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New Council members sworn in, ready for work

Wednesday, January 7, 2015 by Elizabeth Pagano

Both the dais and City Hall were filled Tuesday night, when all 11 members of Austin’s new City Council were sworn in to office. Former Mayor Lee Leffingwell opened the ceremony by noting it was the first time there had been a single-member district Council since 1905.

“Welcome to the Peoples’ Home,” said Council Member Ora Houston. She was the first council member to speak after being sworn in.

Though all 11 Council members were elected this year, the next election will take place in two years in order to allow for staggered terms. Who will have two-year terms and who will have four-year terms was determined randomly, by drawing marbles.

Council Members Delia Garza, Greg Casar, Don Zimmerman, Leslie Pool and Sherri Gallo will all serve two-year terms.

Council Members Houston, Pio Renteria, Ann Kitchen, Ellen Troxclair and Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo will all serve four-year terms.

Tovo was elected mayor pro tem in a vote of 10-1. Zimmerman attempted to forward a motion to have the position determined by lottery, but no one seconded that motion. Zimmerman also cast the lone vote against Tovo’s nomination.

“I’m going to have to vote no, for my district and my pledge,” said Zimmerman.

Those who drew two-year terms will not have those terms count against the total time they are allowed to serve on Council.

Each Council member took the opportunity to say a few words after being sworn in. Some rehashed campaign speeches, some thanked long lists of supporters, some focused on the historic nature of the night, and some dove right into their work and promised that changes to Council meeting procedures were on the way.

“We’ve got a plan for the long-term even as we are moving forward quickly,” said new Mayor Steve Adler. “That is why we’ve already come together — to propose a new way to involve our community in decision-making at City Hall. New, more effective ways to hear your ideas and opinions, with the new Council committee structure, which you will be hearing about later in the week.”

Alder promised more opportunities for citizens to weigh in on issues — perhaps online — and said that moving forward, “Council business will be more transparent and easier to follow.”

“Because we are moving forward together, better, you won’t have to be at City Hall at 3 o’clock in the morning so that elected leaders can hear your voice,” said Adler.

Earlier, Kitchen said that on Thursday, Council would be asking Austinites for thoughts on proposed changes to Council meetings and committees.

Many of the newly elected Council members also took time to thank the previous City Council in their speeches. Toward the beginning of the meeting, Adler awarded the outgoing Council members and mayor with the city’s highest award: Distinguished Service Medals from the City of Austin.

Appreciation for the previous Council is also evident in some of the Council offices, which are peppered with familiar faces.

So far, Adler has hired only his executive assistant, Barbara Shack, who was previously employed at Ballet Austin.

Houston has hired former aide to Sheryl Cole, Beverly Wilson; Genoveva Rodriguez, who worked on her campaign; and former opponent Christopher Hutchins as her front office staff for District 1.

District 2’s Garza has hired Laura Williamson, who is the former policy aide to Council Member Mike Martinez, and Katherine Nicely, who most recently (and currently) serves on the CodeNEXT Advisory Group.

In District 3, Renteria has hired Ashley Fisher, former staffer to Bill Spelman. He also brought on campaign manager David Chincanchan and field manager Nick Solorzano, both of whom have spent time working for congressman Lloyd Doggett’s campaign.

In District 4, Casar has not yet hired his staff.

Kitchen has hired former Morrison aide Donna Tiemann and former Austin Energy employee Ken Craig for her office. She has yet to select a third staff member.

Zimmerman has selected Joe Patronis as his chief of staff. Patronis is the president of the Wells Branch MUD. Zimmerman has also hired former state legislative aide Greg Watson as his aide and Trent Pool for constituent services and fieldwork for District 6.

In District 7, Leslie Pool has hired Morrison’s former constituent liaison Leslie Hethcox, former Austin Chronicle writer Amy Smith and onetime city planner Katie Halloran.

Ellen Troxclair, in District 8, told the Monitor that she has not made any decisions yet.

Tovo, the only member of Council who was re-elected, will retain her former staff in her new role as a representative of District 9. Shannon Halley, Joi Harden and Karen Perkins will all remain on board.

Council Member Gallo has hired former opponent, Tina Cannon, for her staff after getting to know each other on the campaign trail in what Cannon joked was “the longest job interview ever.” Cannon told the Monitor that Gallo has not yet decided on the other members of the office, but would likely have a decision by the end of the week.

Image courtesy of the City of Austin

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