Our Team

Voices of Austin’s leadership comes from across the political spectrum, comes from all areas of the city, and are a rainbow of ethnicities and colors.


Gonzalo Barrientos

Gonzalo Barrientos, President & Principal
Gonzalo Barrientos & Associates and
Senior Advisor & Associate for Adelante Solutions, Inc.
Education: University of Texas at Austin, 4 Years
Hometown: Austin

Senator Gonzalo Barrientos brings more than 30 years of public policy and legislative experience as a former legislator in the Texas House of Representatives, 1975 -1985 and the Texas Senate from 1985 - 2007. Senator Barrientos' accomplishments include successful passage of more than two dozen bills designed to decrease the school dropout rate. His efforts have led to a reduction of the school dropout rate across the state. Senator Barrientos has also sponsored significant legislation to eliminate abuse of the elderly and protect the rights and benefits of state employees. In 2001, the senator passed a criminal justice package including DNA testing legislation to identify serial rapists and child molesters, the "Bill Biles law," which guarantees money from the Crime Victim's fund for families of peace officers killed in the line of duty, and creation of the "Cold Case Unit" in the Texas Rangers to solve old, unsolved crimes. Senator Barrientos is the recipient of many awards, including the Texas Rehabilitation Association's Legislative Excellence Award; the Austin Groups for the Elderly 1995 Achievement Award; the 1996 Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund's Matt Garcia Public Service Award; the Coalition of Texans with Disabilities Outstanding Public Servant Award for 1997; the 1998 Symposium of Deaf and Hard of Hearing Appreciation Award; the Combined Law Enforcement Association of Texas 1999 Crime Fighter of the Year Award; the 1999 National Dropout Prevention Network's Award of Excellence for Special Services; and, in 2001, the first-ever Combined Law Enforcement of Texas Association of Texas Lifetime Achievement Award. He also has the distinction of being chosen the Texas Public Employees Association Outstanding Legislator of the Year three times, and of receiving their Lifetime Achievement Award in 2002. Before his election to the Texas Senate in November, 1984, Barrientos served five terms in the Texas House of Representatives from 1975 to 1985. He was born July 20, 1941 in Galveston and grew up in Bastrop. He attended the University of Texas at Austin, majoring in Psychology and Spanish. He and his wife, Emma Serrato of Galveston, are the parents of five children: Joseph, Angelina, Alicia, Adelita, and Veronica. Since moving to Austin in 1960, Barrientos has been active in civic and community affairs and Texas politics. Prior to his election to public office, Barrientos worked as a community organizer for the National Urban League; as program officer for VISTA/Peace Corps; and as a trainer for the Leadership Institute for Community Development in Washington, D.C. He is also a member of the Board, National Communities-in-Schools. Senator Barrientos now focuses efforts in the local advertising and public relations industry as President & Principal of Barrientos and Associates, Inc.
W. R. (Peck) Young
Executive Director

Political strategist, election campaign tactician, and pollster with a greater than 70% election success record for scores of both candidates and ballot issues in Texas, Arizona, and Louisiana.

Strategized both national and statewide elections, including U.S. House of Representatives, state senate, and state representative elections •Managed elections for City of Austin and Travis County, including both Austin City Council and AISD •Assisted in the election of five City of Austin mayors and more than a dozen City of Austin Council Members •Led the introduction of geographic representation to Austin, including an anti-gerrymandering citizen redistricting committee, using 100% grassroots volunteers •Experienced executive, manager, and individual advisor to election campaigns •He is the nexus of a personal network of hundreds of political experts, tacticians, and operatives •Proven ability to successfully lead organizations that blend professionals, volunteers, and neighborhood councils on a partisan and non-partisan basis
Chris Harte

Chris Harte is the former publisher of the Minneapolis Star Tribune. He received an undergraduate degree at Stanford and an MBA at the University of Texas at Austin.

Before beginning his newspaper career he was an associate at McKinsey & Company. 

He then was a manager in the research and advertising departments at the Austin American Statesman before joining Knight-Ridder at the Miami Herald and becoming publisher of its papers in State College and then Akron. He was later publisher of the Portland Press Herald. He is a former director of many local, regional and national non-profit organizations, including the Austin Community Foundation, the National Audubon Society, and Outward Bound USA. He is a former chair of the UT Austin Development Board and member of the Advisory Councils of the College of Natural Sciences and of the College of Undergraduate Studies. He is former chairman of the board of Harte-Hanks and a former board member of Crown Resources and Geokinetics, as well as numerous private companies. Harte and his late wife Kay began prairie restoration on their land in Spicewood in the early 1980s and he continues that work today. He has been honored with the Lone Star Land Steward Award by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and the Victor Emanuel Conservation Award by Travis Audubon.
Ora Houston

Ora Houston’s long professional history of service-oriented work includes 27 years with the Texas Department of Mental Health and Mental Retardation, caseworker with Child Protective Services and Austin Travis County MHMR. After retirement Houston worked in the office of Texas Senator Gonzalo Barrientos.

To visit Ora website, click here.
From 2015 to 2019, Houston served as the first representative of District #1 on the Austin City Council. Houston focused on increasing equity throughout the city, increasing employment and economic opportunities, working to eliminate healthcare disparities, and dismantling the systemic and institutional racism that can be found in policies, procedures, and practices in bureaucracies. Houston has received many awards in recognition of her advocacy efforts in the community: State Agency Council, Outstanding Women in Texas Government, Pioneer Spirit Award (1998); National Association of Social Workers – Texas Chapter, Public Citizen of the Year Award (2009); National Original L.C. Anderson Alumni Association Community Trailblazer Award (2015); Asian Family Support Services of Austin Lotus Award (2016); Huston-Tillotson University International Alumni Association Women Making a Difference (2016); Top Ladies of Distinction, Inc., Capital City Chapter Status of Women Award (2017); Union of Black Episcopalians Dr. Verna Josephine Dozier Honor Award (2018); and Beta Upsilon Chapter, Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., Dillard University, Hidden Figure Recognition, (2018). Houston, daughter of O.H. Elliott and Thelma M. Elliott, was born in Rome, GA and has lived in East Austin most of her life. She attended Blackshear Elementary School, Kealing Jr. High School and the 'original' L.C. Anderson High School. She received her Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and Sociology from Huston-Tillotson University—all in Austin City Council District #1. Houston has participated in many local organizations and commissions. She is a Life Member of the NAACP and the Union of Black Episcopalians-Myra McDaniel Chapter. She is an active member of St. James’ Episcopal Church—an inclusive, multicultural, multilingual congregation.
Art Olbert

Technology, Go-to-Market, & alliance executive at large enterprise and Silicon Valley start-up IT companies. Advisor & consultant to CEOs of multi-million Euro firms and start-ups. Angel investor / mentor to start-ups & entrepreneurs. Focus of B2B and B2C software.

Software executive and consultant to VC backed start-ups with successful M&A exits. 15-year IBM engineering and business alliances executive. Acting CTO of Intershop Communications AG. Angel investor / mentor to start-ups and entrepreneurs. Founding member of Central Texas Angel Network. Advisor to and investor in >10 Austin start-ups in IT, food delivery, real estate management, personal care products, and sport accessories. 6+ time judge of McCombs Texas Venture Labs semifinals & finals. Judge at St. Edwards’ “Entrepreneurship in the 21st Century” MBA program. Active in Austin politics. Provided IT infrastructure for introduction of geographic representation to Austin. Led and/or provided IT support to >5 of citizen initiatives and candidates since 2012. Software technology development, alliance management alliance management, go-to-market, and strategy success at companies as large as IBM and as small as Linuxcare (Levanta). General manager and engineering executive of software portfolios producing >$200M and separately >$300M / year. Led teams of 800 and 1,100. Large enterprise, mission critical products. Specialties: Listening. Mapping requirements to products; marketplaces to businesses. Operating systems, virtualization, software networking, security, systems management, and hardware architecture. Manage >5 commercial and political WordPress websites
Robin Rather

Robin Rather is a 5th generation Texan who has lived in Austin since 1993. Her firm, Collective Strength, specializes in research, outreach and communications support for transformative projects that include land and water conservation, the future of health care, renewable energy, sustainable economic development, carbon sequestration and new technology adoption.  

Rather has served as a board member of Save our Springs Alliance, Trinity Edwards Aquifer Protection Association, Envision Central Texas and the Hill Country Conservancy and on the Advisory Board of Sustainable Food Center. She also served for five years as an Austin Partners in Education reading volunteer to 2nd grade students in some of Austin’s lowest income elementary schools. She holds a B.A in Sociology from Tufts University and a certificate in mediation from the Dispute Resolution Center of Austin. Collective Strength has conducted thousands of interviews using a variety of both in person and online methods. The firm specializes in achieving high levels of inclusivity across multicultural demographics and has deep expertise across the full range of urban, suburban and rural audiences. Collective Strength’s non-profit/public sector clients have included the Congress for New Urbanism, American Planning Association, City of Dallas, City of Tulsa, Metro Nashville, Center for Planning Excellence, Smart Growth America, Transportation for America, Indian Nation Council of Governments, Texas Medical Association, National Resource Defense Council, HUD Sustainable Communities program, Cumberland Region Tomorrow, University of Texas Office of Sustainability, New Energy Economy, Baker Institute at Rice University, and the Big Bend Conservation Alliance, as well as many private sector clients. Rather also has extensive industry experience in new technology adoption and prior to establishing Collective Strength held senior executive roles at leading tech market research firms including International Data Corporation (Director), IntelliQuest (Vice President) and CMP Media (Vice President).
Paul Theobald

Paul Theobald is a United States Navy submarine veteran and currently works in veteran mental health. He has worked for the State of Texas for more than 5 years. His previous roles include Director for the House Committee on Defense and Veteran Affairs and Chief of Staff for a member of the Texas House of Representatives

He has worked in Veteran advocacy in various paid and volunteer positions since leaving the Navy, and volunteers in various civic engagement roles in and around Austin. He is a graduate of Austin Community College and The University of Texas at Austin, with a degree in Government and Philosophy and a certificate in Ethics & Leadership.


Sam Davis
Director of Operations

No matter her job title, Samantha Davis embodies the George Carlin quote: “Electricity is really just organized lightning.”

A former student leader, Samantha has specialized training and experience in the Labor movement, nonprofit management, and political campaigns. Samantha has statewide senior-level experience in two progressive presidential campaigns between 2015 and 2019. Cross-trained in advance work, digital, communications, field, fundraising and operations, Samantha’s specialty is innovatively scaling grassroots organizing efforts into large, effective movements.
David Helfert
Director of Communications

David Helfert has nearly 40 years in the practice of political and governmental communication. He was a newspaper, radio and television news reporter and anchor and public information director for the Texas House of Representatives

He was managing partner of a marketing / advertising agency and a political/governmental media consultant . He wrote and produced print, television and radio advertising for more than 200 political campaigns, as well as retail, corporate, association and public service clients. Dave was recruited to the Clinton Administration in 1994. He served as Communication Director for two House subcommittee chairmen and as Democratic spokesperson for the House Appropriations Committee. Dave did his undergraduate work in Journalism at the University of Texas and earned a Master’s degree in Public Communication from American University in Washington, DC. While working full-time as a Congressional communicator, he began teaching evening upper division and graduate courses at American, and then at Johns Hopkins University in Washington. Helfert was an adjunct professor at the LBJ School of Public Affairs, taught at Johns Hopkins and George Mason Universities, was a visiting lecturer at the U.S. Naval. Since 2016 he has taught Public Affairs Communication and Speechwriting at Texas State University in San Marcos. Dave was a featured blogger for Huffington Post and Punditwire and an op-ed contributor to the Austin American-Statesman. He published a textbook, Unspinning: The Practice of Political Communication, in 2018.

The Board of Directors’ Statement of Purpose

Austin City Hall is not listening to the real Voices of Austin, our residents.

An extensive public research opinion survey finds that the majority of Austinites believes our city government is not working for us. Instead, our City Council is more influenced by highly paid lobbyists for special interests, who are not pursuing the common good. After lobbyists, most Austinites believe that Austin City Hall is listening to city staff more than its own residents. Staff should be transparent with Austinites and
enact public policy driven by Austinites’ voices, not set policy or operate in the shadows. We will hold the mayor and Council accountable for a budget and bond process to assure rational spending priorities and avoid wasteful spending.

The goal of the organization is to change what is happening now at City Hall and have the real Voices of Austin — its residents — be heard. Voices of Austin will communicate on various issues, including:

  • the need for additional police officers to assure our safety;
  • a sensible, workable transportation policy that addresses Austin’s traffic and transportation problems and helps move people where they need to go;
  • a land use policy that protects the property rights of owners and enhances Austin’s neighborhoods, and
  • a transparent, responsible process for developing budgets and bond proposals which result in a budget and bonds which reflect the essential needs of the entire community.

Austin must have a city government that listens to and represents all residents. Voices of Austin has been formed to accomplish this. Change can and will come to Austin government when the majority of the people — the true Voices of Austin — are heard!