Mayor’s Chief of Staff Exits And Why You Should Care

Mayor’s Chief of Staff Exits And Why You Should Care

Casual observers of city hall, at first glance, might take little notice that Mark Nathan, Mayor Lee Leffingwell’s chief of staff, has announced his departure.

But it is a noteworthy event whenever an executive politician’s chief of staff exits. A chief of staff is the one who gets stuff done, while their boss is smiling for the camera. The office of chief of staff and the person holding it become synonymous.

To that point, the mayor said on his own website “Mark has been a driving force behind almost every major initiative we’ve undertaken.”

As a nerdish observer of City Hall, which is one level above casual, I can read into that a few ways, but the simplest is just to look at three things the mayor’s office has pushed in the past 12-16 months: A new downtown hotel, an urban rail system and the United States Grand Prix F1 race. (As for the F1 race, one could say Lee isn’t a “pusher” maybe just an adamant supporter. He was the only council member who wanted to approve the contract about 60 days ago, when his six other colleagues — including Randi Shade on her last day — voted to postpone the vote under threats it could blow the entire deal. That’s telling.) [Read more…]

A Tale Of Two Hotels

A Tale Of Two Hotels

Anyone listening in at City Hall might have heard city staff remind city council not to call the new hotel hotels being pitched downtown a “convention hotel.”

If you are wondering why, check out this story I wrote while at the Austin Business Journal in December.  It is curious why this point has been overlooked or ignored by other media outlets.

To plagiarize, well, myself: “The city barred itself nine years ago from designating any other hotel as one of the city’s ‘convention center hotels’ when it agreed to a contract that called for issuing more than $250 million in bonds to build the downtown Austin Hilton, according to public records filed with the Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board, or MSRP. The city reaffirmed that pledge when it refinanced the bonds in 2006.”

The second hotel developers are quick to point out they are not asking for subsidies, like the Marriott project planned on 2nd Street and Congress Avenue is.

But they can’t, according to the contract.

Interestingly, the Statesman reported on June 23 that the second hotel, planned by Austin developers Perry Lorenz and Robert Knight, could be a Hilton.

But according to the same contract I sourced above, the Hilton can’t build another hotel unless they cut through some red tape.

Just goes to show, I guess, a contract with the city is only as good as the litigators you want to enforce it.

Mega Hotel Subsidy Draws Fire From Austin Council

Mega Hotel Subsidy Draws Fire From Austin Council

It seems that having Armbrust & Brown attorney Richard Suttle as the representative of the hotel developers I wrote about Monday may be a little too hot for some council members to handle.

On Tuesday morning, Council Members Bill Spelman, Sheryl Cole and Laura Morrison seemed skeptical that his clients need almost $4 million in city breaks to help to build a hotel downtown.

Students of city politics should note that the power base at city council has now shifted from Mayor Lee Leffingwell, Mayor Pro Tem Mike Martinez and Chris Riley — who are losing defeated incumbent Randi Shade — to the other council members, who are gaining Kathie Tovo next month.

[Read more…]

Mega Presentation On Urban Rail Tuesday

Mega Presentation On Urban Rail Tuesday

NEWS FLASH: According to a source at City Hall, the Austin Transportation Department is slated to give a big presentation June 14 that will be “a substantial briefing” on urban rail and begins to start answering Uncle Lee’s 30 crucial questions and “then some.”

The mayor has pushed a 2012 bond election funding a first leg for a new mode of mass transit in Austin.

[Read more…]