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NAACP takes on City of Austin, alleging discrimination and inaction

At city hall Thursday morning, NAACP Chapter President Nelson Linder told reporters the city fast-tracks some issues, like MLS soccer, but lets issues affecting the black community languish for years. (CBS Austin)

The Austin chapter of the NAACP will begin an investigation into discrimination by the City of Austin against black city workers, and the community itself. Thursday, the president of the NAACP made broad and specific allegations of discrimination within various city departments and said that the fast tracked soccer stadium is prime example of the lack of concern for minority communities, especially historically black East Austin.

Marshalls Barber shop in the heart of East Austin has been cutting hair since the early 1970s. Jermaine Cooper has owned it for the past 26 years. "It used to be around the corner here on Chicon," he said. He's seen a lot of changes, like gentrification and the black community being pushed out. "A lot of people have been moved out. A lot of businesses have come in." Cooper thinks the City of Austin has done very little to stop it. "I don't think they are doing enough," he said. "Your actions mean more, and what actions are they taking?"

At city hall Thursday morning, NAACP Chapter President Nelson Linder told reporters the city fast-tracks some issues, like MLS soccer, but lets issues affecting the black community languish for years.

"We're watching our people get pushed further from the city, and nothing is happening downtown," Linder said.

Linder also says he's heard a number of complaints from city employees about harassment and discrimination in the code enforcement department, the equity department, even the city manager's office, where he says he is troubled by City Manager Spencer Cronk's decision to revamp the roles of the executive staff and ask the current executive staff to reapply. Cronk has asked Elaine Hart, a white woman, to stay on as interim deputy city manager until a permanent one is hired. Hart is expected to retire next year, after the role is filled. A black man, an Asian man, a Hispanic man and a white man will all have to reapply for positions in the city manager's office.

"If you're going to be a city manager, you might want to talk to us about what we think," Linder said.

A city spokesman says he is not aware of complaints in code enforcement, but confirmed an investigation into a complaint in the equity office that will be complete next week.

"We're still getting complaints from people who work here that have not been addressed by anyone with the City of Austin," Linder said.

I heard from City Manager Spencer Cronk Thursday. He said:

"I came to Austin knowing of the deep history of racial inequity. It's something that we've only begun to unpack and address head-on. I also know that time is of the essence, and am committed to ensure that our efforts are relevant, meaningful and sustained over time. I believe that the way we've realigned our budget to address quality of life recommendations is a step in the right direction, but know that the crucial conversations need to continue both inside the organization and with our community leaders.

From the beginning, I've said that we need to amplify the voices of those who may feel unheard or marginalized in Austin. It's the only path to making Austin the equitable and welcoming city that our Council envisions."

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