The Price of Austin’s ‘Gentleman’s Agreement’? Critical Infrastructure Development

Recently I was telling a friend about Austin’s “Gentleman’s Agreement” to only allow one Latino and one black city council member to be elected at large at any given time and she exploded.

“What?! Sara you have to write about this, you have to expose this, people need to know!”

I laughed and I told her that everybody knows. It’s the way we do business here. It’s not a secret. And perhaps it was her LA sensibilities, or the fact that she’s never drunk Texas water, but she just didn’t get how we could live in a reality where that type of thing was blatant and yet acceptable.

Well, I told her, it’s about time for Austin to pay the piper for its bad choices.

As you probably know, Austin will be electing its first crop of candidates from districts (as opposed to at large) and many of them have never done this before. You know, perfect timing, given that 100 people are said to move to this town every day, and the roads, bridges, freeways, stop lights and parking haven’t kept pace.

What do you think it’s going to be like for a bunch of newbies to handle a growing city’s infrastructure? Think about that for a minute.

If this city had done the right thing a long time ago and included those who were helping the city grow in its governance, we would already have a seasoned group of local politicos who understand how to get things done, what needs to be done and the best options for doing it.

Instead, the reality that ignorance and exclusion hath wrought, is that, at a time when this city needs faster, better and more efficient infrastructure, we’ll be depending on a group of people who are learning as they go along. I’m not saying that the candidates aren’t smart, or professional, or worthy, or good — so hold your trolling right there.

Politics is tricky, it’s hard, it’s nuanced, it requires experience, and while we will most likely have some familiar faces back on council after this election, it’s more likely that we will have people who are inexperienced. I’ve built the plane while flying it plenty of times, but I’m not sure that’s the best way to run a city, let alone a city that’s growing at such a fast rate as Austin.

But that’s the consequence of the “Gentleman’s Agreement” Austin city leaders have maintained over the years, except it’s more likely that it will be us (as we sit stuck in traffic) that will feel the effects of it much more so than them.

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