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By Lilly Rockwell January 7, 2016

Adler-led council met twice as much in 2015 as previous council did in '14

In 2015, the expanded Austin City Council embraced a restructuring of the council's established meeting system as suggested at the year's start by Mayor Steve Adler with strong support from Council Member Ann Kitchen.

And by late March, council members adopted a new way of vetting the varied agenda items that crossed their desks. The new approach meant meeting more frequently -- typically three weeks a month -- instead of the every-other-week system of the previous council. Also, the new council agreed to hold "zoning only" meetings once a month.

Council committees

But the biggest change for the council--consisting for the first time of 10 members elected from geographic districts with only the mayor elected citywide--was the introduction of new council committees.

The 10 committees, which started meeting in April, were designed to end late-night council meetings like those that plagued the previous council and provide more time for citizen input before policies were final. The council committees are designed to allow extensive public testimony, whereas testimony can be limited at the council level. The new committees gathered once a month or more, though in 2016, citing concern about the increasing number of meetings, some committee chairs approved a less-frequent meeting schedule.

Another sign of stepped-up huddle-ups: In spring 2015, Mayor Adler hosted nearly two-dozen policy workshops intended to bring council members up to speed on city issues, such as parks, law enforcement and utilities.

Counting meetings

So, how many meetings did the council  have in 2015 and how did that compare with the previous council?

The city maintains a web page listing council meetings, work sessions and budget hearings by year. After accounting for cancelled meetings, we found that in 2014, before Adler became mayor, the council had 61 separate meetings. Most were full regular meetings or work sessions, but this tally includes eight budget hearings or meetings and six special-called meetings.

In 2015, the Adler-helmed council, met 97 times. Unlike its predecessor council, it met most frequently in the form of a "special-called meeting." This was partly reflected in multiple orientation sessions and policy briefings.

And this count of 97 council meetings doesn't fold in gatherings of the newly created committees. The committees met a total of 101 times from March 2015 through the end of the year. In 2014, seven council committees huddled a total of 31 times, according to meeting schedules.

Big picture: In 2015, the council convened nearly 200 times, as a full group or in committees, which was more than twice as often as the council the year before.

Hours in meetings

There's at least one other way to gauge stepped-up meetings--by time consumed.

According to an Austin American-Statesman analysis published in October 2015, the council and its committees met for 664 hours from January through September 2015--nearly double the 337 hours devoted to similar meetings by the previous council in the same chunk of 2014.

It's worth noting that in the end, the council restructuring didn't eliminate late-night decision-making or provide free rein on public comment. The council still had five meetings that ran past midnight in 2015. Some committee meetings faced time constraints - sometimes another committee needed the room next - which prompted a limit on the number of speakers allowed at some hearings.

We rate this Adler vow, previously designated In the Works, as a Promise KEPT.

Promise Kept — Promises earn this rating when the original promise is mostly or completely fulfilled.

This previous update was published Jan. 21, 2015:

The week Austin Mayor Steve Adler was inducted, he unveiled a proposal for restructuring City Council meetings with the goal of ending unpopular late-night meetings.

Adler's proposal, crafted with the help of City Council Member Ann Kitchen, would establish 13 Council Committees composed of four council members. It also suggests holding Council meetings more frequently, holding executive sessions on another day and rotating the Council meeting agenda to enable separate zoning-only days.

The proposed committees are: Audit, Finance, Mobility, Public Utilities, Austin Energy, Health and Human Services, Public Safety, Planning and Neighborhoods, Open Space, Environment & Sustainability, Housing & Community Development, Economic Development, Innovation and Creative Industries, and Intergovernmental Affairs.

While only four of the 11-member City Council (which includes the mayor) will sit on a committee, the idea is to more fully vet proposals before they reach the full City Council with the result being shorter full council meetings.

The committees would take public input with the full Council only hearing public input again if four council members requested it.

Adler's Council restructuring idea is generally supported by the entire City Council, which is seeking input from the public on Jan. 22, 2015, before voting on a final proposal a week later.

We're marking Adler's promise to have the council meet more often, previously unrated, as In the Works.

Our Sources

News story, "Half a year later, are the City Council committees working?" Austin American Statesman, Oct. 25, 2015

Web site, "City Council Committees," City of Austin, January 2016 (page updated Jan. 6, 2016)

Web site, "City Council," City of Austin, January 2016 (page updated Jan. 5, 2016)

Document, "How and Item Moves to Austin City Council Meeting," City of Austin, undated

News story, "Austin City Council proposes more meetings, changing public hearings," Austin American-Statesman, Jan. 8, 2015

News story, "New Council plans change to meetings, committees," Austin Monitor, Jan. 9, 2015

Document, "New Council Committee Proposal,"  Draft, City of Austin, Jan. 16, 2015

Document, "Possible List of Council Standing Committees," City of Austin, January 2015

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