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Andra Lim
By Andra Lim January 7, 2016

Mayor's appointments, staff largely reflect Austin's demographics

When we first looked into Steve Adler's campaign promise that the demographics of his staff and appointees while mayor would match Austin's, he'd just started tapping volunteers for city boards and commissions.

Now he's made nearly all of his appointments, so it's timely to check up.

To our inquiry, Jason Stanford, the mayor's communications director, sent us a chart with each appointee's board or commission, name, gender, ethnicity and City Council district of residence.

The chart lists 77 appointees, which we whittled to 75: Adler appointed one person - Bill Moriarty - to both the city's Water and Wastewater Commission and the Austin Integrated Water Resource Planning Community Task Force. And as of the start of 2016, the City Council had yet to consider an Adler appointee to the Community Technology & Telecommunications Commission - Virgilia Singh.

Appointments don't perfectly align

The U.S. Census Bureau reports that the racial makeup of Austin is roughly 49 percent white, 35 percent Hispanic, 8 percent African-American and 6 percent Asian.

Unlike Austin as a whole, a clear majority of Adler's appointees - 60 percent - are white. Hispanic residents comprise 24 percent of his appointees, or running more than 10 percentage points shy of the Hispanic share of Austin's population. The shares of Adler appointees who are African-American or Asian slightly outpace each racial group's portion of city residents: 9 percent African-American and 7 percent Asian.

Austin is 49 percent female. Some 43 percent of Adler's appointees are women.

In 2013, the 10 Austin City Council districts were drawn to be roughly equal in population, but Adler's pool of appointees is weighted heaviest toward Northeast Austin's District 1 (14 appointees), Central Austin's District 9 (15 appointees) and West Austin's District 10 (10 appointees). Southeast Austin's District 2 is home to a single Adler appointee, while Northwest Austin's District 6 contains a pair.

By phone, Adler said he considered various factors when selecting appointees. Adler said he wanted to make sure there was racial and gender diversity on each individual board and commission, as well as "institutional knowledge" - which could mean appointing someone who had sat on the panel for some time if other council members were appointing newcomers.

Consider the boards and commissions generally, Adler suggested, and they're more diverse than in the past.

A chart sent to us by Jim Wick, the mayor's director of community engagement, indicated that as of December 2015, about 50 percent of all 571 board and commission appointees were white, 20 percent were Hispanic, 11 percent were African-American, 6 percent were Asian and less than 1 percent were American Indian. The chart didn't show ethnic information for 80 remaining appointees.

Changes to mayor's staff

Adler's made a few changes in his office since we last checked on this campaign promise, so we asked Stanford to send us an updated chart breaking down mayoral staff.

His 11-person staff - which includes two staffers on loan from other city departments - includes larger percentages of minorities and women than his pool of appointees. Adler's staff is about 45 percent white, 27 percent Hispanic, 18 percent Asian and 9 percent black.

Women comprise about 45 percent of his staff.

As with Adler's appointees, Districts 1 and 9 are the most common places of residence for his staff. Three employees live in District 1, another three live in District 9. The rest live in Districts 2, 5, 7 or outside the city limits.

His staffers range in age from 24 to 64, with a median age of 37 - above the median age for Austin as a whole, which is 32.

Thanks to Adler's hiring of Stanford, announced in November 2015, the mayor's office now boasts a wider range of foreign languages spoken by staffers. Stanford told us he speaks Russian and German. Adler staffers who started working for the mayor earlier in the year speak Spanish and Farsi.

We rate this promise, previously In the Works, as a Promise KEPT.

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

Previously, on April 10, 2015, we posted this Adler-O-Meter update:

Mayoral candidate Steve Adler promised at least three times during the 2014 campaign that his appointments to city boards and commissions, as well as staffing in his office, would "reflect the diverse makeup of our city."

That pledge appeared on the pages "Asian Americans for Steve Adler," "Moving All Communities Forward: Austin's African American Heritage" and "Adelante Con Steve Adler" of Adler's campaign website.

Board appointments incomplete

Adler hasn't made all of his 80 appointments to boards and commissions; those should be complete by the end of May 2015, mayoral aide Jim Wick told us by email.

But now that Adler has most of his staff in place – after he retracted a proposal to pay for additional employees through a private foundation and after the Austin City Council vetted, changed and passed an alternative proposal – we thought it a good time to check his progress.

Staff demographics match city's make-up

We started by asking Wick to fill out a chart with each staffer's age, race, council district of residence and professional background. Wick sent us back a spreadsheet with the requested information and a document with each staffer's biography.

The racial makeup of Austin is roughly 49 percent white, 35 percent Hispanic, 8 percent African-American and 6 percent Asian, per the U.S. Census Bureau.

And Adler's nine-person staff? As of April 10, 2015, it was about 44 percent white, 33 percent Hispanic, 11 percent African-American and 11 percent Asian.

Austin is 49 percent female. Adler's staff is 56 percent female.

Next, we checked on the geographic diversity of Adler's staff by checking on their home residences compared to the 10 City Council districts, which were drawn in 2013 so that they were about equal in population.

Of Adler's staff, three live in City Council District 1, which includes North and Northeast Austin. Southeast Austin's District 2, South Austin's District 5, North Austin's District 7, Northwest Austin's District 6 and Central Austin's District 9 each count one Adler staffer as a resident. One Adler staffer lives outside city limits.

The ages of Adler's staffers range from 24 to 59. Their median age is 43 – above the median age for the city as a whole, 32, per a 2013 report on the city demographer's website.

Que hablas?

We followed up with Wick and asked what non-English languages Adler's staffers speak proficiently or fluently. By email, Wick told us Cardenas, chief of staff John Michael-Vincent Cortez and policy and initiative advancement director Vanessa Sarria speak Spanish. Sly Majid, the city's chief service officer on loan to Adler's office, speaks Farsi, Wick wrote.

A 2013 U.S. Census Bureau report said 28 percent of people in the Austin metro area spoke a language other than English at home. Of those, 79 percent spoke Spanish, 10 percent spoke other Indo-European languages, 10 percent spoke Asian and Pacific Islander languages and 1 percent spoke other languages.

There are many ways in which a particular group of people can be diverse – or not. For instance, many Adler staffers, unsurprisingly, spent their prior professional careers in politics or public service. But judging by a few basic demographic factors the staff of Austin's new mayor is fairly reflective of the city's population.

Still, the jury is out on his incomplete board and commission appointments. We rate this Promise In the Works.

Our Sources

Document, "Board and Commission Appointment Tracker December 2015," City of Austin, (received by email from Jason Stanford, Dec. 22, 2015)

Document, "Copy of Adler-O-Meter mayor staff," (received by email from Jason Stanford, Dec. 29, 2015)

Email, Jim Wick, director of community engagement, Mayor Steve Adler, Dec. 30, 2015

Web pages, "Asian Americans for Steve Adler," "Moving All Communities Forward: Austin's African American Heritage" and "Adelante Con Steve Adler,", November 2014

Emails, Jim Wick, director of community engagement, Mayor Steve Adler, April 8, 2015

Spreadsheet, "Adler Staff Demographics," received by email from Jim Wick April 8, 2015

Document, "Mayors Office Staff," received by email from Jim Wick April 8, 2015

Web page, Austin, Texas, U.S. Census Bureau, accessed April 9, 2015

Web document, "ACS Profile Report: 2013 (1-year estimates)," Austin City Demographer, accessed April 9, 2015

Web report, "Language Use in the United States: 2011," U.S. Census Bureau, August 2013

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