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Duo urges Council to table single-member district vote

Thursday, January 10, 2008 by Austin Monitor

Two members of the Charter Revision Committee have sent a minority report to the City Council, urging the members not to place a single-member district proposal on the May ballot. The majority of the commission had endorsed a seventh public referendum on changing the at-large system. However, Committee Members Betty Baker, who was not present for that vote, and Roxanne Evans have sent a letter to the Council outlining the reasons they believe another public vote is not warranted.

“There are a number of critical issues facing this city that deserve Council attention. This is not one of them,” the letter states. “We respectfully encourage the Council to table discussion of this issue until such time as there is a genuine and widespread desire for change by a large segment of the citizenry.”


Baker and Evans cited the handful of citizens who actually showed up for the committee’s meetings as evidence that the issue had not gained traction in the community. “What was most striking about our proceedings was the fact that so few voters expressed an interest in the issue. Although some people theorized that the lack of visible and voiced interest was a function of poor outreach, we have both lived in Austin long enough to know that our citizenry will and can get quite engaged in issues they are passionate about, no matter the level of outreach on the part of the City,” they wrote.


While there were more than 1,000 people who filled out an on-line survey on the issue, their report notes that amount is only a small fraction of the city’s population of more than 700,000.


While the majority of the committee felt the time was right for another public debate on the issue, Baker and Evans concluded that the city’s repeated rejection of single-member districts, combined with the lack of any new groundswell of public support, will mean the end result of any campaign will be the same as the previous six attempts.


“Because this issue has been put to voters so many times and yielded the same results,” they wrote, “and because one of the city’s own consultants said there was no strong evidence of racial animus in previous municipal elections – one of the reasons many cities move from an at-large to a single-member district system – there is no compelling reason that we can see for putting this issue before Austin voters yet again.”


The last time the issue was up for a public vote was 2002. In that election, 58 percent of those voting rejected the proposal, which called for expanding the Council to 11 members, with eight representing geographical districts and two members plus the Mayor being elected citywide. The Council has until March 6 to decide whether to put another proposal on the May 10 ballot.


The committee voted to recommend single-member districts to the Council on Dec. 21, although the agenda for the meeting did not indicate that the group would be voting on it. The committee was merely scheduled to “take action on a timeline for making its recommendations to the City Council.” Baker said she had not been informed that the committee would be voting on single-member districts that night and she stayed home because it is difficult for her to drive at night.

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