Austin City Council

KUT News

From the Austin Monitor:

There are only two subsidized housing developments in City Council Member Don Zimmerman’s District 6, as compared to 47 in Council Member Ora Houston’s District 1 and 46 in Council Member Pio Renteria’s District 3, according to data compiled by the group Housing Works Austin.

But Zimmerman would like to make sure there is not another one in District 6. He is particularly opposed to the Cardinal Point Apartments that are to be developed by Foundation Communities, Inc. at 11011 1/2 Four Points Drive.

KUT News

From the Austin Monitor:

District 6 City Council Member Don Zimmerman may be headed back to court, but this time as a defendant in a criminal prosecution.

On Thursday, Aleshire LAW PC attorney Bill Aleshire filed a criminal complaint against Zimmerman with the Travis County Attorney and the Texas Ethics Commission.

Filipa Rodrigues/KUT News

Now that the new Austin City Council is in place, it faces a challenge: On the one hand, council members know just how necessary affordable housing is. Virtually all of them ran on an "affordability" platform.

Advocates will tell you Austin is short tens of thousands of housing units specifically for low-income residents. Non-profits have been working hard in recent years to building more affordable housing (below-market rate units for low- and middle-income residents, often subsidized through public and/or private funding).

Courtesy of City of Austin

The Austin City Council met Thursday in what was its first official meeting under 10-1. The mood was like the first day of school after a long summer break.

Austin Mayor Steve Adler said he felt like back in his junior high school days when he won his first election for class president. He read from a copy of "Robert’s Rules of Order," a book his father gave him to conduct focused and effective meetings, citing an inscription written in the book by his deceased father.

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon/KUT

The city's Ethics Review Commission (ERC) is looking for ways to update Austin’s campaign finance rules for two simple reasons.

One, the language is very complicated. And two, the limits that are in place haven't been updated in a long time. The ERC is meeting tonight to hear from Austinites about how to spruce up the rules.

Anyone with ideas as to how the ERC can make the language on campaign finance rules more understandable, can post those ideas at SpeakUpAustin.org or can attend the public meeting at City Hall at 7 p.m.

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon/KUT News

It's no secret that Austin Mayor Steve Adler is independently wealthy and that he doesn't need the $82,000 and change his position pays every year.

Adler has said he instead wants to use the money to boost the salaries of some of his staff, but the move may have some tricky implications for his successor.

Steve Adler is not the only Austin politician to forgo his salary. Recently, former Austin Mayor Bruce Todd got paid one dollar to complete Sarah Eckhart's term as Travis County Commissioner for Precinct 2.

Why did he do that?

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon/KUT

The new 10-1 Austin City Council will gavel in for its first regular meeting this week, and one of their ambitions is to be a more open, efficient council. To that end, they've indicated they want to move much of the nuts and bolts of policy-making to council committees, much in the way the state legislature works. The number of committees proposed is a big jump, from eight to at least 14 so far.

Here's what we know so far about the different committees:

Joy Diaz/KUT News

Among the many politically contentious issues the new Austin City Council will need to grapple with is the issue of “No Kill.” This February will mark the fourth consecutive year that Austin's shelters have achieved a no kill status, meaning that ten percent or fewer animals in shelter care are euthanized.

But, even with several measures including "no kill," Austin is still dealing with a large number of homeless animals.

Del Goss lives in Montopolis, one of Austin's poorest neighborhoods in City Council District 3. Every evening, he hops on his old white pick-up truck and heads to his friend Florence's. On the truck's bed sits a five-gallon plastic bucket full of cat food.

Goss feeds Florence's cats. And then he makes seven other stops to feed colonies of homeless animals.

Callie Hernandez/KUT News

From the Austin Monitor:

On Thursday, City Council temporarily backed away from a plan that could have members voting to reduce their own salaries.

Council members voted 11-0 to postpone action on the resolution until their Jan. 29 meeting. The resolution directs the city manager to change the current office budgeting structure to allow Council members to decrease their individual compensation and shift funds within their offices. Mayor Steve Adler explained that the postponement will give Council members the opportunity to take a closer look at the proposition, then address it further at next week’s Tuesday work session.

Filipa Rodrigues/KUT News

As you might have heard, and most probably have felt, Austin is one of the fastest-growing cities in the country. But how it should handle that growth is an ongoing debate. As a new city council steps forward, it might help to take a look at some of the people who are likely to be a vocal part of that debate: your neighbors.

KUT News

The new Austin City Council knows everyone has an opinion about what things it should be doing, what things it should change and how those changes could come about. A recurring theme along the current council’s campaign trail was that many Austinites felt unheard and sometimes outright disregarded by city politicians.

At the beginning of the year, council proposed altering its meeting and committee format to pare down their traditionally long meetings.  So, starting tonight, there will be new ways to communicate with council and the mayor.

Courtesy of City of Austin

This story comes to us from our city hall reporting partner, the Austin Monitor.

Wasting no time, Austin’s newly inaugurated City Council launched into a proposal Thursday to change its meetings and committee structures. The changes, members say, will make for a more efficient, more transparent city government.

For now, the details of the change remain tentative. Council will hold a public hearing Jan. 22 to discuss the change and plan to take up the changes for a vote at the first meeting, set for Jan. 29.

“I’ve been here seven years,” said City Manager Marc Ott. “And I can’t even remember how many times things have gotten to the point of my desk or even to the Council’s agenda where we recognized they had not been fully vetted. So, in other words, we found ourselves dealing with unanswered questions about staffing impact, fiscal impact and other kinds of impacts.”

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon / KUT News

Right now, if you live in Austin and you want to talk to your city council members, you have few options. You can sign up for citizen communications on Thursdays at noon, or you can wait until the end of regular business at a council meeting. That’s pretty much it.

And it isn't as though council members don't want people to call them or email them. But few people do.

Austin's new mayor Steve Adler believes the current system is leaving the community at large with no access to the officials it elected, that's why today, he and the new council are holding brainstorming sessions to find ways to get more people engaged. "Wouldn't it be great if people could give their testimony or their input on ideas on issues facing the city remotely?"

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon / KUT News

Hundreds of people attended the swearing in of Austin's new mayor and City Council last night. Once the council chamber was full, people stood in stairways and hallways and watched on screens as the new council members delivered their first messages to the geographic districts that elected them.

The diversity of those in attendance was significant. In the crowd, there were toddlers in their parents' arms and folks whose age demanded they move with the help of canes. Some wore the most sophisticated brands and others wore simple attire. But the faces of those in the crowd were similar in that they all looked hopeful, according to political consultant and former journalist Mike Madison.

"Even the people here who do this for a living, who have to be here every week, who are going to be fighting with these people going forward on issues that come up – they're still not jaded. They wouldn't be anywhere else,” Madison said.

Austin Public Library

The new Austin City Council being sworn in tonight is historic in that it is the city's first council where the majority of its members – seven out of eleven – are women. 

It took more than a century for the first woman to make it to council. And even after that, Austin's female population continued to struggle for fair representation.

In 1977, Carole Keeton was the first woman to be elected mayor of Austin. No other woman has held that office since.

"Before this election there had only been 15 women – that's counting me as mayor, 14 council members and me as mayor – 15 women since 1839, and now, we've got seven out of eleven,” said Keeton, who calls this election "historic."

Filipa Rodrigues/KUT News

Tonight, the new Austin City Council gets sworn in a ceremony at 6 p.m. at City Hall.

Each of the ten council members will be representing one of the city's 10 geographic districts at the dais, with the mayor representing the city as a whole.

With the new council heading in, we wanted to know what Austinites would like to see from their new representatives at City Hall. So, we went knocking on doors and asking pedestrians. Below, you can listen to some of their responses.

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon/KUT

The final meeting of Austin's at-large city council went much like their previous ones over the years: late. It all started out cheerily enough, at 10 am Thursday morning, with a prayer. But that moment of reflection quickly faded away as the council got into the grueling business of cleaning out their policy inbox. It was the longest agenda in council history, and the council didn't gavel out until the early hours of Friday morning.

It was, true to council meetings under the leadership of outgoing Mayor Lee Leffingwell, a very long day, dealing with everything from the height of signs at a strip mall to a request to re-zone a modest house into a modest office. But it wasn't all small potatoes.

Early voting in local runoff elections starts today. One of the seven Austin City Council races that will be decided in this election is in District 1, also known as Austin’s African-American Opportunity District.

Originally, nine people ran for this seat, but now the field’s been whittled down two contenders: Dwayne Lofton and Ora Houston.

Today, KUT will begin a series examining each Austin City Council runoff campaign as candidates try to get their supporters back to the polls.

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon, KUT News

The Austin City Council is taking steps to limit its role in Federal Secure Communities, a program that relies on partnerships among federal, state and local law enforcement agencies to deport undocumented immigrants. The program has been criticized for detaining and deporting individuals charged with misdemeanors, rather than serious crimes.

On Thursday night, the council voted unanimously to instruct city staff to make amendments to a proposed interlocal agreement with Travis County. The new language would require the Travis County Sheriff's Office to only honor detainer requests from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) when there are judge-issued arrest warrants or probably cause of crime.

The amendments, proposed by Council Member Mike Martinez, were intended to “either minimize the impact of Secure Communities on Austin families, or increase transparency around the program” and its impact.

Filipa Rodrigues/KUT

Austin City Council returns to City Hall today with a brand new council dais ahead of the city's new 11-member council.

The $1.7 million renovation started in early July and was slated to complete construction in last month, and includes audio-visual upgrades and the building out of four new offices to the executive suites on City Hall’s second floor. Construction on those offices is set to be done by Thanksgiving.

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