Our opinion: Conversations serve key public purpose

Published 9:24 am Tuesday, January 7, 2014

While we are pleased the Austin City Council hasn’t outright discarded Conversations with the Council, its informal meetings with Austin residents, we are disappointed the council has decided to severely cut back on its Conversations.

We have opined before how Conversations with the Council serves a vital purpose for residents. It allows people who may not feel comfortable addressing council members at council chambers the ability to talk one-on-one with their city council in a low-key environment. Taking away that ability curtails opportunities for the council to communicate with and get feedback from residents, which is always a bad idea.

We do not deny council members are easily found within Austin. Many council members serve on community organizations or participate in community events. They are involved, and if residents cannot find them around town they can contact them via email or through their phone numbers, which are listed on the city of Austin’s website.

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Yet, in this day and age, not everyone knows how to access the city of Austin’s website — some don’t even know who represents their neighborhood on the council.

That’s why Conversations with the Council was such a good idea. It allows residents from all walks of life the ability to speak to council members in person, which is often the best way for people to communicate problems and find solutions. That’s what happened when one woman decided to speak to the council about housing and rental issues last summer. Council members, who already wanted to address rental and housing issues in 2013, were spurred to action by these complaints, and the focus on dilapidated housing resulted in the council condemning eight homes and laying the groundwork to review a rental ordinance over the next few months.

Conversations with the Council was a good idea, and it still is. The council acknowledges this, as it plans to hold future Conversations with the Council regarding bigger issues that come to light.

We say those bigger issues can be addressed at Conversations with the Council. Limiting opportunities for the council to speak with citizens is a bad idea, and we encourage the council to schedule more Conversations sooner rather than later.