There’s a big election coming up
November 6. I am referring to the local referendum to decide on,
among other things, how we elect our city council. The decision is
whether to move to some form of district representation or keep the
current at-large system. The two proposals on the ballot, the 10-1
(Proposition 3) and the 8-2-1 (Proposition 4), would increase the
number of council members from seven to 10, plus the mayor. A crowd
of interested neighbors attended September's Allandale Neighborhood
Association General Meeting, where advocates for each made their
case. Austin attorney Fred Lewis argued for the 10-1 plan and
political consultant David Butts advocated for the 8-2-1 approach.
Both Fred and David were on the city's Charter Revision Committee.
If neither of the district plans receives greater than 50% of the
vote, Austin will continue with its current at-large system. What follows are notes from the meeting with Fred Lewis' points listed first.
Fred Lewis, in support of Proposition
3, where there would be 10 single-member districts and an at-large
The city should move to some form
of geographic representation. Austin is the largest city in the US
that still has an at-large system.
The current system is not very
responsive. Moving to district representation improves the chances
of people seeing their council representative.
The majority of people agree on
the need to move away from an at-large system. Austin has grown to
become a very large, diverse and spread-out city with neighborhoods
that have very different needs. With the current system,
neighborhoods are not being heard.
Proposition 3 received 33,000
signatures and was put on the ballot by the citizens.
It is supported by 30 disparate
organizations, including the Austin Neighborhood Council, the League
of Women Voters, the NAACP, the Austin Human Rights Commission, the
Travis County Republican Party, the Travis County Green Party, and
various democratic clubs.
Proposition 4 is an unholy
alliance between the City Council and the Real Estate Council
Austin, the people who like the current system.
A 10-1 system will result in
better representation for minorities without the threat of a
challenge from the Justice Department. An 8-2-1 plan will be
challenged by minority groups for fear it will result in less
representation than currently exists. Proposition 4 will result in
a lawsuit and it is questionable whether the federal courts will
uphold it. 10-1 will make it through the court system and has the
support of minority groups.
There are 4 zip codes in Austin
where 15 of the past 17 mayors have lived, and Allandale is not one
of them. There are zip codes in the city that have never had a
The 10-1 system is one designed to
represent every neighborhood fairly and not dilute the interest of a
particular district or give an advantage to districts already
Prop 3 includes an independent
citizens’ commission to create the district boundaries.
Proposition 4 does not.
David Butts, in support of Proposition
4, which would set up eight single-member districts, two at-large
seats and an at-large mayor:
This election is the first time
voting on some form of single-member districts will be held in
November. The previous six times, the elections vote for
single-member districts were held in May when there is a much lower
turnout. We will have somewhere in the range 280,000 participating
in the election and will get a very clear indication of what public
A 10-2-1 option was considered in
an effort to reach out to the single-member district faction and say
let's come together. I was opposed to 10-2-1. I thought voters would
balk at having 13 members on the council, almost double number we
have now, but at least we could have presented a united front on
this issue. We got nowhere.
The Mayor proposed a 6-2-1 when
the commission was set up, and I believe that would pass. We wanted
to make sure, however, the Hispanic population, which is a large
segment of the city's population, had an opportunity to elect more
than just one council member. That is why I supported 11 seats as
opposed to 9.
There is a significant portion of
the population that does not want to change the system. Anywhere
from 33-35% opposed any change based on the polling that I have seen
in the last two years. But that leaves 65% who do want a change.
The purpose of having eight
districts is there are portions of the city that do not have chance
at getting representation because of the cost and the challenge of
fielding a strong candidate to run citywide. To my knowledge,
Southeast Austin and far North Austin have never had representation.
Creating the eight districts will make representation available to
With any district there will be
the tendency for the representatives to take care of their
constituency. Their election is dependent on serving and keeping
the voters in that district happy. People get in power and have a
set of people around them who helped them get elected and it is
difficult for incumbents to say no to those people.
If you have a candidate you
supported who ran for office in your district and lost, there is a
possibility the person who won will take a dim view of you. Your
interests may be very low on their priority list. You go to the
council member next door and the first thing the member will want to
know is do you live in my district?
With an 8-2-1 system, you give
voters two other options. The at-large council members will have a
citywide perspective and can go to a district council member who
wants a particular project in his or her district and oppose that
project. That is what the 8-2-1 system offers, a citywide
perspective, someone that is going to look at the city as a whole.
With a 10-1 system, if six council
members ban together and don't like the other four members, they can
decide to divide up the budget in their favor over the other four
members. That is what happens in Birmingham, Alabama. Hopefully,
they would all be together but we know there are divisions on the
council as occurs now.
Under an 8-2-1 system you get the
opportunity to vote for three council members plus the mayor, versus
one council member plus the mayor under the 10-1.
If we stay with the staggered
three-year term election cycle, every third year half of the city
will be voting for a council member and the other half will not be
participating in the council election. With the 8-2-1 system we
could balance it so that you have a mayor and an at-large candidate
running one time and two at-large candidates running the next, so
the whole city can have a say on how they think the city is being
run in the same election.