HomeCity of AustinCity CharterYour Guide to Proposed City Charter Amendments

Your Guide to Proposed City Charter Amendments

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What’s on the ballot, how much it will cost taxpayers, and details provided in the ordinances for each proposition

When Austin voters go to the polls starting October 22 for the November 6 general election, they’ll be faced with a potentially bewildering 18 propositions on the City of Austin’s portion of the ballot.

And voters won’t see those propositions until they’ve finished wading through voting for federal, state and local candidates, and deciding whether to support Central Health’s proposed 5 cent tax hike to help fund a new medical school in Austin.

The Austin City Council and a number of citizens are really, really hoping voters don’t just vote a straight party ticket and go home. At stake are $385 million in seven bond propositions, 10 separate proposals to change the City Charter, and one proposition to allow emergency medical personnel to get the same civil service protections as police and firefighters.

Other down-ballot taxing jurisdictions on the ballot are also hoping to keep the voters attention long enough to mark the entire ballot, including Austin Independent School District, Austin Community College, and a bunch more.

In an effort to de-mystify the Austin portion of the ballot, The Austin Bulldog is providing the exact ballot language for each of the 10 propositions involving charter amendments and the emergency medical services proposition, and links to the ordinances that placed each of those on the ballot.

Where two charter amendment propositions compete or overlap, we provide an explanation of the differences and potential outcomes.

A later article will address the seven bond propositions.

It should be noted that the ballot language provides only a minimal description of each proposition’s impact. To better understand the results of passage, click on the links to read the ordinances the City Council enacted to put these measures on the ballot.

The fiscal impact of Propositions 1 through 10 that’s included in our description is based on the assessment of fiscal impacts released today by the city’s deputy chief financial officer, Ed Van Eenoo. Some propositions will cost nothing, some will save money, and others will incur significant expenses.

In every case the propositions may be voted on by marking the ballot either “yes” or “no.”

Travis County election officials are advising voters to study the lengthy ballot and vote early before the November 6 election day.

Michael Winn, Travis County’s director of elections, said the ballot will be heavily publicized in local publications and on the Travis County Clerk’s Elections website.

Election Day Vote Centers will be operational for this election so voters may cast ballots at any polling location where you see the “Vote Here “sign.

Propositions 1 and 2: election dates

Proposition 1—Shall the city charter be amended to move the City’s general election from May to November? Ordinance No. 20120426-068.

Background—This ordinance was approved on Council Member Laura Morrison’s motion and Council Member Chris Riley’s second by a vote of 7-0 April 26, 2012. The thrust of the proposal is to boost voter participation in the election of City Council members, as November elections historically result in far greater turnout.

Fiscal impact—Staff estimates the City will realize a savings of $255,000 per election cycle. This estimate is based on the cost of holding a May election with no partner agencies to share election costs vs. a November election where the City would share the election costs with the County. The total projected five-year savings from FY 2013 through FY 2017 is $765,000.

Proposition 2—Shall the city charter be amended to move the City’s general election from May to November, to provide that council members serve four-year staggered terms, to provide that council elections occur in even-numbered years, and to limit the mayor and council members to two terms? Ordinance No. 20120807-B005.

Background—This ordinance was approved on Council Member Bill Spelman’s motion and Council Member Riley’s second on a vote of 6-1 June 28, 2012. Council Member Kathie Tovo voted no.

Fiscal impact—Staff estimates the City will realize a savings of $255,000 per election cycle. This estimate is based on the cost of holding a May election with no partner agencies to share election costs vs. a November election where the City would share the election costs with the County. An additional savings of $1,145,000 is also projected due to Proposition 2 having one fewer election cycle during the five-year analysis period. The total projected five-year savings from FY 2013 through FY 2017 is $1,655,000.

Differentiation—Propositions 1 and 2 are not mutually exclusive. If both Propositions 1 and 2 pass, Prop 2 will take effect. If Proposition 1 passes and Proposition 2 does not, elections would be moved from May to November and council members would continue to serve three-year terms and be limited to three terms.

Caveat—Regardless of whether voters approve Proposition 2 to effect a change in term limits, the limitation may be overcome by submitting a petition to get on the ballot with the signatures of at least 5 percent of the qualified voters, per City Charter Article II, Section 3(C).

Propositions 3 and 4: geographic representation

Proposition 3—Shall the city charter be amended to provide for the election of council members from 10 geographical single-member districts, with the mayor to be elected from the city at large, and to provide for an independent citizens redistricting commission? Ordinance No. 20120802-015.

Background—Proposition 3 was initially approved on a motion by Council Member Mike Martinez and seconded by Mayor Pro Tem Sheryl Cole in the wee hours of June 29, 2012. The vote was 5-2 (Mayor Lee Leffingwell and Council Member Spelman opposed). At that point the citizens group Austinites for Geographic Representation (AGR) was nearly finished with a petition drive to put the measure on the ballot. In spite of the council action, AGR decided to complete the drive and submit the petitions. AGR submitted the petitions July 16. City Clerk Shirley Gentry announced July 26 the petition was sufficient. On August 2 on Council Member Martinez’ motion and Council Member Spelman’s second, the council voted 7-0 to again to put the proposition on the ballot.

Fiscal impact—Staff estimates the first-year cost for three months beginning July of 2014 is $332,361 for four additional Council places and staff. There would also be a one- time cost of $888,350 for construction and build-out for the new offices in the first year. The annual ongoing cost of the additional Council offices is estimated at $1,396,000 beginning in FY 2015 and the projected five-year costs from FY 2013 through FY 2017 are $5,622,000.

Proposition 4—Shall the city charter be amended to provide for the election of council members from eight geographic single-member districts, with the mayor and two additional council members to be elected from the city at large? Ordinance No. 20120807-B003.

Background—This ordinance was approved on Council Member Riley’s motion and Council Member Morrison’s second on a 5-1 vote August 7 (Council Member Martinez voted no, Council Member Spelman was absent.)

Fiscal impact—Staff estimates the first-year cost for three months beginning July of 2014 is $332,361 for four additional Council places and staff. There would also be a one- time cost of $888,350 for construction and build-out for the new offices in the first year. The annual ongoing cost of the additional Council offices is estimated at $1,396,000 beginning in FY 2015 and the projected five-year costs from FY 2013 through FY 2017 are $5,622,000.

Differentiation—Propositions 3 and 4 are mutually exclusive. If both pass with 50 percent plus one vote, the proposition that garners the most total votes will win. The key differences are in the resulting composition of the City Council (10-1 vs. 8-2-1) and in how the council districts would be drawn, according to the respective ordinances.

Proposition 3 includes a requirement for council districts to be drawn by a nonpartisan Citizens Independent Redistricting Commission and the City Council would have no choice but to adopt those districts. The residence address of the incumbents would not be considered in drawing district boundaries.

To access the detailed language for how the Commission would be constructed and the procedures it would use, clickr here. To access graphic illustrations that explain how the Commission would be formed and operate, see Austinites for Geographic Representation’s slides titled “The ABCs of the Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission.”

Proposition 4 would have the boundaries of single-member council districts drawn as directed by ordinance. The council would retain authority to decide council district boundaries.

If both propositions fail—If both Propositions 3 and 4 fail to gain a majority voter approval, then all council members shall continue to be elected from the city at large. Voters have nixed proposals for some form of geographic representation on six previous occasions from 1973 through 2002.

Proposition 5: Council members hire own staff

Proposition 5—Shall the city charter be amended to permit the members of the city council and the city council’s appointees to hire and manage their own staffs? Ordinance No. 20120412-020.

Background—This ordinance was approved on Council Member Spelman’s motion and Council Member Tovo’s second on a 7-0 vote April 12. At present, all classified service employees of the city are hired under authority of the city manager except that the city council hires the city manager, city auditor, city clerk, and the chief judge and clerk of the municipal court. If this proposition is approved by voters, then members of the city council will be permitted to hire and manage their own staffs. In addition, each of those employees hired by the city council shall hire and manage their own staffs.

Fiscal impact—Staff estimates no fiscal impact.

Proposition 6: City council hires city attorney

Proposition 6—Shall the city charter be amended to provide that the city council appoint the city attorney? Ordinance No. 20120426-069.

Background—This ordinance was approved on Council Member Morrison’s motion and second by Mayor Pro Tem Cole on a vote of 7-0 April 26. The city attorney is currently appointed by the city manager. If Proposition 6 is approved by voters then the city attorney would work directly for the city council.

Fiscal impact—Staff estimates no fiscal impact.

Proposition 7: Lower barrier for citizen-initiated ordinances

Proposition 7—Shall the city charter be amended to reduce the number of signatures needed for a citizen initiated ordinance or referendum? Ordinance No. 20120628-089.

Background—This ordinance was approved on Council Member Martinez’ motion and second by Council Member Morrison on a vote of 7-0 June 28. At present, a citizen initiated petition to get an ordinance on the ballot requires the signatures of at least 10 percent of the qualified voters of the city. To amend the city charter requires the signatures of 5 percent of the voters or at least 20,000 valid signatures, as required by state law. If voters approve Proposition 7, then both ordinances and charter amendments would need the same 5 percent.

Fiscal impact—Staff estimates no fiscal impact.

Proposition 8: Allow post-election fundraising

Proposition 8—Shall the city charter be amended to allow council members to raise political funds for 30 days after an election in which the council member was elected? Ordinance No. 20120628-090.

Background—This ordinance was approved on a motion by Council Member Spelman and second by Council Member Riley on a 6-1 voteJune 28(Council Member Tovo voting no). The city charter currently bars winning candidates from raising funds to retire campaign debts until after leaving office. If approved by voters, Proposition 8 would allow elected officeholders to raise funds for 30 days after elected to retire campaign debts and to create an officeholder account. Officeholder accounts are currently limited to $20,000 by City Charter Article III Section 8(F)(6). The same dollar limits on campaign contributions that apply during an election would also apply to post-election fundraising. Unsuccessful council candidates are already permitted by City Charter Article III Section 8(F)(4) to continue raising funds until campaign debts are retired.

Fiscal impact—Staff estimates no fiscal impact.

Proposition 9: Allow leasing of parkland

Proposition 9—Shall the city charter be amended to permit the city council to lease parkland to an independent school district for a purpose that the council has found, by a two-thirds majority, is a park purpose? Ordinance No. 20120802-030.

Background—This ordinance was approved on a motion by Mayor Pro Tem Cole and second by Council Member Morrison on a 6-0 vote August 2 (Council Member Spelman absent).

Fiscal impact—Staff estimates no fiscal impact.

Proposition 10: Expand civil service system

Proposition 10—Shall the city charter be amended to provide a civil service system for most city employees who are not already covered by a state civil service statute? Ordinance No. 20120802-073.

Background—This ordinance was approved on a motion by Council Member Spelman and second by Mayor Pro Tem Cole on a 7-0 vote August 2.  If approved by voters this ordinance would replace Article IX Sections 1, 2, and 3, and add Section 4 to the city charter. The Classified Civil Service system would replace the Classified Personnel Service, which is governed by the city’s “Personnel Policies” and establish a Municipal Civil Service Commission of five members appointed by the city council. The Commission would, among other things, hear appeals and make binding decisions about civil service employees who are discharged, suspended, demoted, denied a promotion, or put on disciplinary probation. The Commission could conduct investigations and report its findings and recommendations to the city council, and would have the power to subpoena witnesses when necessary to obtain evidence at a hearing or investigation and administer oaths to witnesses. Within 12 months of adoption by voters, the human resources director must prepare civil service rules and recommend them to the Commission, which may amend the rules and recommend them to the city council for adoption. The rules would govern a wide range of personnel actions.

Fiscal impact—Staff estimates the minimum fiscal impact is $625,000 for the first year, $467,000 for the second year and $347,000 for each year thereafter. These costs are based on additional staffing and technology needs necessary to support a new municipal civil service commission separate from the existing public safety civil service commission. The projected five-year costs from FY 2013 through FY 2017 are $2,133,000.

Proposition 11: EMS personnel civil service

Proposition 11—Adoption of the emergency medical services personnel civil service law. Ordinance No. 20120628-016.

Background—On Mayor Pro Tem Cole’s motion and Council Member Spelman’s second the ordinance was approved on consent on a 7-0 vote June 28. If voters approve Proposition 11 the city’s emergency medical services personnel would be governed by Local Government Code Section 143.401. Austin and Travis County EMS personnel are employed by the City of Austin but are not part of the Austin Fire Department and thus are not covered by the state civil service law as police and firefighters. HB 554, which was enacted in the 2011 legislative session, allows an election to be held for the purposes of granting these employees the same civil service protection as police officers and firefighters in Austin.

Fiscal impact—The city has not addressed the cost of Proposition 11. A city spokeswoman issued this statement: “There is no current fiscal note for Proposition 11 because it is not required by law since it is not a city charter amendment.  One may or may not be created in the future.” It would be useful for the city to do so, instead of asking voters to go to the polls with no idea of what impact passage of Proposition 11 would have on taxpayers.

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 reporting by making a tax-deductible contribution.

Related Bulldog coverage:

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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