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City Hall Hustle: The Long, Winding Road to 10-1

Wells Dunbar, KUT News

After seven tries and several decades, geographic representation is finally coming to the City of Austin. And as the city prepares, the vortex of activity swirls around … none other than three certified public accountants.

That’s the Applicant Review Panel. It’s a group of three CPAs, randomly selected from a group of applicants, who will vet applicants for the Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission. That’s the group that will ultimately draw the district lines.

In case you need a refresher, here goes: Back in November, voters passed Proposition 3, also known as the “10-1” plan. With it, voters approved a switch from a seven-member council that’s all elected citywide, to one where 10 members will be elected from individual geographic districts. Only the mayor will run citywide.

The citizen-initiated prop called to keep politicians out of the process; instead, a 14-member group of citizen volunteers, strictly screened for conflicts of interest, will decide on the districts.

But first, hundreds of applicants have to be whittled down into a final selection pool. And that’s where the Applicant Review Panel comes in. (Still confused? Here’s an infographic outlining the process for creating Austin’s city council districts.)

The group’s held four meetings so far. In that time, the review panel has started sorting applicants’ demographic info – gender and ethnicity – by county precinct. You can view all their work here.

That’s important, as the ballot language voters approved in November calls for the group to reflect the makeup of Austin. Attorney Steve Bickerstaff helped draft the language for the switch to council districts. He says it represents “a fair and objective, un-biased, non-self interested plan for the ten districts.”

But the road to 10-1 is long and winding. The voter approved process for switching to geographic representation is admittedly convoluted. Former city council member and mayor candidate Brigid Shea sounded a note of caution last November, at the victory party for the citizens group that drafted the proposition – Austinites for Geographic Representation. “It’s got to be done really carefully,” Shea said. “And were going to continue to see a lot of change – and change is frequently very difficult.”

But still – considering that after decades of at-large representation, geographic representation starts with the 2014 elections – this painstaking working really is happening at breakneck speed. 

Rounding Out the Agenda

In Fact Daily’s Mike Kanin is on hand to help the Hustle make further sense of geographic representation: The Applicant Review Panel’s current work, and what’s next with 10-1.

Next week, KUT joins KLRU TV- Austin PBS and the Annette Strauss Institute for Civic Life for “Why Bother? Austin After 10-1.” This public forum will take an in-depth look at how the change to Austin City Council's governing structure will impact voters.

You can attend the discussion Tuesday, April 23 at the KLRU Studios. RSVP online here.

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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