Class of 2019
The ATXelerator’s second class picked up right where the inaugural class left off - with a lot of enthusiasm and excitement for the program. The opening weekend retreat (Jan. 11-13) was again held at the Native and the programming was very similar to ‘18. If it’s not broken, why fix it? Sen. Watson gave another great weekend-ending talk on his 10 rules for governing. I’ve seen Sen. Watson speak many times and he’s second to none in engaging his audience.
While the 2019 programming was very similar to 2018, two new components were added: class projects and a closing half-weekend retreat. The class project idea came from former councilmember Randi Shade who is also on the ATXelerator advisory board. The 24-member class was divided into six teams of four class members. Two teams studied Water Treatment Plant #4, two other teams studied the Save Our Springs Ordinance and the last two examined policy around micro mobility (e.g., scooters, electric bikes, etc.).
Two of the ordinances were from the 1990s and 2000s while micro mobility was a current policy topic. The teams were to look at what groups were on each side of the issue, what were their positions, how other cities grappled with the same issues, how the ordinances turned out and how the teams would have done them differently, if at all. The teams gave incredibly impressive and well-researched presentations at the closing retreat which was held at the Oeste campground near Dripping Springs. The closing one-night retreat also provided the class with individualized media training by Hahn Communications and a session on how to run a campaign featuring a panel with former Austin Mayor and ATXelerator Advisory Board member Lee Leffingwell, former mayoral aide Matt Curtis, political consultant Weston McKee, former city council candidate Dave Floyd and class member Michael Searle, a former council chief of staff and executive director of the Civic Fund.
Following the retreat, the Pitch competition took place on two nights at Hahn Communications. I was very impressed how prepared the speakers were in delivering their “platforms.” After careful thought and deliberation by judges Jose Beceiro, Dave Floyd, Samuel Franco, Tina Grider-Canon and Lem Williams, the following nine finalists made it to the Center4ATX Games II at the North Door on April 16: Edgar Farrer, Witt Featherston, David Glenn, Greta Goldsby, Tram-Anh Huynh, Dan Keshet, Tanner Long, Michael Searle and Marilyn Willson. Ron Oliveira once again did an excellent job as emcee.
Their policy issue: the proposed 2020 bond issue on Project Connect, the city’s and Capital Metro’s plan to greatly expand the city’s transit infrastructure. After each finalist gave his or her 2-minute proposal, the group crafted an ordinance with the help of the mock mayor (former Mayor Leffingwell). The event’s judges - Olga Campos, Deep Nasta and Lem Williams - chose Featherston, Long and Searle as the finalists. Their on-the-spot question was to name Austin’s greatest strength and its greatest weakness. Featherston wowed the crowd with his answer, paraphrasing, that its strength and weakness are the same thing: “we care too much.” As a result, he took the gold, Searle the silver and Long the bronze. With that, the Games were over and so was another successful ATXelerator program.