District Citizens Doing Due Diligence

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Steven Zettner

Districts 4 and 7 hosting websites for independent review of candidates

by Joseph Caterine

Posted Wednesday September 3, 2014 10:56am

Hopeful citizens are counting on Austin’s adoption of the 10-1 City Council system to result in grassroots candidates being elected this fall, while others are taking a more hands-on approach in deciding who represents their interests at City Hall.

The general election will be held November 4 and runoffs, which are expected in most contests, will be held December 16.

Citizens in two of the 10 geographic districts from which City Council members will be elected have organized and launched websites to vet the candidates that are running to represent these districts.

This grassroots attention to detail is underlined by the fact that only one person who lived in areas now designated as Districts 4 and 7— both located in North Central Austin—has ever been elected to the City Council, at least since 1971. This according to the mapping project covering 40 years of election history published by The Austin Bulldog August 4, 2011. That lone council member was Berl Handcox, who lived at 3108 Whiteway Drive, which is in District 7. Handcox, the first African American elected to the City Council, was elected in 1971 and reelected in 1973.

Eight candidates have filed for a place on the ballot in each of these districts.

Residents serious about scrutiny

Steven Zettner
Steven Zettner

Steven Zettner, editor of AustinDistrict7.org, believes that residents have an obligation to conduct their own review of district candidates. “I’m impressed that the mainstream media has done as good a job as they have,” he said, “but there’s just a lot across the city to cover. What we’re trying to provide for District 7 is more depth.”

AustinDistrict7.org provides a platform for residents to discuss district issues and review candidates’ positions, without interference from political campaigns or outside interests.

District 4 organizers have created a similar website, AustinDistrict4.org. (This link is no longer functional.)

Domenic Schiera
Domenic Schiera

Domenic Schiera, a community spokesperson, wants everyone in the city to be aware of his district’s needs.

“The goal of organizing District 4 is to ensure that everyone—media, City Council candidates within and outside the district, and residents within and outside the district—understands the issues important to District 4,” he said.

Zettner has interviewed five of the District 7 candidates, with more to come. Each has a profile on the site that provides a brief biography, references to news articles, and links to campaign websites.

Austindistrict4.org provides biographies written by the candidates themselves. Independent interviews have not been conducted.

As far as narrowing down key district issues to present on the District 7 site, Zettner said that it was a combined effort of the website’s volunteer staff and District 7 residents.

For District 4’s website, Schiera said, “We have about 400 people on our mailing list. We distributed a survey and request for candidate forum questions to the mailing list, in which 51 people responded. The candidate forum questions were edited by a group of 15 to 20 people who joined from the mailing list, and possibly neighborhood residents who saw the posting on their list-serve.”

North Austin well prepared

Many of those involved in these websites are also involved in the North Austin Coalition of Neighborhoods, which has served to mobilize area interests for years.

“Districts 4 and 7 were preparing for 10-1 changes before the district lines were drawn,” Schiera said.

This already established network gave these website projects a head start in reporting on the election.

“We planned this site last year,” Zettner said, “before there was any mainstream coverage. We had an inkling that this was going to be a once-in-a-lifetime, crazy election, which has proven to be the case.”

North Austin appears to be the only area of the city with this level of coordination in preparing for the City Council elections.

For concerned citizens outside of Districts 4 and 7, public forums provide a space to meet and question city council candidates. Forums start today and will continue into the future. To see The Austin Chronicle’s list of scheduled forums, click here.
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