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Reporter’s Notebook: What is equity, really?

Monday, June 26, 2017 by Austin Monitor

There’s always a silver lining… If you only read the transcript of Mary Owens’ remarks to City Council during Citizen Communication on Thursday – and therefore could not hear the frustration and contempt conveyed by the tone of her voice – you might believe that she is hopelessly committed to believing the best about people. Owens, who has been trying for years to build an 18-inch garden wall in her backyard, had only nice things to say about the “fine folks” from the Watershed Protection Department responsible for blocking her efforts. “I really appreciate how friendly staff has been,” she said. “And the eight-week email return time has just given me a lot of time to think between messages. And just the amount I’ve spent on engineering I’ve learned so much. It has been so educational. I’m just motivated to be involved in my community.” Owens opened her talk with a commemoration of the two-year anniversary of coming before Council for the same reason. At that point, she explained, she was three years into her quest to fix the flooding of her property from water exiting the street. Owens seemed less than mollified by Council Member Ann Kitchen’s reassurances that city staff could talk to her now. “I’ve been told an answer is imminent, since I reported it the five years ago,” said Owens. “And the previous owner was told 20 years ago an answer was coming, so while I’m super happy to talk to him, I am still very dubious.”

Veterans Resource Center in the works… Last August, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development certified that Austin effectively eliminated veteran homelessness. However, the need for housing and other services for veterans did not completely go away, and so on Thursday Council approved a resolution creating a centralized Veterans Resource Center to connect veterans to jobs, housing and health services. In 2013 Council created the Commission on Veterans Affairs, which found that these veterans resources are lacking and scattered across the city. Based on its findings, the commission said Austin needs a clearinghouse of “one-stop shop” services by approved veterans affairs nonprofits and organizations. The resolution directs the city manager to devise a business plan for creating the center. Kitchen sponsored the resolution, and told the Austin Monitor “I think that veterans served our country and it’s really important for us as a community to help them when they need help, and I think we should be providing assistance (and) services for people who served our country in the most efficient and accessible way that we can.”

Change starts here… Last week, the city’s chief equity officer, who is part of the city’s Equity Office, announced that the first phase of a new Equity Assessment Tool has been completed. In a memo to the mayor and City Council, Brion Oaks explained that eight city departments had completed their assessments, which are an effort to address racial inequity in Austin, starting at City Hall. Attached to the memo was a very helpful glossary of terms (which we have embedded here). Conspicuously missing? The definition of the word “equity” itself, which is on the list, highlighted, but apparently too ineffable for a glossary.

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This week’s Reporter’s Notebook comes from the notebooks of Jack Craver, Lisa Dreher and Elizabeth Pagano.

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