Austin City Hall notebook: Council pushes to improve response to hate, funds airport improvements

Austin City Council met for a regular meeting Nov. 4. (Ben Thompson/Community Impact Newspaper)
Austin City Council met for a regular meeting Nov. 4. (Ben Thompson/Community Impact Newspaper)

Austin City Council met for a regular meeting Nov. 4. (Ben Thompson/Community Impact Newspaper)

Austin City Council's Nov. 4 session was capped by an extended evening deliberation over future management of the Project Connect transit project. Throughout the day, council members also moved ahead on items related to housing, the outlook for Austin Pets Alive and an official response to recently-reported antisemitic, racist, and homophobic acts. A slate of zoning cases and a land purchase for affordable housing were also approved.

Pushing back on hate

District 10 Council Member Alison Alter's resolution condemning hateful acts received unanimous support on the council dais. Alter said she crafted the measure in response to recent antisemitic vandalism in Austin, including at her neighborhood temple, and to improve how Austin and community partners address such incidents.

“We cannot assume we will not witness similar events or worse in the near future. We must be vigilant and be prepared. We know that words of hate can escalate to violence," Alter said.

Mayor Steve Adler also spoke to the resolution, saying that while the best response is to avoid fear and confront hateful opinions, the community should also be watchful for further circulation of similar sentiments.

"The risk to our community is not that [hate is] there, but that when we see it there we will not speak about it, we will not recognize it. The risk is that it will spread from fringe to somewhere else," he said.

Several other council members spoke in support of the resolution throughout the meeting. The item also passed with an amendment from District 6 Council Member Mackenzie Kelly expanding the scope of Austin's collaboration to include area county law enforcement agencies and school districts.

Hybrid meetings for civilian boards

A council-approved item could streamline the process for the meetings of Austin's range of citizen-led boards and commissions.

After well over a year of meeting virtually due to pandemic-era rule changes at the state level, City Council and the various resident panels were required to return to in-person sessions beginning in September. The shift also required that a majority of council, board or commission members physically appear at those meetings rather than calling in via phone or videoconference.

Council had previously pushed to continue allowing virtual public comment at city meetings even after the in-person return. However, a process allowing for remote attendance by board and commission participants was not finalized until this week. Chairs of those bodies would still be required to be present in person, regardless of whether their colleagues appear.

"Allowing members of city boards and commissions to hold hybrid meetings ... supports those individuals who volunteer to serve on those boards and commissions and allows greater public access to board and commission meetings," a portion of the resolution states.

The city clerk is now set to develop a plan for holding hybrid meetings.

Austin-Bergstrom items cleared

Council voted to spend millions of dollars on various Austin-Bergstrom International Airport upgrades Nov. 4, including security and cargo expansions.

Council authorized spending $6.4 million for "access control and identity management systems" and $1.5 million for a redesign of two Transportation Security Administration checkpoints at the airport. Additionally, $18.24 million was approved for a new, 90,000-square-foot cargo facility at 9402 Freight Lane, a 12.35-acre site on the airport's north end.

District 2 Council Member Vaness Fuentes also took time before a vote to confirm whether the $6.4 million contract would include facial recognition elements, due to concerns about the potential to misidentify people of color. City staff confirmed the purchase will not include such systems.
By Ben Thompson

Austin City Hall Reporter

Ben joined Community Impact Newspaper in January 2019 after graduating with a degree in journalism from Northeastern University in Boston. After spending more than two years covering in The Woodlands area, he moved to Austin in 2021 to cover City Hall and other news throughout the city.


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