Group Says It Has Enough Signatures To Ask Voters To Make Changes To Austin’s Local Government
A local political action committee says it has enough signatures to put to a public vote a slew of changes to how Austin’s government works, including investing more power in the mayor.
Austinites for Progressive Reform announced Monday that it had submitted a petition with 24,000 signatures to the city clerk. If verified, the petition would ask voters in a May election whether they want any of the following changes:
- Moving mayoral elections to the same year as presidential elections. Currently, Austin elects a new mayor every four years during midterm elections.
- Changing from a "weak mayor" form of government to a "strong mayor" form of government. Currently, Austin has a city manager who oversees the executive branch of the city. This would put the mayor in that role, adding an 11th City Council district to maintain 11 members on the body, and giving the mayor veto power over its actions, an ability the city manager does not currently have. Overriding a veto would require eight of 11 votes, according to Jim Wick, campaign manager for the group.
- Using ranked-choice voting for local elections. This is where voters rank the candidates in an election instead of choosing just one person.
- Offering "Democracy Dollars" to voters. This would give every voter a $25 voucher that they could contribute to a local campaign.
Changes like these require amending the city’s charter, which necessitates a public vote. Petitioners need to collect at least 20,000 signatures from valid city voters to get the measure on a ballot. Typically, groups collect thousands more as a buffer in the chance that signatures are invalidated.
The city clerk will now go through the process of verifying the signatures. Typically, her office analyzes a sample of signatures, confirming that those who signed the petition are registered voters in the City of Austin and looking for any duplicate signers.
In December, a group of local union leaders and criminal justice advocates signed a letter raising concerns about the "strong mayor" provision of the petition.
“You’re consolidating that power within the Office of the Mayor which is concerning for us because currently we can hold 10 City Council members accountable equally," Krissy O’Brien, who represents the public employee union AFSCME, told KUT on Monday.
Wick said that power, in part, already lies with one person’s office.
“The status quo puts all that power and more in the City Manager’s Office; the difference being we don’t get to vote for that person,” he told KUT.
This story has been updated.