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In Push For More Staff, Some See Effort to Increase Mayor’s Power

Ilana Panich-Linsman/KUT News

Austin Mayor Steve Adler has been pushing an idea for weeks now: He needs more staff. Adler says this city council has set some big goals and that it will be really difficult to achieve them without more staff.

There's been tension building for weeks. And as much as Adler explains his point of view, the council is still failing to see things through his eyes.

If you were to look into Mayor Steve Adler's eyes there’s one thing you may notice: One of his eyes is green. The other one is brown.

Adler doesn't dwell much on the thought. But, there could be a metaphor in those eyes. You know? Perhaps they allow him to see both sides of an issue.

A couple of weeks ago when the council said Adler would wield more power if he hired more staff, he responded that he doesn't see the hiring "as being about power." He said: "I see this as being about effectiveness."

If you listen to the mayor, you'll notice he acknowledges both sides of whatever topic is at hand, but he seems to always focus on the positive.

His answers are firm, but he never seems to raise his voice.

Last week Adler was upset when six members of the council voted to delay his plan to add more staff. One council member told him that hiring more staff would go against the vision of 10-1. Calmly, Adler replied, "The status quo hasn't gotten [the council] to where it is that the people wanted [the council] to get to."

Is he always evenhanded, or just when the cameras at city hall are running?

Well, council aides, staff and even lobbyists say he is.

But if the mayor is always so balanced, then why is Professor Emeritus of Urban Management at UT, Terrell Blodgett, so worried about Austin's future?

Blodgett says it's because Adler is making moves "that have the earmarks of having a stronger mayor's office."

And that is something Austin voters rejected when they approved going to the 10-1 system of district representation.

Blodgett argues the mayors of larger cities like Dallas or San Antonio also have a limited staff and have been able to accomplish great things. In Dallas, he points to a transformation of the city's South side, a part of Dallas similar to Austin's East side. In San Antonio, Blodgett points to a city-driven pre-K program.

"Both mayors [in Dallas and San Antonio] have done this through their power of persuasion and facilitating and their leadership style," Blodgett says.

Blodgett's concerns are no secret. He's shared them with Adler.

And to that, Adler says Blodgett has misread him.

Adler says his goal has never been to expand the power of his office, but to ensure the success of 10-1.  

And to those who are skeptical of his calm demeanor, fearing it's a tactic to persuade others to do everything he wants, Adler says: "I'm very straightforward, I'm very honest. If you want to know who I am, look at who I have been."

So don't look for clues to Adler's intentions in his two-colored eyes or even in the tone of his voice. The mayor has a challenge. "Look at my track record," he says.

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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