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Professor Lectures Adler on Austin Government

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Mayor Steve Adler announced that he would no longer try to use a nonprofit foundation to add up to 15 new members to his office staff, which currently has five. He's pictured here at KUT studios.

From the Austin Monitor:

Terrell Blodgett, professor emeritus at the LBJ School of Public Affairs, has written to Mayor Steve Adler and his City Council colleagues expressing concern about the mayor’s plan to add more staff for his office and lecturing him on the fact that the mayor has no more power than any of his Council colleagues or mayors before him.

Last week, Adler announced that he would no longer try to use a nonprofit foundation to add up to 15 new members to his office staff, which currently has five. He said he would be using vacant positions within the city, causing a mild panic among some managers who wondered if they would lose their positions. However, it is unclear whether Adler plans to add three or five new members. Other Council members have only three staff members.

In his letter, Blodgett said, “The voters at the last election expressly rejected the idea of concentration of power and instead, voted for dispersion of such power. Thus, we expect you to be a leader with big ideas, but not a person who has to dominate every aspect of city operations, with the staff that overwhelms the Council and manager.

“You continually refer to having a bigger burden with the adoption of the 10-1 system. I remind you that, with the exception of Austin’s incremental growth, you have no more constituents than did Mayor Leffingwell or the mayors before him. He presided over roughly 800,000 citizens and you have the same number,” he wrote.

Blodgett told Adler he should stop referring to New York and Los Angeles and instead look to San Antonio and Dallas, both of which operate under a council-manager form of government, like Austin. He went on to praise Mayor Mike Rawlings of Dallas, who, Blodgett wrote, “with no more authority than the Austin charter gives you and no more staff than previous Austin mayors have had, has given strong leadership in Dallas, challenging the educational establishment and making progress, with Dallas Newssupport in integrating South Dallas (the East Austin of Dallas) into the economic mainstream of the city. These are successes in Dallas which have been accomplished with the minimum staffing authority in the mayor’s office.”

He had similar praise for San Antonio Mayor Ivy Taylor, which has a minimum staff. Blodgett added “and the mayor has no more charter authority than you do.”

Blodgett said he was particularly concerned about Adler wanting to use vacant positions in the city to staff his office. “Those positions were established because of a specific need: you put the city manager in an impossible position when you unilaterally request that he transfer employees to your office. You also upset the balance of power between your office and Council members — and the city manager.”

Blodgett then urged Council “to question why you need a staff of 15 or 20 persons from previous Austin mayors and current mayors of Dallas and San Antonio have and are succeeding with a fraction of that number.”

Blodgett concluded that Adler “should step back and give this new Council and yourself time to get up to speed on the many complexities of city government.”

The Monitor asked Adler for a written statement, but he had not responded by the time of this post.

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