It felt a little surreal last week when City Council approved a four-year, $44 million police contract filled with community-driven transparency and oversight measures. Not because of the act itself, but because everyone in the room, from cops to Council to activists, was on the same page about it.
Yes, there was persistent criticism from some community members about staff "rushing" the deal and, by doing so, giving up leverage at the 11th hour. Yes, there were still angry cops posting to social media their disappointment that the final deal gave away too much. But those who spent the most time in the weeds over the past 18 months, hashing out these difficult discussions, celebrated a hard-won victory.
Chas Moore, co-founder of the Austin Justice Coalition, thanked Austin Police Association members Chris Perkins and Thomas Villarreal, who he said worked tirelessly in the final stretch of the negotiations to come to compromise with the activist coalition. He's hesitant to call Perkins a friend, he said, "but I think I have to at this point, because I have talked to him more than my grandmother." While he praised the finished deal, he also raised the issue of how the Austin Police Department investigates and ultimately clears sexual assault cases, and called for Council to use the money the city saved while the police worked without a contract for an independent review of APD sexual assault investigations.
The new contract passed unanimously on a dais that had also been united when it sent the two sides back to the drawing board in December 2017. Council Member Greg Casar highlighted the new addition to the contract that will allow the disclosure of disagreements between the Office of Police Oversight and the chief of police. "The facts of those cases won't be hidden from public view, so we can actually publicly discuss what is going on in our city and where there may be tension," Casar said. "And I think through that sunshine, we can hopefully heal and hopefully make things better."
Just two meetings left in the year for the current dais mates. This is an off week, but they'll return Nov. 29 to tackle a slim, 62-Item agenda that includes adoption of the Water Forward plan, an agreement releasing 33 acres of extraterritorial jurisdiction to Dripping Springs, and a resolution on short-term rental enforcement.
Water Forward, which Council got a sneak peek at last week, is a plan for sustainability over the next 100 years. Observers expect the usual watchdogging from Save Our Springs Alliance over the Dripping Springs stuff, but it should still pass without a problem. Any conversation about short-term rentals has the potential to be fraught, but hey, it's the holidays. Maybe everyone will be in such a generous mood they'll sit through another one of Pio Renteria's oft-repeated testimonials in favor of secondary apartments and short-term rentals in good humor.
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