AUSTIN, Texas - District Six sits in the northwest part of town and Jimmy Flannigan currently sits in this council seat. He said he's running for reelection because he's not done with his work.
“In the last four years I’ve held more than 60 different town halls, community events, town hall meetings, engaged the community, I turned that unparalleled engagement into results,” he said.
Flannigan also is the chairperson for the public safety committee, putting District Six at the head of the table. He was one of the unanimous council votes to defund the Austin Police Department by millions of dollars. He says the vote was worth the upcoming results.
“Over the last ten years, the budget of that department has nearly doubled while the population has grown by just 30 percent. It is the largest bureaucracy in the general fund and we have to find a better way to do this,” said Flannigan.
He said officers should not be acting as mental health professionals. “If you think police officers should have to do the thousands of jobs we ask them to do, which is far more than is reasonable, far more than what is necessary, you better be able to answer how much tax you are going to raise in order to accomplish that goal,” said Flannigan.
Also, council has lifted the public spaces camping ban, something Flannigan said only criminalized the homeless.
“It is very easy to claim that reinstating the camping ban is going to somehow magically solve homelessness but we know that it won't. That is how West Coast cities turned into what they are turning into. We can't criminalize people who don't have homes. It only gives them barriers to get them access to the services that we are standing up,” said Flannigan.
Native Austinite and former volunteer firefighter Mackenzie Kelly is running against Flannigan. She believes quite the opposite. “The camping ban being rescinded really didn't look much toward the future of what would happen to Austin's homeless population,” she said.
Kelly said Austin needs to reinstate the ban and keep the homeless in triaged locations. “If we were to have them camp at specific places, we would be able to address their needs they have, be it mental illness, addiction, even job skills,” said Kelly.
On police funding, all three candidates running against Flannigan have said defunding was not the way to go.
“It makes my heart hurt to know response times are lagging because there are not enough officers on the street. We cannot allow our community to be less safe. Crime is rising and we are back at staffing levels in 2020 where we were in 2015. We are moving backwards,” said Kelly.
“I don’t believe it's unreasonable to have a law enforcement that offers us equal justice under the law and then any person who needs police help should feel comfortable and cared for when they pick up the phone,” said Jennifer Mushtaler.
As a medical doctor, Mushtaler feels strongly about protecting her city through the duration of the pandemic. “Masking does make a difference. Nobody likes it, it's not comfortable. I wear one medically and we know they work,” she said.
She also is hoping another issue that directly affects all Austinites doesn't get swept under the rug, the land development code. "When we talk about rezoning, the concerns become loss in property value or extreme rise in property value that could potentially price people out of their home," she said.
When it comes to the homeless, she also feels the homeless problem is not getting any better, especially in District Six. “It's unfortunate but it speaks for itself. These are failed policies. It's not helping lift people out of poverty and homelessness and it's not helping the local businesses here or people trying to get to and from work and school,” said Mushtaler.
Finally, Dee Harrison holds a criminal justice and emergency management background. She has one major problem with the defunding decision.
“The one part of the defunding that really sent me over the edge was the plan to move victim services out of the police department. When I worked for probation in Travis County and Williamson County, we worked really hard to get victim services and victim advocates embedded in the local police departments because that's where they need to be. Now to say you’re moving them to some nebulous city department that shall be named later is just wrong,” said Harrison.
Harrison said current policies are not working to resolve the homeless problem, and she believes she can be the new face on council to create real solutions on the path to permanent housing.
“You need to provide sheltering at the very beginning. That's where they made a mistake they tried to jump over providing shelter and letting them provide their own shelter with a tent or tarp and move into transitional housing,” said Harrison.
Voters in this area of Austin have a highly contested decision to make: keep incumbent Flannigan, or go an entirely different direction with either Harrison, Mushtaler, or Kelly.
Early voting ends Oct. 30, with Election Day happening on Nov. 3.