BG Reads | News You Need to Know (February 8, 2019)

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[AUSTIN METRO]

Odd Smell In Austin's Tap Water Likely Caused By Zebra Mussels, City Says (KUT)

If you think your tap water smells strange today, you're not alone. 

South and Central Austin residents began noticing the unusual smell Thursday morning. Austin Water initially said work on a waterline was to blame, but in an afternoon update, the utility said it was likely caused by the presence of zebra mussels in a raw water pipeline.

The line is at the Ullrich Water Treatment Plant just southwest of Lake Austin, which had become infested with zebra mussels about a year ago. It had been turned off for two weeks, but returned to service Wednesday.

Link to story


Austin district trustees move closer to school closures (Austin American-Statesman)

After years of putting off a decision to close schools, Austin district leaders are forming a multi-year plan to consolidate campuses.

Exactly which schools will be shuttered or how the school board and district officials will go about the closures is unclear. But district leaders say postponing a decision is not an option as they predict a bleak financial forecast, exacerbated by a plummeting student population, ballooning annual recapture payments to the state, and depleting district reserves. The district must eliminate a $60 million shortfall by next school year.

The school district for at least the past quarter-century has been criticized for holding on to chronically underenrolled schools. State officials, consultants and district committees since at least 1993 have called out the district for inefficiencies, all recommending shuttering campuses.

But such discussions always have been met with public backlash, as parents and students defend neighborhood schools and East Austin community leaders warn against closing schools in a part of the city that for years dealt with the trauma of school closures as part of a desegregation plan that shuttered schools designated as black-only and kept open schools for whites.

The district’s financial strains aren’t new, though they’ve been worsening in recent years. District trustees repeatedly have said they will be forced in the coming months and years to make difficult choices, the cuts previous district leaders adamantly opposed, to solve the district’s financial woes.

“We can’t afford to spend in the same way we have,” said board President Geronimo Rodriguez. “There is a political will to put all options on the table. There is a will to make the hard choices.”…

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City, UT to work together on moving Red River (Austin Monitor)

City Council unanimously agreed Thursday to enter into an agreement with the University of Texas to facilitate the relocation of Red River Street between East 12th Street and East 32nd Street in order to develop a new arena to replace the Frank Erwin Center. That was the easy part.

The harder part came during the discussion about whether, in return for transferring city right-of-way to UT and providing assistance in design and construction of the roadway, the university would “credit an amount agreed to by the parties toward the purchase of Lions Municipal Golf Course or to other agreed upon projects,” according to agenda backup material accompanying the item.

Council Member Alison Alter offered an amendment making clear that while credit toward the purchase price of Muny was one of the projects that might receive funding, others might include “provision of affordable housing or the provision of open space.”

Mayor Pro Tem Delia Garza and Council Member Natasha Harper-Madison both voiced objections to the language specifically naming Muny. Harper-Madison offered an amendment that would have eliminated references to how the money might be used, deferring that decision until a later time. Council rejected that amendment on a vote of 6-5.

Council did accept an amendment from Garza directing staff to look for other projects throughout the city that “could benefit from credit received” through the agreement with UT.

Garza said despite Mayor Steve Adler’s assertion that the money had not been earmarked for Muny, it still felt like a “soft earmark.” She said she was concerned that one or two people had gone “behind closed doors” to negotiate with the university without others knowing about it or options other than Muny being discussed.

Adler assured her that was not the case…

Link to story


[TEXAS]

With eager candidates waiting in the wings, Texas Supreme Court slot sits open (Texas Tribune)

In the past three months, Gov. Greg Abbott’s appointments have included a new director of the Office of State-Federal Relations, a new chair of the Family and Protective Services Council, three Parks and Wildlife commissioners, several appellate court justices and two members of the Texas State Board of Acupuncture Examiners.

But in the months since Texas Supreme Court Justice Phil Johnson announced his retirement, Abbott has not named a successor to fill the vacancy on the state’s highest civil court. Friday marks three months since Johnson announced — just days after a slew of lower-court Republican justices lost their elections to Democrats in big city districts — that he would retire, effective Dec. 31, after 13 years on the high court’s bench.

That vacancy leaves the all-Republican court liable to split 4–4 — an impasse that might require the governor to appoint an interim judge as tiebreaker — and, perhaps more significantly, adds to the hefty workload of the eight justices sitting on the bench. Operating one member down could make it more difficult for the high court to clear its docket by the unofficial end-of-June deadline, a productivity marker that has been a priority for Chief Justice Nathan Hecht…

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Texas Secretary of State David Whitley defends releasing flawed data about voter citizenship review (Texas Tribune)

Almost two weeks after calling into question the citizenship status of almost 100,000 registered voters, Texas' new chief elections officer, David Whitley, defended his office's decision to hand over those voters' names to law enforcement even though he knew the list could contain mistakes.

At a Senate hearing to consider his confirmation as secretary of state, Whitley vacillated between telling lawmakers he referred the list of voters to the attorney general’s office because his office had no power to investigate them for illegal voting and describing the citizenship review efforts as an ongoing process based on a list that still needed to be reviewed by local officials. But he made clear is that his office knew from the start that the data could be faulty.

He stated that in response to a question from state Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, a Brenham Republican, who asked whether the secretary of state’s office had “cautioned the counties that there may be mistakes on the data.”

“Yes,” Whitley responded…

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Texas homeowners rejoice, local leaders brace for cuts as property tax cap gets first Senate hearing (Dallas Morning News)

A property tax relief bill that would force local governments and school districts to cap their tax revenue endured its first hurdle Wednesday after hours of testimony from nervous city leaders, who fear tighter budgets, and homeowners giddy about the possibility of lower taxes.

The committee heard public comment for almost 13 hours before adjourning at 11 p.m. and deferring the vote to next week, after which it's widely expected to advance to the full Senate floor. Police officers, mayors, and local officials came from across Texas to implore the five-member committee to vote against the 2.5 percent revenue cap for school districts and local governments proposed in Senate Bill 2…

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[NATION]

Trump lashes out as Democrats step up inquiries of president and administration (Washington Post)

President Trump called Democratic investigations into his administration and business “ridiculous” and “presidential harassment.” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in turn accused the president of delivering an “all-out threat” to lawmakers sworn to provide a check and balance on his power.

The oversight wars officially kicked into high gear this week as House Democrats began investigating the Trump administration in earnest. With Thursday hearings scheduled on presidential tax returns and family separations at the Mexican border, and a Friday session to question acting attorney general Matthew G. Whitaker, the lights are about to shine brightly on a president who has, until now, faced little examination from a Republican Congress…

Link to story


BB&T to buy SunTrust in largest bank deal since the financial crisis (Wall Street Journal)

BB&T Corp. struck a deal to buy SunTrust Banks Inc. for $28.2 billion, combining two regional lending powerhouses to create the sixth-largest U.S. retail bank and end a decadelong drought in big bank mergers.

The all-stock deal is the largest U.S. bank merger since the financial crisis ushered in a stricter regulatory regime that kept banks on the sidelines of recent deal-making booms. Bank rules have loosened considerably following President Trump’s 2016 election, leading some to predict a flood of consolidations among smaller banks…

Link to story


[BG PODCAST]

Episode 33: Emily Chenevert, CEO at Austin Board of REALTORS®

(RUN TIME - 14:22)

On today’s episode we speak with Emily Chenevert, CEO at Austin Board of REALTORS® (ABoR). She and Bingham Group CEO A.J. Bingham

Named CEO of the 13,000 member association in April 2018, she previously served as ABoR's Chief Operating Officer, and has nearly 15 years of experience directly advocating for REALTORS® and their business at all levels of government.

She recently launched ABoR’s first podcast, ScratchThat, a series peeling the layers back on the national trends in real estate. 

This episode was recorded on December 20, 2018.

Link to Episode 33


The Bingham Group, LLC is an Austin-based full service lobbying firm representing and advising clients on municipal, legislative, and regulatory matters throughout Texas.

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