Point Austin: Farewell to the Seven

The end of an era, and the beginning of another

Point Austin

Happy Birthday, Austin!

The official 175th anniversary of the city's founding is not until Dec. 27, but since Mayor Lee Leffingwell and the folks at the Austin History Center were cutting the birthday cake this week, I thought I'd note the occasion.

It's also an historic week for another reason; this Thursday (barring special-called surprises) marks the last regular meeting of the seven-member, at-large City Council, to be succeeded next month and year by the new 10-1, districted Council. Today (Dec. 11), Council members face a record 231-Item agenda – partly because it's the end of the year, partly the end of an era, and members as well as city staff have geared up to accomplish as much as they can before the hiatus (and learning curve) until the next meeting in late January.

When I called, members were waist-deep in preparations for today's meeting – a couple joked that they had little time for anything but reviewing policy documents (see Bill Spel­man). But I asked each of them to spend a moment reflecting on their tenure on City Council, their colleagues, and the coming transition. Here's what they had to say:

Mayor Lee Leffingwell: "It feels kind of funny, to say you're never going to come this way again, and this is a big change point in my life. I look forward to it; I've tried to retire twice before, so maybe this third time will be a charm.... We're on the threshold of a big change in this city, and I think this transition from an at-large Council to a district-based Council is one of the indicators that we're making that transition from a small college town to a big American city.... I'm proud to have served as mayor, especially because it's my hometown. There have been lots of ups, and lots of downs, but on balance, it's been a great experience."

Mike Martinez: "This Council has collectively been a Council that has stayed focused on core issues like social justice issues, and minimum wage issues, and making sure that those people in the community who need a voice the most, have a voice.... It hasn't precluded us from putting on or taking up other items of interest – big-ticket items or big-picture items like Imagine Austin – but I think we've stayed focused on some core values, and I think that's something we can be proud of."

Kathie Tovo: "One of the first things Randi Shade [Tovo's Place 3 predecessor] said to me on election night is that the time goes very quickly, and she was right. It seems like not very long ago I was taking office as the only new member of the Council; so personally it's going to be a very interesting shift, to suddenly be one of two, or perhaps the only, returning Council member.... I'm very confident, given what I saw of the public's response to all these changes, out on the campaign trail, I'm really confident that we're going to see a higher level of engagement among the community. We already do, and that's just going to be enormously beneficial.... I think we'll benefit when we have more voices in the conversation."

Bill Spelman: "Given the [lengthy] agenda, I have been spending all of my time thinking about the nickel-and-dime details about – what are we going to do about ... Item number 10? [laughing] This particular agenda makes me even more certain than I was, that leaving public office was a really good idea."

Chris Riley: "It's been an honor to serve, and I'm proud of what we've all been able to achieve, and I'm very proud of the legacy that we're passing on to the incoming Council. The city is doing very well in many respects; an awful lot of very exciting things are on the way. I'm proud to have had some part in all the Council has done over the past several years."

Sheryl Cole: "I have worked with the smartest, hardest-working people that I've ever known. We haven't always agreed, but there has not been any ... doubt cast on whether we all intended to do what was right for the city. That is an unusual thing, and something I have truly enjoyed. I will miss them all, including 'Grumpy-in-Chief' [Leffingwell]. And you can print that!"

Laura Morrison: "When I think about – compared to when I first got on Council – I have been involved in a lot of things, but it's been striking, how much I and my whole office have grown in our understanding of city operations, our connection to the community, and how it all works. Sometimes it's as simple as knowing what question to ask.

"I'm excited about the future of Austin. I really am, and I think it's perhaps normal human behavior when you're on the brink of a really enormous change, it's hard to see coming out on the other side of it; but we always do, and it's always fine. It is a little nerve-wracking, I get that – but I also have lot of confidence that things are going to work out just fine."

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