BG Reads | News You Need to Know (December 6, 2018)



Find Voting Locations Here (Travis County)


Homeowners share stories of home repair anguish (Austin Monitor)

Austin city auditors found the Neighborhood Housing and Community Development Department home rehabilitation loan program left a significant number of homeowners unhappy with the work contractors did and frequently missed its own goals over a three-year period, fiscal years 2015-2017. Andrew Keegan was the audit manager and Henry Katumwa was the auditor-in-charge of the audit.

Three of those homeowners described their continuing troubles to the Council Audit and Finance Committee Wednesday. Janis Walker, Suzanne Janel and Irene Atkinson all participated in the federally funded Homeowner Rehabilitation Loan Program, and each of them say that their homes are in worse shape as a result. The Austin Monitor described problems Walker and Janel were facing in stories that appeared last spring…

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Capital Metro votes kids ride free, forever (Austin Monitor)

Looking at the 120,000 annual service hours added with Cap Remap this summer or at the major upcoming investments between Project Connect and a fully electric bus fleet, we might expect Capital Metro to be squeezing every possible penny out of its riders in order to pay for it all. Instead, the transportation agency appears to be most interested in boosting ridership by keeping fares where they’ve been for several years – and even getting rid of fares for a significant portion of the population.

A Kids Ride Free pilot program this summer was part of a larger effort to attract riders with late-night weekend rail service and free rides for students in grades K-12. When the summer program expired in late September, Capital Metro pushed the expiration date for free student fares back to Dec. 10, with some discussion about adopting the fare structure when the pilot ended. On Wednesday afternoon, by a unanimous vote from the agency’s board of directors, fares for K-12 students and MetroAccess riders under the age of 19 were permanently eliminated on all Capital Metro services…

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One million people likely to visit Barton Springs Pool next year, drawing concern from officials (Community Impact)

Barton Springs pool, the 3-acre, spring-fed swimming pool in Zilker Park is an Austin crown jewel and is visited by hundreds of thousands of people each year.

If trends continue, Barton Springs will see over one million visitors in 2019, which has caused concern from city parks officials who say such attendance levels could substantially impact the pool’s water quality, operations and staffing.

Large attendee increases happened over the past two years, aquatics division manager Jodi Jay told parks board members on Tuesday night. Between 2016 and 2017, Jay estimated attendance increased from roughly 500,000 visitors to 750,000. She said roughly 975,000 people visited the pool in 2018…

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Can public officials block users on Facebook? This Texas case could help answer that (Texas Tribune)

After criticizing the Hunt County Sheriff’s Office on its Facebook page, Deanna Robinson found herself blocked from commenting or liking its posts. Nearly two years later, her free speech case against the small law enforcement agency is reaching the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans.

The case could ultimately clear up what's become a muddied legal question impacting everyone from rural elected officials around the country to the president: In the age of social media, what constitutes a public forum?

Robinson’s lawsuit against her local sheriff's office was a culmination of years of contentious run-ins with the office.

Three-and-a-half years ago, a Hunt County deputy and local police officer arrived at her parents’ home with representatives from Child Protective Services and an order to take custody of Robinson’s 18-month-old son. When she asked to see the order, the officers refused. That’s when things escalated. In a home surveillance video widely circulated online at the time, Robinson – eight months pregnant – can be seen cowering in the corner of her kitchen as a Hunt County deputy and a Quinlan police officer force her to the floor and handcuff her. She was charged with assaulting an officer…

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Local chambers call for repeal of San Antonio’s sick-time ordinance (San Antonio Express-News)

A coalition of local business organizations Monday called on the City Council to repeal the mandatory paid sick leave ordinance it passed this summer after a group pushing the initiative collected more than 140,000 signatures supporting it.

Bolstering their argument by pointing to a 3rd Court of Appeals ruling last month that shot down Austin’s mandatory paid sick leave ordinance, North San Antonio Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Cristina Aldrete said her organization and several others want the council to reconsider its ordinance before it takes effect in 2019. She suggested that businesses would be affected by the ordinance beginning Jan. 1, though enforcement of the law wouldn’t begin until August. “It has been ruled unconstitutional by the courts; the 3rd Court of Appeals in Austin ruled earlier this month that it was an illegal ordinance,” she said. “The Austin ordinance is exactly like the San Antonio ordinance.” The local ordinance has not been litigated here, where the 4th Court of Appeals would handle an appeal. The issue likely would have to be decided by the Texas Supreme Court, though the Legislature may pre-empt it in its 2019 session, making the case moot. The coalition of business organizations — which includes the Alamo Asian Chamber of Commerce, the South Texas chapter of the Associated Builders and Contractors, the Greater San Antonio Builders Association, the Real Estate Council of San Antonio, the San Antonio Area Tourism Council, the SA Auto Dealers, the San Antonio Manufacturers Association and the South San Antonio Chamber of Commerce — sent a letter Friday to Mayor Ron Nirenberg and the council asking that they reconsider the ordinance. In a prepared statement, Nirenberg appeared unmoved by the request. “San Antonio’s paid sick leave ordinance was brought forward by petition, and supporters gathered more than 140,000 signatures. City Council faced the choice of passing the ordinance or putting it on the ballot. The council’s action preserved the flexibility to craft a San Antonio-specific policy before any business is required to comply,” he said…

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See also:

BG Podcast - Episode 10: Policy Discussion Rob Henneke on Paid Sick Leave and Local Control

BG Podcast - Episode 20: Talking Local Control and Paid Sick Leave with State Rep. Diego Bernal (D-San Antonio)

In Texas' third largest county, there's a campaign to oust the local GOP's vice-chair because he's Muslim (Texas Tribune)

The first time Shahid Shafi ran for a seat on the city council in Southlake in 2011, advisers assured him a Muslim in post-9/11 America who spoke with an accent and emigrated from Pakistan would never win an election in Texas.

It’s a story that Shafi, a Republican trauma surgeon, likes to tell because he didn’t believe them. He won the Southlake City Council seat on his second try, in 2014, has since served as a delegate to multiple Texas GOP conventions and, in July, was appointed vice chairman of the Tarrant County Republican Party, located in Fort Worth.

But that’s when his religion somehow became a problem again — in the eyes of some Republican colleagues…

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Debate over border wall funding strains Democratic Party unity (Wall Street Journal)

Negotiations over President Trump’s demand for $5 billion in border wall funding have injected tension between some House and Senate Democrats and added a new wrinkle to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s quest to become speaker in January.

Ahead of a meeting expected early next week between Mrs. Pelosi, Mr. Trump and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-NY, some Democrats are worried their leaders will cede too much in talks with the president that will help determine whether there is a partial government shutdown later this month. Seven spending bills that are being held up as part of the negotiation expire at 12:01 a.m. on Saturday, but the House is expected to pass on Thursday a two-week spending patch that would keep the government running through Dec. 21. The Senate is expected to pass the measure later this week. Mr. Trump has so far insisted that Congress must attach $5 billion to construct more of the wall along the border with Mexico. When Mr. Schumer said last week that Senate Democrats were willing to provide $1.6 billion for border security, which had been included in a bipartisan Senate bill, he faced backlash from some Democrats who worried that could end up including some money for the wall.

Mr. Schumer said in a tweet that Senate Democrats support $1.6 billion for border security, “NOT a concrete wall or increases in detention beds or [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] agents. We should stick to this agreement.” Still, Texas Democratic Reps. Henry Cuellar and Vicente Gonzalez led a group of 12 House Democrats, including one lawmaker-elect, in sending a letter to Mr. Schumer objecting to his comments. After speaking with Mr. Schumer on the phone, Messrs. Cuellar and Gonzalez said in a statement they were “pleased to agree that we should be focused on real border security, and not the President’s campaign obsession with a concrete wall.” But the call hasn’t eased all tensions. Mr. Gonzalez said he has made clear to Mrs. Pelosi, House Democrats’ nominee to become speaker when they take control of the chamber in January, that what kind of spending deal she cuts could affect how much support she receives from key factions…

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Flynn was key cooperator and deserves little prison time, Mueller team says (New York Times)

Michael T. Flynn, President Trump’s first national security adviser, helped substantially with the special counsel’s investigation and should receive little to no prison time for lying to federal investigators, prosecutors said on Tuesday.

Mr. Flynn was a key cooperator who helped the Justice Department with several investigations, prosecutors for the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, said. He sat for 19 interviews with Mr. Mueller’s office and other prosecutors and handed over documents and communications, they said. “His early cooperation was particularly valuable because he was one of the few people with long-term and firsthand insight” into the subject of Mr. Mueller’s investigation — Russia’s election interference and whether any Trump associates conspired, prosecutors wrote in a sentencing recommendation memorandum and an addendum that was heavily blacked out. In particular, they wrote, he might have prompted others to cooperate with the inquiry…

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BG Podcast - Episode 25: Austin Police Department's New Labor Agreement feat. Chas Moore, Austin Justice Coalition

Today's BG Podcast features a conversation with with return guest, Chas Moore, President and Founder, Austin Justice Coalition (AJC).

He and Bingham Group CEO A.J. Bingham discuss the Austin Council’s November approval of a labor contract for the Austin Police Department.

Negotiations over the contract took nearly a year, involving not only the city and Austin Police Association, but community stakeholders like AJC.

Why Austinities should care?

The new contract provides greater level of transparency and public accountability.
Link to BG Podcast Episode 25


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