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Most of City Council opposes ‘strong mayor’ plan

Thursday, March 25, 2021 by Jonathan Lee

Nine City Council members so far have come out against Proposition F, the “strong mayor” proposal on the May 1 ballot. At a press conference Wednesday hosted by Austin for All People, a group opposed to the proposition, several Council members explained the reasoning behind their stance.

“There’s no evidence that there is some problem that this is going to address,” Council Member Ann Kitchen said. “There is no evidence that this will help the city address the challenges that we have in front of us.”

Prop F would amend the city charter to hand direct control of the city bureaucracy to the mayor and eliminate the role of the city manager, allowing the mayor to choose department heads. A strong mayor could also veto any legislation approved by Council. A supermajority would be required to override the veto.

“Amassing power and veto authority in one person is undemocratic,” Council Member Leslie Pool said.

Council members argued that the current 10-1 system – in which Council members represent geographic districts and the mayor is essentially an at-large member with equal voting power – is more democratic. 

“District representation gives people a voice, a person who is their person who they can reach out to,” Kitchen said.

Pool said that “the idea of a strong mayor fixing everything is magical thinking – and it’s patriarchal. The actual work of running this city is way harder than that.”

Council Member Pio Renteria said he didn’t understand the need for a strong mayor, “especially when we’re one of the best-managed cities in the country.” 

Council Member Mackenzie Kelly, the lone Republican on the dais, also opposes the plan. In a tweet Wednesday she told voters to “imagine your least favorite politician” having veto power. 

Council Member Paige Ellis and Mayor Steve Adler have not yet said if they support the proposition. Renteria said in private conversation with the mayor, he “didn’t come out and say he was in favor, but he didn’t come out and say he was against it.”

Community groups from across the political spectrum have rallied against the measure – an “overwhelming groundswell of opposition,” as Pool put it. Despite the broad opposition to the proposal, its victory or defeat remains uncertain, in large part because of historic low turnout in May elections.

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