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A 10-1 Sense of Humor? You'll Need It.

Already, the schedule for unveiling geographic districts in Austin has been denounced as impractical

By Elizabeth Pagano, Fri., Dec. 7, 2012

A 10-1 Sense of Humor? You'll Need It.

A month after the electoral triumph of single-member districts for City Council, City Auditor Ken Mory – charged with implementing the plan – began his public work, briefing Council at its Tuesday work session on his proposed timeline and then inviting public input Tuesday night. The schedule – including the selection of an auditors' pool (and subsequent panel), the selection of a citizens' redistricting pool (and subsequent commission), the drawing of maps, and Department of Justice preclearance in time for new single-member districts to be in place by April 1, 2014 – was within hours denounced as impractical.

In the Council discussion, Mory pointed to challenges with selecting auditors for the three-member applicant review panel. In a nutshell, Austin may not have many active CPAs with five years' audit experience who would be available (and willing to serve) during tax season (as the charter amendment requires). The Auditor's Office counts about 3,000 to start with, many of whom will be disqualified for one reason or another.

Why CPAs and auditors? Though the plan that 10-1 was modeled on used municipal judges, attorney Steve Bickerstaff (who helped draft the amendment for Austinites for Geographic Representation) explained that the AGR feeling was that municipal judges in Austin are beholden to Council members, so those who drafted the charter amendment decided to use auditors, who are "certified" for their integrity. (It was Bickerstaff who most strongly objected to Mory's proposed schedule, arguing that it won't leave enough time for DOJ preclearance.)

Planning carried on into Tuesday night, with a standing-room-only public meeting convened by Mory at One Texas Center to brainstorm how to attract commission applicants and how the panel of auditors could best evaluate whether qualified applicants possessed the requisite analytical skills, impartiality, and appreciation for Austin's diverse demographics and geography, as is stipulated by the amendment.

The auditor panel will use that criteria to whittle down the pool of applicants that meet all other qualifications to 60 "most qualified" applicants, 14 of whom will eventually form the Citizens Redistricting Commission.

Many of the breakout groups seemed stymied on how, exactly, to analyze analytical skills. They suggested everything from administering basic math tests to ensuring that applicants are able to read maps. Notions that potential commissioners should have a history of community involvement, interesting hobbies, and a sense of humor also remain on the table (as do most of the 120 people in attendance last night; nearly two-thirds expressed interest in serving on the commission themselves).

Mory and his staff promised to record each of the suggestions. His office is responsible for creating the commission application, though the selection of applicants will be left to the yet-to-be-formed auditors' panel, which is free to make that determination however it sees fit. "That's up to them," said Mory. "We can't tell them what to do. ... They don't have to accept any of this."

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