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Austin voters will decide starting Monday whether to change the city of Austin's government from a strong-manager system to a strong-mayor one. The controversial proposal stems from a citizen-led petition organized by the political action committee Austinites for Progressive Reform, whose members argue that a strong-mayor system, sometimes called a mayor-council system, would empower voters, correct the Jim Crow-era origins of the current system and better position the city to address intractable issues such as homelessness.
But a diverse, and unlikely, coalition of opponents has formed to defend the current strong-manager, or council-manager, system. Labor leaders, environmental groups, business interests, criminal justice reform activists and most council members have denounced Proposition F, which they fear will create a power imbalance between the mayor and council and erode the gains of the 10-1 system.
Austonia sought out clear and brief editorials from either side of the debate. Arguing in favor of Prop F is Laura Hernandez Holmes, an APR co-chair and political consultant who previously served as the Texas finance director for Beto O'Rourke's presidential campaign and deputy campaign manager for Mayor Steve Adler in 2014 and 2018. Mason Ayer and Nico Ramsey are arguing against it. Ayer is CEO of Kerbey Lane Cafe and co-chair of Austin for All People, a local organization that formed in opposition to Prop F. Ramsey is the volunteer director of community engagement for A4AP, a corporate social responsibility professional and a civil rights activist.
Editor's note: These submissions are the unedited views of their authors. Claims made have not been fact-checked to give the proponent and opponent a chance to speak their minds freely.
Pro: For accountability in City Hall, vote for Prop F
Prop F is about letting voters, not politicians, choose the person who leads our city government. Austin is one of the few large cities in the country where an unelected city manager runs the city, including drafting the budget, overseeing the police, and managing transportation, planning and other city services. Instead, Prop F would put voters in charge, with a structure that is familiar to all Americans. We would have two co-equal branches: a legislative branch (the council) and an executive (the mayor). The branches would be independent, with checks and balances, so no branch would be superior to the other. The key difference? Both branches would be democratically accountable.
We have big challenges in our city, including an escalating affordability crisis, issues with water quality and faltering crisis responses—from the vaccine rollout to police oversight to homelessness. Many of these issues are the executive's responsibility, but we do not have a say in choosing that person. Each of us has a say in choosing only two of the eleven people who do.
Opponents of Prop F have fixated on one of the checks and balances: the veto. They argue that it would put too much power in the mayor's hands. But the veto can be overridden by a simple two-thirds vote of the council, and the council takes two-thirds votes every week. The council would still have the final say over all legislation and the budget, and we would be gaining accountability over the person who executes those laws and leads the city.
Every other argument against Prop F boils down to: "Austin voters cannot be trusted to choose the right person." We do not agree. Austin voters have the capability—and should have the right—to choose the person who runs our city government.
Con: Why Prop F deserves a failing grade
On May 1, Austin voters will have an important decision to make regarding the future of our city. Proposition F would shift the city from our current council-manager form of government that has helped make Austin a top place in the country to live, to one that would utilize a mayor-council–or strong mayor–form of government.
The current council-manager form of government divests power and provides checks and balances that safeguard all people of Austin. If Prop F is successful, we would witness a consolidation of power unlike anything Austin has seen before into one office. This proposal would take power from both the city manager's office, which would be eliminated, and from the council, and transfer it to one person–the strong mayor. This includes veto power and the ability to dole out political favors to supporters for critical city jobs.
When labor unions and other groups voiced opposition to Prop F, labels like "special interests" were thrown around. Labor unions are not special interest groups, and they are part of a coalition opposed to Prop F including environmentalists and business people–and everyone in between–concerned about the future of our city.
There has also been a charge levied that the current system of government is inherently racist because it came about during the Jim Crow era. Those making these arguments are exhibiting a narrow understanding of racism in America that fails to identify the real challenges and struggles that so many in our society face every day–especially people of color. We cannot be dependent upon the assumptions that come with these proposed changes to our city's charter to create a more just and equitable society. We must come together as a community, city, country and people to achieve true equality.
Austin For All People believes Prop F should be given the failing grade it deserves.
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After Austin voters decisively passed Proposition B, City Council is revisiting the idea of sanctioned encampments: places where homeless residents can camp free from the threat of citation, fines or arrest—and where those will go in the city.
Prop B, which will reinstate city bans on sitting, lying, camping and panhandling in certain areas of central Austin starting Tuesday, passed with nearly 58% of the vote in the May 1 election. Council then voted unanimously on Thursday to direct the city manager to develop a plan and budget for temporary sanctioned encampments, including 10 possible sites, one in each council district, by next week.
Council Member Kathie Tovo, who sponsored the resolution, said such sites are critical with the city's emergency shelters and Camp Esperanza, a state-run campsite off of Hwy. 183 near Montopolis, at capacity. "When individuals in encampments ask where they should go, we need to have places to suggest," she said Thursday.
The resolution approved Thursday directs city staff to assess all other funding sources before considering those earmarked for affordable housing. Council directed city staff to identify possible city-owned properties that could serve as sanctioned encampments. The dataset below shows properties owned by the city.
Matthew Mollica, executive director of the Ending Community Homelessness Coalition, said it is critical that public works funding is used; if housing dollars are reallocated toward sanctioned encampments, it could worsen the city's homeless problem by defunding the one proven solution. "Creating sanctioned encampments… is a public space management strategy," he said. "It is very clearly not a strategy to end homelessness in our community."
Homelessness experts and city staff say sanctioned encampments are problematic for many reasons: they are expensive to maintain, challenging to manage and hard to close, even when intended to be temporary.
Camp Esperanza, the state-sanctioned homeless camp in Southeast Austin, opened in late 2019 and is home to approximate 150 people. (Jordan Vonderhaar)
The Other Ones Foundation, a local nonprofit, operates the camp, providing work opportunities, case management, hygiene and laundry facilities, and a community shelter, among other services. (Jordan Vonderhaar)
In 2019, city staff declined to make recommendations for sanctioned encampments despite being directed by council to do so, citing 2018 guidance from the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness. "Neither authorized encampments nor parking areas provide housing for people experiencing homelessness," staff wrote in a memo. "Rather, each option detracts from the staff resources assigned to addressing this moral imperative."
Barbara Poppe, a nationally recognized homelessness policy consultant who has advised the city of Austin, said it is inefficient for cities to provide support services at sanctioned encampments when they could focus on housing efforts. She added that it is also unlikely the city will be able to establish enough sanctioned campsites to serve every homeless person, meaning that some will remain in violation of the ban.
Despite these concerns, council is moving forward with two policies they previously abandoned: the camping ban and sanctioned encampments.
Cleo Petricek, co-founder of Save Austin Now, the local political action committee that spearheaded Prop B, is glad the city is moving forward with sanctioned encampments, which she feels are necessary in addition to ongoing efforts to provide housing support. "Regardless of the long-term strategies, it's long-term," she said. "We are in a humanitarian crisis right now."
Petricek points to the state-run campsite as a successful model and said the city's sanctioned encampments should be in industrial areas, far from schools, parks and residential neighborhoods. "It is undeniable that these (camps) will have an impact on surrounding areas," she said,
citing recent fires and other crime. "We have to expect these worst-case scenarios."
A fire broke out at the state-sanctioned homeless camp in Southeast Austin on April 2. (Austin Fire Info/Twitter)
Homeless services providers argue this approach is inhumane and leaves homeless people isolated from resources. They also warn that, wherever the sanctioned encampments are located, they are likely to prompt pushback. Petricek, a local Democratic advocate, successfully organized a petition in opposition to a proposed homeless shelter in South Austin, near her home, in 2019. The city's recent hotel purchases, for conversion into homeless housing,
also prompted protests.
As Austin police and other city departments begin enforcing the camping ban on Tuesday, homeless advocates say the homeless are left without a clear, legal option: "There is no place for them to go," Mollica said.
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- 1 1/2 oz of hibiscus-infused Tito's Handmade Vodka
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Jersey Number: 20
Hometown: Chester, New Jersey
Position: Right winger
Former club: New York Red Bulls
Back before Jared Stroud helped Austin FC to two of the team's four goals, the 24-year-old right winger was quickly rising up the ranks at the New York Red Bulls.
After graduating from Colgate University, men's soccer standout, where he was named to the All-Patriot League twice, Stroud was drafted to USL side New York Red Bulls II in 2018, where he scoring seven goals and added 11 assists. A year later, Stroud was the team leader with 15 goals and nine assists in his 34 appearances, granting him a berth in the first-division New York Red Bulls.
In his first season with the MLS, Stroud added two assists to the club in 20 appearances. It wasn't an ideal debut, however, and the onset of the pandemic kept stands quiet for his inaugural professional season.
Still, Stroud helped take the team to the playoffs in 2020. When Stroud was chosen as Austin FC's second pick in the MLS Expansion Draft, he felt ready to play outside of New York for the first time and bring his best to Austin.
"I thought I played well and started in the majority of games for a playoff team which gave me confidence for this year to kind of work on that and get better," Stroud said. "For me, I have my personal goals in terms of numbers, but right now, it's just about approaching every game in the best way possible."
With Austin FC
The former Colgate all-time assist leader is back to doing what he knows best. Stroud helped solidify Austin FC's first-ever win streak after sending a perfectly-placed cross to Diego Fagundez to land his first assist with the club. The goal mirrored a week prior when Fagundez capitalized off a deflected shot by Stroud and brought in Austin FC's first-ever goal.
In just three weeks, Stroud has found his groove with five shots and an assists, and he's already had more shots on goal (2) than he ever did with the Red Bulls. He may be the man of the moment, but Stroud wasn't expected to start at right wing at the beginning of the season.
Stroud helped change the tempo of the game vs. LAFC when the club fell into a rut in the second half, coming in for Rodney Redes in the 59th minute and injecting more energy into their gameplay. He was rewarded with a starting spot the next week vs. LAFC, which head coach Josh Wolff said was well-deserved.
"He's tireless and unapologetically he competes with his teammates and with the opponent, which is great because that becomes infectious." Wolff said. "And he's somebody that's there every day... he helped get us going right directions."
Stroud has at least temporarily replaced fellow right winger Redes in the starting lineup, but that's not due to anything Redes has done. Wolff has stated that it's a great feeling when there's too many starting options for a club instead of too few, and even though Stroud is competing with Redes, he said the two are great friends on and off the pitch.
"We're all super good friends," Stroud said. "Between all the wingers, we want to see each other grow and get better... and that's an important part of the team is just to have that competitive spirit and to have guys fighting for positions."
Now with two wins on the record, Stroud said the energy's been much livelier on and off the pitch, and they hope to keep that running as they face Sporting Kansas City this weekend.
"I think everything's better when you're winning," Stroud said. "Everyone's happier, there's a better vibe around the club. Getting the monkey off our back in Colorado, the plane ride home was super fun. That's why we want to go out there and get results every week for everyone."
Off the pitch
Stroud's family hadn't seen him play since before the pandemic began in 2020, but the two got a big dosage of that Austin soccer spirit when they traveled to watch him play in Minnesota. They were immediately welcomed and invited to watch the match with Austin FC fans Los Verdes, something that Stroud said was a great experience for their first match back.
"It was really nice to have them fly out and be vaccinated and see them again, and knowing they were up there was nice," Stroud said. "They they enjoyed the fans (and) they had a blast.
Stroud is a man of the fans himself. Just as Diego Fagundez held up the "LV" in honor of Los Verdes after his first goal and Alex Ring led a fan chant after the Colorado Rapids victory, Stroud honored the fans with a photo after the match. He said the fans are his main motivator and he's happy to have them around after a year of silence in the pandemic.
"They're, they're the livelihood of the club, they're the energy of the club, (and) we play for them," Stroud said. "I swear they were louder than the Colorado fans, (and) It was great to interact with them and see them at every game. It means it means the world to us, and we see them in the crowd."
Stroud also has a brother, Peter Stroud, who is following in his footsteps and made the All-ACC Men's Soccer Third Team as a freshman midfielder at Duke.
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