“I think things have gone incredibly well,” Mayor Steve Adler said. “I had high hopes, and quite frankly this council has exceeded even my expectations in so many ways and on so many levels.”
Ten new council members, along with one veteran elected official, have now sat on the dais for slightly more than six months as of press time. During that time, the 11-member council created a new committee structure that mimics the state Legislature, passed a homestead tax exemption for 2016 and agreed to challenge Travis County commercial property appraisal values.
Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo said the city is benefiting from more council members and increased citizen involvement.
“There are opportunities to continue to reshape how local government interacts with community members and that’s really exciting,” the District 9 council member said. “It continues to be a historic time for this city.”
AURA, a grass-roots organization that promotes better land use and transportation policies, conducted an informal survey in July to receive feedback on City Council’s first six months in office.
When asked how satisfied citizens are with council’s problem-solving ability, 39.2 percent of the preliminary 802 responses rated council a four, five or six on a one to 10 scale.
The new council has held 45 committee meetings, 20 regular meetings, 18 work sessions, and 16 policy reviews or training sessions before taking a vacation in July. Thursday regular meetings—when council action is typically taken—have lasted a combined 138 hours and 49 minutes, not including recesses. Spending so much time together initially was part of Adler’s plan, so council members could learn each others’ perspectives on a faster timeline, he said.
Tovo, the only returning council member, said the extra time spent together has proven beneficial, but she thinks the council will have to find ways to spend less time in meetings.
“I think the hours overall have not been fewer [than the previous council]. We’ve certainly spent more time in meetings—there’s just no doubt about that,” Tovo said.
‘Too soon to judge’
The area Community Impact Newspaper defines as Southwest Austin is divided into four council districts: 2, 3, 5 and 8. Respondents to AURA’s survey rated District 2 Council Member Delia Garza as the fourth-most effective council member overall with 13.7 percent of the vote. District 8 Council Member Ellen Troxclair received 3.3 percent of the vote, and District 5 Council Member Ann Kitchen received 3.2 percent of the vote. Sabino “Pio” Renteria, who represents District 3, received 2.9 percent of the vote.
AURA board member Eric Goff said the council has not yet tackled any major issues or policy changes.
“I think it’s too soon to judge whether or not they’re efficient or effective, but we can say they haven’t done much so far and it’s not clear if that’s because of the [new] structure or because they’re avoiding controversial issues while they’re getting used to the dais,” Goff said.
Before the end of the year, Adler said he would like to see council work on issues including ending veteran homelessness and devising a plan to address an affordable housing shortage.