Massive Interest in Redistricting

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The city auditor’s forum drew some 120 people

City auditor’s forum draws standing-room crowd to brainstorm how to attract applicants

The city auditor’s forum drew some 120 people
The city auditor’s forum drew some 120 people

Any doubts about the public’s interest in establishing the 10 council districts to take effect in the November 2014 City Council elections were put to rest Tuesday night as some 120 people attended a jam-packed program at One Texas Center.

Proposition 3’s 10-1 plan for council elections was put on the November 6 ballot through a petition drive led by Austinites for Geographic Representation and approved by 145,910 votes (60.15 percent).

Now comes implementation.

Larry Schooler
Larry Schooler

“We’re at the beginning of what for some is too long a process,” said Larry Schooler, a community engagement consultant in the city’s Public Information Office. “Tonight is the beginning of that process.”

“How do we attract applicants with the qualifications the charter amendment sets out: relevant analytical skills, ability to be impartial, and appreciation of the city of Austin’s diverse demographics and diversity?

“This is the beginning of a journey. It has many parts. This is the first of those parts, “Schooler said.

Jason Hadavi
Jason Hadavi

Jason Hadavi, chief of investigations in the city auditor’s office, provided a brief overview of the process that will be used to form the Citizens Independent Redistricting Commission (CIRC). The CIRC will draw council districts the City Council has no choice but to adopt, subject to federal approval under the Voting Rights Act.

“Proposition 3 creates two entities, “Hadavi said, “the Citizens Independent Redistricting Commission and the Applicant Review Panel (ARP).

The ARP, which will be composed of three independent auditors, will be responsible for selecting the 60 most qualified applicants.

Hadavi’s brief presentation followed the slides in the 10-1 Public Input Forum Agenda and Overview.

City Auditor Ken Mory hosted last night’s event with the goal of brainstorming ways to drum up applications from qualified volunteers to serve on the CIRC.

After these brief introductory remarks, six groups seated together around tables—and another group seated in overflow space in a nearby break room—were turned loose to brainstorm through discussions. Each table was attended by two members of the auditor‘s staff, one to facilitate the discussion and one to record the group’s ideas on flip charts.

After an hour of noisy and energetic discussions the proceedings were halted to hear a brief report from a spokesperson for each group.

Given the need to evaluate the voluminous suggestions and devise an all-out marketing plan that will make most Austin citizens aware of the opportunity to serve on the CIRC, the auditor’s office aims to make the application forms available by January 31

How to measure applicant qualifications?

The overall theme that emerged from the seven discussion-group reports was inclusiveness.

Once an applicant has been deemed qualified by having been a registered voter for five years, having voted in three of the last five city elections, and having been found free of the conflicts of interest that would rule out participation on the CIRC, a strong consensus was voiced for making sure that not only pointy-headed intellectuals wind up on the Commission.

Life experiences should also be considered.

A concern was expressed that the minimum requirements for voter registration and voting history might screen out to many African Americans, given the shrinking population-share of black citizens. Those, however, are hard-and-fast restrictions that apply to all applicants, regardless of race.

Although CIRC applicants should be diverse in terms of race, ethnicity, gender, and sexual orientation, a diversity in skills and a mix of homeowners and renters might also be beneficial.

Outreach in Spanish was suggested, although it was not made clear how people limited to Spanish could participate in CIRC meetings conducted in English.

Prospective applicants should understand that while service on the CIRC will require considerable unpaid volunteer time, there will be reimbursement for out-of-pocket expenses such as child care and transportation to attend meetings. No one should decline to participate for lack of these basic needs.

Although the CIRC’s work will involve technical details such as drawing council districts to include demographics, legalities, and map-making, applicants should be put at ease by the fact that experts in these areas will be made available to advise the CIRC.

While not listed as a requirement in the Proposition 3: Ordinance No. 20120802-015, suggestions were made to consider such things as an ability to listen, cooperate, discuss business civilly, donate time to serve, and be a team player.

A suggestion was also made to include in application forms questions to ask if the applicant has been convicted of a criminal offense and to describe the applicant’s social activities and community involvement.

How to evaluate the required traits

Proposition 3 requires CIRC members to have analytical skill, be impartial, and have an appreciation for the city’s diverse demographics and geography. The Applicant Review Panel will be charged with screening applicants to identify those who meet these requirements

The group discussions brought forth the following ideas for possible use by the Applicant Review Panel in making these determinations:

Analytical skills:

• high school diploma

• writing and verbal skills

• ability to use data as a tool

• data analysis part of the applicant’s job

Impartiality:

• ability to entertain all possibilities

• commitment to keep the process as open as possible

• oath to be impartial so as not to undermine the process

Appreciation for diversity:

• understands the community

Marketing and outreach for CIRC applications

Group proposals for maximizing awareness of the opportunity to serve on the CIRC included the following ideas:

• Use mainstream, community, ethnic, and alternative outlets including print, social media, broadcast, and cable channels like the city’s Channel 6.

• Insert fliers in utility bill mailings.

• Include the actual application forms in utility bill mailings and/or as inserts in publications.

• Place ads on billboards, buses, and taxis.

• Make mass mailings to registered voters (perhaps limited to those who meet the qualification of being registered to vote for five years and who have voted in three of the last five city elections, a prerequisite).

• Inform major employers.

• Seek articles in neighborhood, church, college, university, and organizational newsletters.

• Deliver a brief oral message to 311 callers.

• Hold town meetings in all parts of the city for face-to-face discussions where people live.

• Inform neighborhood contact teams.

• Reach families through parent-teacher associations.

• Market at sporting events.

• Identify and connect with diverse communities including seniors, young people, handicapped, veterans, Latinos, Asian-Americans, and lesbians, bisexuals, gays and transsexuals.

• Monitor applications as they come into the city auditor’s office to identify areas of the city, or zip codes, that are not submitting applications and target those areas for more intensive outreach.

What’s next?

Ken Mory
Ken Mory

“This is beyond my expectations,” Mory said of the evening’s turnout and participation, in wrapping up the meeting after an hour and 45 minutes. “Thanks for coming out tonight.

For now the auditor’s office will be mulling the suggestions provided and working to design application forms that will allow the audit staff to screen applications to determine if they meet minimum qualifications necessary to pass them to the Applicant Review Panel

The target date for making the application forms available is January 31, Hadavi said.

Mory said the ideas on the flips charts were to be transcribed, distilled into common themes, and posted on the auditor’s website at http://www.austintexas.gov/10-one.

The evening’s program was filmed by Channel 6 and may now be viewed online. To see the edited 45-minute video, click here.

This report was made possible by contributions toThe Austin Bulldog, which operates as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit to provide investigative reporting in the public interest. You can help to sustainThe Austin Bulldog’s coverage by making a tax-deductible contribution.

Related Bulldog coverage: This is The Austin Bulldog’s 43rd article covering issues and activities pertaining to proposed and/or voter-approved changes to the Austin City Charter.

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