Day of Dialogue looks to turn President's Day into time of public discourse

From left: Capital Metro CEO Linda Watson, Austin ISD Superintendent Paul Cruz and Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo listen as Austin Community Engagement Consultant Larry Schooler speaks and Leadership Austin executives stand by as Schooler announces the creation of the Day of Dialogue at a news conference Thursday morning.

From left: Capital Metro CEO Linda Watson, Austin ISD Superintendent Paul Cruz and Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo listen as Austin Community Engagement Consultant Larry Schooler speaks and Leadership Austin executives stand by as Schooler announces the creation of the Day of Dialogue at a news conference Thursday morning.

On Thursday morning, Austin ISD Superintendent Paul Cruz and Capital Metro CEO Linda Watson joined District 9 City Council Member Kathie Tovo and city executives at the gazebo in Wooldridge Square Park to announce a President’s Day event of public dialogue.

Day of Dialogue, set for Feb. 20—President’s Day—is an event that encourages collaborative public discourse on issues affecting the community. The conversations will range in topic from affordability and housing to transportation, mobility and land use.

“We come here today to call upon you to serve,” said Larry Schooler, manager of the city’s community engagement division, at a news conference Thursday morning. “To join the cause of collaborative and civil community conversation, convenient and comfortable for all to attend, and that’s only possible with your help.”

The event will be coordinated through Conversation Corps., a partnership program among the city of Austin, AISD and Capital Metro, that works to facilitate public engagement and feedback on the work of the three agencies. The program relies on a partnership with the nonprofit organization Leadership Austin to train volunteer members of the community to host these conversations with the public.
“It’s always important to engage our community and constituents in a conversation about the future.” - AISD Superintendent Paul Cruz

“The conversations will center on critical issues that are facing residents here in Austin, and we invite you to participate in them,” Tovo said at the news conference.

Schooler said Conversation Corps, his brainchild, has not produced the results he expected in its first year. Day of Dialogue looks to revamp the program and kick off what Julie Smith, a program manager with Leadership Austin, calls “Conversation Corps 2.0,” which she said will focus on bringing this public discourse deeper into the community so more voices are heard.

“It’s always important to engage our community and constituents in a conversation about the future,”  Cruz said. “We always have to look forward and what we want it to look like, be like and feel like. I think Conversation Corps really provides that opportunity.”

The timing and location of Thursday’s announcement was strategic. Schooler said while the country awaits for the inauguration of its new president, the city wants to make a statement by making President’s Day a day of civil dialogue.

“The Day of Dialogue is really a response to the vitriolic discourse that’s been happening all over the country,” said Jacqueline Nirenberg, community involvement manager for Capital Metro. “We want to set the tone for civil discourse again.”

Tovo commented on how “fitting” it was to make the announcement from the gazebo at Wooldridge Square Park, a place she said for over 100 years has been a gathering place for democratic displays of community discourse and celebration.

For more information regarding Conversation Corps or how to become a trained host, visit its website or call 311 and ask the operator.