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10-1 Supporters remain critical of Auditor timeline

Monday, December 10, 2012 by Michael Kanin

Supporters of a successful 10-1 single-member district initiative continued to criticize a proposed timeline for implementation of the districts at a press conference last week.


There, local NAACP head Nelson Linder, former State Senator Gonzalo Barrientos, and Republican attorney Roger Borgelt praised efforts by the office of City Auditor Ken Mory, who is in charge of implementing a multi-stage process that will end in the creation of an independent district commission. However, the trio continued to express concern about a potential April 1, 2014 deadline for new district maps. An earlier date in 2014 would be better, Borgelt argued.


Meanwhile, election expert and consultant for 10-1 proponents Steve Bickerstaff penned a letter to Mayor Lee Leffingwell and the rest of the Austin City Council. In it, Bickerstaff urges the city’s legal department to “promptly submit” the single-member district proposition for preclearance under section five of the Voting Rights Act.


He suggested that such a move might be a sign of good will from the city. “Most members of the Council were publicly ambivalent about (the measure) perhaps because few, if any, members of the Council thought it would pass,” Bickerstaff wrote. “Some members of the Council openly opposed passage…As a result, some of the supporters of (the measure) are now fearful that the City Council will try to sabotage implementation of the proposition.”


Bickerstaff told In Fact Daily Friday afternoon that early preclearance could also insulate the city from any Justice Department concerns well before the districting process gets underway. “It’s clearly better, and I would say prophylactic to submit (the ballot measure) as soon as possible,” he said. “You want DOJ to know everything up front.”


If approved as-is, the Auditor’s timeline would leave only 30 days for Justice to sign off on the single member districts. That would almost assuredly leave Council candidates running without approved maps – a situation that most everyone, no matter their take on 10-1, believes is untenable. (See In Fact Daily, December 5, 2012.)


The schedule does not allow for sufficient review, Borgelt says.  “People are not legally allowed to campaign until district maps are approved,” Borgelt continued.


Borgelt may be wrong on this last point. According to Bickerstaff, there is no legal prohibition that would keep a private citizen from declaring their intent to run before maps are approved.


There are, however, restrictions under state law against candidates who hold elected office from declaring their candidacy up to 13 months ahead of a scheduled election. Any candidate who does so is assumed to have resigned their current post, pending a special election to fill it. Interested candidates must also refrain from raising money for a campaign until 180 days before a city election according to Austin’s charter, approximately May 4.


Neither of these candidacy restrictions change with the onset of 10-1.


Attorney Jim Cousar, who represents the city as part of his private practice, confirmed Bickerstaff’s opinions.


Mory began the process of establishing the districting commission with a public forum last week. It continues to move forward. April 1, 2014 remains the preliminary finish date.


At the press conference Borgelt maintained that any reasonable timetable would have to end well before spring 2014. “I think, unless it’s expedited, the Department of Justice legally will have 90 days to do that clearance,” he said. “I think realistically, you need to move that deadline back to up to, probably the first of the year.”

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