By BRAD ROLLINS
Faced with another showing of residents incensed by proposed residential rental registration and inspections, the city council this week appeared to move toward killing it later, rather than sooner.
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Council members Kim Porterfield and Chris Jones wanted to preemptively reject the proposal or anything like it. Jones argued against considering the idea in October when the council appointed a seven-member working group to review it. At the time, Porterfield was running for the seat she now holds.
Council members John Thomaides and Gaylord Bose, who think the city needs some kind of ordinance to compel property owners to do more to stop their tenants’ disruptive or dangerous behavior, want the working group to continue its work.
Eventually, the council agreed to Mayor Susan Narvaiz’s compromise in suspending the working group’s activities — including canceling a meeting that been scheduled for Monday — until the council is briefed at their Feb. 19 meeting on an overlapping effort by what is now being called a noise abatement task force led by assistant police chief Lisa Dvorak.
“I’m fine with stepping back. That’s our choice as elected officials. But let’s not scrap everything just for the sake of scrapping it because we don’t like what we’re seeing now,” said council member Daniel Guerrero, who noted how eager his colleagues were to pursue the working group last fall in response to waves of residents angry about loud parties and drunken driving in the area of the Sagewood development off Craddock Avenue.
“We decided then to take on these issues six months ago and not ignore them. Now we’re saying we’re going to throw it away because we don’t like where it’s going. That’s not good business, that’s not a good process,” Guerrero said.
Starting in August, residents of neighborhoods adjoining Sagewood poured into a succession of city council members to demand that more be done to tamp down on disruptive college and college-aged behavior in the dense pocket of 100 duplexes. In the weeks that followed, police stepped up enforcement in Sagewood which led to a backlash, again played out at the speaker’s podium in the city council chambers.
In October, the council formed the working group and named seven members chosen from council members’ nominees through rounds of elimination votes. Since the group’s first meeting in December, however, one member, real estate investor Vance Elliot, has not made any meetings and two members, Jim LeSage and Michael Flowers have attended one of three. Members Rick Tarr, Robert Hernandez and Tom Wassenich have perfect attendance and Jason Aleem has missed one meeting.
With bare quorums and a behind-the-scenes assembly of the ordinance through e-mail between a single working group member and Fire Marshal Ken Bell, Narvaiz said the group wasn’t in a position to review the idea from scratch and make recommendations without clearer direction about what the council expects.
In addition, the new city attorney apparently was not involved in developing the ordinance despite a list of potential constitutional issues. And when Bell, complying with council instructions to run a transparent committee, posted a draft ordinance on the city’s Web site, later posted on Newstreamz, that set off heated opposition.
“It is not what I had in mind. …It is not fair to not give them enough direction and have them taking the firing from the public. We’re the elected officials. It’s our job to take that position,” Narvaiz said. She added later: “Mr. Bell is not the big ogre here. He was asked by [then-City Manager Dan O’Leary] to start investigating options. He merely did what we asked him to do.”
Thomaides observed, “A few months ago, we had a group of citizens saying ‘Don’t just stand there, do something.’ Now we have a group of citizens saying ‘Don’t do something, just stand there.’”
For his part, Jones seemed to be reminding his colleagues that they knew full well the scope of what Bell was proposing, having sat through a PowerPoint in September that outlined basics of the system.
“I’ll go back to what Dan O’Leary said about this when he originally brought it up. He called it a ‘draconian’ option.’ I still think it’s draconian,” Jones said.