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Wayback Wednesday: Austin's Long Push for Geographic Representation on City Council

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City of Austin
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Last night, all 10 members of the new Austin City Council were sworn in. While it’s the first single-member district council, it’s not the city’s first attempt to bring geographic representation to the council. Today’s edition of Wayback Wednesday examines the push in the 1980s for single-member districts.

Below you can watch unedited interviews with Council Member Mark E. Spaeth and then-Mayor Ron Mullen at the December 1984 meeting of the Austin City Council from KVUE reporter Pat Comer. Council was discussing the prospect of single-member districts in response to a lawsuit filed by civil rights advocate Volma Overton, Sr. Overton and other plaintiffs alleged the city’s election system violated minorities’ rights under the Voting Rights Act. The lawsuit also sought an eight-member council, with the mayor being elected by all Austinites.

The council decided to put the prospect to a vote as the fifth city proposition on a January 19, 1985 called election. The measure failed, with 57 percent of Austinites voting against the measure and 43 percent supporting it. The U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals eventually dismissed the case in 1989, as well.

The city later voted on geographic representation six more times, and it wasn’t until 2012 that the city finally passed a proposition to allow geographic representation on the Austin City Council. Overton passed away in 2005.

In 2013, his son, Volma Overton, Jr., told KUT that his father’s lawsuit was all about representation on Austin’s east side, adding that he believes his father would be excited for the opportunities given to minority communities within the new election system. Below, you can listen to Overton's full interview with KUT's Wells Dunbar.

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