Competing Plans for Council Makeup
Austinites will vote on changes to the city charter this November, potentially including changes to Austin’s form of government. This week, a citizens group is expected to deliver signatures to put one such proposal on the ballot. But it may face some competition.
All seven members of the Austin City Council are elected at-large, meaning each represents the entire city. But as Austin continues to grow, many say it’s too unwieldy to ask one council member to represent a city of 800,000.
Austinites for Geographic Representation has a plan for changing the system. The group will present signatures supporting its “10-1” proposal at Thursday’s City Council meeting.
The proposal calls for 10 council members serving in single-member districts, with only the mayor elected at-large. AGR spokeswoman Jessica Ellison is optimistic about the 10-1 scenario’s chances.
“Close to 30,000 signatures, we have over 25 endorsing groups, thousands of people who have personally endorsed, and the largest grassroots coalition for geographic representation that’s ever happened before,” Ellison said.
But that may not be the only proposal on this fall’s ballot. There’s also a hybrid scenario, a mix of individual districts and at-large seats that supporters say would foster more collaboration on the council.
Mayor Lee Leffingwell will be pushing his 8-2-1 scenario Thursday. It includes eight council members serving from districts, plus two council members and the mayor running at-large.
“I think the hybrid system is best, it’s also not as big a transition going from an all-at-large to an all-geographic system,” Leffingwell said. “It’s kind of a midway step, and that’s why I favor it.”
Only one proposal from the City Council can be on the November ballot, and the Leffingwell plan will face a challenge from council member Mike Martinez, who is sponsoring his own 10-1 scenario. It’s similar to AGR’s plan, but Martinez says the AGR proposal has language that could usurp the council’s authority and lead to lawsuits.
“It’s taking the governing body’s authority, and quite frankly taking the city manager and city attorney’s authority, to act on behalf of the city,” Martinez said.
The council has until mid-August to formally set the ballot for this November.