New regulations taking effect for food trucks

Screen Shot 2015-12-07 at 2.49.29 PMScreen Shot 2015-12-07 at 2.50.05 PMAustin American-Statesman

Food trucks in Austin and Central Texas are expecting some changes as new state and city rules come into effect.

Under new city guidelines beginning Jan. 1, central preparation facilities will be required to register with the city. These facilities supply water, dispose wastewater and act as a base where food trucks can prepare their products.

The facilities are usually restaurants or communal kitchens that rent out space to mobile food vendors and are used as the base of operation for the mobile food vendor. All food trucks must use a central preparation facility.

According to Vincent Delisi, assistant division manager at the Austin/Travis County Health and Human Services Department, there are roughly 300 central preparation facilities in the county. It’s impossible to know the exact number, Delisi said, and that’s why the city wants to create an online registry for the businesses.

The registry is expected to be available to the public, Delisi said.

City law requires that mobile food vendors provide a letter from their central preparation facility, but Delisi said that hasn’t been enough to keep track of all the facilities.

“What we find is they change their facility midyear,” he said, making it impossible for health inspectors to know where they clean and replenish their supplies.

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Poll worker’s mistake prompts recount in Caldwell County elections

WEB_Martindale-electionsThe recount of Caldwell County’s Nov. 3 city elections was ordered by a judge after election officials testified that poll workers made a mistake that caused some votes to be counted twice.

But the mistake didn’t change the ultimate result in the Martindale mayoral race. Randy Bunker beat incumbent Doyle Mosier, 90 votes to 78 votes. Before the recount, the results had Bunker winning, 91 votes to 82 votes.

“It’s done. It’s over,” Bunker said, after sitting through the court hearing and the recount at the Caldwell County elections office. “We learned a lot.”

 

The mistake at the polls had caused 157 ballots to be counted twice. Elections administrator Pamela Ohlendorf initiated the recount.

“We noticed that there were more ballots cast than there were actual voters,” Ohlendorf told Caldwell County District Judge Bruce Boyer during the hearing. “My perception is that our site support personnel entered some information twice.”

According to Ohlendorf, Caldwell County’s site support is hired by its vendor, Election Systems and Software. The company contracts personnel to work on the elections.

But Ohlendorf said the employee who messed up the votes wasn’t from Texas, and she addressed this with Election Systems and Software.

“I need someone from Texas — who knows Texas laws and who knows the equipment,” she said. “You send that person to me so that there’s never an issue like this again.”

An Election Systems and Software spokeswoman couldn’t be reached for comment. Two representatives from the company attended the recount Thursday.

“The last thing I want is for people to have a bad taste in our mouth about elections,” said Ray Chandler, the county’s elections judge, who presided over the recount.

Chandler said he and Ohlendorf want to make it possible for voting machines from all polling locations to communicate immediately with the central voting location in Lockhart on Election Day.

Under the current system, the discrepancy in votes wasn’t discovered until two days after the election. Chandler and Ohlendorf said they will take the proposal to the Commissioner’s Court.

Martindale had a different election problem in May when a flawed ballot allowed those in the city’s extraterritorial jurisdiction to vote for mayor, while city residents were allowed to vote on ETJ issues.

That election was administered by Hays County because Martindale had paired up with the San Marcos school district to defray costs.

Bunker won the May election by five votes, but he was ousted in September when that election was voided because of the mistake. Mosier, who had been Martindale’s mayor since 2011, was reinstated.

Now Bunker is ready to be sworn in.

“This couldn’t have been helped,” he said. “Let’s move on.”

Continue reading “Poll worker’s mistake prompts recount in Caldwell County elections”

Recount likely in Martindale city elections

Austin American-Statesman

Martindale voters thought they were finished with the problems of a ballot mix-up in May that caused the city’s election results to be thrown out.

After the Nov. 3 election, newly elected Mayor Randy Bunker even invited the town to his home on Tuesday to celebrate his narrow 91-82 victory with hot dogs and Frito pie. But, just before the party, Bunker learned that the results from this election are in question, too.

An email sent Tuesday morning by City Clerk Sylvia Gomez alerted former Mayor Doyle Mosier, Bunker and the four unopposed City Council candidates that they need to go to district court for a hearing Thursday morning. It is likely that a recount will be held in the afternoon.

“We’re just not catching any breaks on this one,” Mosier said.

According to Gomez’s email, Caldwell County Elections Administrator Pamela Ohlendorf found a discrepancy between the number of votes and number of ballots cast in the city races. It seems that poll workers entered some of the results for the electronic voting machines twice, double-counting the votes in some precincts, she said.

According to the Texas secretary of state’s office, Ohlendorf was advised to seek a court order for a recount of the ballots cast in early voting and on Election Day.

“They are following the Secretary of State’s recommendation to do a recount for both early voting and election day to keep the integrity of this election,” Gomez said in the email.

Martindale’s November election was essentially a do-over to remedy mistakes that were made on May ballots.

A Caldwell County state District Court judge nullified May’s results when it was determined that a flawed ballot allowed those in the city’s extraterritorial jurisdiction to vote for mayor, while city residents were allowed to vote on ETJ issues. Bunker won that election by five votes, but was ousted in September when the election was voided.

Mosier was reinstated as mayor when the election was tossed out in September and remains in the post despite two apparent losses at the polls. Bunker was supposed to be sworn in as mayor Tuesday, but will have to wait again.

There were also problems in May with the four unopposed City Council races. The four candidates’ names were listed on May’s ballot, but without boxes for voters to check, meaning no votes were officially cast.

Last week’s election was supposed to clear up the problems and clarify whom the voters want. But instead the drama continues with a likely recount on Thursday.

“Honestly, I don’t know if it will have an effect on the outcome,” Mosier said.

Elections are rare in the city of about 1,200 people. The only other contested election in the past three years in Martindale was in May 2014 to renew the city’s sales tax for street repairs. Only nine people voted.

Just after last week’s election, Martindale was hit by major flooding. Bunker vowed to address the residential damage from the heavy rain, but there is little he can do until a mayor is sworn in.

“It seems like the saga never ends,” Bunker said.

Onion Creek residents urge Austin council to ramp up buyout efforts

Posted: 6:58 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 8, 2015

Benito Arellano, a 39-year-old father of three, has been waiting for a city buyout since the 2013 Halloween flood brought a foot of water into his Onion Creek home. He used his own money to rebuild the home he’s lived in with his wife since 1998, only to get hit again by the Oct. 30 floods.

Onion Creek residents urge Austin council to ramp up buyout efforts photo
Anna Perez tells council members how difficult it is to live in an area where floods happen every two years. Photo by Ricardo Brazziell

“I can’t afford to rebuild again,” he said.

Arellano was one of more than two dozen homeowners who delivered emotional testimony Sunday afternoon in a special City Council meeting called by Mayor Steve Adler to discuss flood relief efforts. Anna Perez, whose home filled a third of the way to the ceiling during the 2013 Halloween flood, was among the residents pleading with the city to speed up the buyout program.

“How many more floods do we have to go through?” Perez asked. “How many lives have to be lost?”

Continue reading “Onion Creek residents urge Austin council to ramp up buyout efforts”

Flood death toll climbs to four

Posted: 6:25 p.m. Monday, Nov. 2, 2015  by Nicole Cobler and Katie Urbaszewski

The death toll from last week’s floods in Central Texas climbed to four as Comal County officials announced Monday they had recovered the body of a man who had been swept into a creek. Three people died in Travis County.

by Rodolfo Gonzalez
A tractor drives Monday past a giant hole at Johnson’s Backyard Garden caused by last week’s flooding near Garfield. Photo by Rodolfo Gonzalez

“We’ve lost lives in the flood,” Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt said. “That’s on everybody’s mind at this point. Now we enter the recovery phase, where we’re going to get boots on the ground. We’ll figure out what recovery looks like, how much damage there is, what we can do to recover and what we can do to prevent another flood that endangers so many people’s lives and property.”

In total, 212 properties in Austin were determined to be either “dangerous” or “substandard” after the floods, and the Austin Code Department has not yet finished assessing properties, city officials said.

Authorities in Travis, Hays, Bastrop and Comal counties took the first step in seeking state and federal help by declaring the counties disaster areas. Eckhardt said she would prefer to extend the disaster declaration that Travis County Commissioners issued in 2013 for the Halloween floods that year as a way to receive aid more quickly this year, though she added she wasn’t sure if that would be possible.

It wasn’t until February that Travis County received money to buy out homes that were wrecked in the 2013 Halloween flooding.

Continue reading “Flood death toll climbs to four”

After ballot mix-up, Martindale voting for mayor again

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By Nicole Cobler – American-Statesman Staff

MARTINDALE — The city of Martindale is so small every vote truly does matter.

Yet, election officials somehow lost track of who should be voting for mayor in May, forcing a redo next week for the first time anyone can remember in the history of the 160-year-old town.

Mistakes with the ballot during the May election allowed those outside the city — in Martindale’s extraterritorial jurisdiction — to improperly vote for mayor, while those in the city were allowed to vote on ETJ issues.

Following the election, Randy Bunker was sworn in as the new mayor, only to be ousted in September when a Caldwell County state District Court nullified the results and ordered incumbent Doyle Mosier to be reinstated until the race could be voted on again.

(Read the latest: Martindale finally elects a mayor)

“I believe (the ballot problems) definitely kept people from voting,” said Bunker, who won by five votes before the election was voided. “They walked out and never came back.”WEB_Martindale-elections

Not mentioned in the court order was a problem on the ballot for four unopposed City Council races. The candidates’ names were listed on the ballot, but without boxes for voters to check, meaning no votes were officially cast. Those candidates will also appear on the ballots again next week. Early voting in the election ends Friday.

The problem with the mayoral race wasn’t discovered until about 11 a.m. on the day of the May vote. Officials then switched from electronic voting to paper ballots, allowing volunteers to verify where each resident lived before giving them the proper ballot.

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Martindale Mayor Doyle Mosier stands next to his campaign signs before distributing them around town on Oct. 19. Because of errors with ballots in the May election, in which he lost, Mosier stepped down as mayor until a court voided the election in September. Martindale residents will vote for mayor again next week.

Martindale, with a population of about 1,200, rarely has elections because there is often the same number of candidates as there are positions open, said Mosier, who contested the results after losing the race. In fact, he said, the only other election held in the past three years was in May 2014 to renew the city’s sales tax for street repairs. Only 11 people voted — nine for the tax and two against.

“That’s one of the limits of trying to govern,” Mosier said. “People don’t really care until things go wrong. We had a lot go wrong here lately, but I hope we have a lot of turnout next election.”

Mosier, 64, who is retired after working for the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, has been Martindale’s mayor since 2011. He had never faced an opponent until this year.

But after Mosier lost the race by five votes, 74-69, Bunker became mayor until September, when the court voided the election.

“It was like a bad movie,” Mosier said. “Even though everyone realized it was a flawed election, it’s still my responsibility as the losing candidate to contest it.”

Although Martindale is in Caldwell County, the town paired up with the San Marcos school district to defray election costs, which allowed the May vote to be administered by Hays County. The school district includes Martindale.

According to City Administrator Tom Forrest, it costs the city roughly $1,500 to run an election, but the cost can be lowered by teaming up with a school district or county. He couldn’t provide the exact cost to the city for next week’s election.

Forrest said two lists of voters — those in the city and those in the extraterritorial jurisdiction — were sent to Hays County to prepare the ballots. However, the two weren’t separated in the electronic voting machines for the May election. The city didn’t catch the error during early voting.

“There was a serious misunderstanding and oversight on our part,” Forrest said.

For the November election, Caldwell County will administer the election.

Just weeks after Bunker took the mayor’s seat, Martindale was hit hard by the May floods that swept across Central Texas. Five months later, the town is still picking up the pieces, with many residents continuing to repair damage to their homes.

It was up to Bunker to coordinate emergency services after the floods. He called it a “rough two months” but said his previous experience as flood plain coordinator in the area helped.

Mosier, who had to stand back as the new mayor learned the ropes, said the transition during such an extreme weather event made things even more difficult for the community.

“It caused all kinds of issues as far as coordination with FEMA,” Mosier said. “We’re digging out and trying to get back on track.”

It’s impossible not to notice tension between Mosier and Bunker. They each stop midsentence to collect themselves when describing the problems with the May election and the “other guy.”

“I try to avoid talking about him,” Mosier said of his opponent. “I just feel like, after the flood, the city really needs some basic, long-term direction and leadership.”

Bunker, 59, who has been a City Council member since 2013, said he ran for mayor because he thinks there is a lack of transparency about city expenditures.

“You can get more done on council, but some of the council members felt that we needed a liaison between the city and the council,” he said.

Despite their differences, Bunker and Mosier have one clear similarity — their pride in Martindale’s small-town lifestyle.

Once known for its prosperous cotton farming economy and later as the location of the 2003 remake of “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” movie, the city about 10 miles east of San Marcos is in no rush to grow.

Mosier took in his neighbor when her house was destroyed during the flood. He has fought the exploding visitor traffic on the San Marco River by lobbying for legislation to allow local communities to regulate recreational activities.

Bunker, a retired stone mason, has been helping residents with odd jobs around town for years. His current project is creating a headstone with a Celtic cross for a family. Sitting on his porch with his dog by his side, Bunker brags about the events in Martindale that he’s seen grow over the years, like the annual chili cook-off and Independence Parade.

“A small town like this is just like when our country first started,” Bunker said. “(The mayor’s seat) is a nonpaid position, but it’s a civic duty to do it.”

Continue reading “After ballot mix-up, Martindale voting for mayor again”

Weekend storms bring mostly good news for Austin area

Posted: 8:32 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 25, 2015 | By Nicole Cobler – American-Statesman Staff

Storm issueDespite its ominous billing as the most powerful hurricane in the Western hemisphere, by the time Patricia swept through Mexico and then Texas, there was less damage than feared in its wake.

Patricia hit Mexico’s Pacific coast on Friday night as a Category 5 hurricane with winds up to 200 mph, but officials reported no deaths or injuries. Between 3,000 and 3,5000 homes were damaged. The hurricane missed the larger cities of Puerto Vallarta and Manzanillo and did the most damage to less populated areas.

Photo by Ralph Barrera, Austin American-Statesman
Photo by Ralph Barrera, Austin American-Statesman

The remnants of Hurricane Patricia, along with an upper level disturbance from the Southwest and a cold front from the north, converged early Saturday over Texas, but the confluence of the three storms had its benefits in Central Texas. Heavy precipitation over the area led to the containment of the Hidden Pines fire in Bastrop, might help end drought conditions and could mark the end of a sweltering summer here.

Before the storms left Central Texas on Sunday afternoon, parts of the Austin area had received nearly a foot of rain. The Anderson Mill area in northern Travis County received the most with 11.81 inches, and 10.42 inches were reported in southern Williamson County, according to the National Weather Service.

Continue reading “Weekend storms bring mostly good news for Austin area”