City Council inauguration calls attention to poverty, improvements

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Kathie Tovo follows Rev. Albert Rodriguez in prayer after the Austin City Council Inauguration on Tuesday night. In her inauguration speech, Tovo gave a nod to former Place 3 Councilwoman Randi Shade before addressing the issue of Austin’s rising poverty rate.

Photo Credit: Ryan Edwards | Daily Texan Staff

Only one new face joined the Austin City Council in their inauguration Tuesday night, but new Place 3 member Kathie Tovo is expected to bring new perspectives on education and neighborhood zoning.

The inauguration welcomed the new and returning members. The council passed a unanimous vote to name Place 6 Councilwoman Sheryl Cole the new mayor pro tem, relieving Mike Martinez. Martinez brought the motion for her ascension before the council, which was then seconded by Place 5 Councilman Bill Spelman. Martinez will remain on the council.

“This is a position that’s bestowed on a council member because of tenured service and dedication, and I am honored to receive it,” said Cole.

Incumbent council members Laura Morrison and Chris Riley and the newly elected Tovo delivered speeches to a full room of City Hall visitors. They spoke about the future of Austin, civic participation and acknowledged their families, staffs and fellow council members.

Tovo acknowledged her respect for former Place 3 Councilwoman Randi Shade, who she defeated in this month’s runoff election.

In her speech, Tovo recognized the Austinites who take the time to participate in City Council meetings, and those who do not but who are still affected by the decisions the council makes.

“I won’t forget that for many Austinites, they won’t have the time to participate in our public process, and they may never come into these chambers, but the decisions made here matter deeply to their lives,” she said. “And that’s why those of us elected to serve must go beyond these walls to listen and to learn so that we can represent the public interest as fully as possible.”

Tovo and Cole both drew attention in their speeches to an increasing poverty rate in Austin, as well as an increasing percentage of Austin children living in poverty.

Riley referred to long-term plans for the city, including transportation issues, the Comprehensive Plan and upcoming improvements on Airport Boulevard that will make Austin a more pedestrian-friendly city.

“Austin is blessed with many people who care passionately about their visions,” Riley said. “For me, the most meaningful things we work on are often not the items that appear on each week’s agenda. They’re the longer term issues that join us together in striving for a better future.”

Common themes in their speeches included the need to create solutions for the growing number of Austinites living in poverty, the need for a council that represents the interests of Austin citizens and businesses, and their mutual respect for fellow council members.

In Wednesday’s special meeting, and the last before they adjourn for a summer recess, they will vote on a financial agreement between the state comptroller and the incoming Formula One racetrack.

The council will return to its regularly scheduled Thursday meetings July 28.