Austin
3:35 pm
Tue July 31, 2012

Council Takes Another Step Toward District Showdown

Voters are one step closer to seeing competing plans for Austin City Council representation on the ballot this fall – a move supporters say gives Austinites a choice, and opponents argue will doom both proposals to failure.

At its work session today, the council approved placing the so-called “8-2-1” scenario for future city council elections on the ballot this fall. As KUT News reported earlier this week, the item proposes eight individual, single-member council districts, with the mayor and two additional council members running citywide.

The proposal  is at odds with Austinites for Geographic Representation’s (AGR) 10-1 district plan – 10 single-member districts, with only the mayor running at-large. With the AGR plan earning a place on the ballot via petition, some council members argued against putting a competing measure before voters.

“Continuing to honor the work of the petition gathers is still paramount for me and my decision,” said council member Mike Martinez.” … The citizen’s initiative, in my mind, prevails council’s desires in this case.”

Council member Bill Spelman agreed. Citing the failure of similar districting proposals, he said “if we put two single-member district proposals on the ballot, I think it extremely likely that both of them will fail.”

That feeling wasn’t unanimous however. Mayor Pro Tem Sheryl Cole, who had previously voted against adding 8-2-1 to the ballot reversed course, saying a debate over the merits of the competing plans was “a discussion that needs to be held by the entire community … We need to give voters that choice.” Council member Laura Morrison expanded on that theme, saying “Not all of our interests in the city are geographically based, and so I think that, fundamentally, that is a critical piece of why I think this has to be a choice for the voters.”

The council then approved the proposal 5-2, with Martinez and Spelman voting no. A third and final vote is required to put the plan on the ballot, which is currently scheduled for council’s August 7 work session.