Top 10 City Council Stories
The big stories of Council's last seven-member year
1) OUT WITH THE OLD ... After a prolonged campaign including December run-offs, swirling around ongoing business, the last seven-member, at-large City Council held its final meeting and said Farewell-to-All-That, while reflecting on accomplishments and what comes next.
2) EXILES RETURN With construction necessary to accommodate 11 incoming members, Council spent several weeks squatting at Travis County Commissioners Court, where the business was usual but the music was not – couldn't honor the tunes until returning home.
3) BURNING ISSUES The seemingly endless dispute over cadet hiring and diversity at the Austin Fire Department came to a head, as Council acceded to a U.S. Department of Justice consent decree, despite the intense opposition of the Austin Firefighters Association. The disagreement will persist, but the outcome will depend on successful hiring of minority candidates.
4) RAIL AND FAIL Mayor Lee Leffingwell's slogan was "Rail or Fail," and Council supported the Project Connect plan for an initial urban rail line, pairing it on the ballot with road projects that might have sweetened the pot – but not sufficiently for November voters, who roundly defeated the bonds. Can the political will on rail be revived by the new Council? Don't wait for the whistle.
5) SPELMAN'S WINDMILL Bill Spelman has been an almost solitary Don Quixote on the public safety budget, insisting that the Austin Police Department justify its funding – and its staffing numbers – on the same level playing field as other departments. He made a dent, weakening the official metric of "2.0 officers per thousand residents," but the new Council will need a new champion.
6) RENEWABLE WARS The tug-of war with Austin Energy over renewables and affordability caught fire in September, as environmental advocates forced a late-night, quick-pitch vote for a new generation plan that AE staff argued isn't financially feasible. After the shock, the parties sat down and moved closer together – and a revised plan is still simmering for the new year.
7) GRUMPY-IN-CHIEF That's what Mayor Pro Tem Sheryl Cole affectionately called Leffingwell, increasingly on the short end of votes and in November, getting angrily crossways with Austin Water head Greg Meszaros over the Decker Lake golf course proposal and its potential effect on water resources. The testy moment passed, but the new Council will resume the argument.
8) SOLID STATE Leffingwell is right to be puzzled at the widespread skeptical public and political reaction to the continuing prosperity of the city under his watch, which he celebrated in his February "State of the City" speech, while acknowledging social problems like persistent poverty and inequality, and more practical issues like traffic congestion – to which his rail plan was an intended answer. Project Connect didn't work out, but overall the mayor has reason to be proud of his tenure.
9) RIDES FOR SALE For weeks it seemed as though the only Council issue was "ridesharing" – i.e., rides-for-hire from self-employed part-timers contracting for "transportation network companies" Uber and Lyft, who moved into Austin and defied the city to find ways to regulate their informal taxi networks. An October deal brought temporary peace – we'll see if it works, long-term.
10) ... IN WITH THE NEW The biggest Council story was of course the initial creation of the 10-1 system, which took years in process and all of 2014 in campaigning, but ended with the November/December election of 10 new members. They've got their own list ("Top 10 10-1 Stories"), but they round this one off: Happy Holidays, and good luck in 2015.