Austinites for Geographic Representation form committee to help guide work on 10-1 system
Fresh off a major victory in the November 6 election, some three-dozen fired up members of Austinites for Geographic Representation (AGR) packed the meeting room at the Austin Firefighters Hall last Monday evening to map out how to stay involved during implementation of the 10-1 system for council elections.
Volunteer political consultant Peck Young, who provided the strategy for the winning campaign, roused the crowd.
“We need to remember we won a campaign. We created districts. We have changed something a half century old and changed it for the rest of this century,” he said.
But he added a note of caution.
Young said, “The work to keep this fair and honest isn’t over. I promise you we have work to do so this process is not perverted or corrupted by people who never wanted this in the first place.”
“We’ve got at least another year of hard work to be sure it’s implemented correctly.”
The plan going forward is for each of the 30 organizations that endorsed the 10-1 plan to provide a member to a new AGR committee that will actively monitor every phase of work.
Initially the AGR committee will observe the work of the city auditor’s office as it announces a call for interested persons to apply to serve on the Citizens Independent Redistricting Commission (CIRC), which will draw council districts the City Council will have no choice but to accept, subject to federal approval under the Voting Rights Act.
Thereafter the committee will birddog the entire process.
The committee will be co-chaired by retired State Senator Gonzalo Barrientos (D-Austin), NAACP Austin President Nelson Linder, and attorney Roger Borgelt, vice chairman of the Travis County Republican Party, Young said.
Young urged AGR volunteers to consider applying to serve on the CIRC.
To that end, attorney Fred Lewis, who wrote much of the language in Proposition 3: Ordinance No. 20120802-015, which will guide the process, provided a detailed brief of the requirements that each applicant must meet to qualify to serve.
Although CIRC members will not be paid, they will be eligible for reimbursement of expenses, such as travel mileage and child care, Lewis said, “so at least you will be no worse off by serving on the Commission.”
The city auditor will also solicit applications from independent auditors who will form a three-member Applicant Review Panel to screen applicants who want to serve on the CIRC, to be sure they meet every requirement set forth in the Ordinance.
Young said the new AGR committee should be prepared to observe the auditors to be sure that no one who does not qualify to serve on the CIRC slips through and winds up on the pool of 60 people who are considered eligible to serve.
Once the pool of 60 qualified applicants is formed the list of names will be provided to City Council members, who will have five days to strike one member each, if desired, and must do so in writing. No reason need be given for striking anyone from the pool.
The names of applicants who are not struck will form the pool from which the city auditor will publicly conduct a random drawing that will provide the names of the first eight members of the CIRC.
Those eight members will then appoint from the remaining pool an additional six members to balance the CIRC for race, ethnicity, gender, and geographic diversity. To add these additional members requires at least five votes from the initial eight members.
Once formed the CIRC will hire consultants to handle the technical aspects and then hold public hearings to gather input and adopt a plan for the boundaries of council districts.
City auditor seeks council approval
The city’s Strategic Audit Plan prepared before the election indicates the city auditor’s office would need 1,500 hours of work to implement the requirements of the Proposition 3 Ordinance if it passed.
City Auditor Ken Mory recently doubled that estimate and now figures his office will need 3,000 hours to carry out its responsibilities for forming the CIRC and Applicant Review Panel.
Jason Hadavi, chief of investigations in the city auditors office, told The Austin Bulldog that no cost estimate was available for the 3,000 hours of work needed to implement Proposition 3.
Mory appeared before the City Council’s Audit and Finance Committee Monday to brief Mayor Pro Tem Sheryl Cole, who chairs the committee, and Council Members Laura Morrison, Bill Spelman, and Kathie Tovo.
Mory proposed to provide the additional hours needed to carry out his responsibilities for Proposition 3 by shifting priorities in the Fiscal Year 2013 service plan, and possibly hiring outside auditors to do some of the scheduled audit projects that were slated to be done by city employees.
After a brief discussion, Cole said the auditor’s request will be posted for possible action on the City Council’s December 4 Work Session.
Want a detailed road map?
The auditor’s office began work on this complicated project well before the November 6 election in anticipation of voter approval. The pace of work stepped up as soon as Proposition 3 passed.
Auditors staff have met with the activists who led the campaign for Austinites for Geographic Representation. They have also met with the lawyers who drafted the ordinance’s procedures for picking people to serve on the CIRC and how that Commission will draw council districts.
The 29-page City Auditor’s Project Plan, which The Austin Bulldog obtained through a public information request, provides a detailed summary of these meetings and the key points that came out of them. The two pages marked “Critical Path – Prop 3” (see pages 9-10 of the pdf) lay out the specific schedule the auditor‘s office will follow as the process goes forward, Hadavi said.
However, City Auditor Mory, in a follow-up e-mail November 21, stated, “The dates in the critical path document you received from us has not been finalized. They are one of the things we intend to discuss at the December 4 work session.”
For those who want to delve into the details of the auditor’s action to date and see what lies ahead, the Project Plan is a must-read.
The Project Plan includes $100,000 for “legal support/independent consultant” but Hadavi said, “ We do not think we will need the $100,000. We’re not sure we need legal support or an independent consultant.”
City Auditor Mory and his staff are currently working to get the process established to accept applications for volunteers who wish to serve on the CIRC and the independent auditors who wish to serve on the Applicant Review Panel.
Mory’s e-mail stated, “the proposition language requires that the City Auditor ‘initiate and widely publicize an application process’ … by December 1, and we intend to meet that deadline.
“The proposition does not speak to a specific date for making the applications available to potential candidates,” Mory’s e-mail said.
“At this time we have not finalized specific dates for each step of the process including when applications will be available to the public,” Mory’s e-mail said. “It is critical that we ensure that the applications and process are done right to meet the objectives of the charter amendment, which may require some additional time.
“We also understand the importance of the (CIRC) having sufficient time to complete their task.”
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Related Bulldog coverage: This is The Austin Bulldog’s 40th article covering issues and activities pertaining to proposed changes to the Austin City Charter.