Why Don't Austin Community College Trustees Represent Specific Districts?
Four of the nine Austin Community College board seats are on the ballot this election. These positions are numbered—but all of the positions are at-large, which means the trustees represent the entire ACC community, rather than specific parts of the 7,000-square-mile district.
It's a question ACC Trustee Candidate Nora De Hoyos Comstock thought about a lot, as she drove across six counties to campaign at 11 ACC campuses.
“It was difficult to get any place and spend quality time learning about the issues," Comstock said of the large ACC district she hopes to represent. “I can only go so many places in a month! You know, when you want to represent people and understand their needs, it gets really tough.”
Peck Young is the Director of the Center for Public Policy & Political Studies at ACC. He says ACC has at-large representation because the ACC district itself is fluid. Local school districts can vote to annex themselves into the ACC taxing district.
“At any given time it could modify itself pretty drastically based on the last tax election," Young explained.
If voters in those school districts approve the annexation, students within that district could attend a local community college and those voters could be taxed to pay for those services. It also means ACC’s district size changes. That makes it difficult to draw districts that individual trustees would represent.
“The thing could grow at any given moment," Young says. "And how you are going to join that to a district, when the district would maybe double in size suddenly? So everybody represented everything.”
Young was instrumental in the city of Austin’s transition from at-large city council representation to geographic districts because elected city council members did not represent the entirety of Austin, and some areas need more representation. But Young says ACC’s Board of Trustees doesn’t have that problem.
“ACC is about running a community college, which does not make anyone rich. So, I think there’s more opportunity with different points of view and different parts of town to run for the board and get elected," Young says. "Because your major qualification is your commitment to education. It’s not whether you’re with some political or economic faction who is desperate to make sure their interests are covered.”
Nora Comstock is running against Douglas Gibbons for Place Six on the ACC board. Gibbons admits campaigning for trustee means you have to plan around Austin traffic. But he says it hasn’t been difficult for him to visit each campus. Gibbons supports the current at-large system.
“The at-large district encourages the candidates and those selected to represent the entire community, not a small faction or a special interest," he says.
Comstock says she doesn’t support one system over the other – she was just curious.
When you’re spending a lot of time in your car, driving across six counties, you also have a lot of time to think.