Beside the Point

Hold On to That Receipt

Once the stockings are unstuffed and the wrapping paper's swept away, it's time to do what every greedy kid does: Take stock of your holiday haul.

Well, did you all get what you wanted?

The city got to unwrap one of its bigger gifts early, when the Charter Revision Committee announced on Dec. 20 – two meetings ahead of its scheduled January finale – that it had recommended the city put single-member districts to a May vote (see "Naked City"). Apparently swayed by an outpouring of online surveys in favor of geographic representation – if not the committee's sparsely attended meetings – it's now council's call on how to proceed. The next few weeks will be critical in assessing whether there's sufficient political will to see the vote through. Council Members Sheryl Cole and Brewster McCracken have both vocally decried the switch to single-member, the former from a purported fear of diminished African-American representation and the latter out of – well, we haven't quite worked that out yet.

But no matter the reason, that opposition can't deny Austin has outgrown its current form of government. Of the nation's Top 20 biggest cities, Austin's paltry six council seats clock in at the fewest. And while BTP knows the elaborate Kabuki theatre make-believe that Austin's still the sleepy li'l college town done good ("What's wrong with what we have?") is harder to shake than a glass of turned eggnog, the fact is people are clamoring for more direct representation from their elected leaders. Even if they find parts of it problematic, Cole, McCracken, and any other naysayers should do the right thing by voting to put it on the ballot – then make the case against it, instead of precluding the very possibility of debate. Otherwise, they'll find themselves thrown out with the rest of the packaging.

The other gift-wrapped surprise – Austin's next city manager – will have to sit under the tree a little longer. Here's a quick recap of the search timeline: Jan. 3 and 4, council's scheduled to review all the prospective applicants assembled by national search firm Arcus and announce council members' selected semifinalists – likely including existing "internal" candidates Laura Huffman, Rudy Garza, and Juan Garza (see "The Insiders," Dec. 14). Interviews transpire Jan. 8 and 9, with the finalists being announced by the time of their final interviews, Jan. 16. The next day, at the regularly scheduled council meeting, Jan. 17, Austin's next city manager will be named.

We suppose scheduling the whirlwind interviews in the new year, while the city shakes off its collective hangover, is better than scheduling over the holiday hump, when the entire city's outta town. Neither are optimal. But the supposed time for public input came earlier this year, when council solicited public opinion on "the profile" of our next city manager.

Don't remember? We don't blame you – it was a few minutes in an August council meeting, when the sole substantial criticism of preserving the existing power structure arose (from American Civil Liberties Union Aus­tin prez and BTP groupie Debbie Russell), and Will Wynn chided, "We're here to discuss the profile of the new city manager, not discuss the performance of the current one."

All we can say is that going into the city manager search is caveat emptor: Buyer beware – there are no returns or exchanges on this one.

Send New Year's greetings to wdunbar@austinchronicle.com.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

City Council, Sheryl Cole, Brewster McCracken, Single-member districts, charter revision committee, city manager search, ACLU, Debbie Russell, Will Wynn

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