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Council Plays Fast and Loose on Garza Tract Vote

Each of these candidates is aiming to gain a council seat inside Austin City Hall.
Liang Shi/KUT News
Each of these candidates is aiming to gain a council seat inside Austin City Hall.

From the Austin Monitor:

Those familiar with the previous City Council’s strict adherence to procedural rules have been left dizzy by the new Council’s first few meetings. Last week, during the Garza Ranch discussion about the maximum allowable number of vehicle trips per day on the tract, that confusion reached new heights — and after some investigation, the Austin Monitor remains unable to determine who, if anyone, made the final amendment to the motion that was approved on first reading.

In the video of the meeting (available here), it appears that adjusting the daily trip limit to 13,000 was first suggested by Council Member Ann Kitchen, though she made no motion (or amendment) that contained that number. In an attempt to clear things up, the Monitor contacted the offices of Council Members Ellen Troxclair, Kitchen and Mayor Steve Adler, as they were the three parties who might have made an amendment off the microphone.

All three offices denied making the amendment, though each pointed to either Kitchen or Troxclair. There were no other Council members mentioned as possibilities by any Council office or city staff.

On Thursday, the case ended with a series of amendments that many found difficult to track, and required several hours of untangling afterward.

“I feel like an auctioneer up here,” joked Adler at the meeting.

Indeed, toward the end of the meeting, numbers were flying. Troxclair made the first motion, reducing the allowed trips from 16,200 to 15,200 on all three readings. Kitchen made an amendment to that motion that would limit the number of trips to 10,000. That was seconded by Council Member Leslie Pool.

Later, Troxclair said she would like to amend Kitchen’s motion to 14,000, which was accepted by her second, Council Member Pio Renteria.

Though Adler moved to vote on that change as a “replacement,” Kitchen’s 10,000 trip proposal was still on the table, and she said that she would not accept the amendment.

“But that amendment was originally an amendment to my amendment,” said Troxclair.

“Look, we are talking about a number,” said Adler. “We can vote on 10,000, then we can vote on 14,000, or we can vote on 14,000 (then) 10,000. I’m going to call it. We are going to vote on 14,000 first.”

Seeking clarity, Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo recounted what had occurred, motion-wise, thus far. She said that she understood Troxclair to be making an amendment that, essentially, returned her to her original motion. But Adler, calling it an “amendment to the amendment,” pointed out that the trip number had changed to 14,000 trips.

Council never voted on any of those numbers. Instead, Kitchen suggested that they start looking at adjusted, instead of gross, trips. The developer had asked for 13,900 adjusted vehicle trips per day (or 16,200 gross), and though they had previously been discussing trips per day in terms of gross, it appears to be around that time that they suddenly switched to motions that contained adjusted numbers.

At that point, Adler asked the developer’s representative, attorney Dan Wheelus, whether he was OK with 13,900 adjusted trips. Wheelus addressed Council up until the final vote about his trip limit preferences.

“Ms. Kitchen recommends 13,000. Are you OK with that number? He is OK with that number,” said Adler, gesturing to Troxclair, then Wheelus.

After some discussion, Council Member Don Zimmerman called the question, and then after a little more discussion, Kitchen attempted to withdraw her amendment and return to the original 10,000 trips per day. At that time, it appears that she was talking about an amendment to change the number to 13,000 trips. However, as previously stated, her office told the Monitor that she did not make an amendment.

Adler told her that she could not.

“It doesn’t belong to you anymore. It now belongs to the table,” said Adler.

Council then voted on the 13,000 trips amendment, which passed in a 6-5 vote. Kitchen, Pool, Tovo and Council Members Greg Casar and Delia Garza voted in opposition. The main motion, to adopt that number on first reading, passed 9-2 with Council Members Casar and Tovo voting in opposition.

According to a legal expert who asked to remain anonymous, though the meetings have been confusing, the problems do not have legal implications. In order for that to be the case, the attorney explained, the violations in protocol would have to be “extreme” and noted by Council at the time the violation occurred.

However, the lack of a formal amendment and second could throw Thursday’s first reading decision into question, if anyone can figure out what happened.

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