Austin leaders move to honor first black city council member

The city faces many of the same issues it had 45 years ago, said former council member

Former City Council Member Berl Handcox with current members Jimmy Flannigan (left) and Ora Houston (right) at Austin City Hall. The council honored Handcox, the first Black council member, by renaming a water treatment facility after him.

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Former City Council Member Berl Handcox was back in a familiar environment Thursday morning. Between 1971 and 1975, he sat on the Austin City Council. Now, it was time to honor the work done back then.

“I didn’t know what to expect,” Handcox said, who arrived with several family members and community leaders. ” I didn’t know who was doing what.”

Shortly after 11 a.m., Mayor Steve Adler read a proclamation to honor Handcox by renaming a water treatment plant after the former city council member. Other members of the council unanimously backed the move. The Water Treatment Plant 4 sits in far northwest Austin, the area Handcox used to represent, District 6.

City Council Member Jimmy Flannigan, who currently represents District 6, told KXAN that for months he teamed up with Council Member Ora Houston to find a way to honor Handcox. They decided on renaming the water plant because Handcox was a major proponent of improving the Walnut Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant in the early 70s. Handcox said many neighbors complained about that facility because it emitted a foul odor and posed several environmental problems.

“It had raw sewage popping on the ground and it needed to be fixed because it was going into the community,” he said.

He and other council members visited a successful water treatment site near a golf club in California for ideas on how to improve the Walnut Creek water site. When they returned, they decided that several bonds were needed to pay for a centrifuge at each of the city’s water treatment sites. At the time, the technology was cutting edge.

Handcox said many of the issues the city council faces today, like transportation and housing affordability, haven’t changed much.

“It’s a continuous effort to salvage a budget that was acceptable to everyone. It never has been and probably never will be,” Handcox said. “It’s the same problems we faced back then.”

Handcox also said being one of the first minorities on the council was tough because he had few mentors and couldn’t please all voters.

“Being the first black, there were a lot of black folks who thought I should be messiah rather than a representative,” said the former council member. “I couldn’t get all of the things that I wanted and I guess that translated that they didn’t either.”

Handcox’s name could appear on the water treatment facility between January and May of next year.

 

KXAN.com provides commenting to allow for constructive discussion on the stories we cover. In order to comment here, you acknowledge you have read and agreed to our Terms of Service. Users who violate these terms, including use of vulgar language or racial slurs, will be banned. If you see an inappropriate comment, please flag it for our moderators to review.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s