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Timeline for drawing single-member districts changes

Thursday, January 17, 2013 by Michael Kanin

The office of City Auditor Ken Mory pushed up the timeline for its establishment of a committee charged with drawing the lines for Austin’s new 10-1 City Council district plan. The new target date for the empanelment of eight initial commissioners – now May 22 – quickens the Auditor’s part in the process by roughly two months.


The move comes after complaints from 10-1 proponents who worried that Mory’s first proposed timeline – dates that would have culminated in final district approval on April 1, 2014 – pushed events too close to the November 2014 election.


The announcement came as part of a presentation by Mory and his office’s Chief of Investigations Jason Hadavi to Council Members at a regular Tuesday work session. There, Mory and Hadavi also noted that their involvement in the 10-1 process would cost $8,000 more than initially anticipated.


Hadavi added that the costs could expand further. “We’ve used over 1,300 of…three thousand hours to date,” he said. “We have a little over 1,600 left. Depending on application volume, that may or may not be sufficient.”


The City Auditor’s involvement in the 10-1 process was stipulated in the charter amendment approved by voters in November. The question left the work of recruiting and solidifying the commission charged with drawing the new districts to Mory and his team.


Mory unveiled a preliminary timeline in December. As constructed, it would have left only 30 days for the U.S. Department of Justice to clear the new districts – a must under provisions of the federal Voting Rights Act. Supporters of the 10-1 plan balked at that idea (See In Fact Daily, Dec. 10, 2012).


Under the new proposed dates, Mory’s office would select the initial eight commission members by May 22. It also places what may be the most important deadlines – the date by when the original eight commission members select their remaining six colleagues, and the final plan adoptions – in someone else’s hands.


“We believe that those items are outside of the purview of our office,” Hadavi said.


Hadavi initially suggested that the commission itself would set those dates. However, the presentation noted that the City Attorney’s office believes that Council members could make that call. Council Member Laura Morrison asked Hadavi to clarify that inconsistency.


Hadavi first conceded that the note on Council authority might have been more “prescriptive” than intended. Further discussion with Morrison revealed what appears to be a lack of clarity about who, exactly, will make that call.


“So really…the Council has the authority to determine who has the authority?” offered Morrison. Hadavi agreed with that assessment.


Mory, however, urged Council Members to discuss that question with city attorneys.


The additional costs are related to a stronger advertising campaign. Hadavi went over the details of his office’s outreach effort Tuesday. His presentation included maps illustrating the locations of billboards and bus routes that carry ads aimed at recruiting candidates for the districting committee. There have also been television ads on the YNN cable network.


Districting proponents last week called on Mory to change the list of qualifications for commission members. They had initially written the rules, aimed at finding politically involved individuals who aren’t likely to run for office, into the ballot question. Their calls came amid whispers of a too-narrow pool of candidates for the commission.

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