BG Reads + BG Podcast | News You Need to Know (January 2, 2019)



Episode 28: Development Conversation with Rodney Gonzales

Today's BG Podcast features a conversation with Rodney Gonzales, then Director of Austin’s Development Services Department (DSD). The department was created in 2015 to handle residential and commercial permitting issues separately from zoning issues.

Rodney discusses his background and path to DSD, and current department initiatives with Bingham Group CEO A.J. Bingham.

Recorded on December 18, 2018, it was announced on December 21 that Rodney was promoted to Assistant City Manager for Economic Opportunity and Affordability.

This role will expand his coverage beyond development services to include a range of issues such as: resources for small and minority-owned businesses; neighborhood housing and community development; telecommunications; regulatory affairs; and the Austin Convention Center.

We wish him good luck in the new role!

Link to Episode 28


Houston: Council should be nonpartisan (Austin Monitor)

In her final speech from the Council dais, Ora Houston urged her colleagues to encourage diversity at every level and to put partisan issues aside. The city’s first representative of District 1 said it is important to look at and care for the city as a whole and not concentrate so much on individual districts.

District 1, the top of the city’s eastern crescent, has a mix of ethnic groups and languages, and Houston has tried to reach out throughout her four-year tenure to as many of those people as she could.

She told the Austin Monitor that after her election in 2014, she met with other District 1 candidates who were willing to talk with her and she asked what she could do for them. She said Council, which is elected on a nonpartisan basis, should remain nonpartisan and that she could see that nonpartisanship being lost.

“The perception is the people who were elected were from this blue demographic. The mayor even said we’ve got another Democrat on the Council,” Houston said, referring to Paige Ellis’ defeat of Republican Frank Ward for the District 8 seat. Ellis campaigned as a Democrat to a greater extent than Council members have in the past…

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Troxclair looks forward to new adventures (Austin Monitor)

After four years in office as the first Council member from Southwest Austin’s District 8, Ellen Troxclair is stepping down. But her departure from Council doesn’t mean we won’t see her at City Hall, she told the Austin Monitor during a recent interview.

Troxclair, who was the last conservative on Council, said, “I ran to be a voice of affordability and reason, and I feel like I’ve been consistent in that message. That’s what my constituents know me for and I’m glad to be here at the end of my four years. Looking back on it, I feel like I’ve been consistent with the reasons I ran – that I helped people be able to afford to live in Austin. And that’s all I can hope.”

Troxclair said she feels good about hiring City Manager Spencer Cronk, noting that he has tried to be responsive to each Council member, that he listens and works to understand issues as they arise and he has a long-term view.

As for Troxclair, she plans to step into the role of small-business owner for the first time, at Troxclair Residential Real Estate. She also expects to return to City Hall on occasion as part of a grassroots organization she is working on, to be called the Alliance for Affordable Cities. At the moment, Troxclair and unnamed allies are working on a website for the organization and she said she has spoken with people in other cities such as San Diego and Salt Lake City…

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Texas economy seen slowing as business perceptions sour, Dallas Fed data shows (Houston Chronicle)

Manufacturing production in December was the lowest since August 2016, according to a monthly survey of Texas business executives by the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, and perceptions of general business conditions notably worsened since November.

Overall, the Dallas Fed said, the Texas economy is healthy. The state added some 365,000 jobs in the 12 months that ended in November, and the unemployment rate, 3.7 percent, is the lowest on record, according to the Labor Department. But with oil prices ending the year lower for the first time since 2015, economists believe Texas' job growth may decelerate if prices don’t recover from around $50 per barrel. In manufacturing, which is heavily driven by the oil and gas sector in Texas, a slowdown was somewhat expected after the massive gains in the first half of the year, said Emily Kerr, senior business economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas.

“It’s unlikely that we would see red hot growth into perpetuation,” Kerr said. “It’s a catchup effect, and now we’re seeing growth moderate to a more normal level.” Texas manufacturing set post-recession records for production in the summer, driven both by a strong national economy that helped out the real estate and construction sectors, as well as a boom in oil and gas production in West Texas that needed pipelines and oil field equipment built as fast as possible. As oil remains below $50 per barrel after rallying above $76 per barrel in October, some production gains have ceased. A slowdown in manufacturing isn’t necessarily concerning for the economy as long as the sector continues to grow, Kerr said…

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Lina Hidalgo sworn in as Harris County judge (Houston Chronicle)

Ushering in a new era of Democratic rule, Lina Hidalgo took the oath of office as Harris County judge early Tuesday, becoming the first Latina and first woman to lead the nation's third-largest county.

Her swearing in minutes past midnight by 151st Civil Court Judge Mike Engelhart capped the remarkable rise of Hidalgo, 27, who just two months ago was a graduate student making her first bid for public office against a popular incumbent. She takes charge as chief executive overseeing thousands of employees and an annual budget of more than $5 billion. Hidalgo will also lead the county's Office of Emergency Management, which has already responded to 23 floods this century. Hidalgo was joined by her parents and other family members. She succeeds longtime County Judge Ed Emmett, a Republican who steered a massive Hurricane Harvey bond package to passage before being swept out of office in November after 11 years. She said the greatest challenge during her transition to office has been knowing where to start.

"There's just so much enthusiasm in the community and in the meetings I have," Hidalgo said. "There's this incredible desire to bring in new ideas and breathe in new energy." Hidalgo was one of scores of Democrats who unseated Republicans in November in a sweep of countywide positions that brought more than 50 civil and criminal judges and other top leaders into key positions. Of the 81 officials at the swearing-in ceremony Tuesday at NRG Center, only Precinct 4 Commissioner Jack Cagle and a justice of the peace were Republicans…

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Police groups wary of Texas lawmakers' plans to decriminalize pot, stop officers from seizing assets (Dallas Morning News)

At the start of the 2017 legislative session, Texas law enforcement groups were reeling from years of high-profile use-of-force incidents involving black victims, as well as the deaths of five Dallas officers in a downtown shooting.

The message from state lawmakers was simple: We back the blue. They passed laws funding $25 million worth of rifle-resistant bulletproof vests for police departments and property tax relief for the surviving spouses of police officers killed on duty, and they gutted police accountability legislation pushed by advocates. With a new session starting in January, state law enforcement groups say their profession has mostly avoided headline-grabbing incidents, such as the controversial arrest and subsequent jail death of Sandra Bland in 2015. Instead, they hope to focus on bread-and-butter issues like creating a minimum wage for police officers across the state, ensuring pension systems are functioning properly and getting the state to help recruit people into law enforcement careers.

“It feels a lot better going into a session where we’re talking about the working conditions of officers,” and not solely racial issues, said Charley Wilkison, executive director of the Combined Law Enforcement Association of Texas, which counts more than 22,500 as members. But lawmakers have other priorities that won’t make it an easy session for law enforcement officers. They have proposed restricting asset forfeiture policies and decriminalizing the possession of small amounts of marijuana…

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2020 candidates are lining up. Which Democrat matches the moment? (New York Times)

Senator Elizabeth Warren’s formation of an exploratory committee for president on Monday represents a sort of political ball drop, the beginning of a new year and new campaign that will feature an unusually large number of Democrats seeking the presidency. Or will it?

As the 2020 Democratic primary gets underway, the defining characteristic of this first stage of the race is the sheer uncertainty about who is even running. More than 30 Democrats are mulling presidential bids, but hardly any of them qualify as an instant front-runner or a gifted, tested campaigner, and some of the biggest names could pass in the end. Even beyond the field of specific candidates, this will be one of the most fluid nominating contests Democrats have had in recent decades. A leaderless party, they are in a moment of transition from center-left politics to a more ideologically pure brand of liberalism. Democrats are grappling with what they stand for, what their voters expect, and what demographic groups will be most critical in winning an Electoral College majority in 2020. But most of all, they are unified by a once-unimaginable objective that only illustrates how unpredictable American politics has become: ensuring Donald J. Trump is just a one-term president. It is hard to recall a recent presidential primary where, at the outset of the race, there was this much genuine mystery — not only about who would eventually emerge as the nominee, but who planned to run at all…

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What’s in a name? Trump, allies back away from idea that the border wall needs to be a wall. (Washington Post)

After pledging for years to construct a solid wall along the U.S.-Mexico border to combat illegal immigration, President Trump appears to be backing away from that promise as he and his allies play down what the administration wants built — alternately referring to the planned wall as a fence, a “steel slat barrier” or a metaphor for border security.

The shift marks a tacit acknowledgment of retreat by the White House on one of its signature issues as it faces the reality of divided government in the new year and a partial government shutdown that is in its second week. Trump has already altered his long-standing pledge that Mexico would pay for the wall, claiming earlier this month that a new trade deal with Mexico and Canada would cover the cost “just by the money we save,” a notion dismissed by experts and for which the White House has offered no explanation.

Trump has been sensitive to any criticism from his supporters, including in conservative media, that he is softening his stance on the wall, and some are saying they are concerned about any move away from building a solid barrier on the border. The debate over what constitutes a wall comes as Trump and Republican leadership are at odds with congressional Democrats on the issue of border security, with the impasse leading to a partial government shutdown that is unlikely to be resolved until Thursday at the earliest, when the new Congress convenes and Democrats take control of the House. A Trump-backed spending bill passed by House Republicans on Dec. 20 included more than $5?billion in border security funding that could be spent on a wall, but that measure has not gained traction in the Senate, where Democrats are resisting the president’s demand. On Monday, the president disputed an assertion by his outgoing chief of staff, John F. Kelly, that the White House has jettisoned plans for a concrete wall, claiming that the idea was “NEVER ABANDONED.”…

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