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Austin City Council approved a contract of up to $1.3 million with Kroll Associates, a New York-based consulting firm that has been hired to investigate the Austin Police Department.
Council directed the city manager to hire an independent investigator to evaluate APD last December. The contractor selection process took nearly a year, during which time police violence became even more of a pressing issue in Austin.
Now, with this contract in effect, Kroll will be tasked with investigating APD's training, recruitment and promotion practices; use of force incident reports; and interactions with the public, including searches, arrests and citations.
The audit was prompted by an anonymous complaint filed with the city's Office of Police Oversight, which accused an assistant police chief of using racist epithets and derogatory terms when referring to Black elected officials and colleagues.
Council also cited other reasons for an investigation, including:
- A third-party investigation that found APD leadership knew of the assistant chief's use of racial slurs and epithets, which had occurred over a period of many years
- Data that Black people continue to be disproportionately arrested by APD for offenses that are eligible for a citation
- A nearly 40% drop-out rate for the department's 140th cadet class, which graduated in May 2019
"Pervasive, systemic racism is not an Austin-exclusive problem," District 1 Council Member Natasha Harper-Madison said Dec. 5, 2019. "Everybody's got a little bit of this illness, and it's time for us to apply a massive dose of treatment to our entire country. And so I say, 'Why not start in the capital city in the great state of Texas?'"
Following the May 25 death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers, protests broke out across the country, including in Austin.
When protesters gathered outside the APD's downtown headquarters and shut down I-35 in late May, APD officers used tear gas and so-called "less lethal" bullets, which left a 16-year-old and Texas State student in the hospital with critical head injuries and a pregnant woman injured.
The incidents prompted Austinites to demand the resignation of APD Chief Brian Manley and called on Austin City Council to defund the police department, moving funds toward other services, such as mental health response.
In August, council voted to cut approximately $20 million—or about 5%—of APD's budget and set aside an additional $130 million into two transitional funds, which allowed several of APD's traditional duties to continue while officials work out which ones to move out from under police oversight.
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Matthew McConaughey is reportedly weighing a run for Texas governor in 2022.
The Austin resident and Oscar winner has been "quietly making calls to influential people in Texas political circles, including a deep-pocketed moderate Republican and energy CEO" as he decides whether to run, according to Politico.
McConaughey said a gubernatorial run is "a true consideration" while on a March episode of Houston's "The Balanced Voice" podcast.
Although most political strategists doubt McConaughey's commitment and viability as a candidate, some are still intrigued by the possibility.
"I find it improbable, but it's not out of the question," Karl Rove, a top Republican strategist with a long history in Austin, told the political news site. He added that the big question is whether McConaughey would run as a Republican, a Democrat or an independent.
Brendan Steinhauser, an Austin-based GOP strategist, told Politico he's surprised McConaughey isn't being taken more seriously. "Celebrity in this country counts for a lot," he said. "It's not like some C-list actor no one likes. He has an appeal."
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott plans to run for a third term and remains popular among Republican voters, 77% of whom approve of his performance as of April, according to the Texas Politics Project.
Some strategists believe an independent McConaughey run would benefit Abbott. But a recent poll from The Dallas Morning News and the University of Texas at Tyler found that McConaughey would beat Abbott, 45% to 33%, with 22% opting for someone else.
Mimi Swartz, an executive editor at Texas Monthly, mulled a McConaughey run in a recent opinion essay from the New York Times. "Texas may not be ready for a philosopher king as a candidate, much less governor," she wrote. "May the best man win, man."
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Some JuiceLand production facility workers and storefront employees are organizing to demand wage increases, better working conditions (including air conditioning in the warehouse) and pay transparency, among other asks. They are also calling on staff to strike and customers to boycott the Austin-based company until their demands are met.
JuiceLand responded on Saturday. "We are listening," the company wrote on their Instagram story. "JuiceLand crew now makes guaranteed $15 an hour or more companywide."
JuiceLand, which was founded in 2001 by Matt Shook and now has 35 locations in Austin, Houston and Dallas, acknowledged the rising cost of living across Texas and the added stress of the pandemic in an email to employees on Saturday, part of which @juicelandworkersrights shared on social media. "There's no denying that times are tough and financial security means more now than ever," the company wrote.
Organized JuiceLand workers rejected this proposal, according to a recent post on the @juicelandworkersrights Instagram account, and reiterated their demands.
"Cost of living in Austin is rising exponentially and will only continue to get worse with the tech boom," the post read. "$15 is barely a sustainable living."