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Mackenzie Kelly: Ready to collaborate and communicate

Wednesday, January 6, 2021 by Elizabeth Pagano

Speaking to Mackenzie Kelly, it’s clear she’s touched by the early overtures from her new colleagues, who are already helping her adapt to her new post as City Council member for District 6.

“They’ve been wonderful and kind and gracious, and for that I’m very thankful. When you run a campaign, it’s very different from being in office,” she told the Austin Monitor.

“I’m in this role where I have an incredible amount of responsibility and direction that I can take the city,” she said. “In everything I’ve done, I’ve always asked for permission or RSVP’d for a meeting. Now I get to do it; I get to spearhead it. There’s going to be an adjustment there for a little while.”

As a first step, Kelly said she has to overcome the “awful narrative” about her from this year’s campaign.

“Being labeled as a far-right extremist, that’s definitely not who I am as a person. I’m willing to work with everybody on everything,” she said. “I want to have those lines of communication among my peers open. Because, at the end of the day, it’s about making the quality of life in Austin better.”

That said, Kelly will be the only self-identified conservative on the technically nonpartisan City Council. In the past, those in her position have found it difficult to impossible to forward many of their ideas. She knows that’s the case, but nonetheless, she is optimistic.

“The only way I’m going to get things done is if we do collaborate, and we do communicate,” she said. “I don’t want divisiveness among the Council. I think those days are coming to an end … I think the tone of the Council will definitely change for the better, and I’m looking forward to that.”

She said that, at a local level, issues are likely not to fall along party lines, more often than not. “And that’s OK,” she said. “As long as we’re doing the right thing, for the right reasons, I’m OK with that.”

When asked more pointedly about allegations that she was supported by or was a supporter of white supremacists, Kelly clearly denied the association, reiterating that she did not know she was taking a photo with Proud Boys in a widely circulated photo from earlier this year. She said she has cut ties with and blocked Christopher Ritchie on social media after finding out he was part of the group.

“I think my actions will speak volumes to that,” she said. “I don’t associate with white supremacists or white nationalist groups. I don’t agree with their philosophies. We need to be inclusive of all types of people.”

In terms of city issues she will be asked to weigh in on, Kelly is eager to get started on public safety. She aims to serve on the Public Safety Committee, which will naturally have an empty seat with former Council Member Jimmy Flannigan now gone. She told the Monitor that her background as a volunteer firefighter and her training through the APD Citizen Police Academy helped her understood how the departments worked.

“I have a great relationship with the police department currently, and I think that being a liaison between City Hall and the police department would put me in the unique position to be able to pass meaningful reform, but also to get buy-in from the department.”

She stressed the need to make sure the police department feels heard.

“Morale is down. There’s a lot of things they feel they’re not being listened to about,” she said.

Kelly would also like to see the police academy reinstated. “Making sure we have adequate staffing at the police department is a priority.” That said, she does see some room for “reimagining” public safety in the next year, though she stressed the need for data-driven change aimed at easing the burden on police.

“I know police shouldn’t go to all noise complaints. I think that’s a waste of time,” she said. “Determining what is appropriate for 911 and what is not appropriate for 911 would definitely be something I’d be interested in looking at.”

She told the Monitor that, as an elected official, it did not feel prudent to support the Save Austin Now petition to reinstate the camping ban. And she’s realistic about her chances of reinstating the ban from the dais, saying she probably would not have enough support even to get a proposal like that on the agenda. As an alternative, Kelly hopes to work on a clearer framework to address the issue.

“(Council) may have a plan in place, but as someone who has been on the outside, I haven’t seen that plan well-articulated. And I don’t see benchmarks for the completion of that plan,” she said. “I think people and the stakeholders of the city need to be able to hold the City Council accountable for making progress on solving homelessness, or not.

“I think that’s where a lot of the unrest comes from … (people) just don’t see progress being made,” she said.

With a revisiting of the Land Development Code on the horizon, Kelly stressed her support of property rights, though she knows the code needs to change.

“Austin is growing and changing, and the code does need to reflect the needs of the city,” she said, stressing that communities that could be impacted by a new code need to have buy-in. “I remain open-minded, but what I don’t want to see is the entire landscape of Austin change.”

Kelly’s focus on pandemic recovery in District 6 is economic; she knows that people in her district have lost jobs and been forced to close their businesses.

“Moving forward, I’d like to see more support for small businesses to be able to stay open, but also follow CDC guidelines,” she said. “Finding out what the new year brings is going to be interesting, to say the least. But I want to make sure people are staying safe.”

Kelly said she is excited about her January inauguration, then carving a path as the new representative of District 6.

“I’m looking forward to representing the community in a way that hasn’t really been done before and hopefully represent the community in a way that hasn’t really been heard,” she said. “I want to make a difference.”

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