Bumpy start to public meetings on SXSW safety

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Monday night at the regularly scheduled Public Safety Commission meeting, City of Austin leaders added a public input portion to the agenda. It was open for comments, suggestions, or concerns with safety at one of Austin’s biggest events, South By Southwest.

Public safety officials want to find ways to prevent cases like what happened this past March, when police say Rashad Owens drove his car into the blocked off stretch of Red River Street. Four people died. Police say Owens was drinking, and he’s now charged with capital murder.

The city has never before held a meeting with the public to get input following SXSW. A few dozen people showed up, but only two people made comments during the public input portion.

The city’s Corporate Special Event Program Manager, William Manno, opened the SXSW portion of meeting. Manno is working to bring a new “Special Events Ordinance” to city council for approval.

“After major events, we regularly evaluate what went well. We also look at what didn’t go well,” said Manno, “so this process is not new to us, but it is also very welcome that we now get to get public input.”

After giving opening remarks at the meeting, the two people stepped up to the podium to talk.

“For-profit events, including SXSW, should be required to pay for the cost of overtime for Police, Fire, EMS, and other services associated with the events,” said Austin resident David King.

Next, was a representative from the SXSW Festival.

“We have been, and will continue to be, committed to working with the city, the general public, and private stakeholders to support safer events, streets and activities in downtown Austin,” said Catlin Whitington, who works with SXSW.

But, their comments did not fall on the right ears. Manno was absent for the public input, and that didn’t sit well with public safety commissioners.

“Okay, so let me get this straight,” said Public Safety Commission Chair Dr. Kim Rossmo, “we change this whole agenda around for this, to provide input, and yet the person who organized this doesn’t event want to listen to it?”

“That’s fine let’s move on to our next agenda item,” Rossmo said.

KXAN spoke to Manno following the meeting. When we asked him if he heard what the people had to say, he had no comment. KXAN was told that would not be discussed.

Two more public meetings are scheduled:

May 5, 2014
Time: Noon
Meeting: Austin Music Commission
Topics: Venue, sound and other related issues

May 13, 2014
Time: 6 p.m.
Meeting: Urban Transportation Commission
Topics: Vehicle and pedestrian traffic, road closures and other related issues.

Meetings held in the Boards and Commissions Room at Austin City Hall.

Last month the city collected feedback from residents online.

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