AUSTIN (KXAN)—The City of Austin is holding off on merging its equity office with other departments for now.
Interim City Manager Jesús Garza made the announcement to the city council in a budget work session on Tuesday.
Many of you have expressed concerns echoing what others in the community have shared, regarding the creation of the community and business equity department, plus other aspects of our reorganizations. Fundamentally, there have been issues that have been raised that have touched on the history of how the Equity Office, in particular was established. And it’s critically important that you’re able to be able to focus your attention on the resources allocation for all these departments as you adopt the budget for ’24.
And as a result I want to take the time to step back. We’re going to reassess the concerns that have been expressed about the creation of these organizational changes.Interim City Manager Jesús Garza
Garza said once the budget is approved, he’s considering creating what he called leadership positions. Garza also noted he’d look at restructuring. With this, he said he hopes this will help the city better align the department with the needs of the community.
The postponement comes after pushback from community groups who want the office to stay independent.
Monica Guzmán with Go Austin, Vamos Austin (GAVA) was one organization that spoke out publicly toward the end of July, skeptical of the proposed merge. She and others fear consolidation of the department would strip power from the equity office.
“A postponement is a good deal… [but] I refer to it as guarded optimism, because I also know that postponement means that there’s still discussion and decision down the line,” Guzmán said. “[Staying independent is] the only way they [the equity office] can maintain objectivity and their authority to get things done, especially when it comes to continuing with the equity assessment.”
Paul Saldaña with the Hispanic Advocates Business Leaders of Austin (HABLA) feels differently. He supported the proposed merger.
Saldaña’s organization, alongside the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), is hopeful a new department could help address internal issues revealed in an investigation. Saldaña released part of that report to KXAN with internal texts that led to the accusation that some equity office employees were hostile toward their Black and brown colleagues.
“There’s a history between the equity office and our Latino community, and we felt that there needed to be some accountability,” Saldaña said. “And this was a great opportunity for the city to really redirect a commitment and the principles of equity, and accountability and respect by setting up a new department.”
While that won’t be happening, at least for now, both Saldaña and Guzmán plan to keep meeting with council members to make sure their concerns are heard.
District 2 City Council Member Vanessa Fuentes thanked Garza for delaying this talk during the work session on Tuesday. It’s not clear how soon this topic will be brought back up.
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