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Council Members Plan to Place 10 District Proposal on the Ballot

Wells Dunbar, KUT News

Austin City Council members Sheryl Cole and Mike Martinez just announced that they will move to place the 10-1 geographic representation proposal pitched by Austinites for Geographic Representation on the ballot this November, in an attempt to avoid the headache of validating the group’s thousands of signatures – and potentially give the initiative a little wiggle room.

The announcement states Cole and Martinez will withdraw a similar, but not identical, item calling for a 10-1 plan today – ten single-member districts represented by individual council members, with only the mayor running at-large – and instead, replace it with the “language contained in the Austinites for Geographic Representation’s citizen-led petition efforts.”

Cole and Martinez’s initial proposal differed from AGR’s  language relating to the powers of an independent citizen’s panel that would ultimately draw the district lines. Earlier this week, Martinez said he had qualms pertaining to AGR’s language.

“I want there to be a public conversation about some of these potential concerns because here’s what I don’t want to happen,” Martinez told KUT News. “If AGR, which I assume they will, gets the signatures, it’ll be on the ballot… If it were to pass and then some of it not go into effect because of the language… I don’t want citizens and the folks working on this initiative to think that we knew this all along and we’re going to somehow sabotage their efforts after the fact, because we knew that the language was flawed.”

Martinez has cited language in AGR’s petition giving an independent redistricting commission “the sole legal standing to defend any action regarding a certified final map” as usurping city authority, and potentially leading to lawsuits.

In today’s statement, Martinez says “Placing language on the ballot from Council gives us the opportunity to make corrective changes, should they be necessary as we continue this conversation over the next month.”  

Austinites for Geographic Representation plans on attending today’s council meeting, signatures in hand, to urge the council not to put a competing proposal before voters in November. It’s unknown whether the group will be amenable to the proposal from the council members.

Also up for council consideration today is a “hybrid” districts proposal from Mayor Lee Leffingwell, which you can read about here. The council can only act to place one geographic representation sceanrio on the ballot itself.

Below, the press release from Martinez and Cole.

Council Member Martinez and Mayor Pro Tem Cole announce intention to place Austinites for Geographic Representation language on the November 2012 ballot During the Austin City Council meeting this afternoon, Council Member Mike Martinez and Mayor Pro Tem Sheryl Cole will amend their own Item 84, which provides for ballot language relating to geographic representation, to mirror language contained in the Austinites for Geographic Representation’s citizen-led petition efforts. “I have been working on this issue since the first day of our first term in office back in 2006,” said Council Member Martinez.  “Seeing this through and providing Austin voters with a viable option for geographic representation goes hand in hand with honoring the continued commitment we have made to ensuring that all of Austin has representation at Council.” “Austinites for Geographic Representation is currently considering bringing forth a ballot petition for a 10-1 single member district structure for City Council.  I support this grassroots effort, and in bringing this forward, we could potentially avoid significant cost to the City and strain on staff resources as we attempt to validate over 30,000 signatures,” said Mayor Pro Tem Cole. The petition organized by Austinites for Geographic Representation calls for a pure districting system with 10 districts and a mayor elected at large.  It also calls for an Independent Redistricting Commission that would establish a citizen-led process for drawing geographic boundaries that aims to remove political influence from the process. Council Member Martinez and Mayor Pro Tem Cole’s Item 84 called for the same system of geographic representation, but key elements differ including the method by which districts are drawn. “I believe that we are in agreement with Austinites for Geographic Representation on so many elements of their petition.  Placing language on the ballot from Council gives us the opportunity to make corrective changes, should they be necessary as we continue this conversation over the next month,” said Council Member Martinez.  

Wells has been a part of KUT News since 2012, when he was hired as the station's first online reporter. He's currently the social media host and producer for Texas Standard, KUT's flagship news program. In between those gigs, he served as online editor for KUT, covering news in Austin, Central Texas and beyond.
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