Charter Revision Commission

Charter Revisions Flushed Down the Drain

Two least substantial items on council agenda, if put on the ballot and passed would block other charter changes for two years It looks like...

Big Charter Changes Up for Scrutiny

Charter Review Commission schedules public hearings to gather citizen input before finalizing recommendations.

Council Campaigns Funded by Tax Dollars?

Austin's Charter Review Commission studies Seattle's Democracy Voucher program.

Propositions 3 and 4 Proponents Rev Campaigns

Propositions 3 and 4 Proponents Rev Campaigns

Raising money, organizing troops, and pushing plans
for geographic representation on Austin City Council

by Ken Martin
© The Austin Bulldog 2012
Posted Friday, September 28, 2012 2:39pm

The proponents of Proposition 3—Austinites for Geographic Representation (AGR)—got a huge head start in a grassroots campaign to win voter approval for geographic representation on the Austin City Council. They started meeting in February last year, waged a successful petition drive to get on the ballot, and have built a broad coalition of supporters, including 29 organizations and numerous community leaders. (For a list of endorsements, click here.)

The advocates for Proposition 4—Austin Community for Change (AC4C)—are pushing a different plan for geographic representation. They are running from behind and hoping to raise enough money to convince voters they have the best plan. They have rapidly built a list of 19 community organizations supporting their plan as well as individual community supporters. (For a list of endorsements, click here.)

Both AGR and AC4C have websites loaded with information touting their respective plans but there's a striking visual difference.

The banner atop the AGR pages contains a montage of nine photos taken at various Austin events.

The AC4C page headers show a photo purchased from iStockphoto.com titled “Diverse group casually dressed people looking up.”

Hard Fought, Heartfelt Charter Decision

Posted Friday, February 3, 2012 4:05pm
Hard Fought, Heartfelt Charter Decision

Charter Revision Committee Votes 8-7
to Back 10-1 Plan for Council Elections

by Ken Martin
© The Austin Bulldog 2012

Supporters of the 10-1 council election plan won a narrow victoryFormer State Senator Gonzalo Barrientos knew things might get dicey at the final scheduled meeting of the 2012 Charter Revision Committee he chairs.

He brought in retired Travis County District Judge Bob Perkins, who sat on the 331st District Court bench for nearly three decades, to referee as parliamentarian, if need be.

It was a guaranteed evening of high drama given the scheduled final vote to decide what form of electoral system the committee would recommend to the Austin City Council. That vote culminated five months of public meetings in which the committee members listened to hundreds of citizens and heard the advice of several attorneys well versed in election law and compliance with the federal Voting Rights Act.

After voting 12-2 to recommend that a measure be put on the ballot to have an Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission draw council district lines should voters should approve some form of geographic representation—something voters nixed six times before between 1973 and 2002—the committee was at last ready to deal with what form of geographic representation to recommend.

During a sometimes heated and often passionate discussion that lasted nearly an hour, the deeply split committee was unable to reach a compromise.

The final vote was to recommend the 10-1 plan—in which 10 council members would be elected from geographic districts and only the mayor elected by all voters—passed 8-7.

The vote on a previous motion to recommend a 10-2-1 plan, where the mayor and two council members would be elected at large, failed 7-8.

There were calls for compromise that would unite the group and strengthen its recommendation for what the City Council should put on the ballot in November but in the end that was fruitless.

Committee members budged not one inch from the positions they had announced in previous public meetings.

Intense debate, no surrender

New Restrictions Proposed for Lobbyist Fundraising

Posted Sunday, January 22, 2012  9:30pm
Updated Friday, January 27, 2012 3:20pm

New Restrictions Proposed for Lobbyist Fundraising

Lobbyists Can Only Give Candidates $25 But
Can Collect Unlimited Contributions for Them

by Ken Martin
© The Austin Bulldog 2012

Why would city regulations prohibit a registered city lobbyist from contributing more than $25 to an officeholder or candidate for mayor or city council, but allow a lobbyist to solicit and bundle unlimited contributions on behalf of officeholders and candidates?

That was a question the 2012 Charter Revision Committee dealt with in its meeting last Thursday.

Based on the case presented by its five-member working group, the Committee voted 12-1 (with David Butts and Kathleen Vale absent) to approve a recommended change that would limit the amount of bundled contributions by registered city lobbyists to a maximum of $1,750 per candidate per election cycle for individual bundlers and $3,500 per candidate per election cycle for firms that bundle. This restriction would not apply to anyone who is not a registered city lobbyist.

This restriction would put a severe crimp in the kind of fundraising that some registered city lobbyists are doing for current officeholders.

The Austin Bulldog’s analysis of the most recent contribution reports filed by the four members of the City Council running for re-election—Mayor Lee Leffingwell, Mayor Pro Tem Sheryl Cole, and Council Members Mike Martinez and Sheryl Cole—indicates that two registered city lobbyists bundled a total of $33,500 $44,470 in single reporting period for Leffingwell, Martinez, and Spelman. (Added Spelman’s bundled contributions to previous total January 27, 2012.)

In reality they bundled even more than that, but the contribution reports report filed by Cole and Spelman list lists only the names of bundlers and do does not identify the specific contributions these lobbyists solicited on their her behalf.

David ArmbrustLawyer-lobbyist David Armbrust of Armbrust & Brown PLLC bundled 24 contributions totaling $8,400 for Leffingwell, and 29 contributions totaling $10,150 for Martinez, and 36 contributions totaling $11,200 for Spelman. According to the lobbyist registration information posted on the city’s website, Armbrust has 17 clients involved in building, real estate and real estate development, financial services, hotels, property management, energy, and waste disposal.

Michael WhellanLawyer-lobbyist Michael Whellan of Graves Dougherty Hearon and Moody bundled 26 contributions totaling $8,050 for Leffingwell and 20 contributions totaling $6,900 for Martinez. City lobbyist registration records indicate Whellan has 13 clients, including property owners, real estate developers, taxi cabs, healthcare provider, and music.

The ambiguity of the current City Code regarding how to report bundled contributions was also addressed by the Charter Revision Committee. Members present voted unanimously to recommend more stringent and accessible disclosure of all bundled contributions.

With no discussion, the Charter Revision Committee also voted unanimously to recommend that Article X, Section 2 of the City Charter be clarified to indicate that ex-officio members of the Planning Commission are non-voting members whose attendance does not affect quorum requirements. Both the City Council and the Planning Commission had referred this matter to the Committee for consideration.

These recommendations will be forwarded to the Austin City Council, along with all the recommendations previously approved by the committee, for possible action.

What City Code requires

Charter Changes to Enhance Accountability

Posted Wednesday, December 14, 2011 1:50 pm
Thirteen Charter Changes and Counting

Charter Revision Committee’s Next Job:
Tackle Plan for Geographic Representation

by Ken Martin
© The Austin Bulldog 2011

The council-appointed 2012 Charter Revision Committee has now formulated a baker’s dozen recommendations that will be forwarded to the Austin City Council for the planned November 2012 charter amendment election.

The most important task assigned to the committee—recommendingwer whether council members should be elected from geographic districts and if so under what plan—will be taken up at a meeting scheduled for January 5.

That’s when the committee will discuss the pros and cons of the current all-at-large system vis-à-vis hybrid (some geographic districts plus some council members at-large) and single-member systems (in which all but the mayor would represent geographic districts).

At that same meeting the committee will discuss the pros and cons of several different plans under consideration (a 6-2-1 plan proposed by Mayor Lee Leffingwell, an 8-4-1 plan advocated by two citizens, and a 10-1 plan advocated by Austinites for Geographic Representation, a broad coalition of organizations and individuals that is petitioning to get this plan on the ballot).

The committee will not vote on these matters until a later meeting, scheduled for January 19.

In its September 29 meeting the committee approved seven recommendations for charter changes (more about that later).

At the December 8 meeting the committee considered nine proposals and voted to recommend that the City Council put six of these on the ballot for voters to decide, as follows:

• To permit fundraising by election winners to retire campaign debt.

• To raise the maximum funds that may be held in an officeholder’s account to $40,000.

• To give the city’s Ethics Review Commission more power to address campaign finance and campaign disclosure violations.

• To require reporting of last-minute campaign contributions.

• To require electronic filing of campaign finance and lobbying reports.

• To require voter approval before issuing revenue bonds of more than $50 million.

These decisions were based on the recommendations formulated by the committee’s five-member working group. The committee discussions and recommendations are detailed below.

Responses to City Council resolutions

Council Sets Charter Election Date

Posted Thursday, November 3, 2011 1:40pm
Council Confirms November 2012
Election Date for Charter Amendments

Resolution Ensures Citizens Initiative
Won’t Force May 2012 Charter Election

by Ken Martin
© The Austin Bulldog 2011

Laura Morrison“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.

Sheryl ColeIn 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 representationwas 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