APD chief meets with Mellow Johnny's staff at Lance Armstrong's request after bike shop drops police contract
Austin Police Chief Brian Manley met with Lance Armstrong and employees of his bike shop, Mellow Johnny's, at Armstrong's request last week to discuss staff concerns about police relations with the community, in a move prompted by the shop's decision to stop selling bikes to the city for use by the police department, the former Tour de France cyclist said on his podcast.
Mellow Johnny's announced two weeks ago that it would be canceling its $314k contract with the city, signed in 2019, to sell 40 bikes each year for five years to the police department for use by its bike patrols. The shop has sold bikes to the city for police for years under similar agreements, police have said.
The store's general manager, Will Black, told Austonia on Wednesday that while the decision hasn't changed and wasn't addressed in the meeting, it was congenial and the chief was "very generous and allowed us to engage and ask questions."
"It was a chance to get everybody in the same room and just have a conversation," Black said.
He also said he was "sick and tired of everybody screaming" at each other over the issue, which pitted the business against the police and some members of the public in a war of words at a time when the community is grappling with police reform.
Police supporters in the community also lashed back at Armstrong, who said "people were upset with this show, they were upset with the shop, and I get it."
Armstrong, who founded and co-owns Mellow Johnny's, whose "World Headquarters" flagship is a sprawling downtown store, training center and cafe, called the discussion over defunding the police "crazy talk" but also acknowledged that police reform "must happen."
"I wish I had an answer or solution, but I damn sure wasn't going to let it sit without having a conversation, and so we shall see," Armstrong said on the podcast. "Like most things, you try to see both sides of it."
Black declined to comment on Armstrong's position on the decision.
Shop managers said in a Facebook post two weeks ago that the decision was made "in the context of the current evaluation of community policing in Austin." The post said that while the shop is not anti-police, the decision was based on the business' desire to "do the most to suture these divides and place our community on the right side of history."
The post, which garnered 8.7K comments, also referenced "very real threats" the store had been getting since news came out about the decision, adding that they were certain that police would still protect them from their detractors.
Mellow Johnny's also has a store just outside Fort Worth, a location they call "The Trailhead."
Black said nothing had changed regarding the contract with the city and that Manley started the conversation by saying he wasn't there to discuss the bike contract, which isn't under APD's purview.
"It was more about having the staff here understand day-to-day functions and operations of APD and all the challenges they face," Black said. "It was more about that, we really didn't discuss the contract in any specificity."
Armstrong said he sought counsel from former Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo, now chief of police in Houston, and then called Manley.
"I got Manley's number, and I said, 'Chief, we have a workforce at Mellow Johnny's that's not happy, and this is their decision," Armstrong said in a video clip of his podcast, posted this week on his Instagram account. "I'm put in a terrible spot. I need you to come down, and I need you to have a conversation."
Armstrong said he joined Manley and the Mellow Johnny's staff in a private meeting, where Manley spoke for about 20 to 30 minutes and then listened to the opinions and "tough questions" from the staff.
"Kudos to Chief Manley, kudos to the staff," Armstrong said, adding the meeting "was non-hostile, was smart, was open, honest transparent. ...The staff listened and Manley listened."
"I cannot think of the last time in America where everybody said time out, stop screaming, let's all get in a room and talk about this," Armstrong said. "So, I don't know what the ultimate outcome will be—I know what I would like for it to be—but at least we sat in the room together."
Austin police could not be reached immediately for comment.
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Austin parents and grocery store shelves are feeling the effects of a nationwide baby formula shortage.
Caused mostly by a February recall due to contamination issues, followed by the Abbott Nutrition factory closure in Michigan, the shortage has left Austin shelves barren. However, earlier this week, U.S. officials announced a plan with the facility to restart production.
In the meantime, local parents in crisis have turned toward the Mother’s Milk Bank to keep their babies fed.
HEB on East 7th has been picked clean of formula and is limiting purchases. (Laura Figi/Austonia)
The milk bank—which takes donations from lactating mothers and dispenses milk to babies in the NICU—has been helping feed upwards of 30 families in need as the formula supply tightens.
According to the bank’s executive director Kim Updegrove, Mother’s Milk Bank has seen an uptick in calls from parents with healthy babies in need of help since the shortage began.
“We aren't used to hearing from families with healthy infants,” Updegrove said. “They're typically very upset, angry, frustrated, sobbing—it's scary to not be able to feed your infants. So in the past few weeks, those calls have been significantly increasing.”
Mothers are only able to donate if they are within a year postpartum, so Updegrove said they are constantly bringing on and retiring donors. While donors had been on a 30% decline leftover from 2021 when the shortage began, Updegrove said the shortage has led to mass community interest and more than 90 prospective donors in just the past few days.
“We and other milk banks are experiencing significant interest from the community—becoming milk donors and helping to turn around this crisis,” Updegrove said. “Every infant needs to be fed, every one of us can relate to that need, and we need to make sure as a community that it happens.”
Whole Foods downtown was also cleaned out of typical formula. (Laura Figi/Austonia)
While you may still be able to find formula at places like Whole Foods—which currently has goat milk, soy and plant-based formula in stock—Updegrove said it might not be what a baby needs.
Updegrove said it is best to buy types that say “infant formula,” as they are FDA approved and will provide the nutrients, vitamins and minerals a baby needs. Plant-based, homemade, non-cow's milk or diluting formula may not provide the same nutritional value.
As the community navigates the shortage, Updegrove said the most important way to help out is to not panic buy or stockpile.
“This is a crisis for families,” Updegrove said. “This is the time for the community to gather together and figure out what everyone can do to help families with young infants.”
Next time you’re sitting at a red light in Austin, you may look over and see a car without a person at the driver’s wheel.
Autonomous vehicle tech company Argo AI has brought driverless operations to Austin and Miami, starting out with only company employees using the service. Later on, tests with Lyft and Walmart will carry out ride-sharing and grocery delivery services, with the help of a human safety operator. The company has already made moves on this front in Miami Beach where some Lyft passengers have used its autonomous vehicles with a human operator.
While its platform is designed for integration with multiple vehicle types, the test fleet uses the Ford Escape Hybrid and VW's all-electric ID.Buzz.
The Pittsburgh-based company says this progress on its autonomy platform has been more than five years in the making and boasted about reaching this milestone before others.
"Argo is first to go driverless in two major American cities, safely operating amongst heavy traffic, pedestrians and bicyclists in the busiest of neighborhoods," said Bryan Salesky, Founder and CEO of Argo AI.
Expect to see the autonomous cars on the road during daytime business hours as the tech aims to learn from a diversity of road infrastructure and driving behaviors.
The company, which is testing in eight cities in the U.S. and Europe, has brought its tech to Austin as the company looks to expand in densely-populated cities. In particular, Argo is looking at ridesharing, delivery and logistics companies for integrating its autonomous vehicles into their digital services.
Argo anticipates its service availability to someday cover more than 15 million people in Austin, Miami and Washington D.C.
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