place 4. Morrison is BAT's only Councilmember to have achieved a perfect "A" on our scorecards published in the Austin Chronicle over the past 3 years. What we noted in her first run, her "keen intellect, deep respect for differing opinions, and a willingness to fight tenaciously for policies that protect Austin’s environment and neighborhoods" indeed proved to be the right formula for moving Austin forward. She has demonstrated a deep dedication to smart economic policy while giving social equity issues due process. Morrison has proved she has the right combination of vision, integrity and know-how for the job and Austin deserves no less an attentive public servant.

With Ms. Tovo in Place 3, along with our previous endorsement in Place 5 (Bill Spelman) and Morrison retaining her seat in Place 4, we hope that the tenor of our Council will change dramatically, that these three good examples can gain more courage for leadership; inspiring others to improve their performance or exposing those who resist an open, accountable, fiscally responsible government.


We now turn our efforts to raising money and recruiting volunteers to help Tovo and Morrison win election. If you believe it is time for a change at City Hall, we invite you to join us as we work to get Austin back on track. Better Austin Today is excited about this opportunity to re-establish balance at City Hall and to reclaim local government for the public interest.

Leffingwell's Email Follies: Dance a Lil' Sidestep!

Monks, PLEASE, Bless This Mess!

The Tibetian Monks are visiting again, and during the Council meeting are hard at work in City Hall creating their glorious mandala sand painting in the atrium. They will endow a blessing of compassion on our City tomorrow...let's hope some of that good Buddhist mojo actually sinks in down at 301 W. 2nd St. before gifting the remainder of the sand to our beautiful river.

...The Mess Council Got Themselves Into

Except for Morrison and Spelman, other councilmembers haven't turned over public business emails conducted on private accounts, or explicitly said they didn't have any to turn over. Meanwhile, their attorneys are telling them they don't have to turn those over despite case law, Attorney General opinions and input from other government entities that say otherwise.

So while they (sans Morrison and Spelman) claim they are in the right not to disclose such emails...they passed policy today to instruct themselves to do otherwise. (Item #14)

Yes, we've seen this before. "I didn't do anything wrong but I'll pass policy to say I won't do it again." Hence the Wednesday worksessions in place of the 2-on-1 walking quorums.

Put a white suit, boots and cowboy hat on our Mayor and watch him go. "Ooooh! I love to dance a lil' sidestep..."

We Already HAVE a Law

It's called the Texas Public Information Act. The Legal Dept. said they researched and couldn't find any other entities passing this kind of policy for a model. That's not because Austin's being progressive (hardly), it's because no one else is confused by the law. They see no need to define what's already been clearly stated by the TX Attorney General: public information is subject to disclosure, no matter where it gets hidden.

This is all for show. "See? We're DOING something." (Shuffle, shuffle). Great. But you should have been doing what this resolution says all along. It's not complicated. It doesn't matter who, where, when, what device, what account the public business is conducted on or with...the person that is elected to office takes an oath that, when asked, will turn over all public business to the public. If it takes them a lot of extra time to scour all sorts of devices and accounts to gather that info, dredging through personal information to capture public business, then that's their problem. It's up to them to organize themselves to save time later. Doing what this policy instructs -forwarding emails concerning public business to private accounts to your public account- is just common sense. It shouldn't need to be debated for 2 hours and crafted into policy.

If we really need this new policy, then we really need some new leadership.

Public Business is the Public's Business. Period.

No if, ands or buts...if an elected official meets a lobbyist at the coffeeshop, the business discussed doesn't become a private, personal conversation because they aren't physically in City Hall. Same with phones, emails, chat systems, etc.

This policy is a disingenuous gesture, but IF (a big "if") this were good policy to begin with, Councilmember Spelman is to be commended for trying to make it actually have some relevance. He is still pushing for amendments as I type, fixing the "who" and the "when" questions that I was going to bring to the podium had I been able to afford to sit there for 5 more hours waiting to speak. "Who" is "who does this cover" and "when" is "how quickly do I have to forward these emails?" As in: "can I wait two years during which time maybe several open records requests won't pick up this info and I'm already out of office so who will care what shenanigans I was involved in?"

The other question not being discussed is ENFORCEMENT. What happens if someone fails to comply? Well, the law already says what again, that makes this all an exercise in futility.

The problem with this policy is that the ones still holding out on disclosure have NO intention of releasing previous emails from private devices/accounts this policy would cover from this point forward. So why would we trust them to do it right from here on out with self-specifying an enforcement mechanism?

Kennard's True Colors

Seems my long-standing question has been answered. Does our new Law Department head, Karen Kennard, subscribe to the David Smith Skool of Law or is she going to bring trustworthy legal analysis to the table for bettering our local government?

My eternal optimism failed me, yet again. We've heard this one MANY times before. "Council can't mandate things for the City and its staff to do...only the City Manager can." REALLY????

Let's take a look at our City Charter: "...all powers of the city shall be vested in and exercised by an elective council...which shall enact legislation, adopt budgets, determine policies, and appoint the city manager who shall execute the laws and administer the government of the city."

Eerie how you can look at this healthy, attractive black woman and see the face of an overweight white man on the edge of an aneurism superimposed upon it. But there it was, with echoes of KeyPoint-Gate, Smith's ghostly face hovering over hers conjuring up the lyrics to which Leffingwell leads his Follies in a shuffling farce.

She must have uncovered the DavidNomicon - the not-so-long hidden tome describing how to continue the horrific practice of subduing Council and their duty to excercise their Charter-given powers.

Stay tuned for the next chapter. As Molly Ivins described about the Texas Legislature, I unapologetically co-opt for our City Council: it's the finest form of free entertainment ever invented.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

AustinGonzo articles at

I've been posting articles for some time now over at the Austin Post - a non-profit on-line web forum for local happenings.

Please visit the page to see my take on such subjects as:

KeyPoint-Gate: the mishandling of the fall-out from the APD shooting death of Nathaniel Sanders, II. From misleading the public, withholding a publicly-led inquiry, scapegoating and avoidance of accountability and the unprecedented slap in the face to the Sanders' family and the whole community when they back-tracked on the negotiation for a settlement on the civil suit. "Austin's Schoolyard Bullies" exposes how beholden some of our elected officials are to the police union.

Email-Gate: more evidence of wrongdoing is being exposed in the uncovering of "walking quorums" and the continuing refusal to turn over public-business emails from private accounts by some councilmembers. Also as part of this series is critique of The Austin Chronicle's refusal to cover the issue, except when they attack those who are bringing it forth.

APD: focusing on non-violent crimes and pursuing costly technological toys continues to drive APD expenditures well beyond that of peer cities and well beyond the revenue stream of our general fund. Use of force reports, or the lack thereof, expose ills in accountability, while our Chief's choice of dress at an execution belies Austin's "progressive" stance.

Austin's Police Monitor: is hiring a former sheriff the best choice for overseeing police officers?

There are also miscellaneous stories about the Formula 1 racetrack boondoggle; the lack of coordination in making boards and commission appointments; note of a win for civil liberties by preventing officers from wielding needles and drawing blood; a May 2011 council election candidate roundup; and a "huzzah!" for my bud Richard Franklin, III getting national recognition for his incredible program lifting up youth.