Why New Management?
Why Austin Needs New City Management NOW
Austin’s official website carries a heading marked with a small trophy icon that proclaims, “Best Managed City.” Unfortunately, this is not true. The most recent objective proof is a comprehensive study of Austin’s planning and development process last year by national urban expert Paul Zucker that concludes that it is one of the worst managed in the nation.
Austinites have had enough of slogans without action to address our worsening problems: lack of affordable housing, gridlocked traffic, poor planning, economic inequities, and displacement of non-affluent residents. City management has demonstrated repeatedly that they do not understand good management practices. They have shown that they do not understand that they serve Austinites and the Council, and not the other way around. They have made clear that they cannot be trusted to initiate innovative ideas, implement Council decisions, wisely spend tax dollars, enforce city laws, or be transparent and accountable. After eight years running the City, they have lost Austinites’ trust. Now, after the new council 10-1 has been in office a year, is the time to replace Austin’s embedded city management and fulfill the full promise of our new 10-1 governing system. Regardless of the new Mayor’s and City Council’s policy decisions, without a fundamental change in our city management, Austin will never become the great city we all know it can and should be.
In particular, Austin’s current city management should be replaced because they have demonstrated:
Poor management of departments and projects, including:
- Failure to properly manage growth and development.
- Failure to make meaningful improvements to Austin’s traffic gridlock and safety crisis.
- Failure to properly staff and manage departments, such as in planning and permitting.
- Failure to administer effectively regulations, such as misusing planned unit developments.
- Failure to have housing economists and other essential housing staff.
- Failure to address gender pay inequities on City staff.
- Failure to manage budgets, such as the use of vacant staff positions to create a slush fund.
- Failure to manage Austin Energy as reflected by increased rates, bloated budgets, disregard of public input, and restrictions on consumers’ rights to generate their own power.
- Failure to manage well numerous city projects and studies, such as Waller Creek and Airport Boulevard.
- Increasing traffic congestion in the downtown area by turning one way streets into two-way, reducing the number of lanes, and not having a functional traffic signalization system.
- Reducing the number of parking meters downtown without providing alternative transportation means.
Poor recognition and addressing of social and economic equity problems, including:
- Failure to implement significant solutions to Austin’s affordable housing crisis.
- Failure to deter the ongoing exodus of lower-income residents from the community.
- Failure to stop the continuing departure of families with children to the suburbs.
- Failure to support real economic development opportunities for lower income communities.
- Failure to recognize and address gentrification as a major equity and fairness issue, and
- Failure to promote policies that decrease economic inequality and segregation.
Poor stewardship of public tax dollars, including:
- Failure to stop excessive and unnecessary corporate subsidies, such as for Apple.
- Failure to promote meaningful development impact fees to offset the costs of growth.
- Failure to protect public health, by replacing EMS paramedics with less-trained personnel.
- Failure to keep libraries, pools, and other public services open in order to fund pet projects of staff, and
- Failure to negotiate market-rate consultant fees as reflected by spending: – over $3 million for a downtown study, – over $2 million (thus far and counting) for a new development code, – almost $1 million for an unfinished and way-over-budget Airport Boulevard study, – $2 million for a staff recommended, price-inflated traffic impact fee study.
Poor enforcement of city ordinances and regulations, including:
- Failure to enforce short-term rental laws, producing serious neighborhood problems.
- Failure to enforce rental property health and safety laws, resulting in apartment walkways collapsing, rodent infestation and other tragedies.
- Failure to enforce erosion and sedimentation laws, allowing new construction to damage valuable environmental resources, such as Bee Creek and Wild Basin.
- Failure to enforce lobby laws, resulting in lobbyists to routinely fail to register and file reports.
- Failure to notify Council that the City Charter requires 2/3rds of all planning commissioners to come from outside the real estate industry.
- Failure to enforce Charter provisions that require public referenda, such as leasing Decker Lake parkland for a golf course,
Poor transparency and accountability, including:
- Failure to advise Council properly about the Open Meetings Act, which resulted in deferred criminal adjudication from the County Attorney.
- Failure to advise Council correctly about the Public Information Act, which resulted in Council members’ improper use of emails on personal devices for City business.
- Failure to provide Council full and complete agenda information, such as for Decker Lake and Pilot Knob.
- Failure to timely inform Council of opportunities, such as for State Bull Creek Road land.
- Failure to show concern for and be responsive to neighborhood problems and issues.
- Failure to recognize neighborhood advocates as partners in governance and planning.
- Failure to respond in a timely and complete manner to citizen requests for public information.
We believe it is imperative that current city management be replaced now if we are to have a well-managed, innovative, transparent and accountable city government. Austinites deserve nothing less.