Resolution Ensures Citizens Initiative Won’t Force May 2012 Charter Election
“It’s a kumbaya moment to celebrate,” Council Member Laura Morrison told The Austin Bulldog shortly before a press conference this morning at City Hall. “Usually we just talk about things we disagree on.”
Morrison, Mayor Pro Tem Sheryl Cole, and Council Member Mike Martinez sponsored a council resolution on today’s agenda to confirm that the council intends to hold an election to amend the Austin City Charter in November 2012.
That assurance was sought by Austinites for Geographic Representation, which since late February has been building a broad citizens coalition to initiate a petition drive for a charter change that would establish a nonpartisan Independent Citizen Redistricting Commission that would draw 10 council districts that the Austin City Council would have no choice but to adopt. The group’s plan calls for only the mayor to continue being elected at-large. The petition drive launched with a rally October 22 that drew about a hundred people.
Striking an agreement on the charter election date was essential. If the petition drive were to trigger a May 2012 charter election, the City Council would have been forced to either put its own charter amendments on the May ballot, or be frozen out for two years if the citizens initiative got voter approval. Article XI, Section 5 of the Texas Constitution states that “no city charter shall be altered, amended or repealed oftener than every two years.”
The press conference was attended by Morrison and Cole, as well as NAACP Austin President Nelson Linder and Austinites for Geographic Representation members Roger Borgelt, Charlie Jackson, and Daniel Llanes.
In separately answering The Austin Bulldog’s question, both Morrison and Cole said that sponsoring the resolution for a November 2012 charter election was designed to reassure the citizens group and should not be viewed as an endorsement of the plan being pushed by Austinites for Geographic Representation. “I’m waiting to see what the Charter Revision Committee recommends,” Cole said.
NAACP Austin President Linder, a member of the 2012 Charter Revision Committee that is studying what form of geographic representation to recommend to the City Council, told The Austin Bulldog he favors the citizens initiative. “I think it’s the best plan out there,” he said.
The need for geographic representation was laid bare by maps constructed by The Austin Bulldog and published August 4 that pinpoint the residential location of every mayor and council member elected over the last four decades.The unalterable fact that emerges is that large parts of Austin are not represented—or are grossly underrepresented—because of the at-large system of elections established by the Austin City Charter.
Seven charter recommendations, so far
The council-appointed 2012 Charter Revision Committee has been meeting since September 15 and is required to submit its recommendations for charter changes by January 31.
As reported by The Austin Bulldog October 18, the Charter Revision Committee has already approved seven recommendations for charter changes but has not yet dealt with the issue of geographic representation. The most important recommendation so far has been to ask voters to decide whether council elections should continue to be held in May or moved to November.
The City Council hotly debated in three different council meetings whether to hold the next election for mayor and three council members in May or November 2012. A narrow 4-3 majority voted to hold the election May 12. The majority argued that despite the provision in SB 100 giving the option to extend council terms and hold the next council election in November 2012, the City Charter says council elections will be held in May and only voters should decide to do otherwise. Both Morrison and Cole again reinforced this position at today’s press conference.
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