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.

By JJ Velasquez

The Central Austin editor since 2016, JJ covers city government and other topics of community interest—when he's not editing the work of his prolific writers. He began his tenure at Community Impact Newspaper as the reporter for its San Marcos | Buda | Kyle edition covering local government and public education. The Laredo, Texas native is also a web developer whose mission is to make the internet a friendly place for finding objective and engaging news content.


The Burnet Road location of Taco Cabana was one of 19 to close. (Courtesy Taco Cabana)
North Austin location of Taco Cabana on Burnet Rd. now closed

The national chain closed 19 locations in Texas.

A demographer told trustees Jan. 16 that PfISD could realistically add 3,400 students in the next five years. (Iain Oldman/Community Impact Newspaper)
Demographer projects explosive growth in Pflugerville ISD's eastern edges

PfISD is experiencing near-record growth in student enrollment in the current school year, a demographer told trustees Jan. 16.

pencils and pens resting on a stack of spiral notebooks fotolia stock image
DATA: Round Rock ISD annual report highlights increasing student diversity, low dropout rates

Among the findings: State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness, or STAAR, test scores that outpace the region and the state.

Austin City Council is considering an end to enforcement of low level marijuana possession laws. (SHELBY SAVAGE/COMMUNITY IMPACT NEWSPAPER)
Support grows among Austin City Council members who want to end local penalties for low-level marijuana possession

If successful, the Austin Police Department would no longer hand out arrests or citations for possession of marijuana with no intent to distribute.

The median home price of single-family homes in Northwest Austin has remained above $400,000. (Courtesy Austin Board of Realtors/JBGoodwin Realtors)
DATA: Northwest Austin ends 2019 with lowest inventory in region's housing market

Housing inventory has remained low over the past year in Northwest Austin, resulting in the area having the lowest inventory of single-family homes for sale, according to the latest housing market report from the Austin Board of Realtors.

dell seton university medical center
Ascension Texas names new regional hospital president

Ascension Texas announced Jan. 16 that Timothy Brierty has assumed the role of regional hospital president, effective immediately.

Spouses Heather and Mark Magarian have purchased the Kids 'R' Kids Learning Academy. (Courtesy Kids 'R' Kids Learning Academy)
Kids 'R' Kids Learning Academy on Avery Ranch now under new ownership

Spouses Mark and Heather Magarian have purchased the Kids ‘R’ Kids Learning Academy at 15111 Avery Ranch Blvd., Austin.

zanjero park water
Travis County commissioners pursue easement to bring water to Las Lomitas subdivision

Travis County commissioners are working to address colonias—unincorporated areas in the county that lack basic utilities.

Austin Public Health is investigating a confirmed rubella case, the first case of the contagious viral infection in Travis County since 1999. (Courtesy Fotolia)
Austin Public Health confirms city’s first rubella case since 1999

Austin Public Health is investigating a confirmed rubella case, the first case of the contagious viral infection in Travis County since 1999.

Travis County commissioners will receive preliminary estimates for a new peace officer step pay scale at their Jan. 28 meeting. (Courtesy Travis County Sheriff's Office)
Travis County commissioners consider revisions to peace office pay

Travis County commissioners are considering options that will revise the pay scale for peace officers, including law enforcement, corrections and park rangers.

Asian-fusion eatery East Side King will open a location in Northwest Austin on Jan. 29. (Courtesy East Side King)
Northwest Austin location of East Side King to open Jan. 29

The Asian-fusion eatery has three other locations planned to open this spring.

Ohio-based Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams opened its location in Domain Northside. (Courtesy Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams)
Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams now open in Domain Northside

Ohio-based Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams opened its location in Domain Northside.

Back to top