On August 8, 2018, the Austin NAACP held a press conference at the City of Austin and announced that its legal redress committee had launched an investigation into allegations of unfair treatment, employee harassment and discrimination against African American employees. We also made a determination to investigate policies that had a disparate impact on African Americans in zip codes 78702, 78721, 78723, 78722 and 78724.
The investigation was also triggered by the city’s abandonment of its commitment to eliminating disparities documented in the African American Quality of Life Initiative in 2005. Ironically, the initiative was launched as the Austin City Council voted to adopt a PUD ordinance supported by former state representative Todd Baxter and the development lobby. It’s important to note that the PUD was opposed by city boards, city commissions and housing advocates. This PUD ended the requirements of Inclusionary zoning and accelerated the displacement of the African American population in East Austin. That displacement continues, as gentrification mitigation efforts are still in the planning stages while property taxes, the racial wage gap and medium income disparities, continue to increase inequity and economic segregation.
Despite the structural racism noted above, our investigation was driven by individual complaints of discrimination in the workplace and rampant fears of retaliation from supervisors and managers. In fact, in many cases, written complaints were difficult to obtain because of the lack of faith and trust in city government. In the beginning of this investigation, the Austin Equity Office was under investigation. At this time, the office appears to have stabilized; however, challenges persist because the Austin City Council appears to be disconnected from the mission and purpose of the office. While the entire city has embraced the classroom concept of undoing racism, it has avoided the more challenging task of investigating discrimination and racism within its departments. As a result, the complaints filed with the Austin NAACP depict a lack of confidence in city government and low employee morale.
The concerns and issues we documented at Code Enforcement continued to exist after the forced departure of previous director Carl Smart. The unsubstantiated attacks on some African Americans employees within the department continue to exist and require intervention from city management and government.
The Office of Police Oversight in many ways exemplifies the struggle numerous African Americans directors continue to have in the City of Austin. While the new and so-called improved version of oversight was greeted with much fanfare and enthusiasm, overlooked in the transition was the false narrative that the Police Monitor Office was completely ineffective and had zero success. In fact, the office under Iris Jones called for the first independent investigation of the Austin Police Department in its history. The investigation ended when the Austin Police Association filed an injunction, effectively ending the investigation due to the state 180 day rule. Farah Muscadin is a very capable and competent attorney. Unfortunately, she was not given the authority and autonomy
to build her own staff with city government and management support. As a result, she was placed in an environment that rejected her management style and personality. The Austin City Management and council should give Muscadin the resources and opportunity to fulfill her duties and responsibilities. The lack of city support is indicative and common for African American department heads in Austin.
Our most perplexing and compelling challenge is the city’s own Fair Housing Office. It's rather puzzling that overlooked in all the task force mania and undoing racism workshops is the fact that the city has not empowered its own version of the EEOC to conduct extensive investigations and educate the public about best practices available to address discrimination. Employment discrimination is the most common complaint received at the Austin NAACP, yet many of our clients are unaware that they can visit the office and receive information. The City of Austin should immediately examine ways to change the name of the office to increase visibility and accessibility. The city should take immediate steps and separate the office from Human Resources to negate possible conflicts of interest and ensure that it is independent. In addition, it should review pay standards and ensure employees are compensated on a level that is competitive with other departments. This office is underutilized and under appreciated.
In order to effectively address discrimination, the Austin City Council must take a more active and visible role in publicly denouncing racism and discrimination. The lack of a firm and convincing stand against discrimination will continue to send a subtle message to the nation that Austin, Texas is not welcoming to African Americans.
For frequent updates, visit the Facebook page of Austin NAACP President Nelson Linder!