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Casar adds police oversight charter proposal

Tuesday, February 9, 2021 by Jo Clifton

City Council members have plenty to consider at their meeting today, and if there is not sufficient agreement on items to put before voters on May 1, they will have to come back Wednesday and Thursday to firm up the ballot. In addition to items calling for a special election on the citizen-initiated ordinance that would reinstate criminal penalties for camping in public areas, Council will also consider several charter amendments from the group that wishes to change Austin’s form of government to a strong-mayor system. Austin firefighters have also petitioned Council to place an item on the ballot requiring the city to participate in binding arbitration on firefighter contracts. None of those things come as a surprise since citizens have been collecting signatures on petitions for several months. The surprise item is from Council Member Greg Casar, who proposes a charter amendment he says “would give City Council and the community the opportunity to make the (Office of Police Oversight) even stronger and more independent moving forward through future discussion and Council ordinance.” In a statement released Monday, Casar noted that the cities of New Orleans and Seattle each have police monitors governed by independent boards. As there is likely to be considerable discussion about the timeliness of this item, Casar wrote in a City Council Message Board post, “In most cases, I would prefer more time for community conversation before putting a charter amendment on the ballot. Since the citizen petitions have triggered a charter election, we may not have the opportunity to alter the charter again for two years, given state law. I don’t want to let the moment pass us by. Further, this charter amendment is different. It creates the *option* for Council to create more independent structures, but the charter amendment does not dictate the future path.” He thanked Council members Alison Alter, Vanessa Fuentes, Pio Renteria and Mayor Pro Tem Natasha Harper-Madison, who co-sponsored the item “for discussion.” In order to avoid coming back for meetings on Wednesday and Thursday, an item must receive seven affirmative votes to be placed on the ballot. If an item receives only six votes, Council will have to reconvene to consider the matter again.

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