From Here to City Council Districts
Austin’s form of government will never be the same. Voters have approved sweeping changes to way Austinites will vote in the future and who will represent them at City Hall. It all comes down to single-member districts, but it will be a long road from election night to a 10-1 City Council.
By now most of us have heard the arguments against Austin’s old system of representation.
“The at-large system of electing the City Council in Austin, because it has been coupled with ongoing segregation residentially in Austin, has meant that people who live outside of central west Austin don’t have a voice on City Council,” said Ann Beeson with the Annette Strauss Institute for Civic Life.
She says voter approval of Prop 3, which will create 10 single-member districts with only the mayor running at large, will bring new voices to City Hall.
“You’re going to see, I hope, just a groundswell of involvement and activism,” she said, “simply because the structural barriers that limited the power of citizens voices has now been removed.”
A citizens’ commission will draw the district boundaries. And that commission will get to work quickly. Prop 3 calls for the city auditor to start looking for volunteers next month.
Lawyer Steve Bickerstaff helped draft the language in Prop 3. He says he modeled it after a similar citizens commission in California.
“Austin will go through a similar process to try to get as many people who are not the usual suspects — that is, usual suspects in terms of appointment to city commissions,” Bickerstaff said.
That’s because Prop 3 prohibits politicians, consultants and campaign bundlers from serving on the commission. But it also requires members to have voted in three of the last five city elections.
It might also be a challenge to fill those commission seats. By some estimates, it disqualifies all but 6 percent of registered voters. But Bickerstaff says the requirements are needed to keep Prop 3 “a fair and objective, unbiased, non-self interested plan for the 10 districts.”
And Prop 3 wasn’t the only change to pass last night. Prop 2 moves city elections from May to November, and extends council terms from three years to four.