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Martinez sees 10-1 Council Districts as 2013’s biggest event

Monday, January 6, 2014 by Elizabeth Pagano

For Council Member Mike Martinez, one of the most important things to happen in city government in 2013 didn’t have anything to do with the current City Council.


“If you want to ask me what I think was one of the most significant events of the year, as it relates to city government, it’s 10-1,” said Martinez. “It is the biggest change in city government that this city has ever seen. And it will forever change the landscape of Austin politics.”


Martinez was one of the Council members who supported the change. Though he initially backed a hybrid plan, he said he backed the public’s overwhelming support for the 10-1 plan, saying he was against the idea of putting competing measures on the ballot.


“So, here we are. Ten-one is in. Districts are drawn. Candidates are lining up. And we’re going to have a November ballot with anywhere from 40 to 60 City Council candidates on it,” said Martinez. “It’s going to be an incredible November election.”


Chances are Martinez will be a part of that election. Though it’s not official, Martinez acknowledges that “it’s no secret that I am considering running for the seat of the Mayor.”


“There would have to be a significant change for me not to,” said Martinez. “We are having the biggest governance change in the history of Austin. You could literally have a Council and a Mayor that have no institutional knowledge, and no government knowledge, at least in serving in a local government role.”


“So, I think it’s going to be important to have a Mayor that can help through the growing pains, that can help navigate through the process, and help the new Council members accomplish their goals,” said Martinez. “I think we’re going to have to have a Mayor that understands that and can work with those different groups.”


In the meantime, Martinez is looking to 2014 as a significant year to accomplish that which he has yet to accomplish as a Council member. But first, we asked him to look back on the past year.


Martinez says that the single topic that probably took the most time and effort was revamping the economic incentives policy for the city. The effort, he says, has lead to improvements for workers and businesses alike.


While the revamp does some concrete things, like require a living wage for workers, he says the tiers allow businesses to bring additional benefits to the community for increased incentives.


“We’ve always kind of added things to the ends of these incentive agreements as they come to us. This just encapsulates all of those things from the last several years into a policy. We thought that was a good step forward for the city,” said Martinez. “For a city our size, we think it’s probably one of the most progressive policies out there.”


Those incentives were not in place for the White Lodging debacle, however. Martinez says that if he had that to do over, he would calculate the benefits of incentives against what the city was asking for in return. He would not change the stipulation that the company pay a living wage to workers.


“They came and asked us to reverse our decision, and not one single Council member made a motion to reverse our decision. I think everyone understood it was pretty clear,” said Martinez. “I think there’s a lesson learned for everyone involved. If you’re coming to the Council at the eleventh hour, and you know we are going on a six-week break, and you can’t wait for that break, expect that our decision that night… it’s final.”


“Everyone has to own their part of it. I literally feel like I am the sole person that is being blamed for White Lodging,” said Martinez. “There are six other Council members that either voted one way or another or chose not to take action the second time around. At all. No one even made a motion.”


Moving on to other topics, Martinez says that the Halloween floods and the lessons still being learned from the floods were also incredibly significant. He says that the city did everything they could, but there is room for improvement, and there are still people who need help in the aftermath of the floods.


For example, he was struck by the existing plan for shelters, which didn’t take into account that those affected by an emergency might not want to leave their neighborhood. That plan had to be changed, leading to the eventual opening of a shelter in Dove Springs – instead of across town as originally planned.


“It was very frustrating for folks in our community. It still is,” said Martinez. “I think it was an incident of proportions we’ve never seen, so we would never know how folks would respond to something like this until it happened.”


In terms of transportation, Martinez calls the recently-approved Project Connect “huge.”


“I think we’ve finally put a process together that created a 30, 40, and 50 year vision plan for transportation moving forward. It’s what we’ve needed,” said Martinez. “We have a roadmap now for the future of public transportation in Austin.”


He urges those not happy with the first phase of that plan to look at the entire vision. Martinez also predicts that the issue will become a major issue for candidates come November, and expects to hear a lot of rail talk, both pro and con.

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