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A Group Of Austinites Is Petitioning To Change The Mayor's Role And How Local Elections Work

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Gabriel C. Pérez
/
KUT

A new political action committee wants to change the powers and structure of the Austin City Council — and the way local elections are held.

“I think there are a number of issues that we are facing as a city where individuals from across the city have come together and realized the current system isn’t working for us,” Andrew Allison, treasurer of the Austinites for Progressive Reform PAC, told KUT.

Changes like these require amending the city’s charter, which demands a public vote. Petitioners need to collect 20,000 signatures from valid city voters in order to get the changes on a ballot. The group says it’s planning for a public vote in May.

The PAC began collecting signatures on the first day of early voting and says it has 10,000 so far. 

The first change includes moving mayoral elections to the same year as presidential ones. Currently, Austin voters choose a mayor during midterm elections.

“That reform is about turnout and representative turnout because midterm election years feature dramatically less turnout and also less representative turnout, less diverse turnout,” Allison said.

When Mayor Steve Adler was reelected in 2018, nearly 62% of registered voters in Austin went to the polls. Two years prior, during a presidential election, nearly 65% of people registered to vote did.

The PAC also wants to alter the structure of Austin’s local government. Currently, a city manager hired by council members oversees city departments.

“We have a system where the chief executive of the city, who oversees critical day-to-day functions about the city, like the police department, the transportation department, the planning department, the budget process … that person is unelected,” Allison said.

Austinites for Progressive Reform is proposing that the mayor instead take on this role in what’s typically called a strong-mayor system. This would also give the mayor the ability to veto actions the City Council takes.

The PAC also wants to add an 11th City Council district, and institute ranked-choice voting, where voters rank the candidates rather than choosing just one. Additionally, the group wants to create a program that would provide every registered voter in Austin with a $25 voucher, or “Democracy dollars,” that they can contribute to a City Council candidate’s campaign.

The city’s Charter Review Commission floated this idea two years ago in a report to City Council.

“Giving everyone a financial stake that’s supported by the city really at least gives people the opportunity to feel like, ‘I have something to contribute to their campaign. Maybe they’ll listen to me,’” said Angela de Hoyos Hart, who has served on the city’s Planning Commission and was part of the PAC’s steering committee.

The PAC plans to turn in a petition to the city by mid-January.

Got a tip? Email Audrey McGlinchy at audrey@kut.org. Follow her on Twitter @AKMcGlinchy.

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