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How One Austin City Council Member is Shaking Up the Dais

Mengwen Cao/KUT

The Austin City Council’s switch to geographic representation was aimed at electing a council that’s more in touch with their constituents’ concerns. The change has also brought voices to the council representing viewpoints that weren’t heard on the old at-large council.

One of those voices belongs to District 6 Council Member Don Zimmerman. The council member’s controversial board and commission nominations prompted two hours of debate at the dais last week. Typically, approval for nominations takes minutes of the council’s time. KUT’s Jennifer Stayton spoke with the Austin Monitor’s Michael Kanin about the move, which is the latest in a series that has put Zimmerman at odds with the council at large. It’s also demonstrated his effectiveness as the council’s chief dissenter.

Remind us what’s happened in the past week or two around Zimmerman’s board and commissions nominees.

He’s had a hard time getting some of them through. It’s because he’s picked some folks [who] made a few social media comments, maybe more than a few social media comments, that called into question their ability to perform fairly, I think, on the boards. That would be the very nice way of saying that there were a handful of racist remarks from a couple of candidates, a handful of questionable remarks from a couple of other candidates. And then you had [Peaceful Streets Project leader] Antonio Buehler, who I think some folks might have even thought belonged on the Public Safety Commission, except that he has a reputation for behaving sort of brashly when it comes to watching the cops.

How does his point of view differ from the rest of the council?

He’s serving a role that is an interesting role. It’s not just as a foil to the normal political class, the normal political structure of the city. He’s actually being an active monkey-wrencher, which is not something we’re used to seeing at the local level in Austin. And I think he would tell you that he’s simply appointing — and I think he’s told his colleagues [this] — that he’s simply appointing the people that represent a point of view that he represents: the people of his district, his constituents.

That is kind of different than what we’ve seen on the Austin City Council before, right?

Absolutely, it’s interesting too to watch the impact on his colleagues. I mean, now you have two council members abstaining on all of his appointments, no matter who they are, and I think some of that is that they don’t have the time to vet these guys and gals. And it’s interesting because, in so doing, you know, I imagine some of Council Member Zimmerman’s colleagues are thinking about vetting his candidates more closely, given the folks that he’s brought forward, and that’s taking time away from other policy. And so, in a way, Council Member Zimmerman sort of has people talking about his agenda. And I think that, among my colleagues and I, we talk about how he’s been extremely effective.

Jennifer Stayton is the local host for NPR's "Morning Edition" on KUT. Got a tip? Email her at Follow her on X @jenstayton.
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