Council Midnight: Two Plans Running

City Council approves two districting plans for ballot

Council Midnight: Two Plans Running

Shortly after midnight Friday morning, the City Council voted to place both a 10-1 districting plan and an 8-2-1 plan on the November ballot, along with a series of other proposed reforms that citizens will consider in the fall. The council votes didn't come without lengthy debate and continuing controversy.

Citizen testimony on the competing plans didn't begin until after 9pm at the daylong meeting, and didn't end until council voted, with some misgivings, to place both proposals on the ballot. City legal counsel advised that should both plans receive 50% or more of the vote, the plan with the most votes would take effect.

Earlier in the day, Council Member Mike Martinez and Mayor Pro Tem Sheryl Cole withdrew their own 10-1 plan in favor of one that would match the plan – plus Independent Districting Commission – supported by a citizens' petition effort led by Austinites for Geographic Representation. That petition effort is not yet concluded, and AGR representatives said they would consider whether to complete the effort or defer to the council-proposed equivalent.

AGR members pressed council members to place only a 10-1 plan on the ballot, while representatives of Austin Community for Change argued that a mixed system is preferable, and defended presenting two propositions as offering voters "a choice."

The 10-1 proposal passed on all three readings (5-2), with Mayor Lee Leffingwell and Council Member Bill Spelman dissenting. Cole, Martinez, and Spelman opposed the 8-2-1 plan proposed by Leffingwell and Council Member Chris Riley, so it passed only on first reading and will return for further discussion in August. (Spelman said he believes placing two propositions on the ballot will doom both, leaving the current electoral system in place.)

In other charter revision matters, council voted to place on the ballot measures that would: reduce the number of signatures required for citizen-initiated ordinances (currently double that to change the charter); increase the time after an election to raise campaign funds; move city elections from May to November; allow council members two staggered four-year terms; and assign council elections to even-numbered years.

A summary of all council actions is available on the city website. For additional City Council coverage, check Newsdesk regularly and see next week's Chronicle.

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City Council, districting, redistricting, charter revision, Bill Spelman, Lee Leffingwell, Mike Martinez, Sheryl Cole, Austinites for Geographic Representation

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