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Now Hiring: Austin's Citizens Redistricting Commission

When Austinites voted last fall to create the independent commission that will draw the city’s new geographic City Council districts, 14 citizens from all walks of life were chosen to be part of this commission.

The understanding was that average Austinites would lead the process. But it turns out the commission may hire an entire staff to give them a hand.

The first person the Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission is looking to hire is an executive director. The idea came to the commission last month from Steve Bickerstaff, a former attorney and UT law professor. He’s not part of the redistricting commission. But he was one of the people who wrote the ballot language voters approved that formed the group.

“The executive director would oversee everything,” Bickerstaff said. “The executive director would reach out to the best experts in redistricting and legal council. And the executive director would be someone at a high level – somebody with a great deal of past experience.”

Just like Bickerstaff, Peck Young attends every redistricting meeting. He’s a political consultant who helped get voters to approve Austin’s new form of government. In addition to an executive director is needed, Young also suggested hiring a mapping consultant. He also said the commission needs to hire a third person – an attorney. There’s also been talk of hiring an administrative assistant as well.

All those positions are going to cost money, even if they’re temporary. Commissioners are expected to have the maps in place by Christmas. 

The Austin City Council allocated $140,000 for commission expenses. (Voter-approved charter language gives the commission broad hiring power; the Austin City Council has indicated there is room to allocate more money for commission expenses.)

Staff’s salaries would come out of that bucket; so would the redistricting software commissioners have been advised to buy. At the last meeting, commissioner Arthur Lopez determined licensing fees for one piece of map drawing software were $4,500 – per license. With 14 licenses – one for each commissioners – that total comes to $63,000. That wouldn’t leave very much for the three or four positions the commission intends to have as part of their staff. 

The position for executive director is already posted. There are no specifics on how much it pays.

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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