Austin City Council will launch task force to boost public engagement

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As part of an initiative to increase public participation during meetings, Austin City Council displayed texts and tweets from local residents on a projector screen throughout its Thursday meeting.
Photo Credit: Rachel Zein | Daily Texan Staff

The Austin City Council attempted to boost public participation in Council meetings Thursday by projecting a livestream of community members’ texts and tweets on the wall.

Although most of the messages were relevant to the meeting agenda, the word-clouds and texts the Council presented also prominently featured Internet memes, such as “doge,” as well as the word “poop.” Eventually, the Council disabled the text-stream service.  

At the meeting, Council members also discussed the formation of a public engagement task force, which will include UT experts.

Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo said she plans on launching a separate student advisory council.

“I see it as a separate project, but I hope the public engagement task force would have some representatives on [the student advisory council],” Tovo said. “This would be a student group to advise my office and make sure we have good communication.”

Robert Svodoba, co-director of the UT Student Government City Relations agency, said the group plans to meet with Tovo to establish a mutually beneficial relationship.

“We already talked to her during the campaign, but just from a City Relations standpoint to introduce ourselves and present ourselves as a resource and outlet for students,” Svoboda said. “[We wanted her] to gauge student opinion and to find out how she can reach out to students and how we can reach out to her.”

Tovo said the Council will discuss restructuring City Council meetings to make them more accessible. She said she anticipates future Council meetings will be shorter and more frequent.

“We are trying to improve the process so we have more and more effective public input earlier in the process,” Tovo said.

City Council members Sheri Gallo, Ann Kitchen, Ora Houston and Leslie Pool are working with the mayor’s office to have a draft resolution establishing the task force ready for next week’s City Council meeting. The task force will report back to the Council after six months to make recommendations on how to further improve community engagement in Council meetings.

“We only talked about it as a general idea,” Tovo said. “The task force, as I understand it, would not be Council
members. It would be something we kick off to help us revise our process — but not comprised of Council members. That’s one thing my colleague has taken up and is working on a resolution for next week’s agenda.”

Pool said she is optimistic about the City’s plan to expand and diversify public input at Council meetings.

“Building on this sort of engagement we’re having this evening, the entire Council feels it’s a key component of our ability to work in a transparent and accountable way if we understand the various avenues of public engagement,” Pool said.