Austin council OKs single-member district plan; hybrid representation passes first reading

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Austin voters could have more than one choice on geographic representation on the November ballot.

Austin City Council gave final approval June 28 to both the all single-member district system—the 10-1 plan—while also passing the hybrid 8-2-1 plan on first reading.

Prior to the council meeting, the grassroots citizen group Austinites for Geographic Representation announced the group had gathered 30,000 signatures in support of 10-1, which would automatically place the plan on November’s ballot.

Many of the members decided to vote for both plans to allow voters to make a choice between the plans, although Councilman Bill Spelman—who said he supports single-member districts—voted for neither but encouraged AGR to ensure the signatures get validated in time to make the ballot.

Spelman said he believes two competing plans on the ballot would ultimately lead to the failure of one.

The legal deadline to call November’s ballot is Aug. 20, and city staff has stated that 30 days are needed to validate the signatures.

AGR displayed seven large boxes during the council meeting, which they said contained all the needed petitions.

Mayor Lee Leffingwell sponsored the 8-2-1 plan, a hybrid system comprised of eight single-member districts, two at-large members and one at-large mayor, while Councilman Mike Martinez sponsored the 10-1 plan with 10 single-member districts and one at-large mayor—the recommendation passed by the 2012 Charter Revision Committee.

Prior to the votes, members listened to nearly three hours of public testimony from supporters of both plans.

Although AGR’s signatures need to be validated by the city clerk’s office, Councilman Mike Martinez, the sponsor of the 10-1 plan proposal, changed the proposal to adopt the language of AGR’s petition regarding a citizens’ independent redistricting council tasked to redraw district maps.

Martinez said he supported all single-member districts but was concerned about language regarding the independent council and possible legal issues. He made the motion to adopt the plan on all three readings—but clarification from city staff could still be tweaked to correct legal concerns should any arise.

The 8-2-1 plan will be up for a second reading at the council’s next regularly scheduled meeting Aug. 2.

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