Want to make a difference in 2017? One way to have a positive impact right here in your community is by getting involved in local government. The mayor and City Council will be dealing with a lot of really important issues in the coming year. Things like climate change, environmental justice, affordability, transportation, and homelessness will all find their way onto the local government agenda.
If you’re looking to do one new and impactful thing in 2017, this is it. Make the pledge to learn more about the people who have been elected to represent you. Learn what they stand for, how they operate, and how you can get involved.
If there is something about your local community that you don’t like, now is the year to change it. If you wish there were more parks in your neighborhood, or better public transportation, or more affordable housing options, now is the year to demand it. Now it the year to organize and to get involved.
But you’ve got to start somewhere. That’s why we’ve put together this list of 10 ways to get more involved in local government in 2017. Following these easy steps will help you to dip your toes in the water, so that eventually, you’ll be ready to make a splash.
Figure out who your City Council member is…
First things first. If you don’t know who your City Council member is, figure it out. All you have to do is visit the city’s website, and then scroll down to the “District Lookup” bar. Simply type in your address, and boom, you’ve got your City Council member.
… And then save their contact information
Now that you know who your City Council member is, make sure you know how to contact them. Save their office phone number and email address in your address book, that way you can contact them whenever an issue arises or you want to get more involved.
Contact info for each of the City Council members is listed below:
District 1 – Ora Houston
District 2 – Delia Garza
District 3 – Sabino “Pio” Renteria
District 4 – Greg Casar
District 5 – Ann Kitchen
District 6 – Jimmy Flannigan
District 7 – Leslie Pool
District 8 – Ellen Troxclair
- Ellen.Troxclair@austintexas.gov, District8@austintexas.gov
District 9 – Kathie Tovo
District 10 – Alison Alter
Your City Council member is in office to represent you, so don’t be afraid to introduce yourself. Try sending them an email saying who you are, what neighborhood you live in, and what topic areas interest you most. Many City Council members keep running lists of constituents that care about different issues so that they can be called upon if volunteer or advisory opportunities arise. If you’re hoping to get more involved in local civic life, tell your City Council member. They might just be able to help you connect to the right people.
Establishing a basic connection with your City Council member early on makes it easier to talk to them about important issues down the road. If there is ever an important ordinance that’d like to speak to your City Council member about, it will be easier to approach them if they know who you are.
And if emails or phone calls aren’t quite your thing, try and find an event that your City Council member is speaking at, and meet them there. Many City Council members host community meetings in their district throughout the year. We’ll try and keep you posted about when they come up by including them on our EcoCalendar.
Follow along on Twitter…
Get daily updates on what your City Council members are up to by subscribing to the Austin EcoNetwork’s “ATX City Council” Twitter list. We’ve got all 10 City Council members (plus the Mayor) on our list, that way you never miss an important tweet from one of your elected officials.
And for a broader look at what city staff and departments are up to, subscribe to our “Your City Gov’t – ATX” list. By subscribing, you’ll get information from the library, police department, Austin Energy, Austin Water, Cap Metro, and so much more!
…And other social media networks
Following your City Council member (and the mayor) on social media is a really easy way to stay informed about what your City Council member is up to. Many of them regularly post about volunteer opportunities, important votes, and new city policies, so liking their page on Facebook is definitely worth your while.
The City Council’s Facebook pages are listed below:
- Ora Houston
- Delia Garza
- Sabino “Pio” Renteria
- Greg Casar
- Ann Kitchen
- Jimmy Flannigan
- Leslie Pool
- Ellen Troxclair
- Kathie Tovo
- Alison Alter
- Mayor Steve Adler
Attend the State of the City Address
If you’ve never really followed along with local city issues before and feel a bit lost, don’t worry, because now is the perfect time to get involved. That’s because Austin Mayor Steve Adler is about to give his annual State of the City Address, which lays out some of the highs and lows from 2016 and reveals some of the mayor’s big plans for 2017. It’s the perfect way to introduce yourself to local government.
Plus, the entire event is free and open to the public. The speech will be delivered on Saturday, January 28th at 5pm at City Hall. The address will be followed by a reception (with live music) in the City Hall atrium. Parking at City Hall is free, or you can take Cap Metro bus line. Tickets can be reserved here>>
Can’t make it to the event? Don’t worry. The entire thing will be livestreamed on ATXN.
Pledge to attend at least one City Council meeting in 2017
Never even been to City Hall before? Shake things up in 2017 and pledge to attend at least one City Council meeting. If you’re feeling shy about the idea, try bringing some of your friends along and just go and observe for an hour or so. Doing that will make you feel more confident and ready to attend a meeting when Council is voting on an issue that you care about.
As far as choosing the right meetings goes, we’ll keep you posted on when the big and exciting issues pop up.
Join a local advocacy organization
If you’re really passionate about advancing certain policies, then a local advocacy organization might be for you. There are lots of great ones in Austin, working on everything from social justice to the environment. Joining an advocacy organization allows you to magnify your voice by tapping into a larger network of active and engaged individuals. Advocacy organizations also make it easy for you to participate, often by sending out an email or Facebook message telling you where and when to show up at a rally or big City Council meeting.
We’ve listed a few below, sorted by topic area:
- If you’re interested in energy policy… Public Citizen Texas, Sierra Club
- If you’re interested in environmental justice… ATXEJ
- If you’re interested in recycling, composting, and zero waste … Texas Campaign for the Environment
- If you’re interested in climate change …. Sierra Club, Climate Buddies, Citizens’ Climate Lobby, 350 Austin
- If you’re interested in water and conservation … Clean Water Action, Save Barton Creek Association, Save Our Springs Alliance, Hill Country Conservancy
- If you’re interested in bikes … Bike Austin
- If you’re interested in music … Austin Music People
- If you’re interested in city planning and transportation … Evolve Austin
- If you’re interested in housing and affordability… HousingWorks Austin
Apply to serve on a Board or Commission
Another great way to get more directly involved with local government is to join a city board or commission.
Boards and commissions are essentially citizen advisory groups that specialize in a whole host of different city-related topics, from the environment to the arts. They are made up entirely of volunteers, appointed by the mayor and City Council. When a new issue arises, a board or commission will typically receive additional public input, discuss the issue at their meeting, and then make a recommendation to City Hall.
Get in the Civics 101 spirit
Learn more about how local government works by flipping through one of our Civics 101 resource guides. You’ll find information about how to attend a City Council meeting, how our city’s budget process works, and how local government affects your everyday life. If you’re hungry for even more information, stay tuned for our upcoming Civics 101 Happy Hours, where we’ll give you a more in-depth look at how our city functions.
And, if you’re part of a larger organization, social club, or group that wants a Civics 101 training, we can come to you. Just send an email to content@austineconetwork and we can schedule a fun, informational, and empowering event!