14 Austin Nonprofit Leaders Offer Advice to New City Council

Disaster Relief – Mary McKellips, Regional CEO of American Red Cross serving Central and South Texas

Marty_McKellipsThere are so many facets to our humanitarian mission as it relates to local government, but if I had to offer one piece of advice to a new elected official it would be to be proactive and diligent in disaster preparedness. Disaster responses are frequently the make or break moments for our government officials, as citizens often develop or lose trust in their leader based on the response to an emergency.

For all public servants, day-to-day responsibilities are immense and important, but it’s essential to start communicating now about disaster response at every levels. Become familiar with the commitments emergency management has made to all levels of government and to our community regarding our capacity to respond to a disaster and learn the role that non-government agencies can play. Engage staff who will be honest about the capacity to respond, and involve partners both inside and outside of government early and often so that you can utilize their expertise during a disaster response.


Education/ Training – Susan Dawson, President and Executive Director of E3 Alliance

Susan DawsonIn many parts of the country, city, county, and school district have the same boundaries, and often common governance. Not so in Texas! In fact, there are almost a dozen school districts overlapping City of Austin boundaries, and the Austin City Council has no structural or funding authority over any of them. Which, of course, does not mean that the City doesn’t have a huge vested interest in the success of these school districts educating our students! Whether it is earnings potential, justice system costs, welfare system costs, uninsured and under-insured healthcare costs, taxes paid – almost every piece of the revenue and expense budget of the city that is tied to an individual community member is directly influenced by that person’s educational attainment.

The good news is that, for almost any group of students, on almost every outcome – graduation rate, college readiness, closing achievement gaps – Central Texas students are improving. The bad news is that demographics are changing faster than students are improving.  In fact, over the last decade, the child poverty rate in Central Texas has grown at four times the nation’s child poverty rate!  Because of the rapid shift toward more and more students who have traditionally been challenged in achieving at high levels, our state demographer has predicted that – unless we work together to create true “step function” changes in outcomes – our overall educational attainment rates will drop significantly.

So if city leaders have no authority over education systems, what can they do to help?  Actually, quite a lot. The City funds dozens of programs related to children and youth, and is working on using more and better objective data to align investments so they can have the greatest impact. City programs run through Parks & Recreation, Health and Human Services, Libraries and other departments can “bridge the gap” in out-of-school time educational opportunities to help eliminate achievement gaps. City personnel have been very active in volunteering their time as mentors and tutors. And the city can partner directly with educational organizations to change behavior in the entire community, for instance by creating a culture of much higher student attendance (see more at www.MissingSchoolMatters.org). Our city and region are changing rapidly. For us to get ahead of those changes – to have all students reach their potential and create a prosperous economic future for us all – city leaders and community members will have to work hand in hand with schools to be accountable for the success of every child.

Health Care – Earl Maxwell, CEO of St. David’s Foundation

earl-maxwellThanks to each of you for your service to our community!  As we embark on this new chapter in Austin’s history, you will play a strong role in the Austin of the future.

Perhaps the best advice I can give is to take advantage of all the talented, experienced and dedicated folks throughout the community to help guide you in making decisions that affect the health of our overall community. Good health returns great benefits to all of us, and good health is shaped by the environment in which we all live, work and play.

A number of partnerships and coalitions are already working to address the myriad of health care-related issues facing our community.  Many of these collaboratives include noted experts from academia, the medical profession, and even social scientists who are well versed in the topic. We all stand ready to work with you and the entire City Council to make Austin a better place.

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