The conservative members of the Austin City Council were in an unusual position during Thursday’s meeting: one of power, which they used to bring usually routine votes to a screeching halt.
Dozens of minor measures, including granting already budgeted money for the Salvation Army’s downtown homeless shelter, were caught in a sort of procedural gridlock.
The choke point? It takes six votes, not just a simple majority of the members present, to approve an item. Those six votes were hard to find with Mayor Steve Alder and Council Members Delia Garza and Ann Kitchen in Washington, D.C., campaigning for a $40 million federal transportation grant in the Smart City Challenge.
That gave the council’s conservative trio — Council Members Don Zimmerman, Ellen Troxclair and Sheri Gallo — the numbers to block items from passing.
Take the $210,000 grant to the Salvation Army to expand social services at the Austin Shelter for Women and Children. The money was included in the budget passed last year.
But with Adler, Kitchen and Garza absent, Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo could find only five votes in favor of cutting the check.
When Tovo attempted to postpone the measure until next week, when all 11 council members are expected to be in attendance, Gallo and Troxclair abstained and Zimmerman voted no, killing the measure.
When Council Member Greg Casar asked for a delay so he could consult with the city’s attorney about the logistics of bringing the item back next week, the three refused to yield again.
“I think it should be obvious that 90 percent, better than 90 percent of our agenda items are at the discretion of the city management,” said Zimmerman. “I think it’s a trivial matter for the items to simply be put back on next week.”
When the council took up the Salvation Army grant again Thursday afternoon, Zimmerman voted no, Troxclair and Gallo abstained, but with only five yes votes, the measure failed.
Tovo told city staff to bring the measure back next week, when all 11 council members are expected to be in town.