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November 2021 Austin Special Election Ballot Propositions: Voter Resource
Ballot Language: Shall a petitioned ordinance be approved to enhance public safety and police oversight, transparency and accountability by adding new chapter 2-16 to establish minimum standards for the police department to ensure effective public safety and protect residents and visitors to Austin, and prescribing minimal requirements for achieving the same, at an estimated cost of $271.5 million-$598.8 million over five years?
Austin City Code Amendment Language:
Title 2 of the Austin City Code will be amended by adding Chapter 2-16 as follows
2-16-1 – MINIMUM STANDARDS AND RESOURCES
The City Council shall ensure at all times that the police department achieves the following minimum standards:
(A) the employment of at least two sworn officers for every 1,000 residents, as determined by the city demographer based on the most recent data available from the United States Census Bureau, while maintaining not less than 35% community engagement time for all front-line officers whose time is measured on this basis across the entire police force;
(B) full enrollment for no fewer than three full-term cadet classes for the department, until such time as the staffing levels for the department return to the levels prescribed in the 2019-2020 city budget;
(C) an additional 40 hours each year of mandatory continuing education and in-service training for all sworn officers employed by the department above the hours required by the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement, with an emphasis on training outside a classroom setting that will equip the officers to handle evolving, fluid, dangerous situations and enhance their own safety and that of the public. The training will be developed by the commander of the department academy and emphasize skills essential to the everyday split-second decision-making officers face on the streets in areas such as critical thinking, defensive tactics, intermediate weapons proficiency, active shooter scenarios, and hasty react team reactions; and
(D) a program designed by the police chief to enhance recruiting and retention of officers by providing incentives in the form of additional compensation or compensatory time for:
- officers proficient in the five most common non-English languages spoken in the city, based on the most recent information available from the United States Census Bureau,
- officers who participate in a mentoring program for cadets in the department academy, and
- officers in good standing and eligible for an honorable conduct citation or equivalent recognition every fifth year.
2-16-2 – REPRESENTATIVE COMMUNITY POLICING
To ensure effective public safety throughout all areas of the city that meets the needs of neighborhoods and establishes and maintains trust between the police and city residents, the police chief shall:
(A) Work to recruit, hire and maintain a police force that reflects the racial, ethnic and gender diversity of the city.
(B) Establish a system that, to the extent practicable, ensures officers representative of, and proficient in the most common non-English languages spoken in, neighborhoods within the city regularly and consistently patrol those neighborhoods.
2-16-3 – COORDINATION OF OVERSIGHT
To help ensure effective oversight of and accountability for the Department:
(A) The mayor and council members, their assistants and members of their staffs, and the director of the office of police oversight shall, during their first year of service or employment, (a) attend and complete the curriculum of the Citizen Police Academy or the alternative program developed by the director and (b) participate in the city’s Ride Along Program, and the director shall issue a report annually regarding the participation of these individuals.
(B) In order to be eligible for appointment to the Public Safety Commission or the Community Police Review Commission or their successor boards, a person nominated to serve by a council member must, prior to any vote of the council to approve the nomination, (a) attend and complete the curriculum of the Citizen Police Academy or the alternative program developed by the director and (b) participate in the city’s Ride Along Program.
Translation: Reading through the language of the petition above, it’s clear that this proposition is a prescriptive one. In short, it establishes staffing standards for the police department and rules for the police training academy. If passed, the city would have to figure out how to cover the increased cost for the new rules, which the budget office has estimated would run from $271.5 million-$598.8 million over the next five years alone.
Ballot Language: Shall the City Council be authorized to convey or lease approximately 9 acres of parkland currently used as the Central Maintenance Complex (CMC) located at 2525 S. Lakeshore Blvd. through a public bidding process, where the total value of the bid is equal to or greater than the appraised fair market value of CMC, in exchange for at a minimum: 1) at least 48 acres of waterfront land contiguous to an existing City park; and 2) the cost or construction of a new maintenance facility for the Parks and Recreation Department on other city-owned land; and 3) partial or full funding for the removal of Fiesta Gardens’ existing maintenance facility and restoration of that land to parkland?
Translation: Voting yes on Prop B will allow the city to sell a parcel of parkland at 2525 S. Lakeshore Blvd. through a public bidding process. Currently, the 9 acres of parkland are being used as a maintenance facility. In return, the city expects to get 48 acres of parkland, a new maintenance facility and money to restore a different maintenance facility to parkland. Yes, there is a bidder in mind (Oracle) and yes, there is a new swath of land in mind (in John Treviño Jr. Metropolitan Park), but none of that can be disclosed in the ballot, because parkland must be sold through an open bidding process, even if approved by voters.
Under state law, anyone can compel a charter election or referendum by submitting a petition signed by 5 percent of voters in the city or 20,000 people, whichever is less. Once that is done, City Council has the option of adopting the contents of the petition as law or setting an election at the next available election day, in the case of amendments to the city code. In the case of petitions that contain charter amendments, an election must be set.
This November’s election has two city propositions and eight state constitutional amendments.
Proposition A, which has received the lion’s share of press here in Austin, is a petition-driven ballot measure from Save Austin Now. If approved, it would become a city statute that mandates how Austin staffs its police department moving forward.
Proposition B, on the other hand, would allow the city to sell 9 acres of parkland for the chance to gain 48 acres in another part of town. Under state law, cities cannot sell parkland without voter approval; hence the election, which applies only to the parcel identified in the ballot language. Unlike Proposition A, which went through the petition process, Proposition B was put on the ballot by Austin City Council.
State law also requires voter approval for changes to the state constitution. All of the proposed amendments on the ballot were approved as bills during the most recent Texas legislative session. In order for them to be officially added to the constitution, they must be approved by a majority of Texas voters.
- Oct. 4: Last day to register to vote
- Check here to see if you are registered to vote
- Oct. 18: First day of in-person early voting
- Oct. 22: Last day to apply for ballot by mail
- Oct. 29: Last day of in-person early voting
- Nov. 2: Election day
Where do I vote in person?
In Travis County, registered voters may cast their ballots at any voting location, both during early voting and on Election Day. You can find a list of those locations and voting times on the website of the Travis County Clerk’s Office. Once the election is underway, the clerk’s office also hosts a map that includes wait times at locations.
What do I need to know on voting day?
In order to cast a ballot, residents must be registered to vote, which can be confirmed online. Texans not previously registered can do so online, though that must be done 30 days before the election date (for this election, that was Oct. 4, but there’s no harm in registering for the next election, if you missed this deadline!).
In general, voters in Texas must bring photo ID to the polls. Under these rules, a photo ID can be a Texas driver’s license, Texas election identification certificate, Texas personal identification card, Texas handgun license, U.S. military card (with a photo), U.S. citizenship certificate (with a photo) or U.S. passport. Voters aged 18-69 years old may use a form of ID that is expired, if that expiration date is four years old or less. Voters 70 and older may use IDs that have expired more than four years ago. Registered voters who are not able to obtain a photo ID can vote by signing a Voter’s Declaration of Reasonable Impediment or Difficulty along with providing a non-photo ID that includes their address.
A number of common-sense rules tend to be posted at polling locations. This memo from the Texas director of elections does a good job of running through those rules. In short: firearms, electioneering, collecting signatures on a petition, and wireless devices are not allowed within the 100-foot markers at each polling location. Electioneering is actively campaigning for something on the ballot, and that 100-foot perimeter expands to 1,000 feet if you are doing it via amplified sound. Wireless devices include cell phones, cameras, tablets, laptops, and sound recorders. However, some exceptions are made for people with disabilities.
How do I decide to vote?
That’s your decision, but there are several ways to get informed about the issues that will be on the ballot. In addition to our coverage of the election, several outlets around town have information on the election. (Note: The Austin Monitor does not endorse any of these endorsements, though we do read them.)
Endorsements (as they become available)
- Austin American-Statesman
- Austin Chronicle
- Travis County Democratic Party
- Travis County Republican Party
Guides (as they become available)
Why should I vote?
Austin has a great record when it comes to voter registration – more than 97 percent of Travis County residents are registered to vote. However, we tend to fall short when it comes to local elections.
We generally do OK in presidential elections. In Travis County, the 2020 November election saw turnout just slightly over 71 percent of all registered voters. But in May 2019, only 6 percent of registered voters in Travis County bothered to vote.
Local elections have the potential to fundamentally change the way Austin operates. With a major shift in how the city is governed (Prop A), a decision about how to use public land (Prop B) and proposed changes to the constitution of the state of Texas, every vote counts.