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Will Tax Time Hurt the City’s Hunt for Redistricting Volunteers?

Starting next week, citizens can apply to serve on the independent redistricting commission that will draw Austin's 10 city council districts. 

Commission applicants will be sorted through by a group of three certified public accountants. They will be in charge of getting the redistricting commission going by creating a pool of the 60 most qualified applicants. Out of those candidates, a group of 14 will ultimately draw Austin's first district maps. (Click here for an overview of the redistricting process.)

But the timing is a little crazy, because W-2 forms are in the mail as we speak. And right about now is the kick-off of the busiest time of the year for CPAs:  tax season. But Austin needs CPAs to apply as volunteers now, in order to kick off the entire district-drawing process. 

Marlene Van Sickle, an Austin-based CPA, says a lot of her colleagues “are going to be working some pretty serious hours.” She says another challenge is that “the smaller CPA firms – their February, March, April time frame – are really the heavy season for them; that’s where they are going to make the big chunks of their money.”

As tight as it is, the timing's there for a reason. It’s what voters approved last November as the timeline the City Auditor needs to follow in implementing council districts. Per the timeline, City Auditor Kenneth Mory needs to have a review panel in place by late February. So he’s aggressively looking for volunteers.

“We’re going to be sending direct mail out to all the CPAs that are licensed in the city of Austin,” Mory says, “to try to get interest for the panel itself.”

Mory has also asked for help from groups like the Austin chapter of the Texas Society of Certified Public Accountants. In its monthly newsletter, the group details how to apply and the requirements to serve. 

Local political consultant Mark Littlefield says the requirements are another hurdle for the city. He rattles off some of the downside of serving.

“They’re not going to be compensated – I’m not sure if we are talking about them volunteering 10 hours or 100 hours – I’m not sure," he says. “[Then] the requirements for them not having worked for or donated, served in a political or civil capacity.”

Applications to serve on the review panel will open Friday, Jan. 18. 

Texas Standard reporter Joy Diaz has amassed a lengthy and highly recognized body of work in public media reporting. Prior to joining Texas Standard, Joy was a reporter with Austin NPR station KUT on and off since 2005. There, she covered city news and politics, education, healthcare and immigration.
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