In-person return for Austin City Council could be coming after summer break

Several Austin City Council members said they are ready to resume in-person council meetings this summer. (Ben Thompson/Community Impact Newspaper)
Several Austin City Council members said they are ready to resume in-person council meetings this summer. (Ben Thompson/Community Impact Newspaper)

Several Austin City Council members said they are ready to resume in-person council meetings this summer. (Ben Thompson/Community Impact Newspaper)

After more than a year away from their physical seats on the dais, Austin City Council members could be returning to in-person meetings at City Hall later this summer.

During their June 1 work session, several council members expressed a desire to return to the City Hall council chambers in some form following their summer recess in late July. It remains to be seen whether the full council contingent will be present at Austin's first in-person meetings this year, and if they would be joined at City Hall by staff and members of the public.

Among council members who spoke June 1, most shared a preference for resuming in-person meetings this summer and in doing away with protective measures such as plexiglass partitions placed between officials. The concept of physically spacing out around half of the group on the dais in person with the remaining members appearing virtually from their offices was also floated as an initial way to maintain a limit on meeting participants.

The question of requiring masks or vaccinations for members of the public at meetings this summer also remains. While no decision was made June 1, District 10 Council Member Alison Alter said she would prefer to see some limits on outside attendance if city residents are also permitted in person.

“I’m not sure that I would be comfortable with a full capacity, with the room being able to be filled to the same capacity for the safety of the staff ... and possibly requiring masks of folks who aren’t on the dais since we have no mechanism of assuring vaccination," she said.

Under current emergency regulations, city residents are able to continue providing testimony remotely via audio alone. If those statewide rules were to be eased, however, anyone wishing to speak at a council meeting remotely would be required to appear via both audio and video. The city would also have to facilitate those remote calls itself at locations such as libraries, a process City Clerk Jannette Goodall said would be logistically difficult and potentially unfeasible by late July given the equipment needed.

"My recommendation would be, as long as we can do audio we can easily do a hybrid, in-person and audio testimony. If the exemptions go away, then my recommendation would be that we go to in-person testimony only, and then we can work with building services and building security to manage the flow of people into chambers so that we can accommodate everyone and still allow them to be safe," Goodall said.

Staff members are also comfortable with a return to in-person council meetings, Goodall said, and could be "staged" throughout City Hall before appearing in the council chambers during relevant briefings and discussions to keep capacity low.

Some officials also shared feedback from residents commenting on the relative ease of meeting participation with an audio-only option in place and more specific times identified to speak on certain topics, pandemic-era considerations that could continue or be adjusted later this year to remain in some form.

“I like how we’ve been a little bit more able to just kind of set the meetings to work efficiently. I’ve always been bothered when we have meetings that go really late because I think that unfortunately limits peoples’ ability to be able to participate," Mayor Steve Adler said.

Goodall said she plans to connect with council members individually to assess their preferences on an in-person return and other capacity and safety considerations this month. Council's last meeting before its summer recess is scheduled for June 10, and while some virtual budget preview activity is planned throughout July, the body is not officially scheduled to meet again until a July 27 work session and July 29 regular meeting when new practices may be in place.


The Office of Police Oversight released its first comprehensive report detailing its operations though 2019 and 2020 this June. (Ben Thompson/Community Impact Newspaper)
Office of Police Oversight report finds complaints against Austin police officers went up, but discipline fell in 2020

The new report centers on the office's three main functions, including tracking APD officer discipline, reviewing the city's police policies, and engaging with Austin residents.

Volunteers of Austin Vaccine Angels gathered after becoming fully vaccinated. (Courtesy Jodi Holzband)
Grassroots groups aimed at vaccine outreach look toward the future

For the past five months, grassroots volunteer groups have been working to connect thousands of Central Texans to COVID-19 vaccines.

A 10-week construction project on North Pleasant Valley Road begins June 21. (Courtesy Fotolia)
North Pleasant Valley Road construction project in East Austin begins June 21

The project, funded by a 2018 Bond, will cause some lane closures

Photo of a woman and girl walking the trail with the Austin skyline behind them
Travis County commits to electrify fleet, doubles down on climate goals

Commissioners directed staff this week to develop a plan to fully electrify Travis County's fleet of vehicles, a leading source of greenhouse gas emissions for the county.

The Bloomhouse—an 1,100-square-foot home in the hills of West Austin—was built in the 1970s by University of Texas architecture students for fellow student Dalton Bloom. It was featured in the Austin Weird Homes Tour of 2020. (Brian Perdue/Community Impact Newspaper)
Austin Weird Homes Tour ends; Z’Tejas to close Arboretum restaurant and more Central Texas news

Read the latest business and community news from the Central Texas area.

The downtown Austin tower is 57% leased as of mid-June. (Olivia Aldridge/Community Impact Newspaper)
Downtown Austin's Indeed Tower sells to California real estate and development company in $580M deal

The newly-completed 36-story tower sold to Kilroy Realty Corp. for $580 million.

Austin's downtown Palm District is home to several modern and historic landmarks, including the Palm School building now home to Travis County offices. (Ben Thompson/Community Impact Newspaper)
Residents lay out priorities for new Palm District area plan with project's engagement period underway

Through the planning process, feedback from Austin community members will contribute to the drafting of a Palm District Small Area Plan to be finalized and adopted by city officials next year.

Project Connect's proposed Orange Line will run from Tech Ridge, through downtown Austin and to Slaughter Lane. (Rendering courtesy Project Connect)
Project Connect Orange Line design reveals proposed locations for rail stations in North, South Austin

The latest Orange Line design shows potential elevated rail line over I-35, as well as options for the Drag.

Photo of a weird home
Austin's Weird Homes Tour says goodbye—for now

The tour's founders say they are open to a new local operator taking over the event.

The former hotel off I-35 had most recently been used as a COVID-19 homeless Protection Lodge. (Courtesy City of Austin)
East Cesar Chavez encampment residents move into former South Austin hotel

Through Austin's HEAL initiative, residents of an encampment near East Austin's Terrazas Branch Libarary were relocated to a South Austin shelter before that camp is cleared away.

The regional blood bank appealed for further donations in the wake of the June 12 shooting in downtown Austin. (Courtesy We Are Blood)
We Are Blood appeals for blood donations following weekend shooting in downtown Austin

The Central Texas nonprofit also said its blood supply remains depleted due to decreased donations through the COVID-19 pandemic.

Photo of a man holding robotic equipment
Tesla teams up with Austin Community College for manufacturing training and hiring program

The Tesla START program will hire and train ACC students to work with robotics and other advanced manufacturing equipment.