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Gov. Greg Abbott vowed to "protect our capital city" with legislation and state law enforcement agencies after the Austin City Council on Thursday cut the police budget by $20 million and promised to move some duties and up to $130 million more to other departments next year.
In a strongly-worded statement issued late Thursday, Abbott lashed out at the council for pushing a political agenda with what he described as the "decision to defund" the police department.
"Some cities are more focused on political agendas than public safety," Abbott said. "Austin's decision puts the brave men and women of the Austin Police Department and their families at greater risk and paves the way for lawlessness. Public safety is job one, and Austin has abandoned that duty. The legislature will take this issue up next session, but in the meantime, the Texas Department of Public Safety will stand in the gap to protect our capital city."
The Austin Police Department is still funded. The city cut new and open positions, totaling $20 million, about 5 percent of its $400 million budget, for the next six months. The budget also directed city officials to propose up to $130 million more, with the goal of shifting some duties out of the department, such as mental health and emergency response.
The $20 million goes in part to emergency medical services and homeless and mental health programs.
A budget rider also promised the return of the cadet class next year and improved training for officers, both of which were lauded by the Greater Austin Crime Commission, a sharp critic of cutting police funding.
The commission criticized the decision to cut police personnel, praised the increased funding for other areas such as domestic violence, and said it would be involved in discussions on department reform.
"The Greater Austin Crime Commission supports the additional funding and public safety investments in the fiscal year 2021 city budget, including community health paramedics, family violence, mental health response and violence prevention," the commission said in a statement. "The Crime Commission is reassured that the community will have input in the process to evaluate police operations and reforms in the months ahead."
Abbott did not say what laws they might pass that would govern the actions of the council or enforcement of the law in the city.
Attorney General Ken Paxton also struck back at the decision, calling it "virtue-signaling" and a "political haymaker driven by the pressures of cancel culture."
It's not the first time state officials have clashed with Austin Mayor Steve Adler - or previous mayors, for that matter - over city policies. For the most part, and with occasional exceptions, legislators stay out of the official business of individual cities, preferring to let local lawmakers handle local business.
But Austin is unique in that lawmakers have year-round offices in the Capitol in addition to living here at least six months every two years for the session. And because state agencies are largely based here, lawmakers occasionally dabble in Austin issues - airport politics, homeless policies and the Capitol View Corridor, to name a few.
The budget was approved unanimously by council members, who vowed to use the new budget to enact reforms - which largely focus on moving non-police duties out of the department - after violent clashes between officers and anti-police brutality protesters earlier this summer.
"We did it!" Council Member Greg Casar posted on social media after the vote.
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Tesla CEO Elon Musk announced a record-setting second quarter during an earnings call broadcasted from the Giga Texas construction site in Southeast Travis County on Monday.
The electric carmaker reported more than $1 billion in quarterly net income and the production of more than 200,000 vehicles for the first time despite challenges such as a global semiconductor shortage.
"It … seems that public sentiment towards electric vehicles is at an inflection point, and at this point, I think, almost everyone agrees electric vehicles are the only way forward," Musk said.
Exterior shots taken just a while ago of Giga Texas (while @elonmusk is reportedly at the Gigafactory!) during today's earnings call!
Hope @peterdog15 got to catch the technoking in his video! #fastestinhistory #Tesla pic.twitter.com/WqeDlb5wU3
— Austin Tesla Club (@AustinTeslaClub) July 26, 2021
Despite rising consumer demand and adequate factory capacity, Tesla faces what Musk described as a "quite serious" global semiconductor shortage, which will determine the company's growth rate for the rest of the year.
With increased revenue and production, Tesla is investing in new factories, Chief Financial Officer Zachary Kirkhorn said. These include Giga Texas, the $1.1 billion manufacturing plant that broke ground last summer and is slated to open later this year.
The Giga Texas factory in Southeast Travis County has rapidly increased in size since ground broke last August. (Tesla)
Musk commended the construction team for "incredible progress," transforming what was basically a vacant site into "a mostly complete large factory a year later."
I was at Giga Texas yesterday. Team is making excellent progress. Building will be almost a mile long when complete.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) July 25, 2021
Giga Texas will produce the highly anticipated Cybertruck, along with other models, but Musk said scaling its production will be difficult, especially given the supply chain delays caused by the pandemic. "It's going to move as fast as the slowest of its up to 10,000 unique parts," he said.
In other news, Musk said Monday's earnings call would likely be his last regular appearance, only jumping on future quarterly calls when big announcements warrant it.
Tesla Solar recently made news when it announced plans to build the nation's most sustainable residential community in Southeast Austin earlier this month. The newly built homes will feature Tesla solar roof tiles and Powerwall battery storage as well as electric vehicle charging stations.
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The city of Austin released a shortlist of seven candidates for the police chief position left vacant when Brian Manley retired in March.
City Manager Spencer Cronk hopes to announce an appointment by the end of August, which will require City Council approval.
The finalists, chosen from a field of 46 applicants, include:
- APD Interim Chief Joseph Chacon, who previously served as an assistant chief in the department for almost five years
- Anne Kirkpatrick, former police chief in Oakland, California, who was fired last year after a federal monitor criticized her handling of a fatal 2018 police shooting of a homeless man
- Dallas Police Department Assistant Chief Avery L. Moore, who is a 30-year veteran of the department
- Atlanta Police Department Deputy Chief Celeste Murphy, who manages the department's community services division
- Dekalb County Police Chief Mirtha V. Ramos, who previously served as division chief in the Miami-Dade Police Department
- Wichita Police Department Chief Gordon Ramsay, who is a former president of the Minnesota Police Chief's Association as well as one of the first police chiefs of a major U.S. City to call George Floyd's death a murder, as reported by the Wichita Eagle
- Los Angeles Police Department Deputy Chief Emada E. Tingirides, who is also commanding officer of the department's newly formed Community Safety Partnership Bureau, which serves L.A.'s underserved communities
City staff will interview the finalists in the coming weeks, with several community input opportunities to come, according to a Monday press release.
The city conducted a public survey in March and hosted community input meetings in April to learn more about what residents are looking for in their next police chief, which helped shape the selection criteria for the position.
"They want to see the Chief be reform-minded and transparent and have a track record of fostering community involvement and accountability," Cronk said in the release. "The candidates selected show these characteristics in various ways."
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Days after Austin began once again recommending masks in public spaces, Austin ISD announced Monday that kindergarten through sixth-grade classes will have virtual options this fall.
The district will discuss the move in a special board meeting Monday evening starting at 5 p.m., while full details will be released Friday.
Teachers will not have to fret about the new option—no educators will have to juggle both virtual and in-person learning. Instead, certain teachers will specialize in virtual education, according to a press release.
The news comes after a recent spike in COVID cases in Travis County and across the nation. Children typically suffer fewer symptoms of COVID when contracted, but they are now catching the virus more often than their older counterparts without a vaccine available to them and as the more contagious Delta variant is quickly being spread.
While local health officials are recommending everyone wear masks, public school districts are unable to mandate masks due to an executive order issued by Gov. Greg Abbott in May.
Parents have expressed concern about classrooms with masks unenforceable and children under the age of 12 ineligible for a vaccine. Some have even said they would look for alternative schooling if AISD did not offer a virtual option for students.
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