Wednesday, October 16, 2019 by Jo Clifton

Flannigan attacks, Tovo responds

On Tuesday, in the midst of a lengthy Council work session about how to construct a revised ordinance to prevent homeless people from camping on sidewalks and rights of way, Council Member Jimmy Flannigan launched into an anecdote about how his office had helped a homeless veteran and his partner get housing and other services. This was accomplished, he explained, by going through the city’s Veterans Services Office. “This is how you solve the problem. This is how our staff is saying they’re going to solve the problem.”

But that wasn’t the end of the story. Flannigan then excoriated fellow Council members for bringing forward so many resolutions directing staff to do various things, particularly relating to homelessness. Solving the problem, he said, is “not going to happen because of grandstanding. It’s not going to happen because we’ve instilled fear in our community. It’s not going to happen because we passed a thousand resolutions. It’s going to happen because we helped people.”

Council Member Kathie Tovo and Austin Police Association President Ken Casaday both wanted to respond. Casaday, who has been quoted discussing the dangers the homeless pose to police officers, jumped up from his seat in the audience and went to sit at the table in front of Council, but Mayor Steve Adler told him he would not be allowed to speak unless a Council member called on him. None did.

Tovo, the author of numerous resolutions, including at least two related to public restrooms downtown, made it clear that she was fed up with Flannigan’s attitude.

She said, “Council Member Flannigan, you have repeatedly called out the fact that several of us on Council have passed resolutions as part of the problem. And I find it – the way in which you continue to seem to need to diminish the work of your colleagues – is just unacceptable. There have been several very important initiatives that have been started by resolutions. You may disagree, you’re certainly entitled to that. You’re entitled to never bring forward any resolutions related to this area. That’s your prerogative. But please don’t diminish the work that several of us, and many of you have supported on this Council. It’s just disrespectful, and I’ve had enough!”

Flannigan shouted, “I will continue to diminish your work!”

As Mayor Steve Adler tried to stop the argument, Tovo responded, “I’m sure you will! And I will call you out and say it’s inappropriate. … It just needs to stop. And I would be happy to provide you with a list of the important initiatives ….”

Flannigan interrupted her, saying, “I’ve seen the list. … So where are the bathrooms?”

The mayor, still trying to stop the unusually vociferous argument, said, “Guys, guys.”

“I haven’t failed,” Tovo told Flannigan. (As the Austin Monitor reported in September, the city is still waiting for its Portland Loo due to manufacturing issues.)  “There’s nobody in this room that is more frustrated about the fact that we don’t have portable restrooms than me,” she continued, saying that in addition to getting the ordinance passed, she had funded the restrooms through her office budget.

“My assessment of this,” Adler said, “is that different people on this dais work in different ways. And to the degree that anyone on this dais suggests that people that are doing resolutions are more responsible, or people who are not doing resolutions are more responsible isn’t fair – because both of them can be heard to demean the work and effort of the other person. Both of them can be heard as demeaning that work. And that’s what’s happening here. The work that people do when they work the resolutions is great, but it’s not the reason why that happens. The work you do outside of it is separate from the work that’s being initiated on resolutions. Everybody on this Council is working really hard, everybody initiates work really hard, and that people have their way of doing it doesn’t mean that other people aren’t doing work whichever way it is that they do that.”

Tovo responded, “Mayor, I would just say there is a distinction – I have not heard any one of my colleagues come in here and say, ‘If you haven’t sponsored a resolution you’re helping create the challenge we have here in Austin.’ I have heard a particular colleague, Council Member Flannigan, multiple times now, suggest that the resolutions that have been sponsored are ineffective, or as he said today, have helped create the problem or have failed. It’s just not accurate and it needs to be called out. And it’s disrespectful and discourteous. And I think in the midst of an extremely challenging public conversation we ought to be more respectful to one another.”

Video still courtesy of ATXN.

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Key Players & Topics In This Article

Austin City Council: The Austin City Council is the body with legislative purview over the City of Austin. It offers policy direction, while the office of the City Manager implements administrative actions based on those policies. Until 2012, the body contained seven members, including the city's Mayor, all elected at-large. In 2012, City of Austin residents voted to change that system and now 10 members of the Council are elected based on geographic districts. The Mayor continues to be elected at-large.

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