Should lobbyists serve on land development task force?


by ASHLEY GOUDEAU / KVUE News and photojournalist MICHAEL MOORE

Bio | Email | Follow: @AshleyG_KVUE

Posted on January 30, 2013 at 7:25 PM

Updated Wednesday, Jan 30 at 7:41 PM

AUSTIN -- Future development is a growing debate at Austin City Hall and so is the issue of who should be allowed to serve on a task force that will rewrite the City's land development code.

Austin City Council unanimously passed the Imagine Austin plan, a blueprint for the city's next 25 years. The council also agreed to create a task force of 11 people to advise them on changing the land development code.

Now, Council Member Bill Spelman, along with Mayor Lee Leffingwell and Mayor Pro-Tem Sheryl Cole are sponsoring a resolution that would allow no more than four of those people to be lobbyists, or real estate lawyers.

"I think it's really important to have the people who use the code on a day to day basis to build things at the table, to talk with you about what's going to happen when you make changes," Spelman said.

Council members Mike Martinez, Laura Morrison and Kathie Tovo disagree, citing a conflict of interest.

"Allowing lobbyists to help re-write our codes and our regulations is just wrong," said Tovo.

"They should have the opportunity to be involved in the stakeholder process, but actually being a part of the team that's going to write rules and regulations, and then get paid to help clients navigate the system under those rules and regulations, quite frankly just doesn't pass the smell test," said former lobbyist Dominic Chavez.

At a news conference Wednesday afternoon, Morrison, Tovo and dozens of community action groups spoke out against the resolution. 

"It's not a sexy issue, but it is the important issue. It is the collection of ordinances that governs all zoning and development in the City of Austin. It's the rules," said City of Austin Zoning and Platting Commissioner Jason Meeker.

Their point is that people other than lobbyists know and use the code.

"There will be people appointed that are in the development business. You know, those are engineers, architects, there are people that have been directors of planning and development and review and actually oversee writing this code before," said Morrison.

Another interesting note about the task force is that City staff would pick four of the 11 members. Morrison said usually only Austin City Council makes the selections.

But regardless of who is on the task force, the final decision on all of the code changes will be Austin City Council's.

The resolution is item number 29 on Thursday's agenda, but it won't be discussed before 4:00 pm.

KVUE 's City reporter Ashley Goudeau will be at the meeting and will tweet live updates.