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Council Pushes Affordability, Salary Flexibility in First Meeting

Courtesy of City of Austin
In their first meeting, members of the Austin City Council discussed a "Regional Affordability Committee" and the prospect of allowing members to forego salaries to better pay staff.

The Austin City Council met Thursday in what was its first official meeting under 10-1. The mood was like the first day of school after a long summer break.

Austin Mayor Steve Adler said he felt like back in his junior high school days when he won his first election for class president. He read from a copy of "Robert’s Rules of Order," a book his father gave him to conduct focused and effective meetings, citing an inscription written in the book by his deceased father.

"Men of good will and intent can always find conciliatory and harmonious answers to further the well-being and betterment of their fellow man," Adler read, urging the council to do the same, and the first meeting began.

One of the first goals was to assign council members to committees.

District 2's Delia Garza proposed creating a regional affordability committee, to "create some real policy," she said, "that decreases our working and middle class families from leaving Austin."

Garza hopes to involve city officials, school districts and transportation authorities, among others, to write the policies in one voice.

Council also discussed the prospect of members forgoing salaries to supplement staff salaries. Both Adler and District 1’s Ora Houston spoke in favor of the idea, but Garza and District 3’s Sabino “Pio” Renteria spoke against the proposal.

Garza said the precedent of forgoing one's salary could discourage middle class candidates from running for council. And, while Adler and Houston have secure incomes, Renteria expressed concern about his own financial well-being.

“I’m not even middle class,” Renteria said. “I’m lower middle class, you know? There is no way that I can survive being on the dais here without that income.”

Garza is also concerned that council members who forgo their salaries could behave like some Texas legislators who earn only a stipend and, as she put it, "[they] supplement their income working for lobbying firms." Garza called that "a conflict."  

In the end, the council members who raised concerns are from three of the city's poorest districts. Still, they voted unanimously to have the city manager find a legal way for council offices to have flexibility with their budgets.

Texas Standard reporter Joy Diaz has amassed a lengthy and highly recognized body of work in public media reporting. Prior to joining Texas Standard, Joy was a reporter with Austin NPR station KUT on and off since 2005. There, she covered city news and politics, education, healthcare and immigration.
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