So much for Garza's charm offensive

Travis County rejects the city's $2M McKinsey contract.

So much for Garza's charm offensive
A guy doing some martial arts atop a railing at Butler Metro Park.

The Travis County Commissioners Court voted unanimously yesterday not to contribute to the $2 million study of local homelessness services that City Council approved with McKinsey, the global consulting firm.

Two weeks ago Council authorized the stunningly expensive contract that sources say was concocted by Interim City Manager Jesus Garza and Mayor Kirk Watson and then sprung on Council with little notice and without going through the typical bidding process.

Although it was only a few years ago that the city paid for an audit of its homelessness programs for only $200,000, Garza argued that the new study was needed to examine homelessness spending by all local government agencies, including the county, Central Health, Integral Health and the UT medical school. Meanwhile, the argument from the mayor's circle was that the McKinsey study would buy the city goodwill from philanthropists and state government.

Although the other local entities had not agreed to partake in the study, let alone to help pay for it, Garza told Council members that he was "confident" that he would secure their participation and get each to chip in $400,000.

Alas, his confidence was clearly misplaced when it came to the county.

"I don't think there's an appetite for joining this [contract] with this consultant," said Commissioner Brigid Shea.

Commissioner Ann Howard, a former executive director of ECHO, the homelessness nonprofit, became emotional in describing the need for the city and county to work together on the issue. Two weeks ago she appeared receptive to the McKinsey study, but yesterday she hinted the city needed to seek collaboration, rather than force it.

"It doesn't work when we don't start off together," she said.

"It's important that we work together as partners, not subordinates," said Commissioner Jeff Travillion.

The commissioners adopted a motion by Shea for county staff to do its own review of the county's homelessness policies and spending and to convene "work sessions" in June with other local governments "to develop a framework to assess and advance our homelessness strategies."

The commissioners' vote followed testimony from Yasmine Smith of the Urban League, who urged opposition to the contract, citing the cost and McKinsey's "troubling" history.

This is only the latest example of Garza and/or Watson cockiness crashing into reality. The DPS partnership. Using a financial services contract to hire aides for the mayor. Art Acevedo. It's not 1999 anymore, boys. Get your shit together.

A look at Cap Metro's Pickup service

Here are the ridership figures for Pickup, the on-demand shuttle service that Cap Metro now operates in 11 different zones in the Austin area. I omitted figures for the new Dove Springs zone, which launched earlier this month.

It's hardly surprising that the service has not proven nearly as popular in the Exposition zone, which covers all of the wealthy Tarrytown neighborhood. But wealth is certainly not the only factor at play here. Leander's poverty rate is under 5% and yet it is generating ridership comparable to zones in East Austin that have much higher levels of poverty and non-car ownership. But what Leander lacks, of course, is other forms of public transit that connect people to local destinations.

It will be interesting to see what the per-passenger subsidy for the overall service as well as by zone.

Could the city use eminent domain against Union Pacific? Now this is interesting...members of the Downtown Commission suggest the city take legal action to acquire right-of-way that Union Pacific Railroad has been unwilling to forfeit for the purpose of a pedestrian/bike tunnel in the Seaholm District.