The Austin Chronicle

City Council Sworn In

By Michael King, June 25, 2012, 10:15pm, Newsdesk

In a celebratory Monday evening special called meeting of the Austin City Council, Mayor Lee Leffingwell and two council members – Mayor Pro Tem Sheryl Cole and Place 2's Mike Martinez – were sworn in to new terms. (Place 5's Bill Spelman had a time conflict, and was sworn in earlier Monday.)

In a relaxed and familiar ceremony lasting a bit under an hour, Leffingwell and his colleagues thanked their families, supporters, and staff members, looked forward to the new challenges facing the Council, and suggested at least a couple of issues potentially splitting the dais: most particularly, the prospect of charter revision and the form of proposed single-member districts.

Council members and their guests were greeted by the Irish harp music of Thomas "Doc" Grauzer, and the colors piped in by the Emergency Service Pipes & Drums. Susanne Abbott provided the national anthem, and the invocation was delivered by Austin Police Department Chaplain Rick Randall. All in all, a nicely designed occasion with fine music.

Judge Tim Sulak administered the oath, applauding the officials for their public service and urging them to keep the public faith going forward, joking: "I can say, 'You swore to me . . .'"

After the oaths, Leffingwell convened a brief formal meeting, mostly for the purpose of choosing a Mayor Pro Tem. Kathie Tovo praised and renominated incumbent MPT Cole, Laura Morrison seconded, and Cole was duly elected, unanimously. (6-0, as Spelman was away teaching his Monday night class at UT's LBJ School -- he had tried to reschedule, but it proved impossible, and he accordingly beat his colleagues to swearing-in by a few hours.)

The accepting orations were mostly ceremonial, although Leffingwell delivered something of a reiteration of his campaign speech, touching on most of his priorities -- affordability, economic development, infrastructure, government reform, and the upcoming bond package, urging his colleagues not to raise taxes.

Most emphatically, speaking of government reform, Leffingwell urged his colleagues to support a "mixed" or "hybrid" system for the new council districting system, an issue on the council agenda this Thursday. Nodding to the phrase, "Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good," the mayor continued, "Don't trade bad for worse" -- saying he believes an all-districting system (e.g., the "10-1" plan) would be worse than the current all at-large system. Council appears split on the issue -- wanting to make a change, but not agreed on what it should look like -- and the mayor appeared to be re-emphasizing the cards he has earlier laid on the table.

He also reiterated his task force on aging, to develop new policies for senior citizens. (Later, Martinez would joke that Leffingwell probably has a conflict on that issue, as he's old enough to benefit from it.)

Neither Cole nor Martinez spoke as long as the mayor -- she joked that he had "used up his three minutes" -- although both thanked family, friends, and supporters, and looked forward to the new challenges facing the Council. Cole emphasized continuing help for the public schools -- "which have not been supported by the state." Martinez noted that while council always anticipates criticism, "We all love this town, and we always try to represent the 100%."

Afterward, in the brief informal reception held in the lobby, NewsDesk touched base with the three re-installed members plus Morrison -- and they split neatly on the districting question. Leffingwell and Morrison are strong for a mixed system (most likely 8-2-1), and Cole and Martinez endorsing a 10-1, pure districting system with an at-large mayor. "If 30,000 people go to the trouble to sign a petition for a 10-1 system," said Martinez, "I think we should honor that effort by allowing a vote, up or down."

Judging from the buzz, the up-or-down vote is going to come at Council this Thursday.

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