Light Turnout for City Auditor’s Meetings

HomeCity of AustinCity AuditorLight Turnout for City Auditor’s Meetings

Five scheduled meetings drew fewer than ninety people, but keen interest shown among attendees

Correction posted 4:29pm Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Ken Mory
Ken Mory

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
Jason Hadavi

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.

Composite image of postcard
Composite image of postcard

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
Sheri Marshall

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
Linda Curtis

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 (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.

City Auditor Kicks Off Info Sessions: Drawing maps for 100 council districts attracts citizens who want to get involved, January 22, 2013

Bumpy Road to Implementing 10-1: Council refuses to pay for child care, mileage. Applications to serve taken Jan. 19 to Feb. 22, January 17, 2013

Massive Interest in Redistricting: City audtor’s forum draws standing-room crowd to brainstorm how to attract applicants, December 4, 2012

Proposed Districting Timeline Draws Flak: Redistricting expert says schedule does not allow enough time for federal approval process, December 4, 2012

Citizens Redistricting Forum December 4: City auditor invites public input for citizens redistricting panel and how best to identify applicant qualifications, November 27, 2012

Prop 3 Proponents to Monitor Implementation: Austinites for Geographic Representation form committee to help guide work on 10-1 system, November 25, 2012

City Hustles to Initiate Prop 3 Tasks: Auditor coordinating with proponents of the 10-1 plan to begin what will be a lengthy transition process, November 15, 2012

10- Plan to Rule Council Elections: Both propositions for geographic representation pass but grassroots group dominates election results, November 7, 2012

Mayor: My Commission Beats Your Commission: Mayor Lee Leffingwell lifts idea for citizens to draw council districts and undercut opposing proposition, November 2, 2012

Prop 3 Fundraising Outpaces Prop 4: Financial support for 10-1 far outstrip dollars donated for 8-2-1 hybrid, September 29, 2012

Proposition 3 Campaign Relies on Grass Roots: Austinites for Geographic Representation going door-to-door, running phone banks, and distributing info at polling places, October 21, 2012

Prop 3 Proponents Question Prop 4 Legality: Civil rights attorney and two minority groups say federal preclearance for 8-2-1 is unlikely, October 21, 2012

Poll Triggers Backlash from 10-1 Proponents: Proposition 3 advocates saying Prop 4 playing dirty with a misleading poll, Prop 4 denies the charge, October 17, 2012

Proposition 4 Campaign Reports Finances: Late report indicates $2685 raised in last three months but fails to provide details about campaign expenses, October 10, 2012

Proposition 3 Campaign Reports Finances: 10-1 campaign proponents raised more than $40,000, Proposition 4’s 8-2-1 advocates’ report not submitted, October 9, 2012

Proposition 3 Rally Draws 150-200 People: Crowd hears fiery speeches by proponents of the 10-1 system for electing council members, October 8, 2012

Attorney Bickerstaff Addresses Critics’ Concerns: His September 24 article drew numerous comments about the Proposition 3 Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission, October 5, 2012

Feisty Debate Over Electing Council Members: One panelist argues for no change to the at-large system of City Council elections, October 4, 2012

Proposition 3 and 4 Proponents Rev Their Campaigns: Raising money, organizing troops, and pushing plans for geographic representation on Austin City Council, September 28, 2012

Redistricting Need Not Be a Quintessentially Political Process: Independent redistricting commissions for U.S. states and cities, September 24, 2012

Barrientos Lampoons Prop 4 With a Fable: Other proponents of alternative plans for geographic representation push their points, September 14, 2012

Proposition 3 Advocates Falsely Accuse RECA: Group alleges ‘rumor’ of $100,000 pledge by Real Estate Council to defeat Proposition 3, but RECA says not so, September 12, 2012

No-Change Option Surfaces in Ballot Debate: Former Council Member Bob Binder opposes both options on the ballot for geographic representation, September 11, 2012

The Election Wars Have Begun: Interest in how council members elected running high, as face-off debates abound, September 9, 2012

Your Guide to Proposed City Charter Amendments: What’s on the ballot, what it will cost taxpayers, and details provided in the ordinances for each proposition, August 30, 2012

Loud Rally Follows Final Council Vote for 8-2-1: AGR’s Cries Foul Over Work Session Vote for Hybrid; Mayor Leffingwell Said Votes Driven by Ballot Deadline, August 7, 2012

Council Backers of 8-2-1 Plan Accused of Self-Interest: But Facts Don’t Seem to Substantiate Such a Claim, as Related Actions May Bar Most Incumbents From Reelection, August 6, 2012

8-2-1 Near Certain to Go on Ballot: City Council Votes on Second Reading to Put Competition Election Plan on Ballot, July 31, 2012

10-1 Plan Qualifies for November Ballot: Consultant Estimates That 22,435 Signatures Are Valid; Austinites for Geographic Representation Readies for Battle, July 26, 2012

Petition Completed for 10-1 Council Districts: Austinites for Geographic Representation Claims 33,000 Signatures, of Which About 22,800 Are Considered Valid, July 16, 2012

Council Puts 10-1 Election Plan on November Ballot: Votes 5-2 on Three Readings to Adopt Petition Language, Votes 4-2 on First Reading to Also Put 8-2-1 on Ballot, June 29, 2012

Citizens Group to Make Final Petition Push: Austinites for Geographic Representation Claims to Have 17,000 Signatures, and Shoots for 13,000 More, June 4, 2012

City Council Tackles Charter Amendments: Redistricting Expert, Charter Revision Committee Members, and Grass-roots Group Critical of Task Force Plan, April 26, 2012

Council District Backers Want Quick Ballot Decision: Big Press Conference, Big Pressure Promised, to Get Council Decision Before Council Elections, March 8, 2012

Hard Fought, Heartfelt Charter Decision: Charter Revision Committee Votes 8-7 to Back 10-1 Plan for Council Elections, February 3, 2012

New Restrictions Proposed for Lobbyist Fundraising: Lobbyists Can Only Give Candidates $25 But Can Collect Unlimited Contributions For Them, January 22, 2012

Committee Debates How to Elect Council: Charter Revision Committee Divided Over Pure Districts vs. Hybrid System, January 9, 2012

Thirteen Charter Changes and Counting: Charter Revision Committee’s Next Job: Tackle Plan for Geographic Representation, December 14, 2011

Council Confirms November 2012 Election Date for Charter Amendments: Resolution Ensures Citizens Initiative Won’t Force May 2012 Charter Election, November 3, 2011

Coalition Launching Petition Drive to Get on the Ballot for May 2012 Election, October 18, 2011

Broad Community Interest Focusing on How Mayor and Council Members Elected, October 4, 2011

Coalition Nearing Petition Launch for Grass-roots Council District Plan, August 24, 2011

Maps Prove Select Few Govern Austin: Forty Years of Election History Expose Extent of Disparity, August 4, 2011

City Council to Consider Proposal to Create Geographic Representation: Election Dates, Term Lengths, Redistricting and Other Charter Changes in Council Resolution, April 27, 2011

Petition Launch Imminent to Force Election for Geographic Representation in City Elections, March 7, 2011

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