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Council closer to putting 8-2-1 hybrid plan on ballot

Wednesday, August 1, 2012 by Elizabeth Pagano

Inching towards putting a hybrid single-member district plan on November’s ballot, City Council approved the 8-2-1 proposal on second reading at Tuesday’s work session.


Council voted 5-2 to put the mixed system on the ballot, with Council members Mike Martinez and Bill Spelman voting in opposition. The proposed hybrid system would consist of eight Council members elected by voters in geographically based districts, two Council members elected citywide and one at-large mayor.


Martinez, who sponsored the competing 10-1 plan that already will be on the November ballot, made it clear that he would not be voting in favor of the hybrid plan.


“Continuing to honor the work of the petition gatherers is still paramount for me,” Martinez said, referring to the more than 20,000 signatures the group Austinites for Geographic Representation collected to ensure its 10-1 plan goes on the ballot. “I’m not against a hybrid system per se, but a citizen’s initiative in my mind prevails over Council’s desires in this case and I will respectfully continue to vote no and hope that we do not put a competing item on the ballot because I think it will cause both of them to fail.”


Spelman echoed Martinez, saying he thought it was “extremely likely” that two competing single-member district proposals would fail, noting that single-member districts have been rejected six consecutive times by Austinites.


“I think our best chance at getting single-member districts is to allow the citizen’s initiative to go forward and have that be the only one on the ballot,” Spelman said.


Currently, Austin City Council consists of seven representatives: six Council members and the mayor – all elected citywide.


Mayor Pro Tem Sheryl Cole expressed support for both single-member district proposals. She said while the NAACP (the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) has voiced support for the 10-1 plan, Austin’s African-American community remains split on the matter.


“I think this is a discussion that needs to be had by the entire community, and I want to be a part of that. We need to give voters a choice,” said Cole, who moved to approve the hybrid plan, and later amended her motion to approve the plan on second reading to allow for more discussion. Council will need to approve the 8-2-1 plan on a third reading to get the measure on the ballot.


Mayor Lee Leffingwell said that he anticipated the third reading would take place at Council’s Aug. 7 work session. Initially, the idea was to hold the third reading on Thursday’s regular meeting, but work-session rules dictate that if Council has voted on an item in a work session, they cannot then vote on it during the next regular meeting.


“We’ve already had a lot of discussion on this. I look forward to any new information that may be brought forward on third reading,” said Leffingwell, who noted that while the item does allow for public comment, it is not a public hearing item.


Council has agreed to limit discussion about the plan to 15-minutes per side, although that can be extended to accommodate new information.


Leffingwell said that he certainly respected the Austinites for Geographic Representation’s petition but he said the hybrid system was “publicly proposed as something that we wanted to give citizens the ability to vote on way before that one.”


“Obviously, there is a division in the community over the exact format and I think giving voters the choice is very important,” said Leffingwell.


If the proposal is approved on third reading, the two plans would go on the ballot. Both plans would expand Council to 10 members; the only difference is the 8-2-1 would also provide for two Council members elected citywide.


The Charter Revision Committee voted to recommend the 10-1 plan by one vote. Members of the now-disbanded committee have remained vocal on both sides of the issue, advocating for both the 10-1 and the 8-2-1 hybrid plans.

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