Austin City Council tackling different geographic representation plans

Emotions ran high at a June 26 Austin City Council work session as members debated competing geographic representation plans for electing city officials.

Two proposed plans have been set on the June 28 City Council agenda, including Mayor Lee Leffingwell's 8-2-1 plan—a hybrid system comprised of eight single-member districts, two at-large members and one at-large mayor. Councilman Mike Martinez has proposed a 10-1 plan with 10 single-member districts and one at-large mayor—the recommendation passed by the 2012 Charter Revision Committee.

Council has until Aug. 20 to place charter revision proposals on the ballot for the November election.

While Martinez supports single-member districts, he cited concerns regarding the revision's recommendation of a citizens' independent redistricting council tasked to redraw district maps because of possible legal issues. He suggested council maintain the ability to ratify the citizen-designed plan if necessary.

Various community organizations have also expressed support for the 10-1 plan recommended by the revision committee, including the grassroots citizen group Austinites for Geographic Representation. AGR claims it has gathered 30,000 signatures in support, which would automatically place the plan on November's ballot.

This possibility also sparked debate on the procedural process for placing charter revisions on the ballot, as Martinez and Councilman Bill Spelman said they would not officially make up their mind on the issue until after it was known whether AGR succeeded.

"There is a broad consensus on change [away from current at-large system], and we have to respect and honor the work citizens have chosen to do to get those signatures," Martinez said.

According to city staff, the city clerk needs 30 days to determine validity of signatures.

Discussion also focused on whether competing plans on the ballot would ultimately result in the failure of the other plan.

When asked his opinion by the mayor, committee member David Butts—who supports the hybrid plan—suggested both plans be placed on the ballot because he said voters prefer having more choices. However, he said he believes hybrid has the best chance of passage, calling it "a middle path."

"Austin loves to vote for as many candidates as they can, and they love to vote on the issues," he said.

Other issues included among the agenda items include longer term lengths for members of City Council and moving the city election from May to November—which Leffingwell clarified council already passed and will be on the ballot.

Members will also consider items that would allow political funds to be raised for 30 days after an election and a reduction in the number of signatures needed for a citizen-initiated ordinance or referendum.

These items will not be taken up before 4 p.m., as council expects a lot of public comment.

The June 28 City Council meeting is scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. at City Hall, 301 W. Second St.