On January 6 Mayor Steve Adler and three Council Members leave office. The Council Members are Kathie Tovo, Pio Renteria and Ann Kitchen. They all attended their last Council meeting on December 8 and a good bye party has already been held in the City Hall lobby.
All four were elected in 2014, as part of the first 10-1 Council; that is the first Council elected under the single member district system. Tovo was the only member of that Council to have served under the at-large system. The rest were brand spanking new. Leslie Pool will now be the only remaining member of the original 10-1 group. If the introduction of the 10-1 system had been a political version of the show Survivor, then Leslie Pool would be the winner. Here though, the actual reality show was whether the City could survive this group. It did, but sustained serious injuries.
This occasion calls for a review of the Adler Years and the 10-1 era (District system) so far. So what should be our theme? Actually, the Mayor provided one in his 2022 State of the City Address (SOCA). It was “disruption.”
That’s pretty good. The Mayor didn’t ask me, but I would have suggested something like, “Our Council is so far out there that Republicans don’t even have to make up bizarre talking points about us — like they do around the country. They just have to point out what we actually do.”
That would have been my suggestion, but “disruption” is a solid choice. In fact, upon reflection, I think it is better than mine. So we’ll go with it here.
I also want to gently suggest a quote for readers to keep in mind as they work through this review. It is from San Francisco native Nellie Bowles, writing in The Atlantic, after last June’s recall of ultra progressive San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin.
“The reality is that with the smartest minds and so much money and the very best of intentions, San Francisco became a cruel city. It became so dogmatically progressive that maintaining the purity of the politics required accepting—or at least ignoring—devastating results.”
Is it possible that this could be happening here in Austin? Let’s look at some of the “disruption,” which has included some devastating results. Arguably the most devastating action taken by the Adler Councils was the 2020 vote to Defund the Police. The most lasting damage came from the Council zeroing out funding for cadet classes in that year’s budget. That in turn led to a severe shortage of officers, both from a year’s worth of not adding new officers and from a lot of officers retiring earlier than planned, or finding work elsewhere.
Now, citizens regularly have to wait longer than in previous years for a police response; and sometimes that’s after getting put on hold when they call 911 — although the lack of 911 personnel is not necessarily tied to the Council’s cuts to the police budget. Among other strategies, APD has had to eliminate, or reduce, a number of special units, so as to have more officers to respond to calls.
The police budget cuts resulted directly from ideology. The Council was responding to calls from protestors to Defund The Police. (We have given considerably more detail on this in earlier articles, like this or in our broader Police category.)
Then there is the ongoing debacle from lifting the camping ban, without any new strategy in place. This one was driven by a seemingly noble ideology that people should not have to camp in the woods. But, the result of the decision was that large homeless encampments sprang up on the edge of neighborhoods, throughout City parks, along large traffic medians such as on Pleasant Valley Road, and heavily throughout the downtown area. A significant portion of the inhabitants of these encampments had serious drug or mental health problems and routinely caused disturbances, in some cases deaths.
According, however, to numerous speakers at Council meetings, people being unhappy about the encampments springing up near their homes is simply an example of the need for “white comfort.” For the record, most of this type of testimony was delivered by young white people, and, in my view, was often delivered in a somewhat disturbingly hollow manner. None of the speakers making the “white comfort” claim seemed fazed when non-whites testified that the Council’s policies on homelessness were interfering with their comfort and sense of safety as well.
Another “devastating result” of governance by the Adler Councils is the crisis in EMS staffing. It is not clear that ideology is at work here, but it is definitely a devastating result. This particular crisis was largely ignored by the progressives on the Council until the Council’s only Republican, Mackenzie Kelly, put the issue on the agenda.
I could go on, but we’ll leave it at that for this installment. It is probably apparent to readers that I don’t think these policies or results are good for Austin. It doesn’t appear, however, that a majority of Austin voters feel that way. The architect of the police budget cuts and the lifting of the camping ban was elected to Congress, in a District that covers roughly half of Austin and stretches to San Antonio. Another Council Member, who demanded major cuts to the APD budget under threat to vote against the whole City budget, was elevated to Travis County Attorney. And, voters just reelected, by wide margins, two Council Members who supported the policies detailed above. Also, I’ve lost count of how many people told me that they just voted for who they perceived to be “the most progressive candidate.”
I of course respect and accept the decisions of voters, but I still get to maintain my own opinions and observations. And, I thought now might be a good time to raise the question about ideology and devastating results — that is as the Mayor and three Council Members leave, and their replacements prepare to take office.
I will end this installment by suggesting, with the hope that I am not exhibiting too much of an obsession with white comfort, that perhaps we should all — Mayor, Council and citizens — start paying just a little more attention to results, and less to ideology.
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