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Could District 5 Be Without Representation for 6 Months?

Recall-Kitchen-Petition-Redacted.jpg
Mike Blizzard via Twitter
A photo of the petition that seeks to recall Council Member Ann Kitchen.

From the Austin Monitor: Although local political action committee Austin4All turned in a petition to recall City Council Member Ann Kitchen to the city clerk’s office Friday, petitions to recall Council members are far from common. So it’s fair to say that the rules governing this process are little known.

According to a spokesperson for the city, the city clerk has 20 calendar days to certify the signatures. Should roughly 5,000 signatures (10 percent of the number of active voters in Kitchen’s District 5) be deemed valid, the council member has five days to leave her position. But Kitchen has said she will not.

“So far, my constituents have not asked me to resign,” she said earlier this month at a rally held by her colleagues to show their support for her.

In the case that Kitchen declines to resign, the other option is that the recall will be put to a public vote. The deadline for placing an item on the May 7 ballot was Feb. 19. Although Austin4All turned in the petition before close of business on that day, most readings of the law contend that Feb. 19 is the deadline for Council to have placed the item on the ballot. Therefore, the recall would most likely go on the Nov. 8 ballot.

According to the city’s charter, residents can vote only on the recall at that time – not on who might replace the Council member. Should residents vote in favor of the recall, the Council member leaves immediately.

As laid out in the city charter, the question of who replaces her would not be put to voters until the next state uniform election date, which is May 6, 2017 – meaning that District 5 residents could go without representation for six months.

But Council Member Leslie Pool said she has difficulty imagining the process getting that far.

“In fact, I suspect (support for Kitchen is) even more strongly shored up because of the challenge,” she told the Austin Monitor.

As she pointed out, Kitchen is one of only three Council members including Mayor Steve Adler, whose election did not go to a runoff. She won with roughly 54 percent of the vote – second only to Council Member Delia Garza, who captured 66 percent of her district’s votes.

But while the city’s new geographic representation has ushered in an arguably easier route to a successful election (it’s more expensive to run a campaign city-wide than district-wide), potential recallers also have an easier time of submitting a successful petition. Prior to the 10-1 system, someone seeking to recall a Council member would have had to secure 10 percent of the city’s total active registered voters. The same proportion is still needed to recall the mayor.

A 2005 effort to recall then-Council Member Brewster McCracken failed – the petition included another Council member and the mayor, and was eventually whittled down to just the mayor – because the organizers were not able to gather the more than 36,000 signatures needed.

This story has been altered to make clear that, while Adler was elected at the same time as the City Council, his election did include a runoff.

 

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