By Bill Oakey – May 27, 2015
That just happened to be the burning question that woke me up this morning. And I certainly think it is a fair one to ask. Amongst the mountains of papers that lie nestled on office shelves and lurk in various cubbyholes down at City Hall are a multitude of City Council resolutions. These are very official-looking documents – the ones with all those “whereas” clauses. They even contain official-looking dates and signatures.
Many of them also contain the intriguing phrase, “The City Manager is directed to…” do a specified thing. And in many cases, he is given a specified deadline to carry out this directed task. I should have thought about that little piece of verbiage each time I emailed a City Council member during this past year, trying to follow up on affordability issues. It turns out that some of these official resolutions do not carry much weight.
Here is a case in point. Last year I blogged about the need to cease the preponderance of special event fee waivers being given away for years. The American-Statesman editorialized that the practice should be eliminated for South By Southwest, since they have received many millions in waived fees. So last year on May 1st, Mayor Pro-Tem Kathie Tovo sponsored City Council Resolution # 20140501-036. This approved resolution called for reviewing alternate funding sources for special event fee waivers. Among those suggested were surcharges on ticket sales and using funds from the Hotel Occupancy Tax. As I mentioned in a recent blog post, the Hotel Occupancy Tax revenues have ballooned from $51 million in 2012 to over $70 million in 2014. So, I have included that source in my current round of affordability proposals. The taxpayers need relief.
Please take note of the last three “Whereas” clauses in the Tovo resolution. Each one begins with the phrase, “The City Manager is directed to.” The last one reads:
“The City Manager is directed to present the proposal for the special events fund and fee waiver process by August 7, 2014 to allow Council to consider the proposals as part of the City’s budget process.” Well, August 7, 2014 came and went and the City Manager’s response never came. My repeated attempts since then to obtain the status of this resolution have not yielded any results. Now we are bumping up against another annual budget process, and I have called upon the new City Council to consider not using local taxpayer funds for these fee waivers.
But What About the Larger Issue Here?
A few other questions have wandered across my mind this morning. Perhaps the City Council should think about them as well:
1. How many other pending resolutions are out there awaiting responses to “The City Manager is directed to…?” To help the Council members start their journey in pursuit of that question, I offer this Google search that they can cut and paste into a browser: Austin “The City Manager Is Directed to.” They can just click the link.
2. How about adopting a practice that all City Council resolutions be posted to a public webpage that contains the date, subject, text, required action deadline, and current status of all pending and future resolutions?
3. Without a firm policy in place to enforce the directives contained in City Council resolutions, why not consider gathering up all printed copies of them and directing them to the nearest recycle bin?