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Austin’s Next City Council: Primarily Made of Newbies

Not all the action in City Hall today centers on City Council: the Charter Revision Committee is set to recommend a scheme for future elections.
Jeff Heimsath for KUT
Not all the action in City Hall today centers on City Council: the Charter Revision Committee is set to recommend a scheme for future elections.

This May, Austinites will learn the names of the people who will be drawing the city’s 10 new district maps, and then the redistricting process will start to take shape. After the maps are drawn, Austinites will learn the district boundaries. Then people interested in running for City Council will know which district they can represent. 

Seems like a lot of changes. And the biggest one is that the next Austin City Council is likely to be made up of rookies.

Only two of the current council members will be able to run and win the first round of elections in November 2014. The rest of the council, including the mayor, is term-limited. That will leave Austinites with a new form of government and an inexperienced council.

But political consultant Mark Littlefield says there’s nothing wrong with that. “What you are likely to see is that the candidates for City Council are going to be some of the more active members of the process,” Littlefield said. “Yes, there will be a learning curve for these new City Council members, but this is a manager-council form of government, and that’s one of the reasons why you have that. Even if we elect 11 people that have never served on the council before, city staff will still be there, and they know how to keep the trains running on time.”

Keep in mind that this story is all about the future. So let’s talk about what might happen when the new council is sworn in come January 2015. Steve Bickerstaff, who wrote the original language of the proposition that changed Austin’s form of government, says council members will draw lots to see who will serve for two years and who will serve for four.

“Some will draw two years and some will draw four years, and those who draw two years will run for election in 2016,” Bickerstaff said. “Whoever wins then has a four-year term thereafter.”

The process will repeat itself every decade.

As of now, though, some familiar faces are expected to be running for the only at-large seat on the council: the mayor. The mayoral ambitions of council member Mike Martinez are well-known, as are those of Mayor Pro-Tem Sheryl Cole. State Rep. Mark Strama, D-Austin, has also said he may run for mayor in 2014.

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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