Child care at City Hall?

The Statesman and the Monitor have both reported on an investigation of Joya Hayes, the city of Austin HR director, for “abuse of city resources” by asking subordinates to transport her kids to daycare or to look after them during Council meetings.

Hayes is not denying all of the allegations. Instead, in a comment that is likely to resonate with many members of Austin’s majority-female Council, she said, “the findings of this report establish an unrealistic expectation that prevents any reasonable parent from serving in executive level positions that require work before and after normal business hours, 7 days a week, year-round.”

As soon as I saw this story I figured there would at least be a few Council members who would be sympathetic to Hayes. Meanwhile, a source suggests there are some on Council who are furious about the report and that the auditor’s office should brace for a major backlash.

This offers an opportunity for Council to reopen the conversation it began a few years ago about providing on-site child care during city meetings.

In November of 2016, Council passed a resolution instructing city staff to explore options for proving free child supervision during “community meetings,” such as neighborhood planning meetings, workshops, and other roughly 350 events that city departments will hold throughout the city in a given year.

City staff did some research and basically said that it would be tough logistically for a number of reasons. However, the estimated cost was not that high: $84k-$112k. In the last budget cycle Kathie Tovo wrote a budget amendment that proposed $100,000 to fund a pilot program, but it never made it into the final budget.

This previous conversation has focused largely on providing child supervision for citizens taking part in community meetings. That was similarly what Natasha Harper-Madison emphasized when she talked about her hope of providing on-site child care at City Hall.

But what the Hayes situation highlights is how the city may be failing as an employer to provide its employees with accessible child care. And keep in mind, most of the city employees who are required to spend long hours at Council meetings or boards and commission meetings do not make anywhere near as much money as Hayes and they do not have subordinates they can call upon for help.

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