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Campaign for city audit says it has enough signatures for referendum

Thursday, July 12, 2018 by Jack Craver

Organizers of a petition to require an audit of city government announced Wednesday that they had gathered enough signatures to put the question before voters this November.

A statement released by Citizens for an Accountable Austin, the group that has led the petition drive, said that the group had gathered more than 30,000 signatures, far exceeding the 20,000 signatures necessary to prompt a referendum.

The organization also said that it had “validated” more than 20,000 of the signatures, “ensuring the petition is valid.”

If the referendum is approved, the city will have to hire an outside party to conduct a wide-ranging “efficiency audit” of city programs aimed at identifying waste and inefficiencies. The petition organizers have pointed to other cities that have subjected themselves to similar audits and yielded major savings.

“Efficiency audits have been conducted by many municipalities around the country with great success,” according to Michael Searle, treasurer of Citizens for an Accountable Austin. “The audit will produce a menu of cost-saving opportunities for the city to ensure tax dollars are being spent most effectively and are providing the most good for the most people.”

Last month, City Council Member Ellen Troxclair proposed an ordinance that would establish the audit without the referendum. At first it attracted the support of three of her colleagues: Council members Alison Alter, Ora Houston and Leslie Pool. However, at the last minute Pool withdrew her support, denying the proposal the minimum number of co-sponsors necessary to make it on to the Council agenda.

The city clerk now will review the petitions and determine whether there are enough valid signatures to prompt a referendum. If there are enough signatures, Council has the option of either adopting the proposed ordinance itself or putting the issue on the ballot for voters to decide.

It’s unclear how other Council members feel about the proposal. An aide to Pool last month cited a number of reasons for Pool withdrawing her support, including the potential cost of the audit itself and the desire to allow City Manager Spencer Cronk, who only took over in February, a chance to come up with operational improvements to city government.

The petition has garnered support from an ideologically diverse group of activists. Searle, for instance, is a former aide to Troxclair, Council’s only remaining conservative. Other supporters include liberal activists who are also pushing for a vote on CodeNEXT, such as attorney Fred Lewis, NAACP President Nelson Linder and Save Our Springs Alliance Executive Director Bill Bunch.

In the statement released by Citizens for an Accountable Austin, Bunch said he hoped the audit would be “unanimously approved by the mayor and City Council,” describing “transparency and efficiency in city spending as basic as it gets.”

Also lending support to the initiative is Keri Burchard-Juarez, who served as assistant director of the city Public Works Department from 2004-15 and is currently chair of the city Bond Oversight Commission.

“It makes sense to identify redundancies and areas of overlapping responsibilities to potentially free up resources that could be used for other priorities,” said Burchard-Juarez in a statement. “The information that results from a process like this can help everyone make more informed decisions.”

Photo by John Flynn.

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