District 1 Council Member Natasha Harper-Madison is taking a two-month medical leave beginning Sept. 25.
Harper-Madison announced her decision to temporarily step away from her City Council work in a statement on City Council's message board the morning of Sept. 25. She said her 60-day medical leave for treatment of anxiety and depression comes amid an "extremely challenging" year, and that she plans to resume her official duties upon her return.
"I understand the importance of our work and the commitments we have made to our constituents, and I assure you that my decision to take this leave has not been made lightly. I have every intention of returning to my duties in good health with renewed energy and dedication to continuing to serve District 1 and the entire Austin community," Harper-Madison said in a statement.
Harper-Madison, a former east-side business leader, is currently serving her second four-year term on Austin City Council following her re-election last November. She was first elected in a runoff in 2018.
In the middle of her first term, Harper-Madison's colleagues chose her as the body's mayor pro tem for 2021.
Most recently on the council dais, Harper-Madison sponsored a resolution to advance a joint city-county planning initiative across Northeast Austin and Travis County. During council's summer budget discussions, she secured funding for the east side's George Washington Carver Museum and Cultural Center and a county substance abuse partnership, and called for the Downtown Austin Community Court to begin offering mobile court services.
While Harper-Madison's seat on the council dais remains empty through the next two months, she said her staff will continue their regular policy work, manage ongoing projects and keep up communications with East and Northeast Austin constituents in District 1.
"The District 1 office is in full support of Councilmember Harper-Madison taking the time she needs to focus on her health. She has a long history of mental health advocacy, so I am very thankful that she is going to focus some of that support inward," District 1 Chief of Staff Sharon Mays said in a statement. "Our staff is unwavering in support for the D1 constituency. During this time, we will continue to show up and advocate for our community. That remains unchanged."
Information about the District 1 office is available here.
A city spokesperson confirmed that no council processes will be affected by Harper-Madison's absence; majority votes will still require the approval of six council members while supermajority votes would require nine.
What they're saying
Several of Harper-Madison's colleagues responded to her announcement with well-wishes.
“I commend Council Member Harper-Madison on her decision to speak candidly and seek help for her mental health and well-being. Mental illness is common but often hidden. It is no different from heart health or any other physical illness and should be treated as such. Council Member Harper-Madison has shown incredible grace and strength, and I hope her decision will inspire others who may be thinking about seeking help," Mayor Kirk Watson said in a statement. "I wish Natasha the best and will be supportive of her office in her absence. I look forward to welcoming her back when she is ready to return."
Interim City Manager Jesús Garza shared those sentiments.
"Council Member Harper-Madison will certainly be missed, but I appreciate her decision to concentrate on her health. I hope she will be able to focus on her care during her absence and wish her a speedy recovery," he said in a statement.
Council Member Mackenzie Kelly expressed appreciation for Harper-Madison's openness and support during her time away.
"Please know that your well-being is of paramount importance, and taking this step to prioritize your mental health is a wise and responsible decision. We all understand the immense pressures and demands that come with public service, and it's crucial to take the time you need to address your depression and anxiety with focused care," Kelly wrote.
Council Members Vanessa Fuentes and Zo Qadri also shared messages of encouragement on social media.
CM Harper Madison’s decision to prioritize her mental health and well-being is truly inspiring. It takes tremendous courage to recognize when extra support is needed.
I join our community in sending strength, unwavering support, and an abundance of positive energy.— Vanessa Fuentes(@VanessaForATX) September 25, 2023
CM Harper- Madison is so incredibly brave and strong. It is so important and meaningful that she talk about her mental health.— Zohaib “Zo” Qadri (@ZoForAustin) September 25, 2023
Sending herand wishing for her nothing short of full healing.
Can’t wait till she’s back on the dais kicking ass with us all soon.