The Austin Chronicle

Public Notice: Putting the Pieces in Place

Council members sorting out their staffs, priorities

By Nick Barbaro, January 20, 2023, News

The new City Council begins its tenure next Thursday, Jan. 26, with an easy agenda – 80 items, almost half of which are simple contract approvals – but meanwhile, wheels have been turning in the Council offices, and on the Council message board. For one thing, it appears that the offices themselves are pretty much fully staffed, with a collection of veterans and rookies, and a couple of moves in the free agency market. For another, the new and returning members have staked their claims on committee assignments, indicating some of their primary interests for the next two years.

On the staffing side, things look cozy at the top for the Austin Chamber of Com­merce, as Mayor Kirk Watson brought on Austin Chamber Chief of Staff Colleen Pate to be his chief of staff, and also hired the cham­ber's director of regional and local planning, Alexis Garcia, along with some familiar names – Kate Alexander, Mark Littlefield – and Barbara Shack, a holdover from eight years under Steve Adler, as executive assistant. Elsewhere, former Chronicle newshound Amy Smith has rejoined Leslie Pool's staff after a couple of years away, D5's Ryan Alter has hired former D9 candidate Ben Leffler, José Velásquez will keep Lizette Melendez as chief of staff in D3, and D9's Zo Qadri is bringing in Sara Barge from Vanessa Fuentes' office, Natalie Deller from Leslie Pool's office, and Caleb Pritchard from Natasha Harper-Madison's office, among others.

Regarding assignments to council com­mittees and intergovernmental bodies (such as Cap Metro, the Police Retire­ment Board, and numerous joint city-county enterprises), Pate sent out a query last Tuesday asking members to indicate where they'd like to serve, and a week later, only Zo Qadri and Mackenzie Kelly have failed to reply. The returning members mostly indicated that they'd like to keep their existing posts – Fuen­tes would step up to chair Public Health, Vela would like to chair Public Safety, Ryan Alter would like to chair the Austin Water Oversight Committee, Vela and Ellis want to be on the Cap Metro Board, and Harper-Madison started her own message thread "to express my immense interest in serving as Chair of the Housing and Planning Committee. Housing is my top priority and what I'm most passionate about. I will bring a great deal of knowledge, enthusiasm, challenges and most importantly work with my colleagues towards solutions." The intent is to finalize and vote on the appointments on Jan. 26.

Texas Dept. of Transportation released the draft environmental impact statement on the I-35 Capital Express Central project Jan. 5, and will take feedback until March 7 – the final public comment period. This is the complete rebuild of I-35 from Research Boulevard to Ben White, and as expected, the draft EIS has selected "Modified Alternative 3" as the preferred alternative, removing the upper deck and depressing the freeway below grade through Downtown; it's expected to cost $4.5 billion, with construction displacing 107 businesses and lasting a minimum of six years. View and comment on the DEIS at (The 62-page historical report on the Chronicle office building gets its own entry in the table of contents; we're so proud.)

This is timely, the day before the first Council meeting: ULI Austin, a standard-bearer of local urbanism, presents Housing Preservation to Keep Austin Weird – "how preserving older elements of the built environment can help decrease economic segregation, increase equity, and keep Austin weird," with city Displacement Prevention Division planner Cara Bertron, Equi­dad ATX President Ashton Cumberbatch, Pres­erva­tion Austin Executive Director Lindsey Derrington, and others. It's Wed., Jan. 25, 7:30am at Austin Central Library, 710 W. Cesar Chavez; see for info and to register.

Hill Country Ride for AIDS is having their annual kickoff party on Thu., Jan. 26, from 6:30 to 9pm at Last Stand Brewing Company, 7601 S. Congress. Register to ride or volunteer, and every attendee gets two beer coupons to get the celebration started! More info at

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