Martin, council work to heal wounds

Published 7:13 am Friday, January 8, 2010

A night after a heated meeting, Austin City Council used the second day of its annual retreat for something completely different Thursday — healing.

And the fence mending was largely initiated by John Martin, who just 24 hours earlier had been the center of several contentious debates with fellow council members, as well as with the mayor, on various issues.

Near the end of Thursday’s meeting, Martin began reading from a written statement — something he said kept him up late Wednesday and was reworked “14 times”.

Martin said in the letter that conflict is “certain to happen” on the council, but it doesn’t have to be something that brings everyone down. The councilman also fully admitted that he can be harsh at times and knows he has to work on that.

“I struggle with it on a daily basis,” Martin said. “Every single human being has character defects.”

Martin said the current council still has a “great opportunity” to do a lot of good, but he’d like to see more time at meetings devoted to general comments and discussion, hopefully stemming from citizen input.

“I believe many issues could and should be addressed,” Martin said.

Other council members seemed receptive and appreciative of both Martin’s suggestion and admission, a complete reversal from Wednesday, when some council members expressed frustration over where the meeting went.

It was on Wednesday that Martin lashed out at council members Jeff Austin, Steve King and Dick Pacholl — members of the city fire committee — for wielding too much power in picking the new fire chief. Martin also reiterated his stance against changes to the city charter, among other issues he brought forth.

But after Martin displayed a changed tone Thursday, a number of council members expressed their gratitude for his honesty. In fact, Mayor Tom Stiehm invited each council member to say a word before the meeting adjourned, and the attitude was drastically more positive — and cooperative — than 24 hours earlier.

Pacholl, who’s been associated with council in some form for 28 years, said learning to compromise and work together is key.

“I know we all don’t agree on everything,” he said. “But I’ve always felt I still have to work with them.”

Austin reiterated what Pacholl said, referencing a quote he heard from former councilman Norm Hecimovich.

“He said, ‘We’ll have our differences,’ ” Austin said. “ ‘But once the vote is taken, we’ll walk out the door as friends.’ ”

Councilman Brian McAlister said he was disappointed by what occurred Wednesday but appreciated Martin’s comments Thursday.

McAlister also echoed Pacholl’s idea of working together.

“I try to do the right thing,” he said, “and I need other people’s help.”

City administrator Jim Hurm took Martin’s idea of getting more general discussion time worked into meetings and turned it into a suggestion of dedicating 10 minutes to it at each council session. Other council members, including Martin, seemed to like the idea.

When the discussion had ended, the mayor said he was glad to see council move on so well from what happened Wednesday.

“I thought it was excellent,” Stiehm said. “I think it had to be hard for (Martin) to (open up).”

Martin seemed satisfied and relieved when he had finished opening up.

“Like I said, I’m rough around the edges,” he said. “When I’m being honest, sometimes it comes out wrong. It’s something I need to work on.”