• On July 20, the Austin City Council plans to consider a controversial move to limit public participation in its meetings
  • The proposal is at odds with City Hall’s procedures for conducting public meetings
  • Austin residents who are opposed to the changes should plan to attend the July 20 meeting and to contact council members

On July 20, the Austin City Council is currently set to consider a controversial move to limit public participation in its meetings. Mark your calendars, and prepare to attend the meeting and to reach out to council members!

The proposal was introduced as Item 36 on the council’s June 1 consent agenda. If approved, it would limit time donation from one speaker to another, a long-standing rule allowing a group representative to consolidate testimony and present better-organized information about a complicated project, such as the “Zilker Vision Plan” or large zoning cases such as the “Borden tract.” It would also change the current rule requiring an item to be removed from the consent agenda if two members of the public sign-up to comment on it, allowing only a city council person to have this prerogative.

The proposed rule changes are at odds with findings from City Hall’s current procedures for council meetings (shown below in italics):

“Democracy is best served by participation of people in their government.”

Austin City Council and commission public meetings should expand, not reduce, the role of citizens to increase the legitimacy of the outcomes.

“The best government is that which is done in the open.”

Too often, it seems that critical decisions have already been made before the meeting—in the work sessions or behind the scenes—which would explain why the council seems so keen to limit public testimony.

“Austin’s exercise of representative democracy is well-served by the timely and substantial participation of its citizens.”

Our city council and commissions should use civic-engagement principles and meeting designs that encourage and solicit input from a broad cross-section of the community, which would contribute to the deliberative practice of democracy.

Stay tuned for further information. Together we can build an Austin for everyone!