Austin Chronicle: You've emphasized in your campaign that you're "a working-class guy with working-class values." What do you mean by that, and why do you think it's important?
Mike Martinez: What I mean is, when I make a decision as a City Council member, it's coming from the perspective of someone who's been a city employee, someone who's struggled to make ends meet, starting out as a rookie firefighter. So I bring those values to the decisions that we make. Working-class people and families are at the forefront of the thought process – it's not even a thought process, it's who I am. That's just who I am, and the values that I bring to these decisions.
AC: That raises a common campaign issue – affordability – and that working-class people are being driven by the market out of town. How much can the city do to affect that, and what do you suggest?
MM: I think there are some things that we've already done, and that we can do more of. The first thing is that we can make sure our own city employees are treated fairly, and paid a decent wage, so that they don't have to live out of town, should they choose not to. The second is, pushing policies like we did on the economic incentives agreement, where we can insert our values. If a company is seeking incentives, we're not averse to providing those incentives, as long as they meet a very high threshold of paying a living wage, and paying prevailing wages, and making sure their entire workforce has health care benefits. Those are the things that I think – Austin is very expensive, but it gets exponentially more expensive when you don't have health care, when you don't have decent wages. Those are the things that I think we need to stay focused on – raising the bar as it relates to the blue-collar, working-class individual in Austin.
AC: Among the reasons people disagree with incentives are 1) that they bring people to town who otherwise might not be coming, and 2) it drives up prices and property taxes. How do you strike that balance?
MM: Like I mentioned the other night, I think we refocus our attention on local, small businesses that are looking to expand, here in our area. I don't mean we should entirely not look for companies that may want to move to Austin. But we started this program after the 9/11 bust, after we saw a net loss of jobs, year after year, and Opportunity Austin was born out of a task force that [then] Mayor [Gus] Garcia put together. Mayor Garcia put a task force together and said, "Let's stop the outflow of jobs, let's bring jobs to Austin." Out comes Opportunity Austin, and it was appropriate for that time.
But we're busting at the seams now. When your gas tank is full, you don't pull over and try to put more in it. You let it run down a little bit, until you need more. Just like fueling a vehicle, our economic-incentives policy has worked. But maybe we don't go full-steam ahead, trying to recruit Fortune 500 companies. Now, to me, now is the time to focus on the existing small and local businesses, who we hear from way more than anyone else in terms of having difficulties expanding business in town, opening a new restaurant, expanding their existing restaurant. Like I said the other night [at his Threadgill's kickoff], it's that working-class family who is the manager of a restaurant, or who works in the service industry. There's a lot of people in Austin who aren't going to make 75 or 80 or $100,000 a year, but they'll make 40 or 50 or $60,000 a year, and I think it's time we focused a little more on them than on anything else.
AC: In practice, how would that work?
MM: We don't even need to set up a program; we actually have some models in place. I'm not saying they work perfectly, but it could be similar. In 2007, when Las Manitas was kicked out of their lease space, Mayor Will Wynn and I sat down and said, "Okay, what can we do? Everybody wants Las Manitas to stay, nobody wants it to go." The sisters [the owners of Las Manitas] were telling us, "We don't have anywhere to go, and we don't have the resources." So we created the Business Retention and Enhancement Program, on Congress Avenue and Sixth Street, BRE. And we used seed money from buildings that are being built Downtown, that pay us right-of-way fees – when they close sidewalks, they close lanes, they pay us a fee.
It's unencumbered funds, because we don't know when a building's going to be built. We used that as seed money, and we said if you build a retail or restaurant shop that's non-bar, non-cocktail related, we have up to $500,000 in forgivable loans for your business to move to this area and/or expand. We've seen Annie's take advantage of that, and we've seen El Sol y la Luna take advantage of that loan program. El Sol y la Luna moved from South Congress to Sixth Street [because] of that, and Annie's moved from the Bank One building over here on West Sixth Street because of that. And as long as they're creating jobs, as long as they remain open, the debt repayment wanes over time. If you close your doors too early, you owe that money back, because we've invested in you, opening and expanding.
That's a program that I believe we can use as a model for local, small, existing businesses. And we're not talking about a half-million dollars; some businesses literally only $30,000, $40,000, to really expand, and maybe hire five or six new employees. I think it runs the gamut of very small microlending, to really help these businesses get started and get on their feet – if you're opening a food trailer, it's not a whole lot of capital that's needed. If you're opening a new restaurant, maybe it is a little more, maybe it gets up into six figures.
But the bottom line is, we've seen through the BRE program that it can work, and that businesses will take advantage of that, because it's a boost, it's a shot in the arm that they would otherwise have to raise privately, or take financing somehow, through a loan.
AC: What do you say to those folks who say, "We don't need these programs at all – the local economy is doing well, businesses are thriving, we shouldn't be doing that at all."
MM: I think that question is slowly rising to the top, if not already there in many people's minds. I'm not at the point where I believe we shouldn't be doing it, but I think we should be very critical and judicious in when we do it, and how we do it, and what is the return in community benefits to the city of Austin.
I think that's what upsets folks the most. They don't see the inherent value in why we're doing these incentive deals. Unemployment is virtually zero – we're now at 4% [locally], which is considered near zero – and so people are saying, "Why are you still bringing folks here?" And then the question comes up: Are these people bringing their entire headquarters here, and bringing their employees with them? Or are they actually hiring local folks here? Which I think are legitimate questions. I think the question of whether we should do incentives is always going to be there, until we stop doing them.
AC: In the case of the Marriott deal (or similar deals), it would seem that without the initial incentives – essentially right-of-way fee waivers – the city would not have a seat at the table, and would not have been able to negotiate job standards or wage standards.
MM: That's right. And ultimately, Marriott walked away, and now they owe us that money back. I don't know what we'd given them at the time, but it wasn't the full $3.8 million – but it was a portion of it. They're building their building, it's almost done. They've already booked – what did the mayor say last Friday? – I think he said they've already booked almost 200,000 room nights at that hotel. It's not even open yet. So that, truly, raises the question – at least that one, stand-alone deal – raises the question, "Was it necessary?" And the answer is proven – no – because they ended up not taking the incentives, and they built the hotel, and it's going to be very successful.
That wasn't necessarily an economics incentives case, although it was an infusion of cash, or a waiving of fees, if you will, to help their bottom line. But at the end of the day, when push came to shove, and we said, "You're not living up to your end of the bargain that you agreed to," they said, "Well, we're going to walk away, because we're not going to provide prevailing wages."
AC: On transportation – you've said we really need urban rail, and should support the bond vote in November. At an estimated $1.4 billion, people got sticker shock, even though it will be conditional on federal participation. Do you think this is the moment for urban rail?
MM: I think it's just like the last vote in 2000, I think the margins are very thin. I do think there are enough Austinites who have been sitting in gridlock, and enough folks who have been here long enough, or have been in other areas, who believe that expanding public transportation is something that's necessary for a major city like Austin.
But this is Texas, and this is Austin, Texas, and you're still going to have folks who believe that their mode of transit is a single-occupancy vehicle. Those are the ones who are not going to be supportive of urban rail. Then there are the folks who will think, "It costs too much and does too little," or, "It's never going to serve me or my area." You know, schools don't serve every part of Austin, but every part of Austin pays a little bit for that school. Public transportation needs to be looked at, in my opinion, in that perspective: It's a community benefit. It may not necessarily go directly to your neighborhood or in your area, but the vision is, that once Project Connect is finished out, there will be enough modes and enough options to where, folks will be a part of that transit system. Even if it is driving your own vehicle, it will be driving that vehicle on a new roadway or expressway that wasn't there before, because that's now part of Project Connect.
AC: Do you have an opinion on Central Corridor (the Highland route) vs. Lamar/Guadalupe, or bridge vs. tunnel (over Lady Bird Lake)?
MM: I think the price becomes the issue on bridge vs. tunnel. I think convenience-wise, the tunnel is much better; it doesn't disrupt anything above ground. Ideally, I think anyone would prefer a subway system, because it doesn't disrupt anything that already exists above ground. But the price tag is the game changer. When you look at a bridge over Lady Bird Lake at $175 million, versus just tunneling under Lady Bird Lake and coming up at the Convention Center, it jumps to $245 million; now you're talking a quarter of the cost of the overall project, for a couple of blocks.
That's going to be difficult to swallow, as a voter. That's going to be hard to convince the voter that it's worthy of their support. So my opinion is, you build a bridge over Lady Bird Lake, it becomes multimodal. It's a pedestrian bridge, it's a bike bridge, and it's a rail bridge, so it's not just one singular use. We see how the success and use of Pfluger [Pedestrian] Bridge, near Lamar, could be equally successful over Lady Bird Lake east of Congress, in terms of bike and pedestrian, but with added urban rail.
I think the Central Corridor plan is appropriate; it's planned to go where we know growth is going to occur. The Airport [Boulevard] corridor is primed for explosive growth, and it's where we've said in Imagine Austin we believe our community can handle growth. Lamar and Guadalupe would be extremely successful for an urban rail line, because growth already exists there. The population and density already exists. I think what the Advisory Group was looking at, when it's finished in 10 years, is where that transit is going to be needed as well. We've already got BRT [Bus Rapid Transit] on Lamar/Guadalupe, and we've had that whole debate on whether it would hurt us if we went back to the FTA [Federal Transit Administration] and said we want to put urban rail on Lamar/Guadalupe – and you just gave us $38 million for BRT. We think that would hurt our chances, and we've been told that by FTA; it's not just what we think.
Long story short, I support the proposed routes along the Highland corridor to Riverside. I'd love to see it go all the way to Ben White, because I believe, if we extended it to Ben White, you could see commuters who come in from Lockhart and Bastrop truly using that as a kind of final destination option into Downtown. They could park at a Park & Ride in the Ben White/Metz Center area, hop on urban rail and not necessarily bring their cars Downtown and have to pay for parking, etc. But, it's expensive.
AC: We've been trying to get over that initial hump for so long.
MM: What was it, 1,475 votes in 2000 has put us 15 years behind.
AC: Steve Adler has, pending a plan, declined to endorse urban rail, but he does say that "We can't build our way out of this problem," and that we have to talk about how we're living as well as how we're driving. That is: telecommuting, staggered work hours, density, and so on. Any thoughts on what else we need to do?
MM: Certainly, anyone who tells you they have the solution to gridlock in Austin is not being honest with you. We're a big city, and we're always going to have traffic problems, but that doesn't mean that we don't continue to work on our infrastructure, whether that's building new roads, building more public transit – our efforts in that regard have to continue.
I agree that telecommuting is a great option, but it's a fraction of the population in terms of who can telecommute, and who that works for. That's, again, another option, but it's not a solution. These buildings [Downtown] wouldn't be built if folks weren't going to drive Downtown to get to work, or get Downtown in some fashion. So we have to continue working on all modes of transit. And it's not cheap, it's just not. And that's the reality we face when we have to go out and convince the voters that this is appropriate for our city.
The bigger message is, this is one [urban rail] segment. Our bigger challenge is letting folks know about the entire 30-year and 50-year vision of Project Connect, and how it could truly impact them further down the line. We can't do it all at once, but we have to start somewhere.
AC: Let's look at some of your more controversial policy actions, the big decisions. One was the decision to build Water Treatment Plant No. 4. Some people still approve, others say we didn't need it now, and its cost is blamed for rising water rates. How do you respond to that discussion?
MM: I think, looking back, four or five years after you make the decision, you have a lot better clarity. Nobody knew that we were heading into a record drought, that we've been in since making that decision. If there was anything I would do different, it would be what my chief of staff [Andy Moore*] advised me to do, and I didn't do; I voted for Water Treatment Plant 4 and I still believe it's a necessary piece of infrastructure, and I believe it's good for Austin, for many reasons. But he asked me if I would tie my decision to a demand index that says construction won't start and/or expand until demand reaches X point. Maybe he was a much better visionary than I; it would have curtailed construction, and/or prevented it, as this drought continued. Because what we've seen in conservation is that our consumption has plummeted.
So we made this decision to increase capacity and increase our debt load, all while this drought of mega-proportions hit and our demand goes this way [gesturing downward]. So we are worlds apart now, and we're in a world of pain where we have this old existing debt that we must pay, but we're not generating nearly enough revenue because conservation is working so well. If we would've tied that decision to a demand index, I don't think it would have prevented us from getting to this point – because this is a record drought – but it certainly wouldn't have made that gap so wide, as it is today.
But I will say it's had a positive effect on keeping our bond rating very low, because the bond houses look at cities and what they're investing in and how they're investing. When they see us investing in infrastructure like the water treatment plant, that is a positive sign that there is long-term stability, that the city is looking at its future growth pattern and preparing for it. If you were making risky decisions, and not building the infrastructure that's needed, it could have a negative effect on your bond rating, and it could cost your citizens more in interest, on existing debt that we have for bond packages that are approved by the voters.
So you could argue this a million ways in terms of how it impacts the voters. One could say that by not investing in infrastructure, our bond rating would drop, therefore interests payments would be higher – still costs you money. There's others who are saying, "We're paying for this debt on a water treatment plant that we don't need," but the debt is extremely low because the bond houses have looked favorably on our investment in infrastructure.
AC: Another factor is the longer you wait, the more expensive it is to build.
MM: And that was a factor in making that decision. We were going into the recession, commodities were extremely low. Again, I think it's necessary – and our energy consumption: the water utility is the No. 1 customer for Austin Energy. We will be able to reduce energy consumption from Austin Energy by 50% by not having to pump water into our grid system, into the Jollyville Reservoir, to then have it trickle down. It will come from that elevation, and then be fed naturally through gravity. Those are down-in-the-weeds stuff; I don't expect to convince the citizens that that's a good reason. But those are the factors, and they are real; those are the factors that I took into account in making that decision.
AC: Another polarizing decision was Circuit of the Americas, Formula One. The economic incentives were state incentives, but people didn't make that distinction very much. The city essentially acted as a sponsor. What's your perspective on that decision?
MM: I voted for it because it didn't require a single bit of city of Austin taxpayer dollars going into that. When Circuit of the Americas said that they would cover the $4 million that was required as a local match, I felt like the controversy of whether or not we are paying for a portion of this new facility was taken off the table. I think Austin has become an international destination, and in part it's because of Formula One and South by Southwest and ACL Fest.
They look to Austin because it's an attractive city, for no other reason. There was no Formula One history in the United States over the last 10 years – I think Indianapolis was the last one. I think that speaks well of Austin; I don't think that's a negativity just because we now have Formula One in Austin. So when the financial impact on the city of Austin was removed, I felt it was worthy of consideration.
But what pushed my decision on that was when I went out there and saw 500 construction workers and talked to them – most of them Hispanic – most of them saying they needed jobs now. This was at the point of the downturn in the economy. It was about people. It wasn't about Formula One, it wasn't about incentives, for me. It was about people. It was about those men and women I spoke with who said, "We need these jobs. It may only be a two-year job, that I can work for two years, but that's two years that I can take care of my family, and hopefully find another job after this project is done." And what we saw is that the economy came back, construction boomed, and I dare say those construction workers are probably doing okay right now. They've found other jobs. At the end of all of the debate, that was really what impacted me the most – was talking to those workers.
AC: As you look back on your years on Council so far, what do you think were you most important achievements – what are you most proud of?
MM: I would say the economic-incentives rewrite – adding an $11/hour wage floor, prevailing wages [on construction projects], health care benefits, domestic partner benefits. That's huge. We were facing staunch opposition, and it took us almost two years. The Chamber opposed us, the mayor opposed us, the city manager opposed us, the business community opposed us, and that thing passed on a vote of 6-1. It took us two years, but it passed, and I think it raised the bar on [the] economic-incentives conversation.
AC: It does seem to me that for a nominally progressive city, on union issues, working-class issues, labor issues – many so-called progressives disappear.
MM: It's not even union issues – I'll go even further and say it's people issues. When it comes to issues about people, somehow, sidewalks roll up and things get really quiet, and it doesn't make any sense to me. Those should be, arguably, our most debated, discussed, and voted on items, and they're not. We fight more about zoning than anything else. If we fought 25% as hard for people as we do on zoning cases, this would be a different city.
AC: We get a lot of pressure to write about zoning cases. Are there examples other than the economic-incentives issue that you're referring to?
MM: Another is our staunch advocacy on social-service issues – making sure that the agencies that are providing these sorely needed services are taken care of, and that we continue to invest in them. There will be candidates and there will be community members who say, "We pay too much and it does too little." But to those people who need it – how do we consider ourselves a progressive city, when we have 4,000 homeless people living on the streets every night? How are we progressive when 26% of all children in AISD live at or below the federal poverty line?
How is that progressive? It's just not. We remain silent on it, and that's what we haven't done, that's what we've stayed away from. Sometimes we're viewed as controversial, but it's because we stand strong on issues that affect people, and that are controversial. I have to stand on that record. Some people will look at it as a not-so-good thing; we have to look at it as something we're very proud of; and we think that the citizens and the voters will see that and support it. In fact, we know they will – we've heard from many of them over the years, and they've enjoyed the strong stances we've taken.
AC: Part of the problem is that this is a national issue of a polarizing economy – some people are making out extremely well, and the rest of the people are being left behind. How does the city government address a national economic polarization?
MM: Obviously, if you can make policy decisions that have a dramatic effect, or even a somewhat effect on those issues, you use that ability. But there are other things we can do as elected officials, and that includes education and outreach – using those kinds of campaigns to get our community members behind these values and ideas.
I don't think you'll find a lot of people in this town who disagree that we need to take care of the working-class folks in this town. We need to make sure that those who are being left behind are given a hand up. But can you motivate them and engage them to get involved and do something about it? That's our job.
AC: This raises the question of "affordability" – to some people that means only one thing: property taxes. You're beginning the budget cycle, and public safety represents 70% of the city budget – where can you economize if not there, when the same people want more police officers?
MM: We address it as we do every year; we don't shy away from asking difficult questions throughout the budget cycle. We don't allow this shell game of padding the budget through [job] "vacancy savings" continue year after year. When Code Compliance department needed 19 new FTEs last year, yet they clearly demonstrated in their own data that their number of inspections from the previous year to the coming year was going to drop, by several thousand inspections, it didn't make sense to us. Why do you need 19 FTEs if your workload is going to drop several thousand?
We questioned that, they had no answer, we ripped that out of the budget and said, "We don't think you need 19 new FTEs." Those are the things we constantly look for. When we started last year's budget cycle, there were 900 vacancies. 900 citywide. That's $70-something million – I don't know if it's 70, but it's a lot – it's still budgeted, and it's still charged to you, the taxpayer.
AC: How much progress have you made since last year?
MM: This year, in January, the city manager sent out a memo saying, "We're heading into this year's budget cycle, we have 900 vacancies, and that's too high. Either fill them, or we're going to take them away from you." So he took what we did last year, put it in a memo in January and said, "Before I start this budget process, you need to get rid of these vacancies in terms of hiring folks, or I'm going to take them back from you."
Everything that we asked them to do last year, that we forced them to do last year in a vote, they've come into this budget year doing it, saying, "This is the new process, this is what we're going to do from now on. We're not going to raise taxes, we're not going to have vacancies. We're going to have a bare-bones budget, we're not going to do a wish list."
Which is what we made them do last year. Last year they proposed going just below the [property tax] roll back rate, adding all these new FTEs, not giving city employees raises, not adding money to parks. We reversed all of that. We lowered the tax rate, we got rid of all the vacancies, we gave city employees a raise, and we gave Parks $4 million extra dollars. All last year, in one budget cycle.
AC: So where did the 900 new vacancies come from?
MM: Over time – what we're being told is that the average attrition rate for a city of our size is about 10 percent. The low end is 7 percent, the high end is 11-12. So we think that's natural, but we don't think it's acceptable. We want stronger measures put in place, so that we don't have hundreds of vacancies floating out there at any given time. If [the positions] are needed, then let's fill them. That may be a part of the answer to, "Why are my services not improving? I'm paying a high tax rate." It may be because we're not filling those positions as best we should be, therefore having an effect. You take 900 people that are providing services for people, and take them off the books, I think it has an effect on the average citizen.
But those are the things that we will do again this budget cycle, and that's the way you can truly affect what happens to the taxpayer here in Austin.
AC: There's a necessary structural tension between Council, the policymakers, and the city staff, who execute policy. Do you think it's worse than usual, and if so, why?
MM: It's not healthy; it's just not. We saw this with [former city manager] Toby [Futrell], her last year or so, there was a lot of disconnect between Council and management. I don't think it's healthy. I think citizens see it, I think the general public sees it, and I think it's unfortunate. Staff and Council shouldn't always be butting heads against one another; we all have the same values, the same goals – at least I hope we do – and that is that we care about this city.
But it gets frustrating, as an elected official, because here's what happens. In a council-manager form of government, the only direct report we have is the manager. But when staff is approving a Waller Creek intake shaft that breaks a Capitol view corridor, the citizens don't see that as the city staff made a mistake. They see that as Mike Martinez made a mistake; the mayor and Council made a mistake. And ultimately, we're accountable, we have to be – we're the elected officials. But that's what makes it difficult when you don't have that good working relationship with your manager and with staff. I don't think it's uniform across the board. We have tons of great staff, a lot of hard-working people at the city. But our relationship with the manager is certainly strained right now, and it's unfortunate because the people who are affected the most by it are the citizens.
AC: Do you think there's likely to be change in management this year?
MM: I have no idea. I think we'll do the [city manager] review, and I think we'll have some honest and frank conversations about performance. But last year, one of the things that we pushed for was a much better review process, actually written out – positives and negatives – and kind of a work plan, moving forward, of what we'd like to see. That still hasn't happened. I just think, for a city of our size and the salary that we pay the city manager, one meeting a year and verbally talking about "goods" and "needs improvement" is very insufficient.
We asked the rest of the Council to join us in improving that process, and we thought that was where we were headed. But here we are, a year later, and we haven't discussed relationships, in terms of performance and how the city's doing, at all. We'll just do it in his annual review.
AC: We haven't talked about 10-1 districting yet. The advantages are obvious – representation closer to the ground, potentially people speaking for the entire city. There are also potential downsides – people speaking only for their own districts, and not considering the needs of the whole city. Overall, what's your sense of what it might mean?
MM: I think it's going to take a mayor who's very effective at building those coalitions. I think what you're going to find is what you find when you meet a complete stranger – that when you sit and talk for a little while, you find out that you have way more in common than you have differences. I think focusing on those common values, district by district, and creating a working platform from that perspective – from where we agree – is how we're going to get this Council up and running and working on the issues that are important to their districts, but important to Austin overall.
This next mayor is going to have to be someone who can collaborate among those 10 new Council members, and bring that type of leadership forward. It will take a mayor with experience. With seven years of experience on the Council, it still took us almost two years to pass economic incentives. It is not something you can just figure out overnight. It's going to take a little bit of time. We believe that we have that experience, that we have that leadership skill, and my success as a mayor is going to be largely dependent upon whether or not I was able to help those individual Council members be successful in their districts – not whether or not I was able to accomplish grand things as a mayor. It won't be that.
The next mayor cannot be a pile-driver with an agenda; the next mayor is going to have to be a collaborator, a listener, someone who will be able to understand where those common threads are within each district, and bring those broader policies forward. He'll also have to be a mayor who understands the history of how we got to the point that we are, so that we don't revisit old battles, that we don't allow some new idea to come forward that's a battle we fought long before.
I mentioned that the other night [at the kickoff]; I don't think we need to revisit things like the SOS Ordinance, I don't think we need to revisit old, hard-fought battles that created deep, divided wounds. I think we need someone who understands how we got to this point, and how we need to move forward.
AC: Anything else we haven't touched on?
MM: I think we are the new leadership of Austin's tomorrow. When you look at where I've come from, and how I got to this point, the future of Austin is more diverse, it's more international, it's younger. We bring a value set that I think is poised to be the next set of leaders for Austin's tomorrow. I look forward to this new district system; I think it's a tremendous opportunity, and that's why I supported it way before even getting on the Council. I couldn't imagine a city as large as Austin not having a body that reflects its own community.
We're going to have that, good or bad. Even with an at-large Council, you saw last night – in the [U.S. Department of Justice/Austin Fire Department] consent decree discussion – just how crazy it gets. I don't think 10-1's going to be any better or worse. People want to be heard, Council members want to speak, they want to tell you what they think. It's going to take the right leadership at the center of that dais, navigating that conversation, and making sure that every voice is heard, and that ultimately, the will of the body is what prevails, and we move forward.
And you don't carry deep-seated wounds just because you lost, on the short end of a vote. You don't get angry and bitter about it. You join hands with your colleagues on the very next agenda item, because it's important to Austin. You don't just vote "No" on the other items because you lost on the previous one.
AC: I saw that in Houston, where I lived there – there it's very racially polarized, 30-30-30 in ethnic division, and it's very often 30-30-30 in politics. Do you see that kind of thing happening here?
MM: I definitely think that there will be some of that tension, because for the first time you're going to have more than one African-American and one Hispanic. So yes, there is going to be some of that. But again, I think it's the mayor's responsibility to guide that conversation, and to allow those voices to be heard, and to allow those positions to be stated, but to focus on the policy premise that's before us, and what is best for all of Austin, not just an individual district.
That's for those Council members to focus on: their district. The mayor's focus is what's best for all of Austin. But yes, you need to be heard. We need to hear what's important to your district. We, as the rest of the Council, need to know what you're community needs. And then we form those coalitions where we find common ground.
I think you're going to see things – you hear, for example, that public safety is a top priority. I think you're really going to see that in this new Council, because they're going to hear from their neighbors, from the parents where they drop their kids off at school, to the restaurants where they eat and the grocery stores they shop in, they're going to hear, over and over, what's important. I think that's going to be a huge issue moving forward.
Does that mean 200 new officers? I don't know. I don't think so. But I think it will rise to an even higher priority than it is for an at-large Council. Because that's really what folks care about.
AC: They may care about it – and want more police officers – but they don't want their taxes raised to pay for it.
MM: But who in their right mind would have believed we would be signing contracts with the [police] unions that pay 1 percent? We're sending a clear message: We want a contract with you, but guess what? You're at the top of the food chain, so there's not a whole lot to complain about. You're the highest paid [police force] in the state. How about 1 percent? Okay – and we sign a four-year deal.
I think that's the tone we've set, and I think it's going to take a dramatic shift to move away from that. I don't think the rest of the communities in Texas are going to all of a sudden leap frog over us. They're just not. I think we pay our employees fair, and don't get me wrong, I think they're very well-deserved salaries that we give them. But I think at the same time, this Council has shown some restraint, and shown that we're willing to say, "This is all we can do, and we think it's enough." And what we've seen is that they agree – our work force agrees.
As it relates to non-bargaining employees, they're struggling to get by, and so it was not a difficult decision last year for me to fight for our city employees to get a 3 percent raise. They need it too. When you talk about the cost of living going up, and the cost of groceries and health care and everything else – I think that's where my background comes in, working every single day, side by side, with all of those city employees. My decisions come from that background of people first.
*Andy Moore's name was mistakenly first listed as "Morton."
Copyright © 2015 Austin Chronicle Corporation. All rights reserved.