The 2012 November election brought with it myriad choices for the City of Austin. One that was approved by voters was a city charter amendment known as 10-1 (Proposition 3). In essence, this amendment to the City Charter requires a change in the City Council formation and structure of six at-large members. Formation will now be 10 council members and structure of the 10 single-member districts will be guided by new geographic boundaries. First vote to this change will be in the November 2014 election, when city council members will be elected from 10 new geographic districts, with one member elected per district.
How was Austin to go about this historical change? The Amendment provided for the creation of an Applicant Review Panel as well as a 14-member Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission (ICRC). Geographic and ethnic diversity were at the forefront of the panel’s selection criteria along with analytical skills, and participation in Austin’s many community-based organizations.
With that, the Applicant Review Panel, consisting of three CPAs (also mandated by the amendment to the City Charter), chose 60 of the most qualified applicants from a pool of approximately 540 Austinites who had submitted applications to serve on the ICRC. Of the final 60 candidates, eight were chosen by lottery to be ICRC members, and the remaining six candidates were selected by the first eight Commissioners in coordination with ethnic and demographic balance representative of the City’s demographics. The first meeting of the full complement of 14 was held on July 10, 2013, with one Commissioner teleconferencing from New York.
As of this writing, the ICRC is struggling with its footing. Although progressing with legal nuances in formalizing the ICRC staff and consultant hirings, the Commission is holding true to its collective oath. The oath, administered by City Clerk Jannette Goodall, requires each member to “faithfully execute the duties…preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States and of this State….” These Commissioners are diligent. One important point of execution is in complying with the Texas Open Meetings Act in that none of the Commissioners can communicate outside of the publicly held meetings with regards to “redistricting” matters. This made for a slower, deliberative process in the beginning. Thus far, questions have arisen regarding an increase in funding. At this time, the initial budget of $147,000 is expected to be insufficient for hiring the staff, consultants, and the needs of technological mappings. A process has been initiated for the Commission to request additional funding from the City.
Beginning August 14, the Commission is holding meetings of mapping specifics in various communities in Austin. In total, 14 meetings regarding mapping are required. Citizens will have multiple opportunities to ask questions and to give feedback regarding the newly proposed single-member district boundaries.
Final versions of the maps should be completed by November 30, 2013. As a result of a recent decision by the United States Supreme Court, neither the ICRC nor the State of Texas require pre-approval by the United States Department of Justice in accordance with the Voting Rights Act.
Where do we go from here? All meetings are open to the public, on Wednesdays at 6:30 p.m. at City Council chambers or a nearby meeting room at City Hall. For more information, visit the City of Austin’s ICRC website: http://austintexas.gov/content/independent-citizens-redistricting-commission
“Seaufy” Peg Frey, Past President ‘03-’04
Wooten Neighborhood Association
July 19, 2013