Charter Revisions Flushed Down the Drain

HomeCampaign FinanceCharter 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 the most important work done by the 2018 Charter Review Commission is about to be flushed down the drain because of council inaction.

Buried among the 130 agenda items the council was scheduled to take up today is an inconspicuous Item 65 that if passed would direct the City Manager to develop ballot language for just two of the nine City Charter changes the Commission recommended. If approved by voters they would provide for two-year terms for Planning Commissioners and approve copy editing changes to the Charter language.

Once amended, the Charter can’t be changed again for two years. So if these two are put on the ballot and either one is approved it would block consideration of the other seven, more important recommendations.

The council meeting calendar gives the month of July off. The next council meeting is scheduled for August 9 and the next is set for August 23, after the August 20 deadline by which City Charter changes can be put on the November 6 ballot.

Leslie Pool
Leslie Pool

Council Member Leslie Pool, whose resolution to establish the Charter Review Commission was approved a year ago, said, “We still have time to consider other items on the list. But at this time the council lacks the bandwidth to assess the many and important items the Charter Review Commission brought to us.”

“You have to talk to other people but I’m pretty much at my limit,” she said.

Fred Lewis
Fred Lewis

Attorney Fred Lewis was a member of the Charter Review Commission. He did much of the heavy lifting to vet Seattle’s system for providing public financing for council candidates. He drafted an Austin plan modeled on it and was instrumental in leading the way on other major recommendations.

“To have a charter election on just these two items is just horseshit,” he said. “If either one passes there won’t be another opportunity for two years.”

He said he would prefer that all the recommended charter changes be held for a November 2019 election when there will be constitutional amendments on the ballot as a result of the 2019 legislative session.

If these items are put on the ballot to change the charter, Lewis said, “That gives us a reason to vote against them.”

Major recommendations would be shut out

These two items are the least significant of nine recommendations made by the Commission, which was established June 22, 2017, via Resolution 20170622-040. The Commission met 15 times starting November 6, 2017, in addition to numerous committee meetings that hashed out details for recommendations to the full body. It hosted three public hearings in various parts of the city to hear public input on proposals, and debated these matters at length before recommending them to the council.

That will block the far more important recommendations offered by the Commission, including:

Democracy Dollars—Provide public campaign financing through Democracy Dollars. Developing this recommendation involved bringing in a national expert who helped draft the Seattle law upon which it’s modeled and the Seattle official who implemented the public financing for that city’s 2017 council elections. In addition, a Seattle council member elected under that public financing system made two presentations in Austin.

Independent Ethics Commission—This body if established would administer and enforce all city laws related to campaign finance, campaign disclosures, conflicts of interest, financial statement disclosure, lobbyist regulations, revolving door, disqualification of members of city boards, certain conflicts of interest, ethics laws and more.

Budget and Efficiency Officer—To report to the City Council and provide advice on a wide range of financial matters.

Citizen-initiated initiatives—Provide up to 180 days after an ordinance is passed to petition for voters to approve or reject the ordinance. This would restore a right that was lost when council procedures changed to make implementation of ordinances effective immediately.

New recall rules—Set the appropriate number of signatures that would be required on a petition to recall a mayor or council member.

City Attorney Appointment—Council to appoint the City Attorney.

Revenue bonds—Voter approval would be required for revenue bonds whose total cost exceeds $100 million and all electricity and water purchases whose total costs exceeds $200 million.

Don’t wait for a friend to tell you about important news.

Sign up for our free Bulldog News Alerts.

Related Bulldog coverage:


2018 Charter Review Commission Report to City Council, May 7, 2018 FINAL  (93 pages)

Campaign Finance and Ethics Organizations Endorse the Democracy Dollars Proposal, undated (1 page)

City Charter Changes for Routine Harmonization (38 pages). As recommended by City Staff. Almost none of the changes are substantive.

Resolution No. 20170622-040, establishment of 2018 Charter Review Commission (4 pages)

Related Bulldog coverage:

Nine Charter Revisions Recommended: Public financing for mayor and council elections, an Independent Ethics Commission with teeth, more, May 8, 2018

City Charter Changes: Who Cares? Commission’s public hearings in northwest, southeast and central Austin draw total of only three speakers, April 9, 2018

Big Charter Changes Up for Scrutiny: Charter Review Commission schedules public hearings to gather citizen input before finalizing recommendations, March 8, 2018

Council Campaigns Funded by Tax Dollars? Seattle council member elected with Democracy Voucher funds briefed Austin residents and Charter Review Commission, February 23, 2018

Tax Dollars for Council Campaigns? Charter Review Commission considering public financing to boost voter participation and reduce advantage of personal wealth, January 10, 2018

Trust indicators:

Ken Martin has been covering local government and politics in the Austin area since 1981. See more on Ken on the About page. Email [email protected].

Who funds this work? This report was made possible by contributions to The Austin Bulldog, which operates as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit for investigative reporting in the public interest. You can help support this independent coverage by making a tax-deductible contribution.

An alphabetic list of donors who have contributed to The Austin Bulldog since the organization was formed in 2009 and the cumulative amount each person has given through April 30, 2018, are listed on the Contribute page.

Comments are welcome: If you would like to post your reaction to this story, please do so on the Bulldog’s Facebook page.

Congratulations. It looks like you’re the type of person who reads to the end of articles. Now that you’re informed on this topic we want your feedback.

Related Content

Profile: Doug Greco for mayor

Douglas Jeffrey Greco, 53, is one of four candidates (so far) who’s campaigning to be Austin’s mayor in 2025.Greco trying to unseat incumbent Mayor...

Court halts $354 million development subsidy

A Travis County court issued a ruling to halt the use of future property taxes to subsidize luxury development of 118 acres of land...

Austin City Manager: Dallas discard vs Austin retread

Council members make policy. The city manager’s job is to implement those policies. A great city manager can get that done and keep the ship...



What's really going on in government?

Keep up with the best investigative reporting in Austin.

Donate to the Bulldog

Our critical accountability journalism wouldn't be possible without the generous donations of hundreds of Austinites. Join them and become a supporter today!