Ald. Emma Mitts (37th) didn’t let a little thing like locked doors stop her from holding her regular monthly meeting.

Mitts held this month’s meeting on Wednesday, July 12, at Prosser Career Academy, 2148 N. Long. The doors, however, were locked and about a half dozen attendees were waiting outside. Mitts, who arrived shortly after the 6 p.m. start time, decided to hold the meeting outside near the front entrance. Mild summer temperatures and shade under a tree providing a good alternative to a school classroom, Mitts acknowledged.

Mitts, as is custom with her meetings, invited guest speakers to discuss issues and provide resources to attendees.

Elizabeth Caton, housing specialist for Northwest Side Housing Center, a non-profit organization, talked about financial and home ownership program opportunities available at the state and federal level, and through the housing center. Among the services the center provides is screening and background checks of tenants for landlords and property rental owners. One of the programs offered through the center, called HOME Sharing, places individuals with seniors as a rental tenant, said Caton. The pre-screened individual provides some form of assistance to the home or property owner.

Rev. Jose Perez, assistant pastor of Church of Jesus Christ Eternal Rock, 1847 N. Kildare, also spoke. Perez, joined at the meeting by his wife Maritza, talked about a plan to build a multi-purpose workshop, recreational and community facility in Austin. Perez said his church has talked with other organizations and elected officials about the prospect of building such a facility in the 37th Ward.

Mitts said the idea for the center is good but building it would require funding from mostly private donors, and that currently, there’s no space for such a facility in her ward.

Mitts also used the meeting to respond to what she called unfair attacks from unions and supporters of the proposed “Big Box” ordinance currently before the City Council. The council will vote on the ordinance July 26. It would require large retailers such as Wal-Mart to pay employees a minimum of $10 per hour in wages and $3 in benefits by July 1, 2010.

Mitts said the ordinance is unfairly targeting Wal-Mart, which is building a store in Austin at 4650 W. North Ave. That store is scheduled to open in September.

Mitts said she’s opposed to the ordinance primarily because retailers like Wal-Mart and Target may end up cutting jobs if they’re forced to pay such high wages. Target this week announced that it might leave the city if the ordinance becomes law.
Mitts added that the ordinance, introduced by Ald. Joe Moore (49th), would force the city to impose a “living wage” for workers, something that should be imposed by the federal government. She said she supports a fair, federally mandated living wage.

More than 9,000 applicants have applied for the 400 or so jobs at the Austin Wal-Mart.

“If I’m not going to get 400 jobs from Wal-Mart, are the unions going to give us 400 jobs,” asked Mitts.

Look for additional coverage of the Big Box debate in the July 20 Austin Weekly News.