I will now call to order the Special-Called Meeting of the Austin City Council. To everyone who is joining us tonight for this special occasion, I would like to welcome you.
In the last two years, about every time we did something it was a new experience for the 10-1 Council. Well, this is the first time we have gone through an election as a sitting 10-1 Council. And this is the first time we have welcomed new Members to the dais. This is the only time the brand new 10-1 Council will transition to the next one. I think this is pretty special, and it’s another successful milestone for the 10-1 Council.
Some things have changed. Some things have not.
With Council Member Alter’s election, women still hold seven of our 11 council seats. I think it’s great that girls in Austin can look at their City Council and see themselves reflected in the faces of the majority on the dais. Austin is leading the way in women in leadership, and I think it’s great how regular and just not a big deal that having women in leadership positions is to us in Austin.
Parenthetically, I’ll note that I had some time for reflection over the holidays and realized something very important. With Council Member Flannigan’s election, I was going to be the only guy on the dais this evening who didn’t have facial hair. This minority needs to support one another, so tonight I stand with you in bearded solidarity, your brother on the new 10-1 Council.
Now, on behalf of myself and the rest of your new colleagues, I would like to welcome Alison Alter and Jimmy Flannigan to the dais. We are all looking forward to working with you and excited about the contributions you will make.
Alison, you’ve said you want to work on managing growth, expanding parks, and increasing transparency and accountability here at City Hall. And your colleagues and I want to help you.
Jimmy, you have said that you want to work collaboratively to address transportation and cost-of-living issues in District 6 and across Austin. And your colleagues and I want to help you.
You’ve both hit the ground running. I can see it in your eyes. You’re rarin’ to go. So are we.
Before we begin, though, let me point out a feature of this room that makes this Council different.
In most government buildings of this type – courtrooms, council chambers – the elected officials are elevated over the public. Those rooms, because of the way they are designed, put the politicians in a position of power, literally looking down on the people.
Our Council chambers flip that around, which explains a lot of how things get done here.
Take a second to look at how this room is set up.
First, the obvious: We’ve got these huge windows that expose us to the world outside. We are literally on display.
Second, look up: This is a TV studio. We have huge screens that show us what the public is seeing. We’ve got TV lights aimed at us. You will never feel more transparent or accountable than when you are sitting on this dais.
Last, and most important, look at the back of this chamber. The floor of that area opposite the dais is higher than we are. This means all of Austin – literally anyone in town – can come here and stand in judgment of what we do here.
In these Chambers the public is clearly in the position of power. That’s why this job looks so easy from the outside. I was the same way. When I ran for Mayor, I said there was no reason for a meeting to ever run past midnight.
Then you get here. And you realize you are accountable to every person who comes here to have their say.
Yes, the meetings will sometimes run long. But it’s like life. The days are long, but the years are short. You won’t believe this when we’re here, discussing a zoning case at 2:00 in the morning, but the next two years will fly by. In fact, that’s one reason it is hard to call it a day, even when it’s already night and the morning is approaching. We only get so much time.
The first 10-1 Council accomplished a lot. We bent the cost curve on taxes and fees. We invested in clean energy, public safety, and health care. We’ve brought new ethics reform and created new coalitions to deal with homelessness, Austin Energy, affordable housing, permitting, institutional racism, and music and the arts. We made huge strides on mobility.
We did this by setting intentions. We did not accomplish these things by accident. There will always be an emergency of the day, something that you never intended to work on that desperately requires your urgent attention. And we will work on it in good faith late into the evening (though I hope this new Council figures out a better way than those of the past).
What we came here to accomplish will not get done accidentally. It’s up to us to use this time wisely, effectively and productively. Council Members and Mayors come and go. In our brief time on this dais, we are but temporary Trustees of the hopes and dreams of Austinites. We bear a great responsibility and community trust.
If I can leave you with an encouraging thought, it’s this: Working at its best, this new 10-1 Council is all for one and one for all. You’ve got nine colleagues here ready to help.
Let’s get to work.