Joining the show this week are Kate Moore, Board Chair at the Austin Tenants Council (also VP at Austin ECHO) and Skeeter Miller from the Greater Austin Restaurant Association (and owner of The County Line on The Lake) – with a special performance by Singer/Songwriter Shelly Knight Band!
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Hello Austin! Hello District 6! Hello Clawback watchers. I hope you all had a good week. It has been an intense one for the Council. Lot of stuff to dig into, and we've got some great guests on the show today Kate Moore, who is with both Austin's Council and Echo; Skeeter Miller with the Austin Restaurant Association and the owner, and I believe as he describes the chief dishwasher at the County Line; and then an amazing performance by Shelly Knight. But first, as I like to begin the show, let's talk talk a little about the pandemic. I'm gonna bring up the dashboards. Hopefully we're all familiar with the two dashboards that the City and the County publishes, and as always like to remind folks this dashboard even though it says Travis County, it is all of the city of Austin, all of Travis County, including the part of the city that's in Williamson County, which is half of my district, where I also live myself. Yes, Wilco Austinites, you are in this in this too. You can see some good trending down in the new cases reported. We still have a challenge of the equity and the the distribution of cases based on race - that top line right there is our Austin Hispanic cases, which is far greater than the percent of population that is Hispanic in this community. A little bit good trending towards the mean, but honestly, you can start to see the black community numbers start to tick up to a lot of complicated issues that as it relates to the fairness and the the distribution of cases in the community. But the great chart is on the other one. Check that out, my beautiful Austinites. Look at that coming back down so this chart is the seven-day moving average of hospital admissions, which among the very important data points that we are using to measure the progress of the pandemic, this is the one that is the trigger for whether or not we need to lock down more, or we can start to be more cautious and have some more targeted reopenings and really kind of getting our arms and handle around it because of the availability of hospital resources. But even the data itself, if you think about it, it ain't great- like the fact that there are fewer people in the hospital doesn't mean we should seek to then add a lot more people to the hospital. But nonetheless, this is the chart that was established many many weeks ago about how we were going to make our decisions as a city and mostly centered in the Mayor's office based on how these kind of emergency orders work, but you can see we tipped up into that Stage 5 for a little bit, and the numbers have trended back down. I know some folks are concerned that the data is somehow wrong that there were changes in federal reporting, and there's a lot of conversation happening about that. And you know, no data set is going to be perfect, but these numbers are at least very encouraging. I think more often than not, we can take at least some joy that Austinites are wearing their masks, and they're staying home. They're not getting into large crowds, and y'all, we just gotta keep it up. We just gotta keep it up. We're doing such great job, and this means fewer people will die, and you know there's a lot of challenge how we're gonna get through this pandemic and we need science to produce a vaccine and all the things, but proud of you, Austin; let's keep it up. Let's keep up the good work on that. There's other stuff. Let me get that down; take my name off there. We go. Yeah so very professional show as I narrate my own editing of it. So what else happened this week? Oh yeah, we had a whole public hearing on the city budget and there was just some really horrible drama over the weekend, and I'm not gonna have a long conversation about Garrett Foster, I think there's been lot of coverage in the media about it. Some of it better than others. Some of it worst. I found it a little jarring to see some media reports using a photo of Garrett Foster that was not in his veteran uniform, but the person who shot him, they were using a photo of him in uniform. And I think it just goes to show that those types of subtle messages can really inform How people interpret news reporting. So I hope that future reporting will do justice by Garrett Foster at least, and show him that as a veteran who was exercising both his first and second Amendment rights by protesting and by carrying a weapon. And as APD has reported definitively did not raise it did not shoot it. More details to be coming out about that later. But beyond that case, which my hope is will be adjudicated in a court of law We're also talking about the budget so, in addition to everything else, several of us on the Council put proposals, more specific proposals that have been put out before put them up on the Council Message Noard. I'm gonna bring up the Council Message Board so you all can see what I'm talking about. So this is- where is it? Oh. So there are two websites I'm gonna talk about: AustinCouncilForum.org and ATXN.tv This is the Council Message Board. This is a place where Council Members and only Council Members and their staffs can post and engage with each other in a way that is open and transparent with the public. And the way the state law is written actually, once we post on the message board, we can't edit it. It becomes a public record, a public document. I would say 99.9% of the time when Council members are putting stuff up on the message board, we mean it because there's no going back. So this is the the main page and then you can click on the message board and you can see tons and tons and tons of content on here going back all the way I think all the way back to 2017 or maybe in 2015, where you can see posts by Council members on a whole variety of topics as we head into either budget adoption or Council meetings or other types of votes that we're gonna take. The very top post at least at the moment, because obviously more posts will be moving around - is my proposal that I've titled the Proposal to Reconstruct and Deconstruct and obviously this text is very small but ultimately it breaks down into two pieces. I'm gonna take the screen off take breaks down into two pieces. One is taking the entirety of the police Department almost $440 million - which is the largest department of the City by orders of magnitude, It is a ginormous piece of bureaucratic infrastructure, and instead of it being this massive single entity, breaking it into separate departments that will allow additional oversight and transparency and accountability, but also more specific metrics and measurements around each distinct area. So in my proposal, at least, you would have a Civilian Department of Emergency Communications and Technology and then sworn departments of patrol and investigations and traffic safety and professional standards. It's almost like a memory test, even though I have it on my screen here I wanted to if I could remember it and I did. Those departments then would have their own their own Department head that was sworn but then civilian leadership above it. Part of that is in response to how the state law is written about if you have sworn officers, they have to have a sworn department head, and there are certain jobs that state law requires a sworn officer to be. But by breaking it into additional departments that are the size of other city departments it actually can help with the oversight and the distribution of power and influence in the bureaucracy. So I'm excited about that proposal. It's gonna be a good one. We'll see as we get into this next week, how much of it is doable on short order, and how much of it is gonna take a little more time to build out the kind of bureaucratic infrastructure that's required when you set up departments. The other proposal is one to demolish the current APD headquarters and then use the property where that sits in a community-led process that would then hopefully further the economic success in the black community and help address historic inequities in the black community in Austin, something that has been a problem. Austin is one of the most economically segregated cities in America. There are a lot of reasons for that, and you go way back to the original segregation zoning in 1929, and problems with zoning ever since, amongst other things, straight up racism not withstanding. And there's a lot of stuff that can be done with that, but a community-led process will determine an inevitable outcome. But to that point, I wanted to just say one more thing, and then we'll bring on our first guest. This proposal to demolish the headquarters is completely uncontroversial. In fact, that that site where the headquarters exist, also used the home of the municipal court. And prior to being the chair of the Public Safety Committee, which I am now, I was the chair of the Judicial Committee. And as chair of the Judicial Committee, we took a tour of the Muni Court, and it was, in a word, decrepit. It was falling apart; there were plumbing and sewer issues; there were electrical issues; there were some ADA issues. The elevators kept breaking, even some asbestos panels in the basement. It was a mess, and it was really problematic both to the staff that worked in that building and the public. Because it was a municipal court, the public would be coming in quite frequently. And so we worked for two years to get a new municipal court set up, which opened in April, in the middle of pandemic. So we didn't get to do a big fancy ribbon cutting. But that was something that had been on the list of desires and needs of the city for probably more than 10 years. And the same thing goes for the APD headquarters. That building is basically the same building and is very much falling apart. It's no longer a useful building. At the same time, we have other office space in the city that is now underused because we've built new buildings in the Mueller neighborhood, one for Austin Energy, one for the Planning & Development Department. So this is mostly as response to fiscal responsibility - of having a building that's taking a lot of money to maintain and prop up because it's falling apart, moving staff into existing, under-utilized space that the city already owns, and then engaging with both the community and private industry on how we can better utilize that piece of property, which is in a very geographically desirable location, being both downtown and adjacent to the future Waterloo Greenway and the future burying of I-35. So it's a pretty great- pretty great idea. I'm excited about it. But you know, people like to report things, they like to tell stories that are, in a word, untrue. And what you find, what I'm learning is, there is an ecosystem of right-wing media, and the way that works is you put out a proposal and then you have a group called, I don't know, disinformationbattles.com and Disinformation Battles writes a story, and it says Council member wants to do something that sounds crazy. and then they write a story and then that makes it's way around the right-wing blogosphere, and then another site, Brett- Brett- Brett. How do you say it, Brett Brett Beert? I think it's how you say it. They then write it again, and then it makes another circle, and then you know at some point, I'm sure Fox News is gonna call me and want to know why I wanna set the whole of downtown on fire, which is inevitably how that game of telephone is played. But ultimately, Austinites, D-6ers, what I'm telling you is: Read the message board. Read the Proposals. Understand exactly what's going on. Don't let yourself be misinformed by incendiary headlines that are designed to create emotional reactions. We're actually doing really good work, and honestly I believe possibly the most fiscally responsible movement in municipal policy maybe in history. We're doing some really good stuff, and it's gonna be better for the taxpayers, and of course, ultimately better for black people, and better for our communities of color and our BIPOC communities, and all the folks that are that are demanding significant change. So let's move on. Will be a lot more to talk about in fact, I'm gonna put that back up. On Tuesday, Aug. 4th, and Thursday. Aug. 6th next week. you will see live on ATXN.TV both a full Council Work Session on Tuesday and a Public Safety Committee meeting that I will chair on Thursday, digging into the details leading into the budget adoption the following week. So stay tuned for that. Okay, 13 minutes, and I haven't brought my first guest, yet. Let's get to that.
Kate Moore, Board Chair at the Austin Tenants Council
Alright. Let me bring up our first guest, who is both, as I said earlier, the board chair of the Austin Tenants Council, but also the Vice President at Austin Echo. Let's welcome to Kate Moore to the show. Hi Kate! Hi Jimmy! It's great to see you. It is so great to see you too. I'm so grateful for you for coming on the show today. First off, how are you doing? We are many months into a stay-at- home universe that is just kind of Bonkersville, and I'm curious how you and your family is doing. Is everybody okay? We're great. You know, I'm staying at home. I have a 12 year old and a 15 year old, both girls, and I think they're all going a little stir- crazy, but we're lucky. My husband and I are working from home, and we're staying safe, so we're doing just great. I'm so glad to hear that, Kate. so you have kind of two universes that you operate in, although, TBH, they're very related, ultimately. First why don't you give the 10-cent version of your role at Echo and then I wanna talk about the Tenants Council. Great! So Echo is the lead agency for the local continuum of care. So we coordinate the homeless response system in the Austin-Travis County area. So that means we work and coordinate with providers who are providing vital services to people experiencing homelessness throughout the community, and we provide some funding that we coordinate through HUD primarily. I'm the Vice President of strategic planning and partnerships there, so I get to be a part of strategic conversations, and we've been really busy since the pandemic hit along with all of our community providers in the City of Austin, really working to support people experiencing homelessness who are at high risk for COVID-19. Well, that's obviously very important work. We're going to be both as a Council on Tuesday, having a long presentation about homelessness, certainly as it relates to the budget. I am very passionate about the role Echo plays in this ecosystem, and I have made many public statements to that effect. The best way that this community is going to address and ultimately reduce homelessness to - and I can't remember exact phrase, Kate. It was rare, it's rare… Brief. Brief! And non repeating- non reoccurring. Non- reoccuring. The way we will do that is by letting Echo do it's job, which is the ecosystem of service providers. So thank you for your work at Echo. Let's talk about the Tenants Council because in addition to being a Council Member, up until last year, I was the only renter on the city Council. So renter issues are very close to my heart as it is to nearly or more than half of my district, depending on which math you use, are also renters. So what does the Austin Tenants Council do so? Austin Tenants Council is - we're really lucky actually in Austin to have Austin's Tenants Council. We provide fair housing mediation and we also do tenant landlord support, and there's not very many communities in the country, and there's only one other community in the state that has a similar organization. So one of the things we do is if somebody has believed that they have had a fair housing violation - so that means that they've been discriminated gainst based off of a protected class. So that means based off of their gender, their sexual orientation, based off of their race, for instance, their disability status, they have a right to ask for a complaint and for that to be investigated. So they come to us to understand their fair housing rights. Sometimes we can do further investigation. Sometimes we pass on investigations to HUD. Sometimes we do kind of secret shopper investigations where if we've heard similar complaints about a property, we can go in and do some further investigation to find out more information. But it's really important, you know and I think that these times it's really highlighted how racial discrimination is still very much alive, unfortunately in our country, in our community. And that we really need to hold each other accountable to the basic rights that we all have under the Fair Housing Act. Another piece that Austin Tenants Council does is really support renters. What we do is ensure that renters understand their rights and help them navigate being a renter. We staff a hotline and that number is - I wrote it down so I'd remember it. If you need assistance and you're a renter and you have a question we have a hotline that's available during the day Monday through Friday. It's 512-474-1961. We also have online counseling if you go to our website, which is housingrights.org and that website, you can type your question in on an online basis, and we'll have housing counselors to get back to you. So this is really a side of the business that has been really active and receiving a huge number of calls. Our staff has gone working remote from their homes, and we're staffing our hotlines there and our online counseling there. We also do repair mediation. Which is really important. So if you're, for instance, in the middle of this hot summer, your AC breaks and you've asked and requested for your property manager to fix it, but you're not getting a response and you don't understand your rights. The last thing you wanna do, for instance, is to stop paying your rent, because then you've lost your rights in that situation. Our housing counselors can help you walk through as an example of what exactly are your rights. They can provide you templates of letters, for instance of how to move forward negotiating that repair issue. Then, a lot, right now, a lot of people are really concerned about evictions. So the city has been a great leader in the country and in the state and providing eviction protection. They've gone above and beyond what the country and the state has done. There's been an eviction moratorium that I'm sure many of you are familiar with that. the city has passed that's now gone through September. But a lot of people may not understand their rights and they think that just means that they don't have to pay their rent. So we're doing a lot of education around making sure people understand that when that moratorium ends, that they still will be responsible for paying that rent, and they could be evicted from their housing. So we're trying to do as much support as we can for renters during this COVID crisis. It's been a very complicated question for folks, and the pandemic has- I mean it was complicated before and the pandemic has just added this whole new challenge of people losing their jobs and losing their income truly through no fault of their own. We have this thing that frankly the Trump administration should have been prepared to solve, because we're prepared to solve it as a nation in the past. There was some help in the last federal stimulus; the city very quickly stood up programs. One program the RISE program and other program for rental assistance, amongst a lot of programs: Some that were small business that I created or a nonprofit support one that my colleague Council Member Alter helped put together, a childcare fund, a lot of different programs the city is standing up, a lot of it with federal dollars. There's another federal stimulus package being designed now. Are you hearing anything about the conversation about renters at that level? So I really follow, and I recommend the National Low Income Housing Coalition. They are great national advocates. We're members at Echo. I'm not sure if the Tenants Council's a member; we should be if we're not. They are really the champion for low income renters and people experiencing homelessness on a national level. So following their updates and their campaigns for progress, the Heroes Act has passed the House but has not passed the Senate, and it provides- the Heroes Act provides a tremendous amount of rental protections, and one of the things that we need desperately both on the homeless response system and the low income renters side is rental assistance, right? So we know a lot of people have lost their jobs. They haven't been able to pay rent, and rent is gonna come to you sooner than later. And we need a we need infusion of rental assistance. We have received some assistance as a community, right, like RISE rise funding for our local funds, as an example. But we're gonna need more. So the Heroes Act, for instance, if we can get some funding like in the Heroes Act or something similar, that would go a long way. So I encourage people to go to the National Low Income Housing Coalition website if you're interested in learning more or potentially contacting your Congress person, that would be a great way to get connected. We're trying to do everything we can at the local level, The Austin Tenants Council is such a great partner in that effort, and we in District 6 in far Northwest Austin have often sent renters facing challenges to your organization, especially in our corner of the city don't sometimes know that these resources exist. You know we have this suburbanization of poverty and you have these little pockets. We have two Title 1 elementary schools, Anderson Mill and Live Oak Elementary. It's not that everybody in this corner of the city is, you know, wealthy and living on a golf course. It's far more complicated than that. Somebody's gotta work at the HEB, and somebody's working at the restaurant; somebody's working at the at the retail place and working at the Starbucks. These are these are important jobs to keep our lives going and keep the economy going and I think we're all learning that as a result of this pandemic. I really would ask folks, you know, don't just think about these issues as how they affect you personally. We are all very much learning that as a city and as a community, we rely on folks who are doing different jobs than us. And the support systems we built to help those folks both help keep the services going that we want, but also help avoid what I hope is not a coming wave of homelessness as it relates pandemic and rental bills and all the other pieces. And at the end of the day, unfortunately, the federal government is kind of the only place with the financial scale to really to address this problem at that level. We're doing everything we can at the local level and thanks, Kate for the Austin Tenants Council and Echo for being a partner with the city in all of those efforts. Any parting words for folks that you want them to know? I can bring up the phone number again, too. Yeah, if you could bring up the phone number and to please contact the Austin Tenants Council if you have if you need assistance or if you know anybody else that does, and please don't hesitate to advocate on the federal level for for more funding coming our way. So I really appreciate you inviting me on and letting me talk about these issues and your support. Thank you, Jimmy. Thanks Kate. Send my love to everybody on the team. Thank you. Let me get that down. Yes, so the Austin Tenants Council, you know we provide a little bit of support to that group, but ultimately people have rights. They have rights that are enshrined in state law. Some that are enshrined in local ordinance. Not everybody can go out and hire an attorney every time something gets a little weird. So it's great to have nonprofit organizations like that at the ready to make sure people know how to access all of the rights and the processes that are defined. So renters, if you're watching, know that if you get into some trouble, that group is there to help you as well. And you can always contact my office, and we'll send you their way.
Singer/Songwriter Shelly Knight
We have a musical guest this week. Last week, we had some technical challenges. We did it without a musical guest. Just didn't- I mean it was great, our two guests that were there. We had a really beautiful conversation, but it doesn't feel like a Clawback unless we have some live music involved. So I'm so excited to bring on our musical guest today, Shelly Knight. Hi Shelly! Hi Jimmy! It is so great to have you on the show. First, how are you and your family doing? How are you making it through? Is everybody healthy? Everybody safe? Yes, everybody's healthy and safe. My music and life partner Fred and I have been hunkered down. We've been doing some recording and some writing while we're kinda stuck at home, I adopted a couple of dogs. So you know. And we're lucky that my son plays drums, so we haven't had to get together with the full band since my son and Fred and I have been quarantine together. We've been you know able to perform and do some live streams because we have a kid that plays drums. So we were able to form a little band here among the family so. That is amazing! That is so fortunate compared to a lot of musicians that are having to do background tracks or looping or whatever to kinda make their their music go, but you guys are built for this, in some way, somehow. We brought him up to do it. Yeah. That's amazing. So also I understand that you were about to release an album right before the shutdown? Yes! So how are you coping with that? And what are your plans to release it? Well right now I'm kinda like, should we do it? Or not? You know because before COVID, we were playing 3-4 times a month; we had seven shows that week of South By, and everything just kinda came to a halt. And I thought, okay, the last thing people are gonna do right now is buy music. So I may just put it up on Spotify and let people listen to it for free, and if they really want it, they can buy it. I'm not gonna make any money off of it. I know that, and everybody's in a spot right now where they're you know they're just trying to survive and so luxuries like music, they're probably not gonna spend the money on because they need groceries or whatever. But I wanna do it this fall. Who knows what's gonna happen? Who knows if there's gonna be clubs left to even play at? We can only hope - with so many closing, it's so sad for the music community because as it is, it was very hard to get gigs as it was because there are thousands and thousands of musicians and only a handful of places to play. And now there's gonna be even a smaller number of clubs to play at. The competition's pretty tight to get into some of these places. And I'm hoping that a lot of them can stick around, but it's you know it's no fault of their own they had to close. And you know, you think about all the people that – sound guys you've worked with, and bartenders you've seen at the club, and the friends you've made, and you're thinking, Gosh, how are these people getting by? Your heart goes out. It is tough and and you know, the day that the Mayor Adler canceled South B, which again, I think was the right decision, and may go down in history as one of the moments that the nation took it seriously – credit to Mayor Adler for that. That night, I was convening stakeholders in my office to talk about how to protect the music industry from the South by closure, cuz it was not lost on me or really anybody that this might be an inevitable future in a pandemic, and here we are. We stood up some programs, but ultimately, like with our last guest, of the scale of the problem really requires federal intervention, and there is some some movement there. So I'm I'm hopeful. The other thing I wanted to ask you, before we hear you play: You also have a day job. Yes! As most Musicians do. So yeah tell me about your day job, and I'm curious if you incorporate your music into your work. Yes I do. I am a kindergarten teacher, and I do play the guitar for the kids, and it's one of the best parts of teaching kindergarten is being able to share music with the kids. They just love it so much but yeah, I'm a teacher. It's been kind of a weird year, to say the least. You know when everything happened in March, we had to kind of, what's the word we're using? Pivot to the online thing, and I had to learn a lot - like overnight. How to do things, and I was kind of forced into using more technology, because that's the only way you could reach the kids. But these little guys, these five and six-year-olds, they figured that stuff out pretty quick. So if anything comes from this, besides keeping the kids safe and doing the online school, is that they're gonna be very tech savvy. Cuz even at five years old, they could figure out how to record themselves and send me pictures of their work, and it was really really cute. I mean, the first few weeks was like nothing but tech support for parents, but after that, it was really cool to be able to still connect with my students. And that's a big part of kindergarten, is building that community, building those relationships. And when they would, you know, say here's my picture, and I love you but that's not part of the assignment! That's adorable! and it was just- But I did miss them, and I really hope that we can find a way to get, especially the younger students, especially the students that are struggling, students that are affected by homelessness, students that are in special education program, I really hope that we can get back in-person safely as soon as possible. And I'm hoping that with the trend now, with COVID going down, that we're gonna be able to do that. I hope so too. And if everybody keeps wearing their masks, and keeps taking it seriously, then hopefully we'll get to that place. Thank you for being a teacher; it is, you know they say it's a thankless job. I don't think people fully understand how thankless it can be sometimes. Thank you for doing that. It's maybe never harder than it is right now, and kindergarten – I can't. I can't even imagine that's– My chief of staff has two young kids and just hearing the stories of what she's having to do, I'm… All my heart and love goes out to you, Shelly, for we're doing that work. Sure! I'm kinda concerned about social distancing with five-year-olds and the mask-wearing because I'm feeling they're gonna be playing with them. You know, more than you know, it's not a slingshot; it's not a hat! Yeah. that's a challenge. It's gonna be tough, but we're teachers. We figured it out, we adapt, and that's what we had to do this spring, and that's what we're doing now, and it's all for the health and safety of the staff, parents, kids. And you know, we'll figure it out. We'll figure it out, and the kids will catch up. If some of them are falling behind, That's what we do, We push the kids to grade level, and we work with them, and we intervene. That's part of the job. So we'll figure it out. We always do, we're teachers. That's that's awesome. Well. Thank you so much for being a teacher and good luck as you get back to your kids. Thank you! You have a song prepared for us now, I'm I'm so excited! You and Fred and I don't know if your son is playing or if he's not? He's not here. Okay. Well, I can't wait to hear what y'all have prepared, so why don't you take it away? Okay. This song is called "15 Years," and it was off of our first CD and you can listen to it on Spotify if you want. Just look at this one, Shelly Knight & the Living Dead. And you will find it on Spotify, you can listen for free. We're also on Facebook and Instagram and all of that stuff. So this song is called "15 Years." 15 years where'd it go? 15 years I didn't know. I was young, now I'm old. 15 years went too slow. Time is a river. Time is a wheel. Roll on by me like flowing steel. 15 years Got by me somehow. Who I was then, is not who I am Now. 15 year-old photograph. You and me baby after class. Not the same now, you lost your light. 15 years gone. out of sight. Time is a river, time is a wheel Roll on by me like flowing steel. 15 years got by me somehow Who I was then, is not who I am now. I was so in love with you back then. Now I don’t even think I could call you a friend, no, no. [guitar solo] 15 years where’d it go? 15 years I didn’t know. Names the same you know not much else. 15 years gone On the shelf. Time is a river, time is a wheel Roll on by me like flowing steel. 15 years got by me somehow Who I was then, is not who I am now, you know. Time is a river, time is a wheel, Roll on by me like flowing steel 15 years got by me somehow. Who I was then, is not who I am now. Yay! Thank you. Thank you, Jimmy! That was awesome. Thank you for having me. Oh thank you for being on the show, and I think possibly my first musical guest where it was more than one person. Yay! That was really awesome, and yeah everybody go check out Shelly's album on Spotify and wherever you can buy music! Then if you ever release your second album, please share and be sure to let me and my staff know, and I'll signal boost it for you. I will if you follow us on Facebook or Twitter or Instagram, just look at Shelly Knight, we'll let you know if we're gonna do another Live Stream. I'm hoping to do one in the next month, and then also get the album out hopefully by October - Rocktober! I'm hoping things come back around by then. So that's exciting. Thank you and thank you Fred, for coming on the show today. Thank you guys. Bye. I love having live music on the show. That's so cool and feel so much more Austin, and so much better than just having to talk about policy the whole time.
Skeeter Miller from the Greater Austin Restaurant Association
But let's talk about a little more policy since we're still here. We've got one of my friends who runs a cultural icon in this community and now is the President of the Greater Austin Restaurant Association, Skeeter Miller. Hi, Skeeter! Hey, Jimmy. How are you doing? I really appreciate you having me on. For a guy that makes potato salad for a living, you know, they don't let me out much and… That's what it is! I thought it was washing dishes. It's making potato salad for a living! Yeah I switch off! I go do both, but anyway, one thing I do wanna Thank you for is that you know you've always had an open door policy for the Restaurant Association. You know, anytime we've had an issue, we always give you a call, and you've always been there to meet with us and listen, so we do appreciate that. Thank you, Skeeter. My pleasure, you know the members that you represent for the Restaurant Association, when folks think of iconic Austin businesses, they often think of restaurants first, and that's never lost on me. And beyond the ones that come to the top of mind, there's a whole community of restaurants that support our neighborhoods In small ways, that support the city in a big way, and one one of the industries that undeniably hardest hit by the pandemic. Before we get into that, though, how are you and your family doing? We're doing great. We're you know we're healthy. We're doing all the right things. We're you know we finally got to see the grandkids, which was great right, and we were kinda glad when they went back home. So we had a good time with them. So we're doing good and I hope you're doing the same. I appreciate you asking. Thank you, yes, and me and my boyfriend, Zach are great. He works at HEB, which comes with its own set of challenges during a pandemic, but at least we, so far, have been safe. So first, tell folks: What is the Austin Restaurant Association? What does the Association do? And then what are you hearing from your members? Well we, you know the Greater Austin Restaurant Association is a part of the Texas Restaurant Association. We're actually a Metro Chapter, and there's chapters all across the state. We're here to represent our industry, the hospitality industry, the hotel industry. We're here to you know to have a an ear and have a voice, basically within advocacy, or whatever it may be. It's very challenging right now. Just Austin alone, when the County line started, this is our 45th anniversary – there were 600 restaurants. As of today there's close to 7,000 restaurants, so there's a lot of people. We're one of the biggest. I think we're the second largest employer in the US, and so you know, our industry has been devastated. And I know you've seen the restaurants that have had to close their doors - iconic restaurants like Shady Grove, Botticelli's, Threadgills. And so, you know, we're just hanging on. We're just hanging on by a thread, and I think most important to us or at least with the County Line is I'm really proud of the fact that our average management team for our company is almost 37 years. So most of the kids that I hired when they were 16 still work here. Same goes for all of our staff, and so you know it's extremely important for us and other restaurants that we keep kids employed. We keep keep people on the job, and that's really been difficult especially when you know our business basically it was just shut down. You know, I understand the reasoning behind it, and I understand why it happened, but at the same time you know, I think one of the things that really affects us the most is a lot – there's a lot of fear tactics going on in the media where, don't go out and don't go to restaurants. The message that that I wanna send is is that there's some really good actors in our industry, okay, and sometimes the media focuses on maybe the bad actors. You know at our restaurant, we are doing like hundreds of things to make sure that my employees are safe and the customers are safe. And I understand when customers don't feel comfortable going out to eat, but they can come and get curbside. And our team is out there. They're putting it in the trunk. You don't have to touch anything, and I mean that's helping us survive. When your business has been cut in half – and I not only operate in Austin but San Antonio and in New Mexico, you know the laws are all different in all those places, and so it's a juggling act, and there's a lot of uncertainty, but I know we're gonna get to where we need to be as long as people listen to the rules and the regulations. I think I think something that's really important to us is the consistency with the regulations between state and local government. Because we're kinda bobbing back and forth of what should we do? How do we do it, and those kind of things. Then you've got - I have over 500 employees. I'm trying to be positive with them, that things are gonna come back. You know you're gonna be able to, you're gonna be okay. I just want to send a positive message, you know and and we appreciate everything that you all are doing. And just you know being open only 50 percent is better than not being open at all. I have to tell you that. Well, that's that's important because there were definitely questions when we were talking about 25 percent that it might not be better than being open - just you get those the economies of scale about at what point does it even make sense to staff and to have the food in the coolers. And unpredictable demand, and I think that for you to be on the show today is really good timing because we're watching that hospitalization graph creeping into an earlier stage. So can you tell folks some of the things restaurants are doing that they believe will help folks feel more comfortable and actually protect them as we contemplate going back into 50 percent opening and having folks indoors at restaurants? Yes, you know I think I think for us, it's just super important that we're doing everything we possibly can to make sure that everything is sanitized and sanitary inside the restaurants. We don't have condiments on the table. We have a team members that are, you know sanitizing the handles on the doors when people come and go. The restrooms are being sanitized on an absolute minute-by-minute basis. All of the menus are paper menus. We've all reduced our menus down, most restaurants have, so you don't have a lot of inventory on hand. You really - when the customer comes in, they get to pick what they want. You know, no condiments on the table. Silverware is all sanitized and kept in the back. Tables are chairs, everything is sanitized between the customers. All our employees are wearing masks. We have sanitizer stations all over the restaurant and out in the outdoor areas that people feel more comfortable, picnic and outside. So all of the restaurants are doing this and and that's that's the message that we want to let them know that we're here for you. We want you to be safe as well as our employees to be safe. So we're gonna do everything we can to make sure that we do that. What are the what are the kind of final thoughts you wanna share with the community? You know I think Austin is doing a good job protecting itself, and I think that might open the door to more folks being comfortable as we get back into these lower hospitalization rates, and to a place where the virus transmission has really curtailed. And I say, just for my own for my own approach, I definitely try and order take out and order delivery from local restaurants, locally owned restaurants, kind of as much as I can. I did go through a period, I think a lot of people went through – I'm gonna cook everything from home. I'm gonna cook all my food at home now! And that was fun for like three weeks, and then it was like, ehhhh! I really miss like the food from this place I really like, and I miss the style of barbecue at the County Line and I miss this. So I think that a lot of folks are still doing that. But I know for at least my family, and for me and Zach, we really do miss the restaurant experience, just being able to go out and have have a meal and a cocktail and really enjoy, certainly the vistas And the views that you have at your restaurant, but even just being out in the community. So what are your final thoughts for the public? Well I just- we have to get out but be safe and come- and the people in Austin have been so supportive for us and other restaurants, and I mean that's what's kept us alive. And so if you if you don't feel comfortable going out and sitting inside a restaurant, we have a lot of beautiful restaurants in this city, mine in particular, that you can sit outside and enjoy a view, have a margarita, you're distanced, you're social distance, plenty of room, and enjoy being out. And that shows other people that it's okay to get out and you know that's what's gonna get us to come back. I mean 45 years of doing this, I thought I had seen almost everything, but this is a new one. This is a new one! Well, thank you, Skeeter for a number of things: One for being such a good advocate for your industry and your members for running and maintaining such an iconic organization in the County Line. Keeping your employees employed, which as we're seeing not everybody is able to do that, but thank you for being able to do that for your folks, and finally for being a member of the LGBT Chamber of Commerce, and knowing that your restaurant serves a very wide audience. and that diversity is an important value for your employees and for your customers. I couldn't agree with you more, and we're tickled that we're a part of the of that community and diversity is a huge aspect of County Line restaurants, and thanks so much for having me! Appreciate it. Thank you so much, Skeeter! Be safe. Okay. Take care. A lot of stuff happening, y'all. There's a lot of things going on. You know all my wishes and good luck to our local businesses that are trying to make it. We have stood up a few programs at the city. Some that I have led on, like the Small Business Support fund and a fund for small businesses to cover the additional costs of compliance and cleaning in order to keep jobs going, keep having people keep their paychecks, and doing it in a way that protects their employees, and protects the customers that are going into those businesses. A lot of stuff happening, and there's a few comments I wanna show: Jeff Stensland, good friend of mine talking about the Tenants Council. Thanks to Skeeter. Tina Cannon from the LGBT Chamber. Jennifer, Great to see you watching the show. MJ I see your question, we've talked about this in the Council meetings. We have empty buildings right now: One Texas Center, which used to house the Planning & Development Department, which is now in a new building in the Mueller neighborhood and the Austin Energy building on Barton Springs, which will be a new building in the Mueller neighborhood. There actually are empty or soon to be empty buildings, there are definitely plans. These are not high level, with no meat behind them. That's exactly the work that we're trying to do, and again you can watch the council in its next budget work session on Tuesday, August 4th. You can watch me chair the next Public Safety Committee meeting on Thursday, August 6th, both of those streaming live ATXN.TV, and you can read on the council proposals that are being published on AustinCouncilForum.Org And of course, we are on the campaign trail - a big election heading into November. Please sign up and support the campaign, list yourself as a public supporter, make a donation if you can, sign up to volunteer. There's a lot of good work to be done. We've done so much for this district. Stay tuned to JimmyFlannigan.com as we start rolling out our second term policy proposals as well as the accomplishments from the first term, which even when I was putting the list together, I was shocked to see how many things I had done, I had already forgotten about. So much good work for this district and for the city and we wanna keep that going. Thanks everybody for watching the show; we keep creeping this thing up close to an hour. Either you like it or you don't like it, but there's a lot of good content. Please like and share, subscribe on YouTube and we will see you all next week.
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