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'We need to be hearing your voice': Austin City Council gives Cronk one-week deadline to lay out plans for police reform
Austin City Manager Spencer Cronk has one week to firm up plans for police department reform and lay out for city leaders how he will respond to calls for the ouster of Austin Police Chief Brian Manley, which are mounting in the wake of clashes between police and protesters during anti-brutality demonstrations over the past few weeks.
Cronk, whose position overseeing the city's 13,000 employees makes him responsible for decisions regarding Manley's job, was directed by the Austin City Council on Thursday to update them during the first meeting of the newly formed Council Public Safety Committee next week.
The first meeting of the committee is scheduled for 1 p.m. on Thursday, June 18. Agenda is expected by Monday afternoon.
The timing will give Cronk a chance to "settle his thoughts" on how to implement a package of resolutions, approved unanimously by the council late Thursday, overhauling several aspects of the police department, said Council Member Jimmy Flannigan, who chairs the committee.
Flannigan asked both Cronk and Manley to "make room in your schedules" and "be sure to attend" next week's meeting.
"I have a number of questions that I have for you, Chief, stuff that I've seen going on, stuff that I've seen on social media, that has really caused me to scratch my head a little bit about what's been happening in the department you run," he said. "Rather than drag my brain through it after this long day for all of us, I will save my questions for the committee meeting. Just wanted to give you a heads up."
"Certainly," Manley replied.
The resolutions include a vote of no confidence in "current leadership" at the Austin Police Department, which members said is focused on Manley but could be interpreted to mean any of the department's top brass.
Only Cronk has the authority to decide the fate of Manley, who draws an annual $350,000 salary and has been chief since 2018.
Cronk also oversees the budget process and is the council's liaison on directives to city departments, including the police resolutions.
An hour before the vote on the resolutions, some members—inundated with tens of thousands of calls and emails from constituents—chastised Cronk for not making any announcements on his plans yet.
Much of the change will come through the budget process later this summer, but council members were clear they wanted a progress report soon and, specifically, an update on Manley's future with the department.
Cronk has not indicated publicly which direction he's leaning, and while the council did not specify what would happen if Cronk doesn't satisfy them at next week's meeting, several reminded him that he is responsible for carrying out instructions by the council, which has the authority to fire him.
"Your silence has been deafening to me," Council Member Alison Alter said. "We provide you with direction, but nothing prevents you from taking action ... We need to be hearing your voice, and we need to be hearing that you are leading us forward to this transformation in very concrete ways."
Cronk explained that he has been "in constant communication" with his executive team as well as council members, Manley and other public safety leaders on "short-term" changes to police policy after demonstrators were injured by officers during the protests.
At the same time, Cronk said, he recognized that "a parallel conversation" was going on in the community and at City Hall over long-term changes from the top down at the department.
He noted that his office is in the middle of developing "the most challenging budget we have ever put forward" during a historic economic crisis. Discussions on that happen in August.
Cronk also reminded the council that the resolutions have been "evolving" as amendments have been added and discussions picked up. Now that the final versions have passed, he and his office can "quickly pivot into what that action plan is, because that is exactly what our community is expecting and demanding."
"I do know there is more that is needed," he said, "and we're going to have to continue to get not only creative, but much more assertive in the way that we are reimagining and rethinking how we do public safety in Austin."
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Summertime sure does fly by, doesn't it? It's time to jam-pack as many summer activities as you can while there is still about a month left before school starts up again and the grind gets going. Luckily, Austin is full of places to visit that will fill your season full of memories.
To get you started, check out some of these seasonably-fit museums, galleries and snacks.
Beyond Van Gogh, 9201 Circuit of the Americas Blvd.
Like the name suggests, Beyond Van Gogh Austin takes visitors deeper into the Dutch painter's work by surrounding them in his post-impressionist world. Aptly taking place at the Starry Night Pavilion at the Circuit of the Americas, this immersive exhibit allows Vincent Van Gogh's masterpieces to be "freed from frames" as they are projected onto the walls and floors for guests to explore. Van Gogh's thoughts, dreams and words are set to a symphonic score to drive the narrative as you walk through the rooms, giving visitors insight into the tortured artist's swirly world. Adult tickets start at $46.99, children at $28.99 and it offers student and military discounts while the museum runs through Sept. 5.
Museum of Ice Cream, 11506 Century Oaks Terrace
The runaway hit from New York City has made its way to Austin, complete with a rainbow sprinkle pool, banana forest and bright-pink-everything exterior. The Museum of Ice Cream is a favorite of major celebrities—Beyoncé, Ryan Reynolds and the Kardashian Krew have all been spotted at the New York Location. The whimsical museum promises an undisclosed "Texas twist" at its new Austin location, which also has an on-brand café that serves Museum of Ice Cream original treats. You didn't think you'd leave without ice cream, did you? Tickets run $39 per person.
The Selfie Galleries, 3220 Amy Donovan Plaza
Looking for a place to get that perfect summer selfie? Look no further, because the newly-opened Selfie Galleries has 20 wildly decorated different rooms to roam through, capturing an unforgettable photo of yourself and your faves in each one. The backdrops were made so you can flex your creative muscle and make some documented memories at the same time. The gallery also hosts mixers for all age groups so you can meet local Austinites in a safe setting. Tickets start at $20 for an hour, $40 for two, depending on how many people you bring along.
Wonderspaces, 1205 Sheldon Cove
The self-proclaimed "new home for extraordinary art," Wonderspaces is an interactive art gallery like you've never experienced before. With rotating exhibits that you can touch, Instagram and ogle, the artwork is designed for everyone to create their own unique experience when visiting. Virtual reality, a house of mirrors, anonymous conversations and a dragon made of teabags are just a few of the wild installations that make this museum what it is—plus, you can enjoy some local brews at the Wonderspaces Bar. Adults can visit for $24, kids for $15 or you can get an annual pass for $99 and visit each new piece.
Milk Bar Bakery, delivery only
Maybe you want an experience without the outing. Thanks to ghost kitchens, the brainchild of Christina Tosi came all the way from The Big Apple to the Lone Star State. The well-celebrated Milk Bar Bakery is now available in Austin through third-party delivery only, meaning you can get the full line of milk bar cookies, bar pie, truffle crumb cakes and its famous layered birthday cakes through UberEats, GrubHub, DoorDash and Postmates only. If you haven't had these rich cookies yet, it's time to fire up that delivery app and get to ordering!
Soak up the rest of summer while you can!
- 1 1/12 oz sweet pepper-infused Tito's Handmade Vodka
- 3 oz soda water
- 1 oz grapefruit juice
- 1/2 oz lime juice
- 1/4 oz simple syrup
The Biden administration is asking cities and states to use pandemic relief funds to pay residents $100 to get vaccinated. Meanwhile, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott reaffirmed prohibitions on pandemic protocols in a new executive order issued on Thursday.
The order emphasizes that "the path forward relies on personal responsibility rather than government mandates," according to a press release. It outlaws government entities from requiring employees to be vaccinated or individuals to provide proof of vaccination and upholds previous orders restricting government entities' ability to impose pandemic protocols.
Local public health and elected officials have asked all Austinites to wear masks indoors, regardless of vaccination status, and unvaccinated individuals to avoid nonessential trips last week given the rising number of local confirmed cases and related hospitalizations in recent weeks. But it is not enforceable under Abbott's order.
The seven-day moving average of new hospital admissions in the five-county Austin metro has more than quintupled since the beginning of July and is now 47.4. The threshold for Stage 5 is 50, according to Austin Public Health's risk-based guidelines.
Despite these trends, Abbott stands firm in his commitment to avoid new statewide mandates and to prohibit local government entities from issuing any of their own.
"Texans have mastered the safe practices that help to prevent and avoid the spread of COVID-19," he said in a statement. "They have the individual right and responsibility to decide for themselves and their children whether they will wear masks, open their businesses and engage in leisure activities."
Public health officials have attributed the current spike to the more contagious Delta variant and unmitigated spread among unvaccinated individuals. Abbott encouraged Texans to get vaccinated if they haven't already but affirmed that it would never be required by the state in his statement.
An increasing number of Austin-area employers—including Ascension Seton, Baylor Scott & White Health, Facebook and the Department of Veterans Affairs—have announced new vaccine requirements in recent days. Austin Mayor Steve Adler asked the city manager to enact a similar requirement on Wednesday, but the city is unable to do so due to an executive order issued by Abbott in April.
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