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Leffingwell continues to push single-member districts

Monday, May 9, 2011 by Michael Kanin

Mayor Lee Leffingwell told about 60 members of the Oak Hill Professional Business Association last week that the time had come for Austin to switch to single-member, geographically defined City Council districts. “In my opinion,” he said, “we have become a very large city … but we have a small-town type of government.”


“I personally think that we need to go to some form of single-member districts with geographic representation so that all parts of this city – the interests of all parts of this city – are in play, including Oak Hill,” he said.


Leffingwell’s pitch came during a lunchtime forum where he spoke and took questions for about 45 minutes. In addition to single-member districts, Leffingwell covered transportation issues – including the ever-vexing traffic nightmare known as the Y at Oak Hill – growth, and economic development in the city.


Leffingwell acknowledged the fact that single-member district referendums had failed in Austin on six previous occasions. Still, he told the group that things had changed. “What I think is different now is that folks like you, here in Southwest, Northwest Austin, and other suburban parts of the city are now saying ‘we want single-member districts’,” he said in response to a question from the audience. “That is a shift. An alliance between the traditional groups who want single-member geographic representation added to the new groups in the suburbs … that possibly will be enough to pass it this time.”


The Mayor also noted that Austin might not have a choice in the matter. He told his audience that his initial plan was to have a charter election in November of 2012. However, state legislation from Senator Jeff Wentworth (R- San Antonio) and Rep. Paul Workman (R- Austin) could force the city to act sooner. Leffingwell suggested that Austinites could push the matter by collecting enough signatures to put something on the November 2011 ballot.


“The process that I originally proposed was to do this in November of 2012 so we’d have plenty of time to do that public process,” he said. “If we’re forced into doing it in 2011 instead it’s going to be very difficult to put a task force together and have them do a thorough and good job.”


Leffingwell has proposed a solution that includes six geographic council districts and two at large seats. The Mayor’s chair would remain an at-large position, as well.


As part of his statement on transportation, Leffingwell told the gathering that, thanks to federal regulations, work on an interim solution for the Y would be delayed. He noted that the city was set to “move ahead rapidly” with the project, “and then we ran into the fact that since it is a federal highway,” (US 290) the federal government imposes additional requirements.


Leffingwell said that the project should move forward “sometime later this year.” Once started, he added, it will take roughly six months to complete.

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