(opinion piece) One of the outward symptoms of the corruption at City Hall is the ongoing arrogance of both the City Manager and Austin's media. Case in point: The Statesman just published an article on the split of Planning and Development Review, after the release of the Zucker report (available here, or you can get an easier download here).
Its obvious that neither Marc Ott, nor the Statesman, feel the need to even hide the corruption anymore.
"Rodney Gonzales, who is an assistant director for the city’s economic development office, will head up the new Development Review office."
This means a staff member whose job it is to cater to Austin's Rat Pack, has now been put in charge of permitting, as well waivers and exceptions.
Who are the Rat Pack? The five attorneys and lobbyists who have turned City funds and incentives into a personal gravy train for their clients:
-David Armbrust & Richard Suttle (ABOR, Endeavor, Circuit of America, Walmart, etc)
-Stephen Drenner (TACO PUD, Gables, etc.)
-Michael Whellan (SXSW, American Statesman, etc),
-Peter Cesaro (SXSW, RECA, Austin Chronicle, Highland Mgmt, etc)
You can see a full list of their clients here:
(It should also be noted that Nick Barbaro, who runs the Chronicle is also married to Susan Moffat, a founder of SXSW, an organization that is estimated to rake in at least a million in waivers from the City each year)
There is also this:
"Guernsey “was just having to keep his nose above water,” Suttle said. “Now I think the burden will be spread between two very capable people.” "
Its both revealing, and a bit sickening, that the Statesman feels it is acceptable to "report" that a member of the Rat Pack has given this change of staff his blessing.
At what point do we as taxpayers say enough is enough?
~Mary Rudig, editor, Love North Austin
Please click "read more" to read the Stateman's article.
Austin splits embattled planning department
Planning and Zoning, Development Review departments formed.
By Lilly Rockwell firstname.lastname@example.org
The city of Austin announced a major reorganization of its high-profile Planning and Development Review Department on Friday, a week after a scathing report described it as understaffed, poorly managed and riddled with inefficiencies.
This powerful department is responsible for vetting and approving new real estate development in the city and is frequently a target of criticism from nearly everyone who interacts with it, from housing developers who complain about sluggish permit approvals, to longtime Austin residents and environmentalists who say the staffers are too cozy with developers.
The reorganization would split the 324-person Planning and Development Review Department into two departments: Planning and Zoning, which will focus on zoning cases, historic designations and long-term planning; and Development Review, which will be in charge of the much-criticized permit center, plan reviews and inspections, essentially the nuts-and-bolts of new development.
Greg Guernsey, head of the embattled Planning and Development Review Department, will be in charge of the newly formed Planning and Zoning department. Rodney Gonzales, who is an assistant director for the city’s economic development office, will head up the new Development Review office.
The intent was to “evenly distribute the workload,” according to a city press release, and those two functions deserved “individual and separate attention.” The two used to be separate until 2010, when development review services were pulled out of Watershed Protection to join the planning department.
The report by California-based Zucker Systems, released last week after neighborhood advocates pestered the city into publishing it, listed more than 400 specific recommendations for how to fix the department. None of those suggestions involved splitting it up, though the report did single out Guernsey, saying the department was poorly managed and that he was spread too thin and should delegate more.
Mary Ingle, head of the Austin Neighborhoods Council, one of the biggest critics of the department, said the restructuring Fridayamounted to a demotion of Guernsey. “He got split in half,” Ingle pointed out.
But the city cast it as putting Guernsey in a position to be more useful in a major city initiative: a rewrite of the city’s complex land development code called CodeNEXT.
“His real focus has been on code and on planning,” according to Assistant City Manager Sue Edwards. “When we have a code question, he’s the first person anybody goes to. ... He’s the expert.”
City spokesman Bryce Bencivengo said Gonzales was selected to run the Development Review side because “he has some fresh eyes and a great background in business.”
Richard Suttle, a real estate development attorney who frequently interacts with the department, described Guernsey’s job as almost impossible for one person to manage. Suttle said Guernsey has to monitor zoning cases, all the relevant boards and commissions and City Council meetings, as well as site plans, building permit approvals and the often-controversial years-long grandfathering cases.
Guernsey “was just having to keep his nose above water,” Suttle said. “Now I think the burden will be spread between two very capable people.”
The city manager’s of fice said Friday’s decision wasn’t a response to Zucker’s report.
“It’s been in the works a long time, actually,” Edwards said. She said it’s part of a closer look at the department that started three years ago. In 2012, the city added 26 positions to the department to try to keep pace with the uptick of building permits and site plan approvals that came with an improving economy.
“Certainly Zucker’s report will be a tool that we can use,” Edwards said, adding that it “helped us verify what we knew already were some of the issues.”
She said the city does plan to implement many of the report’s recommendations after a final draft is released later this month.
“Part of it depends on, really, reality and how much money can the city budget this year in its upcoming budget. How much will the council approve?” Edwards said.
Contact Lilly Rockwell at 512-445-3632. WHAT WE REPORTED
The American-Statesman first reported Feb. 23 about the efforts of neighborhood activists to get a draft copy of the Zucker Report, a consultant’s review of problems in Austin’s Planning and Development Review Department. Under growing public pressure, the city last week posted the draft report, which highlighted numerous issues such as slow permit approvals, a micromanaging department head and poor communication.