What the first election for City Council since 10-1’s introduction means for Austin

Austin City Council meets at City Hall in Central Austin.

Austin City Council meets at City Hall in Central Austin.

Two years after Austin voters elected 10 council members from newly drawn geographical districts, voters are faced with the possibility of replacing nearly half of the expanded City Council.

On Nov. 8, the five council members who randomly drew two-year terms will have to be re-elected to build on the work they achieved since being elected. Prior to 10-1, six council members and a mayor were elected at-large, or citywide.

So how well has the council served Austin residents in the past two years?

Peck Young, one of the chief architects of Austin’s district-based political system, said it will take time for Austin City Council to find its footing—just as it did when San Antonio made a similar switch a few decades ago.

“I think this council is not unlike the council [was] in San Antonio and is still in the process of learning,” Young said.

Outgoing City Manager Marc Ott—who is serving in an advisory role until Oct. 31—said the council is indeed experiencing a learning curve, but it is not just the council that is adjusting.

“Going to a district-based change in election, I think the impact is pervasive across many things in our community,” Ott said. “I think it’s just going to take time to be able to see more clearly what those impacts are.”

A consensus seemed to emerge among Austin constituents interviewed for this story by Community Impact Newspaper: Moving to geographical representation was necessary for the city, but the system is not yet functioning at optimal levels.

With only one council member, Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo, having prior council experience, most expected a period of transition—including Austin Neighborhood Council President Mary Ingle.

“We knew that was going to happen, but I didn’t know it was going to be this rough,” Ingle said.

New 10-1 council faces first re-electionCommittee system

An ongoing concern is that council business is not always conducted efficiently. Meetings tend to begin about 19 minutes after the scheduled 10 a.m. start time, and the median time City Council has adjourned its meetings is 7:20 p.m., according to meeting transcripts.

City code calls for adjourning meetings no later than 10 p.m. The council has to vote to extend time, which it has done 20 times in the 10-1 system.

In April the council adopted legislation limiting the amount of public comment time that could be spent on an agenda item—with some exceptions—to 90 minutes. One rationale behind that measure was council members and staff were often hearing the same testimony when they convened in committee meetings.

The committee structure stems from the first meeting of the new 10-1 council in January 2015 when council approved Mayor Steve Adler’s resolution establishing committees broken into policy areas.

Committees would discuss items to minimize time spent on those items during regular meetings. With 10 council committees, each council member sits on at least four committees, leads one and is vice chairperson for another.

Although well-intentioned, the council committees have not produced the desired result, said Ward Tisdale, Real Estate Council of Austin president.

“It has really created more meetings without better results,” he said.

Dewitt Peart, president and CEO of the Downtown Austin Alliance, said although the aspiration to be transparent is admirable having so many commissions and committees “drags out the process.”

“I think that’s been somewhat of a frustrating point, particularly for the business community where our voice seems to get washed,” he said.

New 10-1 council faces first re-election‘Downtown City Council’ no more

At an Oct. 6 meeting, the subject of coyotes inspired an exchange of words among council members about geographical representation.

As council discussed whether to keep the status quo on its animal-control policy with respect to coyotes, which some residents in Northwest Austin say pose a public safety threat, District 6 Council Member Don Zimmerman said the policy ought to be revisited because the last time it was set by council was in November 2014, two months before the 10-1 council was sworn in.

Zimmerman called the at-large elected body the “downtown City Council.”

“The people of this city rejected the old way of doing business, which is the downtown City Council,” he said. “Everybody was elected very close to downtown; the people revolted against that, so they said, ‘We want suburban representation.’”

Brad Parsons, a Northwest Austin sector representative for the Austin Neighborhood Council, said the 10-1 council is falling short of expectations, primarily because it is not skeptical of staff and lobbyists. In the past, he said Northwest Austin residents were disproportionately represented, but now the opposite is true.

“The average in person in West Austin is maybe getting less reception down at City Hall now,” Parsons said.



Photo of the Travis County sign
Travis County votes to accept application for Silicon Silver development incentives agreement

The company behind the project will be named once it submits an application and pays a $150,000 fee—the same as Tesla paid to apply for its hefty 2020 agreement.

Williamson County will add two new justice courts over the next two years. (Ali Linan/Community Impact Newspaper)
Williamson County looks to add two new justice courts

The county will request state legislative approval to add a new district court and a new county court of law, officials said.

Austin ISD reported its highest number of COVID-19 cases the week of Jan. 4, but that number has decreased for two consecutive weeks, according to the district. (Courtesy Austin ISD)
Austin ISD sees 70% drop in on-campus students over past 2 weeks after district asks families to stay home

The district saw a 11,839-student decline in on-campus learning as AISD families opted for online learning from Jan. 12-22.

City officials are facing growing pressure to address the growing visibility of homelessness in Austin. (Olivia Aldridge/Community Impact Newspaper)
Sanctioned homeless camp proposal gains attention from Austin leaders as pressure mounts

Mayor Steve Adler said the urgent need for shelter space and housing could overrule initial objections to sanctioned homeless encampments.

See how COVID-19 continues to impact Travis County. (Community Impact Newspaper staff)
Despite drop in hospital admissions, Travis County adds 4,039 new COVID-19 cases over past 7 days

Overall, Travis County has reported 65,507 confirmed COVID-19 cases.

Following feedback received during town hall meetings and the board's Jan. 21 meeting, the PfISD board of trustees will discuss amended proposals more in-depth at the February workshop, scheduled for Feb. 4. (Iain Oldman/Community Impact Newspaper)
Amid Pflugerville ISD growth, residents weigh in on rezoning proposals

Following feedback received during town hall meetings and the board's Jan. 21 meeting, the PfISD board of trustees will discuss amended proposals more in depth at the workshop scheduled for Feb. 4.

Here are the latest coronavirus case count updates in Williamson County. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
Williamson County nears 30,000 total confirmed COVID-19 cases

Here are the latest coronavirus case count updates in Williamson County.

Construction at Q2 Stadium is on schedule to be completed by late March or early April. (Nicholas Cicale/Community Impact Newspaper)
Austin FC will play at newly named Q2 Stadium starting this summer

Austin FC announced the naming partnership with Austin-based tech company Q2 Holdings Inc. at a ribbon-cutting ceremony Jan. 25.

The Contemporary Austin will host a virtual artist talk Feb. 3 with photographers Torbjørn Rødland and Philip-Lorca diCorcia. COURTESY SARAH SCHULTZ/CONTEMPORARY ATX
Austin Film Society presents drive-in Sundance Film Festival screenings, The Contemporary Austin hosts a virtual artist talk and more events in Austin

Austin Film Society is a satellite screen partner for the Sundance Film Festival, which normally takes place at a ski resort in Utah, but is screening films digitally and through partners around the country this year.

Here is what you need to know today about the coronavirus in Williamson County. (Community Impact staff)
Williamson County adds 294 new COVID-19 cases, 3 deaths Jan. 22

Here is what you need to know today about coronavirus in Williamson County.