BG Reads | News You Need to Know (January 3, 2019)



Big Red Dog, Austin engineering firm working on tall towers, acquired (Austin Business Journal)

Big Red Dog Inc., one of the largest engineering firms based in Austin, has been purchased by Wantman Group Inc., a real estate consulting firm based in Florida that goes by WGI.

With 2017 engineering billings of more than $9 million, Big Red Dog ranked as one of the three largest local engineering firms at last count. It had 70 employees and 19 licensed engineers as of February, according to Austin Business Journal research.

Big Red Dog CEO Will Schnier, Chief Operating Officer Matt Stewart and Civil Market Leader Brad Lingvai will continue in their roles, along with all key principals, executives and associates. On the firm's website, the Big Red Dog brand is alive and well but a tagline has been added: a division of WGI.

In Austin, Big Red Dog is involved in high-profile projects such as the RiverSouth tower south of downtown, a new hotel near 17th and Lavaca streets and new development at Circuit of The Americas racetrack…

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Travillion pushes for streamlined processes, services for the underserved (Austin Monitor)

When Commissioner Jeff Travillion joined the Travis County Commissioners Court in 2017, he brought with him a rigorous attention to governmental process.

“When I came here I said, ‘I don’t want to know that it runs; pull the hood up and let’s see how it runs,’” Travillion told the Monitor in a late-afternoon interview on Dec. 20.

Flipping through a 64-page report from the Justice Planning Department, he said expectations for precise goals and clear data have already changed since he joined the dais in 2017. The report, he said, represents a new set of standards the court expects when asked to make a decision. “It’s only now that, for example, we can tell you the number of projects that Justice Planning implemented this year,” he said. “We’ve never had this before.”

Project definition and organizational structure are Travillion’s primary concerns when considering any proposal. The first step, he said, is a procedure of distillation called “crosswalking,” which consists of defining the current state, the future state being proposed and how it will help taxpayers. Until you can define a problem, he said, you can’t possibly solve it…

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Shea stays busy accepting what can’t be changed, fighting for what can (Austin Monitor)

On June 24, 1988, this sentence appeared on the front page of The New York Times: “Higher temperatures can now be attributed to a long-expected global warming trend linked to pollution, a space agency scientist reported today.” The scientist was NASA’s James Hansen. His historic testimony to Congress, Travis County Commissioner Brigid Shea told the Austin Monitor in an interview Monday afternoon, prompted a move from Washington where she had been working to fight nuclear weapons testing and brought her to Austin to help form the Texas chapter of Clean Water Action.

Three decades later, no longer optimistic about the odds of halting the climate crisis, Shea is directing her efforts toward mitigating its impacts as much as possible while preparing communities to deal with climate-related disasters like wildfires and floods.

One example of that work is a collaboration with the Comanche Trail neighborhood association to create a neighborhood fire drill pilot program. Located adjacent to Hippie Hollow Park on Lake Travis, Comanche Trail has only a single access road, leaving residents particularly vulnerable to wildfires. If the fire drill is a success in early March, Shea said the goal will be to share the procedure with equally vulnerable neighborhoods…

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Commissioner Daugherty still working to pave the road ahead (Austin Monitor)

Travis County Commissioner Gerald Daugherty is not in the business of telling Travis County residents what they should want or need. Instead, both on the dais and in conversation, the Precinct 3 commissioner, businessman and longtime Austin resident resists the allure of silver-bullet solutions, looking primarily to market-based answers to the complexities of our given moment.

During a recent interview with the Monitor, Daugherty reflected on the double-edged sword of the region’s growing economic prosperity and the delicate balance of providing for residents while preserving their freedom to live how they choose.

The region’s growth has led to a rising affordability crisis which Daugherty expects will only get worse. “For the first time in the 50 years that I’ve been here, I’m really, really concerned about Austin because from an affordability standpoint, it’s not here any longer,” he said…

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Wintry chill, steady rain soaking Central Texas to end Thursday (Austin American-Statesman)

Near-freezing temperatures and wet weather Wednesday had Austinites bundling up and whipping out umbrellas as more than an inch of rain fell in some parts of town. Similar weather is in store Thursday morning before Central Texas warms back up over the weekend.

The rain should subside by noon Thursday in Austin, where temperatures will climb only as high as 47 degrees — about 15 degrees colder than normal — before dropping to an overnight low of 36, the National Weather Service said.

“It is a big drop, and much of the United States is seeing it right now,” University of Texas meteorology lecturer Troy Kimmel said.

The city is in the throes of a very weak El Niño, a weather pattern that arises when the eastern Pacific Ocean near the equator warms up and creates a stronger jet stream, Kimmel said. An El Niño can lead to more thunderstorms and rain in Texas…

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Abbott-led board to consider removal of Confederate plaque from inside Texas Capitol (Texas Tribune)

After complaints have persisted for more than a year, a state board that oversees the Texas Capitol grounds will meet next week to consider removing a plaque that declares that the Civil War was “not a rebellion, nor was its underlying cause to sustain slavery.”

The Jan. 11 meeting comes more than a month after Gov. Greg Abbott called for it in a letter, which did not specify an agenda, to Executive Director Rod Welsh. This will be the Abbott-led board’s first meeting since March 2017, and Abbott’s letter came less than two weeks after Attorney General Ken Paxton issued an opinion saying the panel is among those who have the authority to take down the plaque.

The meeting will take place three days after the start of the 86th Legislature. The new Texas House speaker and the lieutenant governor serve with Abbott on the board as co-vice chairs…

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Julian Castro plans Jan. 12 San Antonio rollout for White House bid, with Beto O'Rourke casting Texas-size shadow (Dallas Morning News)

Plans are coming into focus for Julián Castro's presidential campaign rollout at an event Jan. 12 in San Antonio.

Castro announced Dec. 12 that he had formed a presidential exploratory committee, giving the former Obama housing chief and San Antonio mayor a head start in a crowded field eager to challenge President Donald Trump. "Americans are ready to climb out of this darkness," Castro says in a four-minute video laying out his likely candidacy. Nearly two dozen Democrats are eyeing a 2020 run, and there's no clear front-runner. Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts formed an exploratory committee on Dec. 31. A number of lesser-known Democrats have been stumping for months, but Castro's event would be the first formal campaign kickoff in the 2020 field. The site has not been announced, though a news media signup that the campaign issued Wednesday indicates a 10 a.m. event in San Antonio. With Castro and El Paso's Beto O'Rourke, whose six years in the U.S. House officially end at noon Thursday, the field may end up with two Texans — a remarkable turn of events for a state that hasn't elected a Democrat statewide since 1994. O'Rourke largely eclipsed Castro with his near-miss effort to unseat Sen. Ted Cruz. That effort drew national buzz, huge crowds and an eye-popping $80 million in donations. Castro has not sought statewide office. He had been laying the groundwork for a presidential bid for months, only to see O'Rourke shoot past him and into the top tier in surveys of Democratic voters, though name recognition weighs heavily in early presidential polling…

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Returning Texas Republicans in Congress preparing for a "whole different world" in 2019 (Texas Tribune)

When the next Congress begins tomorrow, the House will flip from Republican to Democratic control for the first time in eight years. For most of the Texans in Congress, it is likely to be a jarring transition.

“I know nothing but having a Republican from the White House all the way across the board,” said U.S. Rep. Jodey Arrington, a Lubbock Republican finishing up his first term. “This’ll be a great test of all of us, but especially my leadership – can I continue to be productive?”

Arrington is among eight Republican incumbents from Texas in the U.S. House who have only served in the majority and have no first-hand knowledge of what life was like in the chamber before Republicans won control in the 2010 wave. Of the 17 other Texas Republicans in the U.S House who have previously served in the minority, seven are leaving Congress after today due to retirements or lost re-elections…

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Liberal revolt threatens to derail House Democrats on their first day in charge (Washington Post)

imHouse Democratic leaders are set to advance sweeping internal rules changes Thursday that would attempt to bring more sunshine to congressional governance and defuse a pair of political powder kegs that wreaked havoc on GOP leaders during the past eight years.

But in their first day of power in the new Congress, Democrats must stave off a liberal rebellion after prominent Democrats said they would oppose the entire rules package that has been carefully assembled by Rep. Nancy Pelosi and a top lieutenant.

Rep. Ro Khanna (Calif.) and Rep.-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (N.Y.) said they would vote against the rules changes — in the second vote Democrats will take in the majority after ostensibly electing Pelosi (D-Calif.) as the new speaker — because of the inclusion of a fiscal measure known as “pay as you go,” or paygo. That rule, echoing a provision in federal law and in the Senate’s rules, would require the House to offset any spending so as not to increase the budget deficit…

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Trump Invites Congressional Leaders For Talks As Shutdown Continues (KUT)

As the partial government shutdown continues into its second week, President Trump has invited a bipartisan group of top lawmakers to the White House for talks.

"The President has invited Republican and Democrat leaders in Congress to the White House for a border security briefing from senior Department of Homeland Security officials on Wednesday, and he remains committed to reaching an agreement that both reopens the government and keeps Americans safe," White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said in a statement Tuesday…

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Despite Huge Backlogs, The Government Shutdown Halts Most Immigration Court Hearings (KUT)

The federal government shutdown — caused in part by disagreements over immigration policy — is delaying immigration court hearings across the country.

Court appointments scheduled during the shutdown will be "reset" to new dates in the future, per a notice from the Department of Justice dated Dec. 26. The only exception are courts operating in immigration detention centers, where federal immigration authorities hold immigrants pending deportation. However, court staff may not be paid while continuing to hear those cases.

In addition, some emergency motions in nondetained cases can still be filed to the judges that are working during the shutdown…

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Episode 28: Development Conversation with Rodney Gonzales

Today's BG Podcast features a conversation with Rodney Gonzales, then Director of Austin’s Development Services Department (DSD). The department was created in 2015 to handle residential and commercial permitting issues separately from zoning issues.

Rodney discusses his background and path to DSD, and current department initiatives with Bingham Group CEO A.J. Bingham.

Recorded on December 18, 2018, it was announced on December 21 that Rodney was promoted to Assistant City Manager for Economic Opportunity and Affordability.

This role will expand his coverage beyond development services to include a range of issues such as: resources for small and minority-owned businesses; neighborhood housing and community development; telecommunications; regulatory affairs; and the Austin Convention Center.

We wish him good luck in the new role!

Link to Episode 28

The Bingham Group, LLC is an Austin-based full service lobbying firm representing and advising clients on municipal, legislative, and regulatory matters throughout Texas.


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