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With rare move, 'unified' Austin City Council members signal unanimous support of police overhaul

Austin City Council members—all 11 of them, including the mayor—signaled their unanimous support Tuesday for an overhaul of the Austin Police Department by attaching their names onto a packet of resolutions aimed at changing the way the police treat residents and questioning the ability of Chief Brian Manley to continue in his role.

"To speak as a unified council is powerful," Council Member Leslie Pool said.

Members are prohibited under open meetings laws from taking an actual vote on the five items until Thursday's regularly scheduled City Council meeting, where the items appear on the agenda.

So at Tuesday's public work session they instead took the rare and symbolic act of signing on as co-sponsors to every measure dealing with Austin police.

"It's a proud day for the council work session. It kind of feels like we took a vote today. We didn't," Mayor Steve Adler said with a smile. "Because we're not allowed."

Resolutions only need four co-sponsors and usually don't have more than about five.

"it is not our common practice," said Council Member Jimmy Flannigan. "I don't think it needs to be our common practice. But we are not in a common moment."

The resolutions were drafted in direct response to protests about police brutality and the deaths of George Floyd in Minneapolis and Michael Ramos in Austin.

Several protesters were seriously injured after being hit with less-lethal rounds fired into the crowds by Austin police holding back demonstrators.

The items include a reduction in funding and staffing for the police department, banning the use of less-lethal munitions during protests, and making a statement of no confidence in Austin Police Chief Brian Manley, though he is not specifically named in the items.

"It's a very strong signal from our council," Council Member Kathie Tovo said. "It is important that we show the community that we have strong support for council providing this leadership both to our city manager and to the police department, and to the executive management team."

Council Member Greg Casar, whose resolution restricts use of force, said he would likely change it on Thursday to ban the use of tear gas in the city altogether.

Six members have either called on Manley to resign, or expressed a lack of confidence in the job he's doing, or said his resignation would send the right message to Austin residents clamoring for change. On Tuesday, Alison Alter became the most recent council member to join the call for his ousting.

Politically, signing on as co-sponsors will shield council members during election season from attacks by opponents—being the only name left off the resolution would provide ammunition.

So when Adler asked that his name be put on all items because he was getting questions about it, those council members whose names were not already attached to all of them also asked that they be added as co-sponsors to the whole package.

In a flurry of activity near the end of Tuesday's meeting, council members quizzed the city attorney and clerk about how they could all get their names on the resolutions in time for the vote without violating any open records laws.

"This is the clerk's office," City Clerk Jannette Goodall chimed in cheerfully at one point. "We've got you all down!"

(This article was corrected to say resolutions need four co-sponsors to make it onto the agenda. All items dealing with police matters already had at least four co-sponsors before Tuesday.)

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