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Leffingwell foresees major changes with 2012 election

Thursday, June 17, 2010 by Austin Monitor

Plans for future bond elections got a lot more interesting Wednesday, as Mayor Lee Leffingwell’s office announced he would now favor a 2012 election on urban rail—as well as a change in the city charter to have City Council select the city attorney.


Previously, the Mayor had said he supported a transportation election this fall and a rail election in 2013. Three members of the Council — Sheryl Cole, Laura Morrison, and Bill Spelman — have questioned the wisdom of holding a bond election this fall without more financial information.


Cole is co-sponsoring a resolution with Leffingwell on next week’s agenda that would require city staff to present the Council with a financial analysis based on various bond scenarios. She told In Fact Daily that her top priority remains making sure the city and its citizens understand the budgetary implications of both the 2010 and 2012 bond packages.


Moving the urban rail election up a year may increase support from reluctant Council members for this year’s transportation bond proposal, which does not tackle the issue of urban rail but could include up to $85 million in near-term investments in roads, sidewalks, bike lanes, and trails throughout the city.


“We have requested the financial analysis to enable us as a governing body and the public to make a sound decision before we call an election,” Cole said. “I can’t say I’ve made a decision (on the bond packages). …And I try to give information to the public because it impacts their property taxes. This is not just about me making a decision but about the public being informed so we get the appropriate feedback.”


Morrison is the resolution’s other co-sponsor.


Earlier this year, Leffingwell led the Council to put off a planned November 2010 urban rail vote until at least 2011 to allow city transportation leaders more time to develop a complete rail proposal. On Wednesday, Leffingwell said that holding the next comprehensive bond election in 2012 rather than 2013, and including urban rail in the package, would accomplish “several critical objectives.”


“First,” he said, “it gives the city sufficient time to create a fully-developed urban rail proposal. Second, it gives Austin voters sufficient time to ask questions and understand the proposal. Third, it ensures that the largest possible group of voters — general election voters — will participate in Austin’s urban rail election, as well as our next comprehensive bond election.”


The Mayor, along with Mayor Pro Tem Mike Martinez and Cole, also will ask their colleagues to direct the city manager to prepare a proposed city charter amendment making the city attorney a direct report to the City Council – a proposal that would also potentially go before Austin voters in November of 2012.


Currently the city attorney is a direct report to the city manager. That has been a sore point with the Council for some time. Most recently, the Law Department’s handling of the KeyPoint report on the shooting death of Nathaniel Sanders caused great consternation. It also led to the sudden retirement of City Attorney David Smith in May. 


The proposal would also create a fixed-appointment term of five years for the city attorney and require a super-majority vote of the Council to terminate the city attorney at any time during that term.


Leffingwell and Martinez said they also expect City Council to propose or consider a number of additional city charter amendment proposals for November 2012, including a change from the City Council’s current at-large representation system to a form of district representation, and campaign finance reform. Leffingwell said another possible charter amendment he would like to consider for November 2012 would move City Council elections from May to November.


“We can’t have a charter election until May 2011,” Leffingwell told In Fact Daily. “We don’t want to have it in May; we’d like to have it in November 2012 for turnout reasons.” However, he added, “If we had a (valid) petition for single-member districts for May 2011 then we’d put it on that ballot.”


If he decides to run again — as he has indicated — Leffingwell will be up for re-election in May 2012. Cole, Martinez, and Spelman could also choose to seek a third term that year. Their colleagues Randi Shade, Chris Riley, and Laura Morrison are all up for re-election in 2011.

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