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For council, a night of highs and lows

Two long-standing local issues elicited two very different responses from City Council on Monday night.

First came the question of whether to change the city’s charter to make it more readable and up-to-date. A nearly three-year process, the proposed changes finally got the required unanimous support on Monday, several months after council members John Martin and Marian Clennon voted against changes — a roadblock that stirred up plenty of frustration among local leaders.

Then there was the draft wind turbine ordinance that would permit the structures throughout Austin, except in residential areas. After nearly a year of debate and meetings — and seeing the proposed law change many times — supporters thought Monday night would be the night.

The revised copy sitting in front of council would block turbines in residential areas, but an exception would be made for school zones. This compromise seemed to have something in it for everyone — those saying “not in my back yard” would largely be accommodated, but proponents of inner-city wind energy would still have some places to build.

However, the same two council members — Martin and Clennon — voted against the ordinance, keeping it from the unanimous support it needed on its first reading. Clennon for one said she was concerned that there wasn’t language addressing smaller, roof-mounted structures, as opposed to free-standing turbines.

All said, the majority of council went on quite the emotional rollercoaster Monday — first, the high of finally getting charter changes passed, but then the low of once again failing to pass a wind turbine ordinance.

The charter vote was almost met with a sigh of relief from council, knowing that what had become a tedious process was over.

“There’s been a lot of work put into it,” councilman Jeff Austin said after the meeting. “It’s good to have it pass.” But as much as Austin and others wanted to celebrate after the charter vote, they were soon hit with the discouraging news that, despite a 5-2 vote, the wind turbine ordinance would have to wait at least another two weeks, when the council meets next.

“I thought we had a compromise (with the) ordinance,” Austin said. “I would assume the vote would stay the same and pass (at the next council meeting).”

Assuming no changes are made to the draft ordinance’s language, a simple majority would be all that is needed at that next meeting. But Austin and others did still show some signs of frustration as the vote was being conducted, knowing that they were so close but would have to wait a little while longer.

Clennon acknowledged that the ordinance could very well pass at the next meeting, but she said her vote was made to make sure her side was heard.

“My main thing is that I’m a big proponent of roof-top (turbines),” the councilwoman said, noting that the ordinance didn’t address them. “It might be something in the future that can be brought up again.”

Will that future be in two weeks, or will another majority vote take care of what was almost taken care of Monday? While it would seem likely that most members will not change their votes between now and then, passage is no guarantee — and there is precedent to prove it. In January, the same situation unfolded, with a draft getting a 5-2 vote but falling short because it was a first reading. However, two weeks later, council actually tabled the measure.

For her part, Clennon said she didn’t want to speculate about the outcome at the next meeting.

“I hate to predict how other people will vote,” she said.

The future for the charter is a little more simple, but there is still some work to be done. That’s because three substantive issues were not addressed Monday and will instead have to go to the ballot in November, which was essentially Martin and Clennon’s stipulation for ‘yes’ votes Monday.

The issues in question are allowing the mayor to vote if council deadlocks — currently, the mayor can never vote — and bumping the term lengths for mayor and council member at-large from two years to four, which would bring them in line with all other council members.

For these issues to make the ballot, council would have to approve ballot questions by their first meeting in July.