Austin’s New Council Gets Down To Business

January 19, 2015 by Kate Harrington

Austin’s new 10-1 City Council will hold its first meeting on January 29, but Councilmembers have already begun working on possible changes to the way meetings and committees are structured.

Proposed changes include holding public hearings during Council Committees, more frequent Council meetings, executive sessions that take place at a different time than regular meetings, and a change to meeting agendas that would allow councilmembers to address certain topics all at once.

New Councilmembers hope that those changes, if implemented, could mean more thorough vetting of Council business as well as increased public input.

Mayor-elect Steve Adler said during his campaign that he thinks more of the Councilmembers’ work and active public participation need to take place at the committee level.

Under the proposed changes the new Council is considering, Council Committees – a few new ones are in the works – would hear public input and information on proposed ordinances and resolutions before those changes go to the entire Council.

Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo told the Austin Monitor “I think it could be a very important change, and I hope it will make our deliberations more thoughtful. What I am especially keen on is the ability to have more specific information for the public about when they can provide testimony. … [As it is now], people come and they wait for hours, and [it] makes it very difficult for them to participate.”

Here’s a look at what City Council Committees could look like under the new proposal:

  • The Audit and Finance Committee would be split into two different committees.
  • The Health and Human Services Committee would remain, potentially taking on animal welfare as well.
  • The Austin Energy Committee would also remain in place.
  • A new Public Utilities Committee.
  • A Mobility Committee would take the place of the current Comprehensive Planning and Transportation Committee, and would oversee all transportation modes.
  • A Planning and Neighborhoods Committee would take on planning, land use, zoning, eminent domain, and Imagine Austin.
  • An Economic Development Committee would oversee minority-owned and women-owned business enterprises and small business issues.
  • A new Open Space, Environment and Sustainability Committee.
  • An Innovation and Creative Industries Committee would take the place of the current Emerging Technology and Telecommunications Committee.
  • A new Housing and Community Development Committee.
  • An Intergovernmental Affairs Committee.

Council will hold a public hearing on January 22 to talk about the proposed changes, and will vote on them during the January 29 meeting.

What do you think of the proposed changes? Will you be more involved in your city government now that the Council has a new structure? Leave your comments below!

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Written by Kate Harrington

Kate is a former reporter, most recently for the Austin Business Journal, where she covered real estate, economic development and transportation. Since 2010 she has been running Thumbtack Communications. Thumbtack provides writing, editing and marketing services. Before moving to Austin in 2002 Kate lived in her native New England, which she still visits often to escape the Texas heat.