Council refuses to pay for child care, mileage. Applications to serve taken Jan. 19 to Feb. 22
The citizens group that got Proposition 3’s 10-1 plan for electing council members approved by voters is feeling betrayed by the City Council’s decision to deny reimbursement of virtually all out-of-pocket expenses for people who serve on the Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission (ICRC).
The City Council passed a Resolution this morning that applies existing policies for city employees to govern reimbursement of members of the ICRC and the Applicant Review Panel.
Attorney Fred Lewis, who drafted the final version of the Proposition 3 Ordinance that voters approved said, “The Charter amendment passed by voters said we would have citizen commissioners and personal expenses would be reimbursed. At the time the petition was underway it was made clear that we would pay for child care and mileage. And now the City Council has decided to jack with us.”
The provision for reimbursement was included in the Proposition 3 Ordinance approved by voters November 6. (The Ordinance is now incorporated in the City Charter, Article II, Section 3 titled “Redistricting.”)
Paragraph 3(K)(8) of Article II states that ICRC members “are eligible for reimbursement of reasonable and necessary personal expenses incurred in connection” with their duties.
Austinites for Geographic Representation has long been encouraging people to apply to serve on the ICRC and saying publicly that ICRC members would be reimbursed for out-of-pocket expenses for mileage to meetings and child care.
Nevertheless the City Council voted 6-0 with no discussion on consent this morning to pass City Council Resolution 20130117-52. (Mayor Lee Leffingwell was absent and traveling to attend the U.S. Conference of Mayors.) The Resolution addresses the issue of reimbursement not only for ICRC members but also for the three independent auditors who will make up the Applicant Review Panel that reviews applications to serve on the ICRC and picks a pool of the 60 best qualified candidates. After each council member is given the opportunity to strike one person each from the pool of 60, the city auditor will hold a public drawing to pick the first eight members of the 14-member ICRC. Those eight will select from the pool six more members to balance the ICRC in terms of race, gender, and geographic and ethnic diversity.
City Council Resolution 20130117-52 states that the reasonable and necessary expenses incurred in connection with Applicant Review Panel and Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission duties “shall be consistent with reimbursable expenses outlined in Administrative Bulletins 07-11 ‘Business Expense Reimbursement’ (Exhibit A) and 84-04 ‘Personal Vehicle Use Reimbursement’ (Exhibit B).” (The exhibits are attached to the linked Resolution.)
In other words, the city will handle the reimbursement of expenses as if that person were a city employee.
At Tuesday’s council work session, Assistant City Attorney Sabine Romero told the City Council that the city does not have a standard process for reimbursing members of boards and commissions but does have a policy for city employees. She said city employees are not reimbursed for child care or for mileage in commuting to and from work. City employees are reimbursed for such things as meals, parking, and registration in doing their jobs within the city, Romero said.
During the Tuesday work session Council Member Mike Martinez specifically addressed the question of child care and noted that although it has been stated “on a website” that child care would be reimbursed, “that doesn’t make it true.” In an exchange with Romero, Martinez emphasized that child care expenses would not be reimbursed.
As for mileage, Martinez said that members mileage to attend ICRC meetings at a regularly scheduled location would not be reimbursed, but if the members traveled to another location, for example to a public Town Hall meeting to conduct the ICRC’s business, then that mileage would be reimbursed. How that might work out in actual practice will be seen once the ICRC is formed and operational.
10-1 proponents disappointed
Attorney Lewis told The Austin Bulldog, “The city staff and city boards and commissions serve the council. This commission (ICRC) does not serve the council. … The Charter has a specific provision that says their personal expenses shall be reimbursed.”
Retired political consultant Peck Young, who provided the strategy for the winning Prop 3 campaign, said, “We passed personal expenses. They’re either too stupid to read or are being malicious.”
Although members of the city’s other boards and commissions are not reimbursed for expenses, Young said the ICRC is different, in that its members were authorized to be reimbursed by the City Charter change that voters approved in November.
Lewis said, “This is not a regular board or commission appointed by the council. It has its own charter and the council has no control over it. The council doesn’t get to decide about personal expenses, the commission does. The bottom line is this is one more instance of petty bureaucratic games. They need to show respect for the will of the voters and quit jacking with the proposition.”
Young said, “I’m sorry if this inconveniences a bunch of jerks who don’t like this Charter amendment but it preempts their personal prejudices. City councils cannot violate the City Charter. They can be sued over it. They don’t get to blow off the City Charter because they lost an election.”
Assistant City Attorney Romero said in Tuesday’s council work session the City Council was looking for “consistency” in how it handled reimbursement of expenses.
Lewis’s reaction to that claim was blunt: “Bullshit. They’re looking to stop the ICRC. … They can hide behind bureaucratic games but they’re not fooling anybody.”
“The only role of the council is to decide if the expenses decided by the commissioners are reasonable and necessary,” Lewis said. “The council gets to review it. If ICRC decides that child care is a personal expense the city will have to pay it. They can review it to see if it’s a reasonable amount of money.
“If they keep it up we can wind up in court and the city council can explain why it can’t pay for child care for commissioners when it was clearly contemplated (in the Charter amendment). They do not support the independent commission. They need to realize it’s the law,” Lewis said.
Applications available tomorrow
The City Auditor will release applications Friday for both the ICRC and Applicant Review Panel on the city’s 10-ONE Redistricting Portal, http://www.austintexas.gov/department/10-one.
Applications will be accepted from January 18 through February 22.
The applications will be available as a pdf that can be filled out and submitted electronically via e-mail to [email protected], mailed to the Office of the Auditor, 10-ONE Process, 301 W. Second St., Austin TX 78701, or delivered in person at the Auditor’s office at City Hall.
“It’s our objective to reach all those Austin residents that are eligible to serve with the 10-ONE information,” City Auditor Ken Mory said in a statement released this afternoon. “We specifically want to ensure that Austin’s diverse demographics and geography are represented in the pools for the Commission and Panel.”
Lots of information meetings set
Starting Saturday the City Auditor will then host five application information sessions to address questions about serving on the ICRC, charged with creating 10 geographic single-member districts, and ARP, which will review applications submitted for serving on the ICRC.
The meetings are scheduled as follows:
Saturday Jan. 19: 10:30am to noon, Carver Branch Library, 1161 Angelina St., 78702, phone 974-1010
Tuesday Jan. 22: 7-8:30pm, University Hills Branch Library, 4721 Loyola Lane, 78723, phone 974-9940.
Wednesday Jan. 23: 7-8:30pm, Old Quarry Branch Library, 7051 Village Center, 78731, phone 974-8860.
Thursday Jan. 24: 7-8:30pm, Gorzycki Middle School, 7412 W. Slaughter Lane, 78749, 841-8600.
Saturday Jan. 26: 10:30am to noon, Manchaca Branch Library, 5500 Manchaca Road, 78745, 974-8700.
For additional information about these meetings visit http://www.austintexas.gov/department/10-one or call the City Auditor’s office at 974-2805.
The League of Women Voters Austin Area are also going to hold a free workshop on how to apply for the ICRC. That meeting is designed to provide information and support to those considering applying to serve on the Commission.
The League’s meeting is scheduled for Saturday, Feb. 2, 12:30-4:30pm at the Carver Library, 1161 Angelina St. 78702.
Citizens are invited to come anytime during that period.
For more information visit http://lwvaustin.org/
Auditor says November elections don’t count for eligibility
Paragraph 3(D)(1) of City Charter, Article II, Section 3 states that each member of the ICRC “shall be a voter who has been continuously registered in the City of Austin for five or more years immediately preceding the date of his or her appointment. Each commission member, except the student member … shall have voted in at least three of the last five City of Austin general elections immediately preceding his or her application.
Attorney Lewis sent a letter to City Auditor Mory January 8 that among other things recommended “that the qualification of commissioners to have voted in at least three of the last five City of Austin general elections include both May and November general elections.” That would mean that an applicant would have voted in three of the last five elections in May and November, which are: November 2012, May 2012, May 2011, November 2010, and May 2009.
However, City Auditor Mory told The Austin Bulldog that the city attorney and outside legal counsel had ruled that Texas election law prevents including November elections in determining qualification of ICRC applicants. “It’s got to be a recurring election. Bond elections are not considered a recurring election,” Mory said. “We have tried to be inclusive but in cases where law is clear we can’t rewrite the law or set a policy. We have to follow that.”
Under that legal ruling, applicants will have had to vote in three of the last five May elections, which were held May 13, 2006; May 10, 2008; May 9, 2009; May 14, 2011; and May 12, 2012.
According to information supplied to Lewis by Opinion Analysts Inc., and included in his letter to the auditor, 35,418 individuals voted in three of the last five May elections and, if they meet other minimum requirements, would be eligible to serve on the ICRC.
According to Opinion Analysts, 68,627 individuals voted in three of the last five elections if the November elections were included, nearly doubling the potential number of people eligible.
This report was made possible by contributions to The Austin Bulldog, which operates as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit to provide investigative reporting in the public interest. You can help to sustain The Austin Bulldog’s coverage by making a tax-deductible contribution.
Related Bulldog coverage: This is The Austin Bulldog’s 44th article covering issues and activities pertaining to proposed and/or voter-approved changes to the Austin City Charter.
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