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Austin City Council Member Natasha Harper-Madison takes temporary leave to address mental health

A person seated behind a dias looking ahead
Michael Minasi
/
KUT
Austin City Council Member Natasha Harper-Madison was reelected to a second term that began in January.

Austin City Council Member Natasha Harper-Madison will temporarily step away from her position to address her mental health, she announced Monday.

“This year has been extremely challenging for me,” she said. “I live with depression and anxiety. Thankfully these issues can be treated with focused care.”

Her leave is effective immediately and will last 60 days.

Her absence means she will not have a vote in decisions that could impact District 1, which covers parts of East Austin. The area traditionally is home to people of color and low-income residents.

Sharon Mays, Harper-Madison's chief of staff, told KUT that staff will continue to show up and advocate for the District 1 community. She said staff will carry out day-to-day duties, including communicating with and addressing the needs of residents, and any ongoing projects.

“As an office, our support of the district goes well beyond what happens on the dais and that does not change,” Mays said. “So our job here is in addition to policy-making.”

Mayor Kirk Watson said Harper-Madison’s constituents in District 1 are also his constituents, "and the Mayor’s Office is available to help however we can."

"We have also reached out to Council member Harper-Madison’s staff to lend our support, and I know other Council offices have done the same," he said in a statement. "It’s not uncommon for a council member to be absent from a meeting or off the dais for a vote so this situation does not require any changes to how Council meetings operate.”

City leaders said the council makes decisions with all of Austin in mind.

Harper-Madison could extend her leave, if necessary. She could also choose to step down, which would trigger a special election. A recall election would require a petition from at least 10% of voters in her district.

Harper-Madison said she has every intention of returning to her post.

“I understand the importance of our work and the commitments we have made to our constituents, and I assure you that my decision to take this leave has not been made lightly,” she said. “I have every intention of returning to my duties in good health with renewed energy and dedication to continuing to serve District 1 and the entire Austin community.”

Harper-Madison is not the first elected official in Texas to take medical leave to address mental health. Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo took a leave of absence over the summer to treat depression.

Addressing mental health has become a growing priority for people across the county, especially in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic that left many people isolated from family and friends.

Several members of the City Council, including Mayor Kirk Watson, have jumped to support Harper-Madison’s decision.

“I commend Council Member Harper-Madison on her decision to speak candidly and seek help for her mental health and well-being,” Watson said. “Mental illness is common but often hidden. It is no different from heart health or any other physical illness and should be treated as such.”

Council Member Mackenzie Kelly said Harper-Madison’s courage to be open about her struggles and address them was both “admirable and inspiring.”

“We all understand the immense pressures and demands that come with public service, and it's crucial to take the time you need to address your depression and anxiety with focused care,” she said.

Harper-Madison was reelected in November to a second term representing District 1.

Luz Moreno-Lozano is the Austin City Hall reporter at KUT. Got a tip? Email her at lmorenolozano@kut.org. Follow her on X @LuzMorenoLozano.
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