After more than half of the members on the Austin City Council dais took their oaths of office for new, four-year terms Jan. 7, Mayor Steve Adler said the city’s policymakers are in a position to produce serious change on several of Austin’s most pressing issues.
Adler and his five council colleagues who won elections last fall officially assumed their seats on the council bench at the Jan. 7 inauguration, cementing the City Council roster until the other five council seat terms expire in 2020. New faces Natasha Harper-Madison in District 1 and Paige Ellis in District 8 swore their commitment to the seat alongside District 3’s Pio Renteria and District 5’s Ann Kitchen, both of whom are serving their second terms. District 9’s Kathie Tovo took her oath for a third consecutive term; however, it’s only her second since council switched to a by-district representation system in 2015.
The event’s celebratory atmosphere was measured by a strong sense of responsibility from elected officials and expectation from the public that this City Council make meaningful progress on overcoming the numerous challenges that have plagued Austin for years. Although he admitted government moved too slow, Adler said the next two years would be different.
“Quite frankly, in a way that I don’t think has been true as I watched other councils before us come in, we are, and this city is, poised to really get some really big things done,” Adler said. “This council has the advantage of people who have been setting us up [for years]. I think we are truly poised to move things across the finish line that this community has been waiting for for a really long period of time.”
Each of the council members with new terms spoke specifically to their aspirations in the areas of mobility, equity, housing affordability and homelessness. Kitchen said although the city is changing fast, she said, “Groundbreaking change takes time,” but voiced her commitment to transforming Austin’s mobility system to include a high-capacity transit option.
Harper-Madison vowed to represent all of the interests in her community, from homeowners and renters to small-business owners and workers. Among her goals to address food access, childcare and transportation, she said she hopes to make strides in workforce development and “bridge the digital divide.”
“Whether you’ve been here for generations, or you just got here yesterday, I promise to represent you equally well,” Harper-Madison said. “I want you to know that I keep my promises because I am uncompromisable.”
Last year’s City Council session and the failure of CodeNEXT—the city’s attempted rewrite of its land development code—has set up land use to be a headlining policy discussion in 2019. Tovo said conversations around land use have grown increasingly divisive but pledged to work through the division and come up with real solutions.
“You have my commitment to address these challenges with respect, focused attention, determination and creativity and collaboration with our community,” Tovo said. She also vowed to go beyond the walls of City Hall to ensure land use conversations include varying perspectives.
Adler said November’s “decisive” election, in which his colleagues won by large margins, the $925 million bond passed in landslide fashion and voters said they want City Council members, not the public, to make the final decision on land code rewrites, set the table for a meaningful next two years.
“The people of this community trust us to get this job done,” Adler said. “With that trust from the community comes the expectation that we will get these big things done.”