Opinion: A ‘strong mayor’ is not the answer to Austin’s challenges – Austin American-Statesman

Posted: December 22, 2020 at 6:56 pm


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By Jesus Garza and Catherine Morse | Austin American-Statesman

Over the past two decades, Austin has emerged as a global destination for job creation while maintaining its roots as a community known for live music, art and culture. This has been accomplished under a council-manager system of government, that while imperfect, has been successful. Recently, however, a group called Austinites for Progressive Reform has called for dramatic upheaval in our citys governance structure by proposing a change from our current council-manager governance to a system that would place more executive power in a strong mayor.

Their proposal is offered up as a panacea to fix the challenges our city faces. However, in reality, it will simply consolidate power into the hands of the politicalelite while limiting the agency of Austinites to participate in local government.

Our council-manager form of government divests power and provides checks and balances that safeguard all people of Austin. If voters next year approve the charter amendment for a strong mayor," Austin will have an elected mayor operating independent from the council with vast spending authority on personal initiatives, veto authority over council decisions and the power to dole out political favors and critical city jobs to supporters. The mayor would not even be required to attend council meetings, relegating council members to positions of old-school ward representativesessentially silencing many voices across the city that we fought so hard for in the adoption of the 10-1 system.

Austin has had mayors who worked with the City Council, the community and the city manager to continuously improve thequality of life. To be sure, these mayors did not always get it right none of us do during our personal or professional lives but they got it right more often than not.Their success in the current system can be attributed to:

Real partnership between the mayor, the City Council and the city manager

Encouraging transparency through robust citizen participation and open access to elected leaders and professional staff

Vigorous debate between elected leaders as they formulate policy and approve ordinances to execute those policies

Allowing management to execute policy direction in a professional manner without bias or political interference

A strong and committed City Council that focuses on the needs of the city and all who live here

Universal embraceof the concept that we are a city of ideas, and although we are not a perfect city, we can all work together and accept constructive criticism when it helps improve the city

As a result, Austin is one of the most highly regarded cities in the nation. We are ranked as the Best Place to Live in the USA by U.S. News and, according to the Wall Street Journal, Austin has the Best Job Market in the country. This recognition has not been achieved by accident. The mayors, city councilsand professional city managers have worked together with all members of our community to strengthen Austins position as a global leader.

The council-manager form of government has proven to be the most prudent path to affect positive change. Itis the best system of government to protect the people, and the city, against the potential of an out-of-control executive.

We felt it necessaryto speak out because so far no one else has pushed back against the proposals. Our hope is that our community will come together to face our citys challenges and avoid the distractions by those seeking a complete overhaul of our local governance.

Garza served as Austin city manager from 1994-2002 and retired in 2017 as CEO of the Seton Healthcare Family. Morse is a partner atEnoch Kever PLLC and has served in numerous community organizations.

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Opinion: A 'strong mayor' is not the answer to Austin's challenges - Austin American-Statesman

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December 22nd, 2020 at 6:56 pm

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