Shade On Record About Private Meetings

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Randi Shade
Randi Shade

Council Member Randi Shade Goes On the Record About Private Meetings

Fourth in a Series of Recorded Question and Answer Interviews

As reported by The Austin Bulldog January 25, County Attorney David Escamilla is reviewing a complaint about allegations that the Austin City Council may have violated the Texas Open Meetings Act.

This is a serious matter and the city is taking it seriously. In lieu of the private meetings that for years have been held among the mayor and council members to discuss items on the Thursday council meeting agendas, the council will now hold work sessions to discuss the agenda in posted open meetings. The first work session was held this morning. No action will be taken during work sessions and no citizen participation will be allowed. As always, citizens will be permitted to address the agenda items during the Thursday council meeting.

If the mayor and council members should be found to have in fact violated the Act, they may be subject to criminal prosecution under Section 551.143 of the Government Code, a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of not less than $100 or more than $500; confinement in the county jail for not less than one month or more than six months; or both the fine and confinement.

The Austin Bulldog is publishing selected text excerpts from each of the exclusive interviews conducted with the council members before breaking the story. The complete copyrighted MP3 audio file for each interview is linked at the bottom of each article for easy access. You may listen to these recordings to gain a better understanding of the published excepts within the context of the complete interview.

Randi Shade
Randi Shade

Council Member Randi Shade was interviewed in her office at City Hall on Monday, January 24, 2011. The recording runs 42 minutes 33 seconds.

The Austin Bulldog:

As I said in my e-mail requesting the interview, I’m developing a story about the working relationships among the mayor and the council members and how the city council works together to develop public policies. One thing that stands out in my mind is that four members, including you, keep your calendars online. So, you’re being pretty transparent. You mentioned at your event the other night that you thought you were the first one (to post your calendars online).

Randi Shade:

Oh yeah, I was. …

The Austin Bulldog:

… I got you now. Okay. … Something that caught my eye in the published calendars is it indicates the mayor and the council members spend considerable time with each other meeting, typically in the days right before a council meeting. It seems all of you are making a big effort to do that. So, I was wondering, what sort of things do you discuss in these meetings?

Randi Shade:

Well, I guess when I got onto the council that was sort of the custom.

Randi Shade:

… I think when I got here (when taking office in 2008) it was kind of the custom that those (private meetings) were already built in. So basically, it wasn’t anything that I…I mean pretty much you have one-on-ones to go over what might be coming up on the agenda, what questions you might have about policy things you might be working on. It’s a way to touch base with each of your colleagues on a one-on-one basis. Likewise, I have a one-on-one every week with the city manager as well.

The Austin Bulldog:

Yeah, I noticed that.

Randi Shade:

All those things were kind of built into the system. In other words, Place 4 and Place 3 (council members) had their one-on-one at a certain time. So, I pretty much just inherited probably what my predecessor had in the way of one-on-ones. I’ve never really looked back at sort of what the history of those are.

The Austin Bulldog:

Well, they may not have been online. I don’t know if your predecessor did.

Randi Shade:

Oh, no, no, no. Nobody had their calendars online until we did. But, what I’m saying is that anytime anybody does an open records request for calendars, which they have done, people have provided that.

The Austin Bulldog:

I know that they’re public record.

Randi Shade:

My point was that (the meetings have) been the custom as long as I’ve been here. When I got here, the person who’s my (administrative aide) was (Council Member) Raul Alvarez’s (administrative aide). The one-on-one meetings were scheduled. So, pretty much when I got here everybody’s calendars were built in. So, (Council Member) Betty Dunkerley retired but there was a spot already on Lee (Leffingwell’s) calendar for a one-on-one with Betty, which now became a one-on-one with (Council Member) Laura (Morrison). I mean when (Lee Leffingwell) was (the) Place 1 council member. So, my point was just that it seems to have been the custom for quite some time.

When I got here, that was just the way it was. You got a one-on-one every week with the city manager and you had a one-on-one built into your calendar every week with each of your colleagues. It’s been going on for as long as I can imagine.

The Austin Bulldog:

Well, that’s one of the things I’m interested in. Just how far back does this go? What are you all trying to accomplish in these round-robin meetings?

Randi Shade:

Well, I don’t consider them round-robin. What does that mean?

The Austin Bulldog:

Well, I don’t know if the term is too vague. By the time you come to the council meeting, barring no other big commitments, I sense that mostly everybody meets with everybody else during the week of the council meeting. I think that’s pretty much the habit. In other words, you have a one-on-one with all the council members and with the mayor, although later in the system the mayor seems to have been changed to (meet with) two council members (at a time).

Randi Shade:

Yeah. There’s lots of times where there might be one or two of us involved in a briefing. We can’t have quorums and we can’t have…

The Austin Bulldog:

Oh, sure.

Randi Shade:

I mean so you have briefings. Like when I got here, (Council Member) Laura (Morrison) and I got briefed quite a bit in the beginning. The two of us together, frequently. We weren’t doing business. We were being briefed together on a number of items. You know, how the Homeland Security Office works. How the Public Health Committee would…you know, I don’t know in any job I’ve ever had, whoever you’re working with in a team you have one-on-ones. That’s just the phrase that people use to touch base and meet with the people with whom you do work. It’s really just…you know, I have one-on-ones with each of my staff members too. So, I mean I meet with (Policy Aide) Marti (Bier) to talk about what do we got to get done this week, what’s going on in life, whatever we might be talking about that affects how we might get our job done. You know, it’s more focused on invitations and scheduling when I’m meeting with (Executive Assistant) Elaine (Diaz). When I’m meeting with each of my individual council colleagues it really depends on what projects we might be trying to accomplish.

So, I have an interest, for instance, in a particular initiative. You know, we were just talking a minute ago about the Austin Independent Business Alliance and Rebecca (Melançon’)s role in that. Well, I mean (Council Member) Laura (Morrison) and I both have more of an interest probably in local business stuff than some of our colleagues. So, we might talk about what could we do at some point. You know, you brainstorm. You don’t just look at the agenda, although there is definitely that. You might ask a colleague, why did you put x, y, z on this? You have this item from council, can you tell me a little bit about it? Most (agenda) items, they have to have two people on the item but sometimes three, so you might ask the cosponsors what do they know about the issue, that sort of thing.

The Austin Bulldog:

Right.

Randi Shade:

But I think the only way to do business is to have some sort of an opportunity to check-in with people. Again, whether they’re council colleagues or other staff members that I work with.

The Austin Bulldog:

Okay. Are these meetings generally completely private, just the officeholders or do aides sometimes sit in?

Randi Shade:

Sometimes I have aides. It depends on what the topic is. But yeah, like if there’s an aide who’s been working on something specific then, yeah. I’m trying to think of an example. We were talking about would there be some sort of an item that council could bring forward that would give Neighborhood Planning Contact Teams standing. So, we had a couple aides who were doing more research on it. So, they would come and talk to me about that.

The Austin Bulldog:

Okay. Do you personally take notes when you’re attending these meetings?

Randi Shade:

Not usually. I don’t have a great system for it.

The Austin Bulldog:

Do these private discussions help you make up your mind about a position that you will take on things you discuss?

Randi Shade:

It depends. I mean I think…when you make tough decisions there’s all kinds of inputs that effect your decision-making. Sometimes a colleague might suggest that I read a particular piece of communication that I might not have paid as much attention to. Tell me what things they’ve read or studied on a particular matter. I’ve called Professor (and Council Member Bill) Spelman. There’s a lot of times where he has good suggestions of where I might be able to learn about issues in the public sector that I don’t have the kind of educational background that…

The Austin Bulldog:

Who does that for you?

Randi Shade:

(Bill) Spelman. He might say, “Oh, here’s a web link you can go to, to find out about blah, blah, blah.” I mean I don’t have a public affairs degree or background. But, a lot of times a colleague will ask me. I mean I’ve talked to, for instance, there’s been times where (Mayor Pro Tem) Mike Martinez has talked to me about change issues that they’re dealing with at (Capital) Metro (where he chairs the board of directors). I might suggest to him, “Here’s some articles that I’ve read or some things that I’ve used that have been helpful.” It’s not really specific decision-making. It’s more about how can you learn more about a topic. I find that my colleagues, because we all have pretty different backgrounds, have usually interesting ideas about where I might learn more about a particular topic. I mean (Council Member) Chris (Riley) has got a legal background. Obviously, (Council Member Bill) Spelman has a strong public affairs background. (Council Member) Laura (Morrison’)s got…I mean she’s got all kinds of access to resource allocation issues.

The Austin Bulldog:

You do too.

Randi Shade:

Yeah, I do too.

The Austin Bulldog:

You’ve run companies, you’ve founded companies.

Randi Shade:

Yeah. So, people ask me a lot about stuff that they think I can…I think that’s what’s great about this. We are actually, it feels to me, like a pretty balanced group of people.

The Austin Bulldog:

Yeah. You have a good spectrum of skills.

Randi Shade:

Yeah.

The Austin Bulldog:

Do these meetings give you a good understanding of what other council members think about the issues you discuss? In other words, do you get a sense of their mind?

Randi Shade:

It totally varies. I mean it varies from topic to topic.

The Austin Bulldog:

Okay. … Do you generally reach a meeting of the minds or agreement about where all of the council members stand on issues you have discussed, except for Water Treatment Plant 3? (sic)

Randi Shade:

I love how you call it Water Treatment Plant 3. Not enough people do.

The Austin Bulldog:

Well, it’s (WTP 4) now. …

Randi Shade:

But it is really the third because we closed one. It’s just kind of funny.

The Austin Bulldog:

… Well, I’m just saying do you reach a meeting of the minds on issues that you discuss? You were talking about you’re educating each other about these topics. You have your differences from time to time, but in the educational process I would assume that you’re…

Randi Shade:

It really depends on the issue because like the example you gave of the water treatment plant. I mean I think there was definitely a period of time where you had no idea who was going to vote how. I mean on that particular issue we had over 500 people at Palmer (Events Center for the Town Hall Meeting, with presentations about the pros and cons of building WTP 4).

The Austin Bulldog:

I was there.

Randi Shade:

You know, I had asked for a Town Hall because I think that…but, if you ask colleagues that were on the council in earlier times with the discussion of water treatment plant, I mean they had a lot of a running start. Whereas, I felt like (Council Member) Laura (Morrison) and I especially, came in…

The Austin Bulldog:

Oh sure. That thing’s been in the works for 20-25 years.

Randi Shade:

Yeah. We felt the need to have more information. But, I spent a lot of 2009 meeting with all kinds of constituency groups and talking to people. And occasionally would ask a colleague a question about, “Well, did you look at x, y, z related to that?” But, until we really got to that meeting I don’t think that it was very clear what people were necessarily going to do and why they would be doing it and what the rationale was going to be.

I think, certainly, we’ve had other issues like that where you don’t know. But then, after that vote, subsequently I think you kind of know where we’re going to fall on most of those items. Unless somebody’s mind is persuaded with some new information, and most of the speakers acknowledge that. So, I mean we have multiple items to vote on.

The Austin Bulldog:

And most what?

Randi Shade:

Most of the speakers acknowledge that fact on the water treatment plant issues. I mean it was commonly talked about December 16th at our (council) meeting.

The Austin Bulldog:

Oh, I see what you mean. They know your minds…

Randi Shade:

Yeah. I don’t feel…again, that’s a very unique. I can’t think of very many others like that where we’ve had multiple presentations and multiple meetings and several votes that would be suggestive of how people would likely vote. I mean on several of the most contentious zoning cases I think that … A lot of times, I have no preconceived idea about a particular situation and wait to hear the facts. But in many instances, I’ve already watched the Planning Commission meeting on the top or the (Zoning and Plating Commission) meeting on the topic. I mean I have a lot of ideas before I get to the meeting. It really varies from case to case. But, I think the vast majority of issues that are in front of us in any given week, I mean you study them that week and you get all the (agenda) backup (documentation) that you can. You might touch base with your colleagues during your one-on-ones to ask for their perspective, but you really don’t know what’s going to happen until you get to the meeting.

People know enough about our voting records that that can sort of suggest how people might vote in instances. I mean I don’t think that…I’m trying to think of an example of…I mean one of the more…I think of what’s another example of where we really don’t know what’s going…I mean especially when you have the opportunity to have a first reading. On zoning cases you don’t do them in one (reading)…usually, you have a first reading and then a second and a third reading. So, a lot of times the votes are actually…when somebody makes a vote they declare, “I’m voting in favor of this on the first reading. But, that’s with the hope and intention that the parties will get together and figure out a way to resolve this, because I will not vote for it on second and third reading if these matters are not addressed.” So, you do see cases like that.

A lot of times, we will, as a council, each of us individually…I’ve seen us do this from the dais, use the space between the first reading and the second and third readings to really get the parties to come to a better conclusion.

The Austin Bulldog:

Yeah. Quit fighting and make up.

Randi Shade:

Yeah.

The Austin Bulldog:

Bring us something we can vote on without making enemies.

Randi Shade:

Yeah. Yeah. That’s kind of how we do things. Every once and awhile you’ll be on the dais and a colleague will whisper and say, “Hey, here’s…I’ll make this motion and then you’ll back down.” Because that’s the other thing, a lot of times people want to make a motion or take the lead on something because they’ve been more involved. I don’t necessarily know which case that might be appropriate for. But, that happens too. There’s a little bit of a weird dance that goes on. But, somehow we make it work.

The Austin Bulldog:

Yeah. Seven minds. Do other council members pretty much maintain their positions as expressed in these meetings or do they sometimes vote differently than you thought they would?

Randi Shade:

Oh, I have definitely had many experiences where you’re tossing around an idea and I think a council member’s going to vote one way and they vote a different way. Yeah, I don’t consider any real…I don’t view those meetings as much as people making commitments, as much as it is, again, sharing their approach to how they might view a case, what information, who they might have met with to get the perspective. I mean that’s what I’m looking for in the one-on-ones. Again, each item is somewhat different. But, the other thing is, is that I get new information as I continue to talk to people. Not just my colleagues but also staff members who might be involved is an issue or constituents who are coming in to see me about an issue. Frankly, a lot of times, right up until the day before the meeting we have other boards and commissions that might be meeting where their input is also part of the equation.

So, it’s not uncommon for me to get an agenda. We see that on a Friday. Then, by the time a commission meets on the Wednesday night before our Thursday meetings, yes, some things changed in terms of my opinion or certainly any of my colleagues’ opinions can be changed based on that. Or a lot of times, again, with the planning, especially with the zoning cases, the planning commission, what happens on Tuesday night…so like today I’m going to have one-on-one with Mayor Pro Tem Martinez. So, we’ll talk about whatever we’re going to end up talking about. But, between now and the time I get to Thursday, there are going to be several issues on this agenda that will have had action taken as a result of what the Planning Commission does or the Design Commission does or someone. I think there’s…I wish sometimes I’d meet with him on Wednesday instead of on Monday. But, it happens when it happens. I may not be as informed on an issue.

The Austin Bulldog:

Well, you can’t all meet each other the same day, probably.

Randi Shade:

No. That’s why we build them into the schedule.

The Austin Bulldog:

Unless you just lock the doors on the city hall.

Randi Shade:

Yeah. That’s why we build it in the schedule.

The Austin Bulldog:

Well, (Mayor Pro Tem) Mike Martinez said…I interviewed him last Thursday. He said it’s rare that someone votes differently than was understood in these one-on-one meetings. He seemed pretty frank about that. I mean I don’t want to…we had a nice, calm discussion, but he seemed convinced that that’s pretty much the way it was. Rarely, somebody would change their vote. I don’t mean that you voted in private meetings. He had a meeting with someone and…

Randi Shade:

They say they’re going to vote one way and then they changed it.

The Austin Bulldog:

I don’t know if they say they vote or whether he just had the impression. I didn’t actually ask him that. He just said that he thought it was rare that between the time he met with somebody and the council meeting that he would find them voting differently than I guess he thought he would. I’m putting words in his mouth trying to express…

Randi Shade:

Well, he may have different experiences with the people that he meets with. I don’t know that he meets with everybody. Does he meet with each council member too?

The Austin Bulldog:

I think everybody meets with everybody.

Randi Shade:

I think most of us, we try to meet with everybody.

The Austin Bulldog:

I think everybody rounds the bases.

Randi Shade:

But, there’s a lot of times where I don’t have a sense for how somebody’s…and maybe we’re just having different discussions in our meetings.

The Austin Bulldog:

Maybe he’s been around longer than you have.

Randi Shade:

Well, that’s true. Or he may be reading more into stuff that I am. I mean again, there’s certain things where you know certain items…I mean, again, at this point you can pretty much guess without us even talking about it that you’re going to have a 4-3 vote on the water treatment plant stuff. Because we figured that out.

The Austin Bulldog:

Of course.

Randi Shade:

You can tell if it has to do with amending the Waterfront Overlay, that chances are I can guess that most of the time some people are going to be more open to looking at what the particulars of a proposal are.

The Austin Bulldog:

Are you talking about the (Park Planned Unit Development) down there (on Barton Springs Road)?

Randi Shade:

Yeah, like that one. That PUD, that’s on my mind right now. I mean by the time we got to the meeting I was not surprised that (Council Member) Laura (Morrison) was going to vote against it. I expected that.

The Austin Bulldog:

Well, she’s (from) the neighborhood movement.

Randi Shade:

I expected that. But, I really, honestly did not know how others would…I mean I did not know that…I mean I could kind of guess. But, one day I think one thing and one day I think another thing. I mean if I just am thinking about what’s most recent. I will say this though, if I meet with somebody and I give them an impression like I’m leaning this way, or I think this, and then I think I might have got some new information that would change my mind, I will let them know. I mean I would let a colleague know that I’ve got some new information. So, I’ll have to be extra sensitive with that with (Mayor Pro Tem) Mike (Martinez) because I wouldn’t want him to think I’m going to something and then not end up doing in. You know, my word’s about as good…you know, you’ve kind of got to trust people.

The Austin Bulldog:

Well, the mayor brought (trust) up at your (campaign) kickoff (in his speech at Mercury Hall on January 11).

Randi Shade:

Yeah. I mean trust is important.

The Austin Bulldog:

Yeah. Yeah, it is. (Council Member) Chris Riley said to someone else, and I confronted him with it this morning and he sort of waffled on it. He didn’t want to tell the press what he told somebody else. Well, he said, “We already know how we’re going to vote on Thursday except (Council Member) Bill Spelman is sometimes the wild card.” Does that ring true to you at all?

Randi Shade:

You know, definitely Bill has an interesting way of looking at things, so you never know exactly what he’s going to do. I think some people are more political, so they might be more influenced by who shows up and what they might see. But, I do think that on the really big things that all of us are very deliberative. I think all of us are inclined to meet with and talk to as many people as we can about an issue. So, I think (Council Member) Chris (Riley) is right. I mean Chris and I have talked before about how much more likely we are to read e-mails than some of our colleagues. We really do. I mean they come in on my (Personal Digital Assistant) and I read them a lot during the night. I don’t respond to as many of them as I always want to. We get petition…nowadays with e-mail you can literally get 1,000 e-mails on a particular topic.

But, Chris and I have talked about how we really do…and Mike is another, (Mayor Pro Tem) Mike Martinez. I don’t know how he reads and responds to all that he does. There’s just not enough time.

The Austin Bulldog:

He also tweets a lot.

Randi Shade:

He does. He’s on Facebook. The amounts of input that you have nowadays it’s almost you could be on overload. We know that some people don’t…they can just tunnel vision. So, everybody’s influenced by different things.

The Austin Bulldog:

Nobody can make you read (all those e-mails), right?

Randi Shade:

Well, it’s really frustrating because there’s some times where now there’s these websites where people will put a petition out there. It’s not even factually correct and we’ll literally get hundreds of e-mails. Lately, there’s been a bunch (of e-mails) about sharpshooters in Northwest Austin, as if the city council…I mean I’ve said that on KVUE (TV). I mean there’s no proposal in front of the city council at this point (about thinning the deer population). I can’t imagine there being the votes for having sharpshooters in Northwest Hills. I can’t see it. We get thousands of e-mails.

The Austin Bulldog:

Bigfoot is scheduled to come in.

Randi Shade:

Yeah. But, we get thousands of e-mails now. But, everybody’s influenced differently. I think that’s the other thing that’s important for constituents to recognize. There’s all different ways to kind of get the message to us prior to votes. Sometimes, I think the people who speak on too many issues, it becomes just natural instinct for people to not take them…

The Austin Bulldog:

Sure. You’ve got gadflies. You always have had them. … I covered every council meeting and work session for five years and most of the boards and commissions.

Randi Shade:

I don’t mind the gadflies on one topic. Like, the people who come every week on fluoride. They come every week and they say the same thing. But, if the fluoride people start talking about deer and about Water Treatment Plant 4, then it starts to get kind of confusing. So, we do have some people where they’ll just sign up to speak on any issue, no matter what the issue. Then, it’s hard to take them as seriously as they would want (us) to.

The Austin Bulldog:

I got you.

Randi Shade:

We have one guy I can think of. He literally comes to every meeting and he looks to see, “What do I want to sign up for today?” So, he ends up not getting as much…

The Austin Bulldog:

Cheap entertainment.

Randi Shade:

He doesn’t get as much…

The Austin Bulldog:

And he gets on TV.

Randi Shade:

He does. He gets on TV. But, I don’t know that we’re going to be swayed by his perspective on some things the way that somebody who shows up and says, “You know, I never come out and speak on something but I’m so moved to do that because of x, y, and z.”

The Austin Bulldog:

His credibility is hurting. When you get to the council meetings and listen to what citizens are saying on the issues that you previously discussed in these private meetings, do you sometimes hear new information that changes your mind? I mean what I guess I’m saying is you have done all this due diligence. You got the board and commission input, you’ve talked to each other, you’ve got staff input, you’ve done a heck of a lot of research on anything that you’re knowledgeable about or particularly interested in, for sure. Then, Joe Citizen or Jane Smith shows up; do you every hear anything that makes you change your position at that late point in the process?

Randi Shade:

Absolutely. Absolutely. It absolutely can happen and it does. The way you asked that question makes it seem as if the one-on-ones and these private meetings, like that’s the most influential. It’s one of the less influential. I mean your question didn’t acknowledge the board and commission meetings, often which I can watch. I watch them on my computer a lot and the e-mails and so forth and the dialogue that’s happening. I mean read me the question as you asked it. You make it seem like the one-on-ones…

The Austin Bulldog:

When you get to the council meetings and listen to what the citizens are saying about the issues we previously discussed in these private meetings, do you sometimes hear new information that causes you to change your position?

Randi Shade:

Right. But, I think that suggests that…I don’t like that question.

The Austin Bulldog:

I get what you’re saying. I got your answer. I got your answer. You said there was a lot more than these one-on-ones going on.

Randi Shade:

Yeah. They’re usually…so typically, again, a one-on-one, I see it as a touch base and get more information. But, it’s just one data point among many. My aides are talking to the other aides to learn more about things. The boards and commissions meetings are happening and so forth. Even still, a citizen might show up that will bring up something that we haven’t heard before. Absolutely, that happens. A lot of times, the issues that citizens will show up and really…they may not even me something that ever rose to be a topic. I mean they were on the consent agenda and a speaker shows up to pull it off the consent agenda. That might not have been something that I ever talked about in any one-on-one with any aide or any council member. That happens often.

The Austin Bulldog:

Right.

Randi Shade:

I mean I can think of plenty of times when that’s happened. … But, a lot of times what will happen in that kind of a situation, we’ll end up pulling the item (from the agenda) and postponing it because we don’t have enough data or somebody will raise an issue. I’ve seen it happen.

The Austin Bulldog:

Oh sure. Oh sure. … Okay. Sometime around mid-year 2010, (the council members) meetings with the mayor were changed from one-on-one, to pairing two council members to meet with (Mayor) Lee (Leffingwell). Why were the council members paired?

Randi Shade:

Why what?

The Austin Bulldog:

Why were the council members paired up to meet with (Mayor) Lee (Leffingwell), whereas it used to be (these meetings were) one-on-one with the mayor?

Randi Shade:

I don’t know. I’ve actually been fine with that. From a time-saving standpoint and from building rapport with…I mean I assume it means that Lee has fewer meetings. I appreciate the opportunity to…

The Austin Bulldog:

Well, I don’t see that it’s…well, it might be a fewer number of meetings, but the time spent on them if he’s taking…

Randi Shade:

An hour.

The Austin Bulldog:

… Instead of spending a-half-hour with each (council member), he’s pairing them up and spending one hour with two council members. The total time consumption is going to be…well, it would be three hours, wouldn’t it? … Well, it’s going to be the same three hours (for the mayor) no matter how you cut it.

Randi Shade:

Yeah. I mean, again, since we’re not making decisions or doing any business I appreciate it because when you’re trying to ask questions or get information, the questions that a colleague might ask are ones that I hadn’t thought of. So, I appreciate it.

The Austin Bulldog:

I asked you why it was changed and you said, “I don’t know.” Was it the mayor’s idea?

Randi Shade:

I have no idea.

The Austin Bulldog:

The stuff rolled down hill and somebody said, “The mayor wants to meet two-on-one?”

Randi Shade:

I have no idea.

The Austin Bulldog:

Okay. Is it necessarily for the mayor to have council members reach a consensus on issues before council meetings?

Randi Shade:

No.

The Austin Bulldog:

I mean do you feel like that’s maybe why he’s having two-on-one or anything? I mean it’s easier…

Randi Shade:

No. I don’t know.

The Austin Bulldog:

So no, you don’t feel he feels that he needs to reach a consensus with the council members?

Randi Shade:

No.

The Austin Bulldog:

Okay. When you meet with the mayor is (his chief of staff) Mark Nathan there?

Randi Shade:

No. Sometimes. Not always.

The Austin Bulldog:

Sometimes.

Randi Shade:

I think sometimes he’s been there but not always.

The Austin Bulldog:

I’m getting down to the last few questions.

Randi Shade:

Okay. Good, because I’ve got someone else (waiting to meet with me).

The Austin Bulldog:

You have long answers but that’s okay. That’s what it’s about. I have to tell you in looking at all this, because of all these private meetings, I get the feeling there’s some orchestration going on of what’s going to happen at the council meeting. I mean no matter how benign the idea is…you know, you want to exchange information. You want to get to know each other. You’re teamwork building. All those good things that are being accomplished here, but because you’re privately discussing these things on a regular basis right before the council meetings, it gives the feeling that there’s an orchestration.

Randi Shade:

Well, they’re not right before the council meetings. They’re every week. I mean I have meetings with people…I do one-on-ones in non-council-meeting weeks. But, okay.

The Austin Bulldog:

I’m asking you. Do you feel like it’s orchestrated?

Randi Shade:

No. I mean I don’t.

The Austin Bulldog:

I’m not trying to persuade you. I’m trying to find out.

Randi Shade:

I think it’s like in any kind of a work environment it’s good to touch base with the people with whom you’re trying to make things happen. You have to develop relationships. You have to have a better understanding of where they’re coming from or we’re not making decisions that are…I think it’s especially hard in our committees because I think it’s fine on the council agenda because a one-on-one is not any kind of…we’re not violating anything. But, when you get to trying to solve a problem like the one that comes most to mind for me is the Public Health Committee, which I chair. We want to move the ball on some things. Sometimes, you don’t even know how to approach or attack a problem. I can’t have a conversation about that with (Council Member) Laura (Morrison), for instance, without violating the Open Meetings…we have to do that…because we’re a quorum, she and I of the Public Health Subcommittee.

The Austin Bulldog:

Oh, I got you.

Randi Shade:

So, I think a lot of work gets done in (council) committees. That’s the place where you can see us really deliberating in public on issues. But, when our committee’s vetted something and we come up with a recommendation like we just did with social service contracts, I mean by the time it gets to council, three of us have really looked at it. That’s helpful to our colleagues.

The Austin Bulldog:

One second. I got lost. There’s three people…

Randi Shade:

There’s three people on each of the committees, except for Audit and Finance (Committee, where) there’s five of us. But, I mean a lot of the work’s being done there. So, it’s not like the council meeting…you know, you’re very fixated on this once a week, everything’s orchestrated. I mean a lot of the stuff is happening on committees and boards and commissions.

The Austin Bulldog:

Well, that’s because that’s when the public comes in.

Randi Shade:

No. You said you covered them all.

The Austin Bulldog:

I didn’t cover a lot of the subcommittees. I covered some of them.

Randi Shade:

I mean there’s a ton of people who show up at our Public Health Subcommittees.

The Austin Bulldog:

… I don’t doubt that.

Randi Shade:

Right. But, I’m just saying that two of us are at (Community Action Network board meetings) once a month on a Friday. So, it’s really helpful. I mean boards and commissions are one thing that are televised. But, the Public Health Subcommittee and the Emerging Tech Committees, absolutely they’re public. I mean I think one of the challenges is that there’s so much to keep up with. But, by the time you get to the council meeting to suggest that one-on-ones with council members is causing this orchestration is really kind of…

The Austin Bulldog:

It’s narrow.

Randi Shade:

It’s so narrow it looks like you’ve already written your story. I’m just telling you that to me, the orchestration that you’re talking about is not really…I don’t even like the word orchestration. There is so much deliberation on many of these items before it ever gets to the council meeting.

The Austin Bulldog:

Absolutely.

Randi Shade:

So, if that’s the way it looks to the public, well, were they at the committee meeting when this item came from council? Like, one of the things I’ve thought about before is we shouldn’t even have…I’ve been talking about having items from council, which is a section of our…a lot of times items from council are coming from a committee’s recommendation but a lot of times they’re not. It’s just two or three … council members who get together and bring an item forward. I think it might be helpful, especially on, again, the more complicated things, that they come from a committee. I mean the … Minority Women Small Business Enterprise Subcommittee, we do a lot. …

Again, I can’t possibly know about every issue, so I appreciate the fact that the Comprehensive Plan and land-use stuff, a lot of it’s already being vetted by that committee. You know, I check in with people who serve on the task force and I get a lot of information. So by the time an item comes, it’s…again, the one-on-one is like one, tiny piece of what I’m getting. But yeah, the subcommittees, the boards and commissions, and the people who are involved at all those levels do not talk about that and only talk about the mayor’s one-on-ones as just…

The Austin Bulldog:

Well, it’s not just the mayor’s. It’s everybody’s (one-on-ones).

Randi Shade:

Well, no. I mean our private meetings you’ve been talking about.

The Austin Bulldog:

The private meetings. Yes, that’s what it is.

Randi Shade:

The private meetings is just such a…as you said, very, very narrow.

The Austin Bulldog:

There’s a reason for my interest. But anyway…

Randi Shade:

What is your reason? I’m curious, what is your reason?

The Austin Bulldog:

Well, I’m getting down (to that). This is my last question. Have you ever had second thoughts about engaging in these kinds of private meetings among council members to discuss public business? Ever objected to them or refused to meet? You inherited the process. So, de facto, you have to assume everything’s okay, right?

Randi Shade:

Yeah. I definitely…

The Austin Bulldog:

You go along with program. …

Randi Shade:

I definitely did. But, I think there’s not enough of those opportunities for us to work together as a team and to get to know one another. So, I mean when people think that the council is dysfunctional, I mean the way to make it function is, again, the more we know each other, the more we understand each other’s perspectives, the easier it is to work out better answers for the public. Again, we show up at each other’s kickoff events. We see each other socially at times. But, we don’t do decision-making or anything like that. I don’t do that in my private meetings either. I mean we’re not making decisions. It’s discussions. But, I don’t come to conclusions. So, I have never had a problem with these. If it turns out that what we’re doing is improper then of course I’d stop doing it.

The Austin Bulldog:

That’s the point. Have you ever…oh, I just covered that one already. Have you been provided with legal guidance about these private meetings to indicate they were appropriate, say, from the city attorney’s office? I know that you have to watch the online video from the (Attorney General’s) office. Required annual training, you get your certification, all that stuff. But, does the city itself ever provide you any guidance and specifically anything that address these private meetings?

Randi Shade:

I’m sure that I got sort of an orientation at the beginning.

The Austin Bulldog:

You got what?

Randi Shade:

Some kind of an orientation at the beginning.

The Austin Bulldog:

A briefing?

Randi Shade:

A briefing. I’m certainly aware of what constitutes making decisions or doing the city’s business outside of the view of the public. But again, a one-on-one with a colleague, especially like I said, I don’t do things that are related to my committees with colleagues. So, I might engage in a conversation with (Mayor) Lee Leffingwell about mental health issues, for instance. And brainstorm ideas about maybe we should be looking at this or that related to how we might expand the funding available for something in that world. But, I would be less inclined to do that with (Council Member) Laura (Morrison) because the two of us would constitute a quorum (of our committee).

The Austin Bulldog:

Right. Right. Okay.

Randi Shade:

So again, I’m sensitive to it. I don’t do certain things with certain…but the weekly one-on-ones are really (to) touch base. How are the wife and the kids? What’s on the agenda that’s giving you heartburn? Tell me, who have you talked to this week that you think I need to make sure to talk to about x, y, z issue? Is there something I might read that you think I should? Even if I were to give some suggestion about how I’m leaning towards voting it’s still not a vote until I take it in public. So, even thinking about what you asked earlier, I don’t see it as a problem. But, if you can find that it turns out that it is then…

The Austin Bulldog:

Well, it’s like…

Randi Shade:

I think the orchestration question, which is really where you’re going about everything’s decided. I think the public really ought to be paying attention. In your story, I hope that you’ll talk about all the things that led up to it, because every item has recommendations by the boards and commissions. It also talks about whether it’s been to a particular committee. There are usually task forces and staff. Internal committees that have vetted something and we’ve been, maybe, briefed individually on that. But, when we get briefed on items…I really do have to go after this. When we get briefed on items, a lot of times I, again, appreciate it when schedules situation works out and two of us are in the room instead of one of us. We know we can’t have a quorum but having another colleague in the room who has different experience than me, she asks better questions than I might think to. So, I always appreciate any opportunity that I have. You know, that’s helpful.

So like today, I’m going to be meeting with some people from LifeWorks to talk about a project that they’re working on and the fact that (Council Member) Sheryl Cole asked can she join the meeting is great with me, because it just means that she’ll think of questions I might not have otherwise thought of. Hopefully, we’ll get more information as a result of us both being there. No business has taken place. They’re briefing us. That’s a good thing.

The Austin Bulldog:

All right. Okay.

Randi Shade:

So, that’s what I know. Anything else? When are you writing your story?

The Austin Bulldog:

So apparently…I was going to ask this question. I think you almost stated emphatically, you have not considered these one-on-one meetings might violate the Open Meetings Act. No one’s told you that? You inherited a process and you’ve just been doing it. That’s as I understand it.

Randi Shade:

No.

The Austin Bulldog:

Okay. That’s all I have. Do you have anything else you want to say about all this? I think you’ve covered the bases well.

Randi Shade:

Okay. Good. I’m glad you did it. I’m glad to help you out. Good luck with your story.

The recording of this interview is subject to copyright © The Austin Bulldog 2010.

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