Drawing maps for 10 City Council districts attracts citizens who want to get involved
The historic opportunity to draw districts from which 10 Austin City Council members will be elected in November 2014 was enough to draw a Saturday morning crowd to the Carver Branch Library. The end result will be to change the election of council members from and all-at-large system that has existed since 1953 to elect council members from geographic districts.
Some 30 people interested in learning more about opportunities to serve on the Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission (ICRC) or Applicant Review Panel attended City Auditor Ken Mory’s first public application information session. Four more such meetings are scheduled for this week (see schedule below).
Information supplied by Opinion Analysts Inc. indicates that 35,418 people meet the minimum requirements to serve on the ICRC by having been registered to vote for five years and having voted in three of the last five May elections. (That number will be reduced somewhat once conflicts of interest that bar service are taken into account.) The City Auditor’s office will mail two invitations to apply to serve on the ICRC to each of these.
One of the PowerPoint slides displayed showed the Density of Estimated Eligible Districting Commission Candidates. That map shows the greatest concentration of eligible candidates, with some exceptions, live in the central city in an area straddling MoPac Expressway between Ben White Boulevard and U.S. Highway 183 and near I-35. (See slide 5 in the City Auditor’s PowerPoint Slides.)
Jason Hadavi, chief of investigations in the Integrity Unit of the City Auditor’s office, said that fewer than 3,500 CPAs are licensed in Austin and may be eligible to serve on the Applicant Review Panel, but not all of them would have the required five years experience as a practicing independent auditor. (Hadavi later supplied an Excel file spreadsheet List of Certified Public Accountants in Austin that shows 3,467 CPAs in Aust in, which he received from the Texas State Board of Public Accountancy.) The City Auditor’s office will mail an invitation to each of these to apply to serve on the Applicant Review Panel.
Copies of applications for both the ICRC and Applicant Review Panel were provided as handouts, along with the Office of the City Auditor Interpretive Guidance on the Redistricting Process and a Voting History Request Form, with which a potential applicant can submit to the Travis or Williamson County Voter Registration office, as applicable, to find out if you have voted in three of the last five May City elections, as required to serve on the ICRC. All these forms are available on the city’s 10-ONE Redistricting Portal, http://www.austintexas.gov/department/10-one.
The deadline for the auditor’s office to receive applications is February 22.
Although Mory said the purpose of the meeting was to provide information about how to fill out applications, the auditor and his staff spent much of the morning fielding questions.
Hadavi is also the project manager for carrying out the responsibilities assigned to the City Auditor by the Proposition 3 Ordinance approved by voters November 6. (The Ordinance is now incorporated in the City Charter, Article II, Section 3 titled “Redistricting.”)
Audience questions answered
Hadavi walked the audience through the ICRC application and, in response to a question, said the auditor’s office could not define the terms used for three of the qualifications listed in the application: relevant analytical skills, ability to be impartial, and appreciation for the City of Austin’s diverse demographics and geography. These qualifications are contained in the Charter amendment as being desirable traits for ICRC members but are not defined.
“This is not a situation where there is a right or wrong answer,” Hadavi said. “The Applicant Review Panel will look at all the applications and determine who is best qualified.”
“We are not in a position to tell you what should go in there,” Mory added.
Q: Three people will be chosen for the Applicant Review Panel and they will review the ICRC applications to select the 60 best qualified to go into the pool. How can the Panel deal with a large number of applications?
A: Mory said it may be possible for the Panel to hire people to assist them.
Q: What happens if the ICRC, once formed, encounters a vacancy?
A: Hadavi said there is a provision to go back to the pool to select someone to fill the vacancy.
Q: How can I find out if I voted three times in the last five May elections?
A: Submit the form to the Voter Registration office.
Q: Do CPAs who want to serve on the Applicant Review Panel have to have been registered to vote for at least five years and have voted in three of the last five May elections?
A: No, said Hadavi, but they must have at least five years experience as a qualified auditor.
Q: There is a slot on the ICRC for a student. Do student applicants have to have been registered to vote for five years and have voted in three of the last five May elections, like other ICRC applicants?
A: Hadavi said no, but the other requirements for ICRC applicants must be met by students who apply.
Q: Once the ICRC has been formed, does it have a deadline to draw maps for council districts?
A: Hadavi said the city’s Law Department will work with the City Council to determine who has the authority to set the deadline for completing council district maps. Linda Curtis, who coordinated the Proposition 3 campaign that won voter approval, and was in the audience, said the Department of Justice will need at least 90 days to review the council district application for preclearance and it will be up to the ICRC to determine when to complete the process and apply.
Q: Will the ICRC be supplied with demographic information and census maps?
A: Hadavi said yes, that information would be supplied.
Q: Will the ICRC have a staff?
A: Curtis said the ICRC would be able to hire its own staff. Mory added that the ICRC will devise a budget for this purpose.
Q: How much time will be required to serve on the ICRC?
A: Curtis said once constituted the ICRC will decide for itself when and how often to meet.
Q: What if the random drawing results in a geographic imbalance, with a preponderance of the eight members coming from one part of town, or a shortage in the number of minority members who apply?
A: Mory said that a well balanced pool is needed. “We have a very aggressive outreach program. We’re doing everything we can to get a diverse pool.”
In addition, City Charter, Article II, Section 3(I)(9) states that the eight commissioners who were randomly drawn shall review the remaining names in the pool of applicants and from that pool shall appoint six applicants to the commission, chosen to ensure geographic diversity and that at least three commissioners come from each of the four existing Travis County Commissioners districts, to the extent feasible with the remaining open seats. These six shall also be chosen to reflect the diversity of the City of Austin including racial, ethnic, and gender diversity and chosen based on relevant analytical skills and ability to be impartial.
Q: An engineer said that engineering contracts are not competitively bid and asked if that would that disqualify him from serving on the ICRC.
A: The Conflicts of Interest portion of the application asks applicants to state if within three years of the application date have you or your spouse been: A person performing paid services under a professional or political contract to the City of Austin or the City Council of the City of Austin, or been a controlling person of a person performing such services. The questions do not address whether the contract was competitive.
Q: Will the ICRC meetings be held in public?
A: Yes. The Commission will be required to comply with the Texas Open Meetings Act by publishing the time, date, location, and agenda for meetings.
Q: Once the ICRC is established, can those who were not selected run for office?
A: Yes, the prohibition on running for office applies only to those who actually serve on the ICRC.
Q: Once the ICRC draws the council districts and the plan is submitted to the Department of Justice for preclearance, are the ICRC members liable for any problems?
A: Curtis said the Commission will have legal staff experienced in requirements of the Voting Rights Act and if there are problems the Commission members should want to stay involved and resolve them.
Q: Will the auditors who serve on the Applicant Review Panel be paid?
A: Mory said he did not have the authority to pay them and the decision will rest with the City Council.
Q: Where can the public obtain census information about the City of Austin?
A: On the city demographer’s website at http://austintexas.gov/demographics
Aggressive outreach underway
Mory said the outreach plan includes both broadcast and print media, social media, and the distribution of printed materials to city facilities and private business such as sandwich and coffee shops.
Ten Capital Metro buses are wrapped with information about the districting process and are circulating throughout the city. In addition, 10 billboards in English and two in Spanish are advertising the process are posted at various locations.
Mory said the auditor’s office will be using a geographic information system to plot the locations where ICRC applicants live. “If we see an area where applications are not coming from we’ll focus on that,” he said.
The City Auditor’s office has scheduled four more public information sessions and will respond to other requests for appearances as well.
The meetings are scheduled as follows:
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/
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Related Bulldog coverage: This is The Austin Bulldog’s 45th article covering issues and activities pertaining to proposed and/or voter-approved changes to the Austin City Charter.
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