Disappointed By Content And Tone

RECEIVED Tue., July 31, 2012

Dear Editor,
    As a loyal reader of the Chronicle, I was disappointed by the content and tone of your July 27 News story ("Point Austin: The Usual Suspects") on the Austinites for Geographic Representation proposal to amend the city charter and provide for a 10-1 election district plan for the Austin City Council.
    I am not a member of AGR. I have not signed the group's petition for a charter amendment because, over the past 40 years, I have represented virtually every type of government in Texas and found that every type of election system has advantages and disadvantages.
    However, the Chronicle story was catty, cynical, biased, and poorly reasoned – unlike most articles written by Michael King. AGR has secured more than 33,000 voter signatures on its petition, the support of many different community organizations, and the recommendation of the Charter Revision Committee. Whether or not Mr. King or the Chronicle supports the group's 10-1 proposal, they should respect this outstanding achievement and laud the vision and hard work evidenced in this exercise of democratic rights. Council Member Mike Martinez explained his vote in favor of putting this proposal (unchanged) on the ballot as a means of recognizing this group's achievement. Supporters of an 8-2-1 election system could have used a petition drive to show the degree of public support for their plan; they did not.
    Also, I was surprised that the Chronicle, which has been so critical of the gerrymandering and self-interest shown in redistricting by the Texas Legislature, could be dismissive of an independent redistricting commission at the city level. Independent commissions have operated successfully in California at the state level and in a number of cities, such as San Diego and Minneapolis. They can take much of the self-interest and politics out of redistricting. The Chronicle should be supporting the need for an independent commission in Austin as an essential part of any charter amendment changing from our at-large system. The Charter Revision Committee (13-2) endorsed creation of an independent commission. Many of the members of the City Council that the Chronicle identifies as preferring an 8-2-1 plan have voiced support of such a commission. Election district lines should not be drawn by the same politicians who seek election in those districts, or by committees appointed by such politicians.
Steve Bickerstaff
   [Michael King responds: I'm sorry Professor Bickerstaff is disappointed in my column, but he fails to mention a couple of salient points. I wasn't "dismissive" of the notion of an independent redistricting commission; I was critical of the process that put it on the ballot – a voluminous, complicated piece of legislation produced outside of the careful vetting procedure that should review such legislation, endorsed by the signatures of people who couldn't possibly have had the time to read it, let alone know what's in it; calling it "independent" and saying "they've done it in California" is hardly sufficient. It was placed "unchanged" on the ballot because once a petition is submitted, it can't be changed – although all the ballot will say, of course, is "independent commission," which voters will be required to accept on faith. Most curiously, Bickerstaff neglects to mention that he was involved in drafting the document (or so we've been told by AGR), along with other unnamed parties – not a one of whom has been elected to public office or otherwise nominated by the public to write the laws, which of course is the job of the City Council. Bickerstaff doesn't want council members drawing their own districts, but he appears perfectly happy with self-appointed and anonymous attorneys writing the laws, without having to endure the messy business of actually getting elected to office. Forgive me for pointing out the obvious, but I don't see how that squares with "the exercise of democratic rights."]
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