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10-1 plan backers call redistricting commission process a success

Tuesday, March 5, 2013 by Michael Kanin

Members of the group behind the push for 10 geographically elected Austin City Council districts touted Monday what they consider to be the initial success of early steps toward that arrangement.


“We have over 500 applicants for the Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission (ICRC); the overwhelming majority are qualified,” said attorney Fred Lewis, who is a member of Austinites for Geographic Representation (AGR), in a statement. “The data shows the sizeable racial, ethnic, gender, and geographic diversity of the ICRC and that minority voters have a strong desire to serve on the ICRC. The…commissioners selected for the ICRC should reflect the diversity of Austin.”


The redistricting commission is the body that will ultimately draw Austin’s new council districts. It will consist of 14 citizens who meet strict regulations set out in a charter amendment pushed and authored by Lewis and AGR.


It is one of two bodies mandated as part of the process. The other, a three-person panel of CPAs, was selected Monday. It features Martha Parker, a former assistant and supervising assistant State Auditor and current senior manager at the Myers and Stauffer firm; Michelle DeFrance a current auditor/senior auditor with the State Auditor’s office; and Caroline Limaye, a former internal auditor with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and current auditor in the office of business oversight for the U.S. Department of Veterans’ Affairs.


Numbers cited by Lewis and his compatriots do seem to indicate that the commission applicant pool matches, and in some cases exceeds, the minority population percentages of those eligible for commission service. However, the Hispanic and Asian segments of the pool fall well short of the overall population figures outlined in the 2010 census.


City Auditor Ken Mory told In Fact Daily that though a last minute push for applications helped the diversity of the applications, it wasn’t quite enough. “I would say that (the numbers) are more reflective of the diversity (then they had been),” he said. “They didn’t quite get there, particularly in two of the areas that we talked about, which was the Hispanics and the Asians.”


Mory continued. “But, in the other categories, yes, I think that we were very successful with a lot of the help of our community partners in getting those numbers up to where they were better,” he said.


According to AGR figures, 10.2 percent of the applicant pool is African-American, compared to 6.9 percent of the pool of voters that met the strict requirements set out in the 10-1 charter amendment. The organization puts the percentage of Hispanic applicants at 17.2 percent – compared with 6.9 percent of qualified Austin voters. Asians make up 2.2 percent of the applicant pool and 2 percent of the qualified population. Women represent 49.9 percent of the qualified applicants pool and 43.2 percent of the applicant pool.


Census figures are somewhat different. According to 2010 numbers, 35.1 percent of the city’s population is Hispanic or Latino, 6.3 percent is Asian, and 7.7 percent is African-American.


The charter amendment limits eligible commission candidates to voters who have participated in three out of the past five city elections. It also restricts participation for anyone who has run for office in the past 10 years, and forbids electoral candidacy for commissioners for another decade.


Taken as a whole, it all could be a reflection of concerns that the structure of the commission does not adequately reflect the diversity of the city.


Still, Austin NAACP president and AGR 10-1 advisory committee co-chair Nelson Linder was satisfied with the outcome. “Despite some criticism, some naysayers, there are plenty of volunteers…from all communities and neighborhoods,” Linder said.


AGR representatives also used the occasion to unveil a new charitable wing of the organization established through Austin’s League of Women Voters. Called Austinites for Geographic Representation Implementation Group, the arrangement allows donors to the group to receive tax deductions.


In addition to panel regulars, Mory and his team also selected three alternates for applicant review panel. They are Shari Dalchau, a senior auditor at Padgett, Stratemann, & Co.; Carol Feller, an auditor at Heartland Management; and Jim Christianson, an adjunct professor of tax and business law at Southwestern University and an estate and gift auditor in the appeals office of the Internal Revenue Service.


Mory said that the review panel is set for its first public meeting from 5:30 until 8:30 pm on Friday.

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