Mayor Had to End Tax Hike Briefing Before It Began When He Found Himself Sans Quorum

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Well, I was about to tell you to tune into the tax-hike briefing, which was about to get underway, like, five minutes ago. But then the damnedest thing happened: As the briefing was getting going, there was much giggling. Much guffawing. Then, the briefing stopped. Then, the mayor interrupted and said, sorry, but the briefing has to come to an end due to the sudden lack of a quorum. Which means no questions, no nothing. And that was that.

I was watching on the live feed, so I couldn't see who walked out. But I can guess: Shortly before the briefing began, Tennell Atkins wanted something clarified: Would the city council have to vote on going forward with public hearings concerning a potential tax hike today, or could it put off the vote till September 8? He was told: Today. At which point he said someone could have told him that during the lunch break. Because he's "tired of" asking city attorneys and the city secretary questions and not getting a straight answer. Hey, wait a minute ...

Update: Tennell Atkins did indeed walk out of the briefing. So too Steve Salazar, Carolyn Davis, Pauline Medrano, Delia Jasso and others.

Update at 5:40 p.m.: Angela Hunt also walked out. And, in a phone conversation with Unfair Park, she explains why:

"Another council member had overheard one of our colleagues discussing a motion that would have essentially prevented us from having a discussion about a tax rate increase. It would have capped next year's tax rate at this year's tax rate, and we have not concluded our public [budget town hall] meetings, where, by and large, I am hearing from folks who say they want at least a small increase to restore essential services that have been eviscerated."

Update at 6 p.m.: I just spoke with City Manager Mary Suhm, who says that as a result of today's council walkout -- my phrase, not hers -- the council cannot vote for a tax rate hike higher than 79.72 cents per $100 valuation. That's the so-called effective rate, which would keep FY2010-11 revenues consistent with last year's. Right now, Suhm's budget calls for a tax rate of 74.79¢/$100. Today's briefing was expected to be the first step toward upping that.

Update at 6:24 p.m.: So, Mayor Tom Leppert just called to talk about what happened -- or, more to the point, didn't happen -- during that tax-hike briefing that ended with a council adios. As he says, it was "much ado about nothing," because, "in the end it didn't make any difference." Meaning: The council needed to vote today on whether or not it would proceed with upping the tax rate higher than the effective rate of 79.72 cents per $100 valuation. "And even among the folks who talk about a tax increase, nobody talks about it being more than five cents anyway, so it literally didn't affect anything," said the mayor.

"That's what the vote was on anyway, so it didn't matter if we voted or didn't vote," he told Unfair Park. "Part of this was a miscommunication. My look was more bewilderment than anything else. [The walkout] didn't mean anything. Some people were saying, 'Gosh, was somebody going to make a motion to keep it below that [79.72 cents per $100 valuation] level?' and that's a moot point. I never heard anyone say that. But even if they did it wouldn't made a difference." Coming tomorrow morning, more tax-hike talk with the mayor.

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