Half of Austin City Council's 10 seats—Districts 2, 4, 6, 7 and 10—are up for election this November, and after Monday's filing deadline, 20 candidates will be competing for a spot on the (virtual) dais.
Elected members will be tasked with rewriting the city's land use code, considering further cuts to the Austin Police Department's budget and, if voters approve a tax rate increase, implementing the $7.1 billion Project Connect transit plan.
City council seats are nonpartisan, although all current members are affiliated with the Democratic Party. Austin residents can plug in their address to find their council district here.
Here's a list of who's running:
District 2 Council Member Delia Garza will vacate her seat to serve as Travis County attorney. She won the Democratic primary for the position in July, and there is no Republican candidate.
Four candidates are vying to replace Garza on council, including David Chincanchan, former chief of staff for District 3 Council Member Pio Renteria; Vanessa Fuentes, who works for the American Heart Association and said one of her top priorities would be improving health equity in Austin; Casey Ramos, a boxer who lost to Garza in 2016; and Alex Strenger, a pedicab driver who unsuccessfully ran for mayor in 2018 and has advocated for building a dome around Austin to keep out Californians.
This district covers Southeast Austin.
District 4 Council Member Greg Casar is running for re-election against Louis C. Herrin III, a civil engineer who ran against Casar in 2016 and 2014, and Ramesses II Setepenre, a licensed massage therapist. While on the council, Casar has been a vocal proponent for the recent cuts to the Austin Police Department's budget, paid sick leave and a historic affordable housing bond.
This district includes parts of northeast and north central Austin.
District 6 Council Member Jimmy Flannigan will face off against Deedra Harrison, a consultant; Mackenzie Kelly, a client care manager who unsuccessfully ran against Flannigan in 2014 and opposes public camping and recent cuts to Austin's police department; and Dr. Jennifer Musthaler, a physician. Flannigan's reelection campaign platform includes public safety reform, regional mobility, affordability and social justice.
This district covers parts of northwest Austin.
District 7 Council Member Leslie Pool will face off against one opponent, education adviser Morgan Witt, this election. Pool's priorities include environmental sustainability and preserving Austin neighborhoods' character. Witt, a renter who claims to be the "truly progressive" candidate, supports improving mobility and forming Austin's zoning code to allow for more diversity of housing.
This district includes parts of north central Austin.
District 10 Council Member Alison Alter faces the most crowded field, with six other candidates running for her seat. Her opponents are Ben Easton, a writer who ran unsuccessfully as a Libertarian candidate for the Texas House in 2016; Belinda Greene, who works in sales; Pooja Sethi, an attorney whose campaign platform includes community-driven transit and police reform; Robert Thomas, an attorney who ran unsuccessfully for the seat in 2014 and whose platform includes reinstating the police academy and public camping ban; Noel Tristan, a business owner; and Jennifer Virden, who opposes council's recent cut to police funding and the "astronomical" cost of Project Connect.
This district covers West Austin.
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Five Austin companies joined Google's second Startups Black Founders Fund on Wednesday, earning $100,000 each as part of the $10 million initiative geared toward giving Black entrepreneurs access to funding for their startups.
The fund gave $100,000 to 50 founders nationwide, including Austin companies CustomerX.i, Journey Foods, Sandbox Commerce, The Mentor Method and Tadeblock.
The founders will receive the funding without giving up any ownership of their startups and will gain access to Google technical support including up to $120,000 in donated search Ads from Google.org and up to $100,000 in Google Cloud credits. The Austin companies will also join a select few—the fund is only two years old and last year rewarded 76 Black-led startups with up to $100,000 as well.
Google's Startup funds can be used to boost Black founders' companies into success—last year, founders raised up to $50 million in capital after recieving the funds, and 80% of the companies used their funds to create jobs.
Founders from last year's batch then paid it forward by nominating new companies and announcing the winners via Zoom.
Here's a look at those 5 founders in Austin:
Hakeem James- Customer X.I
Customer X.I founder Hakeem James wants to help small restaurants thrive.
Customer X.I founder Hakeem James wants to keep mom-and-pop shops alive. That's why he started his company to bridge "the gap between online and offline" and give restaurants and small businesses a centralized location to analyze their data against competitors.
"The question we ask internally: is it simple enough for my grandmother to use? For the record, my grandmother sometimes picks up the phone upside down," James told Microsoft.
The company's data can help businesses small and large better understand their customers—from their names to their drink choices—to build better relationships and customer loyalty.
But it hasn't been easy, especially as labor shortages and COVID safety policies affect restaurants during the pandemic. James said he heard about Google for Startups at Austin's entrepreneur hub, Capital Factory. He and the team will use the funding to create "freemium" plans as they seek to keep restaurants open.
"It has also allowed us to offer our products to restaurants that need it most on a freemium basis to keep their doors open and accelerate their growth when it has never been harder to do so," James said. "Being recognized and backed by Google is monumental for us; it is a signal to our partners of our growing success in the market and the expanded capacity we now have to serve our clients."
Riana Lynn- Journey Foods
Lynn said the startup fund will help level the playing field for Black entrepreneurs that may not get the funding they need.
"The Google for Startups Black Founders Fund is a strong step in increasing the significant discrepancies in funding to many groups of founders, especially founders of color," Lynn said. "The funds will be used to add more science and engineering talent to our team and improve our impact in supply chains."
The company takes a step further back in the food industry process by merging research and development for food companies. Through comprehensive food data, Journey Foods helps provide insights on ingredients, pricing, manufacturing, and supply chain information to companies across the food industry.
From suppliers to packaging companies, Journey Foods hopes to reduce waste and costs by streamlining the food creation process.
Sterling Smith- Sandbox Commerce
Sandbox Commerce CEO Sterling Smith wasn't given a heads-up when he earned a spot in the Black Startups Fund- instead, he thought he was in his final interview.
Smith, who founded the app company in 2018, expressed his gratitude for the funding.
"Everyone involved, I really appreciate you guys betting on Sandbox," Smith said. "I can tell my mom now, right?"
Sandbox Commerce looks to create simple apps for companies without any technical or coding skills needed. The company looks to especially help the underdogs, including small businesses or underrepresented companies, in bridging the gap between computer skills and entrepreneurs.
Janice Omadeke- The Mentor Method
The Mentor Method is a consulting firm that helps companies recruit and retain employees through mentorship. (The Mentor Method/Facebook)
The Mentor Method, founded by Janice Omadeke, has been featured by Forbes and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for its multi-step method of promoting employee retention and fulfillment. Omadeke has also won Capital Factory's $100k Female Founder competition award.
The company focuses on inclusivity, closing opportunity gaps and building talent through its mentorship method, which involves a matching algorithm that brings employees and mentors quickly together. The Mentor Method has been used by high-profile programs including the Department of Education and Glassdoor.
Omadeke said the startup will use its fund to create jobs, including a Product Coordinator, and boost an employee benefits package.
"The Google for Startups Black Founders Fund will help us scale faster and address the core needs of companies seeking to retain their employees," Omadeke said.
Mbiyimoh Ghogomu- Tradeblock
Now a company used by tens of thousands, Tradeblock had humble beginnings—it was once just an Instagram page for sneakerheads.
Founder Mbiyimoh Ghogomu teamed up with childhood friends Tony Malveaux and Darren Smith to transform the page throughout the pandemic and create a network for sneaker lovers to enjoy. With their motto "Kicks as Currency," sneakerheads can trade sneakers without ever touching their piggy bank.
For Ghogomu, the company and Black Starters fund are both about one thing-fostering community.
"Getting recognized by Google as part of the Black Founders Fund is a game-changer for us," Ghogomu said. "My co-founders and team have been working really hard to disrupt the sneaker x tech space and inspire community building. The funds, relationships and overall support that Tradeblock is gaining will take us to the next level."
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A member of the Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission (ICRC) contacted council members asking for their home addresses despite a charter provision prohibiting the ICRC from considering such information in its mapping process, according to emails obtained by the Bulldog through a public information request.
Four council members or their staffers replied providing home addresses: Alison Alter, Paige Ellis, Mackenzie Kelly, and Leslie Pool, according to the emails dated August 9th to Aug. 17.
Austinites will once again be able to take a nonstop flight to London as Austin-Bergstrom International Airport resumes transatlantic travel this fall.
Starting Oct. 13, British Airways will offer its direct flight from ABIA to London-Heathrow Airport three times a week on Wednesday, Friday and Sunday. The airline, which has been operating in Austin since 2013, had halted service at the start of the pandemic over a year ago.
"We can't wait to welcome our customers back on board our Austin flights and we are honored to be playing our part in reuniting families and friends with their loved ones after such a long time apart," said Marie Hilditch, British Airways' head of North America sales.
Safety protocols the airline is taking include:
- social distancing measures
- wearing of facemasks
- providing hand sanitizer stations
- cleaning all surfaces after every flight
- fully recycling the air once every two to three minutes through HEPA filters, which remove microscopic bacteria and virus clusters with over 99.9% efficiency
The announcement comes as COVID-19 testing requirements to enter the UK are scheduled to stop on Oct. 4. for vaccinated Americans.
Additionally, a Monday White House announcement allows fully vaccinated international travelers to enter the U.S. starting in early November with proof of a negative COVID-19 test. The ban, which was implemented in 2020, restricted travelers from a number of European countries, Iran and China throughout the pandemic.