Five scheduled meetings drew fewer than ninety people, but keen interest shown among attendees
Correction posted 4:29pm Tuesday, January 29, 2013
City Auditor Ken Mory and his staff are doing their utmost to reach out to the public and provide information that would encourage Austin voters to apply to serve on one of the two bodies that will shape Austin’s future for decades to come.
The action is a result of voter approval November 6 of Proposition 3, which orders the implementation of 10 geographic council districts from which Austin City Council members will be elected in November 2014. Another charter amendment approved by voters dictates that council elections will be held in November of even-numbered years, council members will serve four-year terms (instead of three years), and will be limited to two terms (instead of three). Incumbents can run in spite of term limits if they gather signatures of 5 percent of registered voters to gain access to the ballot.
The auditor hosted five application public information meetings over an eight-day period starting Saturday January 19 and ending Saturday January 26. A total of about 87 people attended those meetings. About 14 of those were Bowie High School students who attended the January 24 meeting at Gorzycki Middle School as part of a government class. So at most the meetings drew about 73 people who might have been eligible to serve.
At each meeting the auditor’s staff presented an overview about how the process will work going forward. Copies of applications for the Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission (ICRC) and Applicant Review Panel were provided in both English and Spanish. The auditor’s interpretive guidance that supplements the language in the City Charter, Section II, Article 3, titled “Redistricting,” was also provided.
The Austin Bulldog covered all five meetings and published a January 22 article about the first one that included an extensive list of questions raised by attendees and the answers provided. The questions raised at the other four meetings were similar.
The questions mostly sought clarification of the qualifications to serve, how the ICRC and Applicant Review Panels will operate, how much time may be required to serve on the ICRC, how the ICRC will be funded, and whether the ICRC will be able to hire professionals who can provide demographic information and provide legal counsel for compliance with the Voting Rights Act, which governs implementation of any changes in voting procedures.
The qualifications to serve are explicit in the application forms available on the Austin Redistricting Portal. (This link is no longer functional.)
The ICRC will devise its own budget and the City Council is obligated to provide sufficient funding.
Using that budget the ICRC will be able to hire sufficient independent experts to accomplish its work of drawing 10 council districts.
The time required to serve on the ICRC will be up to its members but the overall goal is to complete the process of drawing council districts by the end of this year. Accomplishing this goal will allow the 10-district plan to be forwarded to the federal Department of Justice for review under the Voting Rights Act for “preclearance,” meaning the DOJ will raise no objection to implementation of the council districts in the November 2014 election. The DOJ review will need at least 90 days and needs to be completed before May 2014, when candidates could begin campaigning six months before the election.
Weak attendance not indicative of results
Attendance at the five auditor’s meetings seem low—especially considering that the Austin American-Statesman published a story about the meetings on its B-section cover January 23. In addition, the city has spent considerable effort and money to get the word out, including billboards; advertising on buses and in broadcast and print media; and sent e-mails and letters to organizations listed in the City of Austin’s Community Registry database.
Jason Hadavi, chief of investigations in the Integrity Unit of auditor’s office and point man for the public outreach, said, “I’m not sure attendance at the public information sessions represents all the interest” in possibly applying to volunteer to serve.
Hadavi said the auditor’s office got a lot of feedback in response to the e-mails and letters to its Community Registry contacts.
The auditor’s office has requested a budget of $85,000 for marketing and outreach, Hadavi said. That money is solely for supplies and advertising, he said, and does not include personnel costs for staff time spent on this project.
The most important thing, in the end, will be the number of people who apply by the February 22 deadline, Hadavi said.
The mass mailings the city auditor’s office initiated to encourage applications hit mailboxes yesterday (Monday).
The city auditor’s office mailed postcards to some 35,418 citizens who have been registered for at least five years and who voted in at least three of the last five council elections held in the spring. A second mailing is planned in about 10 days, Hadavi said.
A separate mailing was sent to 3,467 licensed CPAs who live in Austin and may qualify to serve on the Applicant Review Panel and a second mailing will be sent to them as well.
Mory stated at nearly every meeting that his staff was willing to meet with any group interested in a presentation and in fact he has attended meetings of the Austin Neighborhoods Council (ANC) and the Austin Chapter of the National Association of Black Accountants. Mory estimated that about 25 people attended the ANC meeting.
Sheri Marshall, president of the Black Accountants group, told The Austin Bulldog that 27 people attended the meeting Saturday. “I think the presentation was awesome,” Marshall said in a phone interview Monday. “I think we’ve got several people who are going to apply (to serve on the Applicant Review Panel) as well as one of the members of the student chapters that the group has at four local universities.
Hadavi said that he made a presentation to the Greater Austin Asian Chamber of Commerce on January 9.
Community groups getting informed
The North Austin Coalition of Neighborhoods (NACN) hosted a Saturday, January 21, Town Hall meeting on 10-1 that was not attended by the city auditor’s staff. Mary Rudig, NACN president, said in an e-mail, “We did not invite the City’s Auditor. The meeting was more for neighborhoods to talk about what we want to do at our end of town from a big picture perspective.”
Ed English, the representative of Austinites for Geographic Representation who attended the NACN meeting said it was attended by about 65 people who listened to his presentation about the process for implementing the 10-1 City Charter amendment and asked questions that he answered over the course of about an hour.
Other efforts at reaching out to encourage participation include the Proposition 3 initiators, Austinites for Geographic Representation (AGR), which attended the celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day at Huston-Tillotson University and talked to potential ICRC applicants.
Linda Curtis, campaign coordinator for AGR, said the group ran a phone bank in an effort to reach some 5,400 households of African Americans, Asian Americans, and Latinos who otherwise might not hear about the opportunity to participate in the process of drawing 10 geographic council districts that will be used in the November 2014 election. “We think they may be underrepresented in the pool” from which the 60 most qualified ICRC applicants will be picked by the Applicant Review Panel.
An AGR representative attended each of the five auditor’s public information meetings and helped to answer questions about the process.
AGR has produced an 11-minute video published on the group’s website “that does a better job of explaining how the Commission works and who is qualified to serve on it,” Curtis said. The video covers the history of how the 10-1 plan came about, the petition drive that got it on the ballot, the election that got it passed, the qualifications to serve on the ICRC, and how the Applicant Review Panel and ICRC will do their work.
The work ahead
The Applicant Review Panel will consist of three qualified independent auditors who have at least five years experience.
The Panel will review all applications for the ICRC that the city auditor’s office has reviewed and found to meet basic eligibility requirements concerning voter registration, voter history, and conflicts of interest. The Panel will select from all these applications the 60 most qualified people to serve on the ICRC.
The list of those 60 people will be provided to the Austin City Council members who in writing will be allowed to strike one name apiece. Those who survive the strike will form a pool from which the city auditor will hold a public meeting and randomly draw the names of eight applicants that will form the initial core members of the ICRC. From the remaining names in the pool these eight will select an additional six people to serve on the ICRC and balance it in terms of geography, race, and gender.
Many more meetings scheduled
The deadline to apply to serve on the Applicant Review Panel or ICRC is Friday February 22. Application forms are available at http://www.austintexas.gov/department/10-one-applications. (This link is no longer functional.) Applications may be completed electronically or hand-written, and e-mailed, hand-delivered, or mailed to the auditor’s office per guidance on the website
If you missed the auditor’s meetings already held there are many more opportunities to get information and get help in filling out applications to serve on the Applicant Review Panel or ICRC, as follows:
Saturday Feb. 2: 10am-noon, Dove Springs Recreation Center, 5801 Ainez Drive, with City Auditor’s staff. LULAC and the Latino Healthcare Coalition are encouraging participation in this meeting.
Saturday Feb. 2: 12:30-4:30pm, Carver Branch Library, 1161 Angelina St. with the League of Women Voters-Austin Area.
Thursday Feb. 7: Thursday, 6pm, Community Action Network, City Hall Board and Commission Meeting Room with City Auditor’s staff.
Saturday Feb. 9: Saturday
• 10am-noon: Emma S. Barrientos Mexican American Cultural Center Auditorium, 600 River St. with City Auditor’s staff.
• 12:30-3:30pm: The Latina Policy Coalition and the Austin Latino Coalition will move from the MACC Auditorium to the Raul Salinas Room to provide application forms and assistance in both English and Spanish. The coalition includes HABLA, PODER, LULAC, Hermanos de East Austin, the Greater Austin Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Tejano Democrats, and the Latina Policy Coalition. Austinites for Geographic Representation will partner for the event.
Saturday Feb. 9: , The Latina Policy Coalition will explain the ICRC and encourage Latinos to apply to serve and provide assistance in completing applications.
Tuesday Feb. 12: 7-9pm, Millennium Youth Complex, 1156 Hargrave St. NAACP-Austin and Austinites for Geographic Representation will host this education and discussion meeting to explain the ICRC and why you should volunteer to serve.
Saturday Feb. 16: 1-4pm, South Austin Recreation Center, 1100 Cumberland Road. The League of Women Voters-Austin Area will host a nonpartisan workshop on how to apply to serve on the ICRC.
Tuesday Feb. 19: Austin Firefighters Association Hall, 7537 Cameron Road. Austinites for Geographic Representation will hold a forum and assist people in filling out applications to serve on the ICRC.
Thursday Feb. 21: Austin Firefighters Association Hall, 7537 Cameron Road. Austinites for Geographic Representation will hold a forum and assist people in filling out applications to serve on the ICRC.
Friday, Feb. 22: Final deadline for applications
Proposition 4 advocates still critical
Austin Community for Change (AC4C), the backers of Proposition 4’s 8-2-1 hybrid system of representation that would have established eight geographic districts with the mayor and two council members elected at-large, is critical of the process for implementation of the 10-1 plan.
The Austin Community for Change Letter to City Auditor Ken Mory—signed by five members of AC4C and three members of the 2012 Charter Revision Committee that recommended the 10-1 plan—mostly rehashes criticism leveled against the 10-1 plan during the campaign in which Proposition 4 also passed, but with a lower percentage of voter approval and hence won’t be implemented.
“We urge you to enact the requirements of Prop. 3 as it was passed by Austin voters, not in an ad hoc fashion. To do otherwise would create the appearance that we are making this process up as we go along. Such a perception would not inspire confidence in Austin’s city government.”
Note: An earlier verson of this story published at 3:47pm Tuesday, January 29, 2013 (not Monday, January 28 as first stated) listed two meetings scheduled for Saturday, February 9, 2013. Those plans were changed and those two meetings have been consolidated, as indicated above.
This report was made possible by contributions to The Austin Bulldog, which operates as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit to provide investigative reporting in the public interest. You can help to sustain The Austin Bulldog’s coverage by making a tax-deductible contribution.
Related Bulldog coverage: This is The Austin Bulldog’s 46th article covering issues and activities pertaining to proposed and/or voter-approved changes to the Austin City Charter.