Charter Review Commission
City Charter Changes: Who Cares?
Tax Dollars for Council Campaigns?
Council District Backers Want Quick Decision Big
Big Press Conference, Big Pressure Promised
to Get Council Decision Before Council Elections
Event photographs by Mario Cantu
© The Austin Bulldog 2012
Posted Thursday, March 8, 2012 11:06pm
More than two-dozen backers of the proposal to change how council members are elected packed a room at City Hall today for an early morning press conference headed by former State Senator Gonzalo Barrientos (D-Austin).
Barrientos chaired the 2012 Charter Revision Committee appointed by the Austin City Council to recommend changes to the Austin City Charter. The Committee met in locations all over Austin starting last September and finished February 16. The Committee made a total of 19 recommendations for charter changes that the Austin City Council could put on the November ballot.
Most prominent among the 19 recommendations is a call for a proposition that would ask voters to approve a plan calling for 10 geographic council districts to be drawn by an Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission. Under this plan, only the mayor would be elected at-large by all Austin voters.
The Austin City Council could delay until August to decide what propositions to put before voters in the November general election. But the Charter Revision Committee’s majority faction, as well as the grass-roots coalition Austinites for Geographic Representation, are going to apply heavy political pressure for the Council to commit to putting the 10-1 plan and Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission on the ballot in November—and publicly do so before the May 12 mayoral and council elections.
Committee Debates How to Elect Council
Over Pure Districts vs. Hybrid System
©The Austin Bulldog 2012
Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell was the first of many people to address the 15-member Charter Revision Committee last Thursday, calling for unity in getting behind whatever recommendation is made concerning some form of geographic representation in the election of City Council members.
“What is important is that all of us who support geographic representation be on the same page,” Leffingwell said. “Otherwise whatever we propose will not pass.”
Leffingwell urged the committee to strike a compromise for a unified proposal that everyone who supports geographic representation could get behind and support with great enthusiasm.
“We may not get a chance to do this again for a very long time if what we put on the table fails,” he said.
It’s been a decade since the May 2002 election in which voters last rejected a proposal. Proposition 3 on that ballot was the sixth attempt to gain voter approval for some form of electing council members from districts. Like many previous attempts, the plan offered would have created eight geographic districts. But this time the measure added two council member slots to be elected at-large, along with the mayor at-large. The proposition failed 42 percent to 58 percent.
Although nearly every member of the current Charter Revision Committee favors some form of geographic representation in council elections, the mayor’s lofty goal of achieving unity in the committee’s recommendation appears difficult if not impossible to achieve.
At a three-plus-hour meeting January 5, individual committee members became more vocal than ever in taking a strong public stance about whether they favored the 10-1 proposal being petitioned for by Austinites for Geographic Representation or some hybrid plan that would allow citizens to cast ballots for some of the council members to be elected citywide in addition to establishing geographic districts.
The 10-1 plan petition includes a requirement to 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. Under this plan only the mayor would continue to be elected at-large.
Any other plan put on the ballot by the City Council may not have an independent districting commission. Committee Chair Gonzalo Barrientos, a former state senator, said the normal procedure is to appoint a commission that draws the lines with expert assistance from attorneys. Critics of that method say it allows the incumbents to draw boundaries that favor their reelection.
Ultimately the U.S. Department of Justice must approve any change in the election system for compliance with the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Advocates for the 10-1 plan