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Zimmerman seeks to shake things up at City Hall

Tuesday, January 6, 2015 by Kara Nuzback

City Council Member-elect  Don Zimmerman will serve as a voice for residents of District 6 when the new 10-1 Council takes office today. In the coming year, Zimmerman said he plans to focus his efforts on relieving traffic congestion and shaking up the status quo at City Hall.

Zimmerman said that in his first days on Council, he hopes to garner cooperation from his fellow Council members to conduct an audit of all city departments to find areas to cut spending.

“We’ve got to find out where the money’s going,” he said. “Staff needs to be cut down.”

Zimmerman said he agrees with Mayor-elect Steve Adler, who told the Austin Monitor in a Dec. 21 article that he wants to make structural changes before considering any city policies.

Zimmerman said he believes all new Council members agree that structural changes are necessary to make the new body more effective and influential than the old model.

“The new City Council has to assert itself,” he said, adding that this means changing city management and committee membership.

During the District 6 race, most candidates agreed the city needs a new manager. Zimmerman said his views have not changed, but the transition will not be easy, and he expects some Council members will not want as big of an overhaul as he plans to propose.

“I’m going to want very deep cuts in city government staff,” he said. “They don’t want to be changed … $300,000 jobs are hard to find. They’re going to fight tooth and nail to maintain the status quo.”

Zimmerman said city staff will conduct a three-day orientation for Council members before their first meeting — he presumed — to explain how things are done at City Hall. Zimmerman said he and the rest of the new Council must make it clear that changes are in order.

“We need to define the new normal,” he said. “We need to make changes, and they are not going to want to do it.”

Zimmerman said he hopes by the end of the year to stop funding to the Lone Star Rail project — a train set to run from Austin to San Antonio — and instead use the money for road construction, which he said would better relieve traffic congestion.

“That money should be going to roads, not to a railroad,” he said. “It’s wasted on railroads.”

By the end of his term in office, Zimmerman said, “I want to have some major congestion relief projects either completed or well underway.”

One specific project he would like to facilitate is a major freeway connecting Northwest Austin to Southwest Austin. Currently, Ranch Road 620 is the only connector, he said.

By the end of 2015, Zimmerman said he will also delve into the consent decree, approved 5-2 by Council this summer, which settled a dispute between the U.S. Department of Justice and the City of Austin over its allegedly discriminatory hiring practicing within the fire department. Zimmerman called the consent decree contrived. The Austin Firefighters Association opposed the consent decree on the grounds that the department broke no laws and the federal government should not have oversight over the city’s hiring practices.

“I don’t like the way that was swept under the rug,” Zimmerman said. “I’m going to pick up the rug and find the dirt.”

 

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