Mayor Adler praises Austin, warns against misinformation
Mayor Steve Adler told Austinites in his annual State of the City speech Monday that although Austin continues to be “a magical place,” there are those who seek to divide us through falsehoods as the city faces its major challenges: the Delta variant, policing and homelessness.
“We cannot let ourselves be distracted or consumed by misinformation” or efforts “to divide us to gain a political or rhetorical advantage,” Adler said. “We need to reach deep into the reservoir that is our community, our common culture, our core values, all the elements that make Austin special.” He urged Austinites to “fight fear with facts and misinformation with listening and truth. If we do, we will find the strength and the power to realize the promise and potential of Austin.”
Adler thanked his colleagues, first responders, health care workers, city employees, teachers and parents, musicians, artists, workers in the hospitality industry, and just about everyone who has lived through the Covid-19 pandemic in Austin. Then he blasted Gov. Greg Abbott.
“It is so hard for me to understand how we can be facing such risks, know exactly what we need to do, and have our governor affirmatively trying to stop local school boards from doing what all the experts say is best to keep our children safe. Parents across the state should be outraged and make their anger known,” Adler said. Abbott has sought to prevent school boards from issuing mask mandates and has ordered cities not to require their employees to get vaccinated. Abbott has also prohibited some private businesses from requiring proof of vaccination from their customers.
The mayor promised to continue to work with the county judge and his City Council colleagues “to use every power we have, for however long we can, to fight to keep our children safe, our workplaces safe for our employees, and our businesses and events open. I will continue to work toward a vaccine mandate for city employees, or alternatively, a testing mandate that allows waivers for those that voluntarily choose to get vaccinated .… I do not know the answer to the great harm caused by the misinformation casting its shadow over Austin. But I know, in the end, it’s up to you. We should each seek out and be guided by the truth.”
He noted that the city has worked hard to keep its citizens safe with mask mandates and vaccine clinics. Adler said if the state had the same Covid rate as Austin-Travis County, 25,000 fewer lives would have been lost to the disease.
Addressing the issue of policing and public safety, Adler quoted interim Police Chief Joe Chacon, who recently said that Austin is one of the five safest big cities in the country. In spite of that positive record, the mayor noted that there are some in the community who are trying to convince Austinites that this is not the case, and they’re doing so for their own political advantage. Austin has the lowest homicide rate of the four biggest cities in Texas, he said. “We are not dealing with the city that is unsafe, but with those working hard to create the perception that we are unsafe.” While he did not mention any specific group or political action committee, he was clearly referring to Republican-backed Save Austin Now.
Any suggestion that City Council does not respect or support Austin’s police force is false, he said, as is the idea that Council “defunded” the police. Although Council moved money out of the police budget for items such as forensics, it did not eliminate those functions. And following actions by the state Legislature that threatened the city’s ability to fund all city services, that money was moved back into the police budget.
It is true that Austin is experiencing police staffing shortages, Adler said, and that is consistent with the national trend of increased retirements and resignations in police departments. He noted that he and his colleagues supported starting a cadet class earlier this year and approved the city budget with two additional classes next year.
No discussion of city problems would be complete without mention of homelessness and the rifts caused by seeing people living on the street in tents. Adler pointed out that two such encampments were recently closed and their inhabitants were moved to permanent supportive housing. “There’s much to be done as we have about 1,500 people sleeping unsheltered on our streets on any given evening,” he said. He rejected the idea that it would be possible to immediately move those people into some kind of permanent camp area to solve the problem.
“Since the beginning of the pandemic, the City Council has purchased hotels in districts 3, 4, 6, and 7, along with new partnerships with Caritas and Foundation Communities and others, to create over 600 homes for those coming out of homelessness,” he said. During the previous two years, he said, the city provided homes for just 46 people experiencing homelessness. “Our community is making unprecedented and truly promising efforts to meet the challenge of homelessness.”
Austin is perhaps the strongest major city in the country – no small feat, Adler said. Although the city has real challenges, “the state of our city is strong and our future is boundless. I can attest that every mayor wants to serve a city like Austin.” He reiterated the need to discredit misinformation and to try to communicate with one another, concluding, “Now is the moment for us to show the world and ourselves: We’re still Austin.”
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