May 1 Austin ballot is set: Homeless camping, strong mayor and 11th City Council district up to residents

Voters line up during the Dec. 15 runoff election. (Christopher Neely/Community Impact Newspaper)
Voters line up during the Dec. 15 runoff election. (Christopher Neely/Community Impact Newspaper)

Voters line up during the Dec. 15 runoff election. (Christopher Neely/Community Impact Newspaper)

It’s official. Austinites will head to the ballot box this spring to weigh in on a menu of changes to the city’s democratic processes as well as a handful of largely controversial policies around homelessness following City Council approval of ballot language on Feb. 9.

As for the overhaul of the democratic process, voters will be asked whether they support aligning the mayoral election with the presidential election cycle; implementing a system of ranked-choice voting if and when it’s allowed by state law; eliminating the city manager position and transitioning to a strong mayor form of a government; creating an 11th City Council district; and implementing a campaign finance system that does not limit campaign spending and offers $25 to every voter to donate to campaigns of their choice.

Three ordinance changes related to homelessness are also in play. Voters will be asked whether they support reinstating the criminal penalties for camping in public, sitting, lying down or sleeping on downtown and university sidewalks, and aggressive solicitation.

Discussions around strong mayor and ranked-choice voting have been happening in the background for years but the PAC Austinites for Progressive Reform, formed in July 2020, drafted a petition that garnered enough support to put the issues on this May’s ballot.

City Council’s June 2019 decision to reduce the legal burdens on the homeless community and repeal criminal penalties for public camping, sitting and lying down and solicitation has been battling pushback for over a year. The petition to reinstate the penalties, drafted by Save Austin Now, drew more than 26,000 valid signatures to earn a place on the May 1 ballot.


Austinites will also see two other questions this spring. One could give the local firefighters union the ability to force labor negotiations into arbitration if they and the city reach an impasse. This, too, was brought by valid petition. The other, brought by City Council, asks voters if they support City Council creating the position of director of the office of police oversight.

Election Day is May 1. Voters will see the propositions in the following order:

Proposition A: Firefighters union charter amendment

“Shall the City Charter be amended to give the Austin Firefighters Association, Local 975 of the International Association of Fire Fighters, the authority to require the City to participate in binding arbitration of all issues in dispute with the Association if the City and the Association reach impasse in collective bargaining negotiations?”

Proposition B: Reinstating the homelessness ordinances

“Shall an ordinance be adopted that would create a criminal offense and a penalty for anyone sitting or lying down on a public sidewalk or sleeping outdoors in and near the Downtown area and the area around the University of Texas campus; create a criminal offense and penalty for solicitation, defined as requesting money or another thing of value, at specific hours and locations or for solicitation in a public area that is deemed aggressive in manner; create a criminal offense and penalty for anyone camping in any public area not designated by the Parks and Recreation Department?”

Proposition C: The Director of the Office of Police Oversight

“Shall the city charter be amended to allow for a Director of Police Oversight to be appointed or removed in a manner established by City Council ordinance, with duties that include the responsibility to ensure transparency and accountability as it relates to policing?”

Proposition D: Change the date of mayoral elections

“Shall the City Charter be amended to transition the election for mayor from gubernatorial election years to presidential election years, providing that the mayor elected in 2022 will serve a 2-year term and then mayoral elections will occur on the same date as presidential elections starting in 2024?”

Proposition E: Ranked-choice voting

“Shall the City Charter be amended to provide for the use of ranked choice voting in city elections, if such voting is permitted by state law?”

Proposition F: Strong-mayor form of government

“Shall the City Charter be amended to change the form of city government from ‘council-manager’ to ‘strong mayor-council,’ which will eliminate the position of professional city manager and designate an elected mayor as the chief administrative and executive officer of the city with veto power over all legislation which includes the budget; and with sole authority to hire and fire most department heads and direct staff; and with no articulated or stated charter authority to require the mayor to implement Council decisions.”

Proposition G: Add an 11th City Council district

“Shall the City Charter be amended to provide for an additional geographic council district which will result in 11 council members elected from single member districts?”

Proposition H: Alternative campaign finance system

“Shall the City Charter be amended to adopt a public campaign finance program, which requires the city clerk to provide up to two $25 vouchers to every registered voter who may contribute them to candidates for city office who meet the program requirements?”
By Christopher Neely
Christopher Neely is Community Impact's Austin City Hall reporter. A New Jersey native, Christopher moved to Austin in 2016 following years of community reporting along the Jersey Shore. His bylines have appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Baltimore Sun, USA Today and several other local outlets along the east coast.


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