Thursday, January 21, 2021 by Jo Clifton

Small group funding push for strong mayor

Andrew Allison, founder and treasurer of the political action committee seeking to replace Austin’s Council-manager form of government with a strong-mayor system, has contributed $25,000 to the committee and loaned it $92,000, according to documents filed with the Austin city clerk’s office.

Allison’s mother, brother and wife have contributed an additional $25,000, and old friends, including Kurt Dalton of Scarsdale, New York, and Michael Dearing of Woodside, Calif., have contributed an additional $15,000 to Austinites for Progressive Reform. Between them, Allison and his relatives and friends have donated and loaned a total of $157,000 to pay for the campaign, which seeks to place four different proposals on the May ballot.

The campaign reported raising a little more than $171,000 and spending more than $242,000 between July 20 and Dec. 31, 2020. There are a few small donations, but the majority of the money comes from Allison, his family and friends, and tech entrepreneurs.

On Jan. 11, the group turned in about 24,000 signatures to place four proposals on the May ballot. Besides the strong-mayor proposition, the group seeks to change the date of city mayoral elections to coincide with presidential elections; change from the current runoff system to ranked choice voting (which would require a change in state law); and institute a city-funded campaign finance system known as Democracy Dollars.

Allison told the Austin Monitor Wednesday that even though he has invested considerable money in the effort, he has no personal political ambitions and is not supporting any particular candidate for mayor in the next election. Mayor Steve Adler has said he is not contemplating running again when his current term expires in 2022, though he could probably do so through a petition effort.

Allison insists that even though he is working with political consultants Jim Wick and David Butts, who have worked for Adler in the past, there is no connection between this campaign and Adler. Allison explained that he worked to help John Kerry when he was a presidential candidate in 2004 and worked for the Brennan Center for Justice while attending law school. He talked about “doing the unfinished business” of stabilizing American democracy and “solving, not just talking about our problems, (to bring) our city and our state into the future.”

In convincing Austin voters to give up the current mayor plus 10-district system, Allison’s group will have to contend with the Austin Central Labor Council. On Wednesday, the group announced that the 20 unions that make up the Central Labor Council had voted unanimously to oppose all four amendments.

Jason Lopez, president of the labor council, said in an email that he was concerned not only about the charter amendments but about the fundraising to get those amendments on the ballot. Referring to the contribution and expenditure report from Austinites for Progressive Reform, Lopez said, “This report is deeply troubling, and we can’t go back to the days where a handful of individuals make decisions for Austin. That’s why we oppose this group’s efforts to take power away from elected Council members and give the mayor veto power over the community.”

Others opposing the reform group’s efforts include Selena Xie, president of the Austin EMS Association, who summed up her feelings in a news release. “Austinites for Progressive Reform tell us that their reforms will be better for workers, black and brown people, and those concerned with criminal justice. Yet labor organizations, representatives for the Eastern Crescent of Austin and criminal justice advocates strongly oppose strong-mayor.”

Photo by M.Fitzsimmons, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

The Austin Monitor’s work is made possible by donations from the community. Though our reporting covers donors from time to time, we are careful to keep business and editorial efforts separate while maintaining transparency. A complete list of donors is available here, and our code of ethics is explained here.

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Austin City Council: The Austin City Council is the body with legislative purview over the City of Austin. It offers policy direction, while the office of the City Manager implements administrative actions based on those policies. Until 2012, the body contained seven members, including the city's Mayor, all elected at-large. In 2012, City of Austin residents voted to change that system and now 10 members of the Council are elected based on geographic districts. The Mayor continues to be elected at-large.

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