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After calling an election on May 1, where Austin voters will consider at least eight propositions, City Council may meet on Friday to discuss the possibility of a ninth: a proposed charter amendment that would, if approved by voters, create an additional council district, if necessary, to maintain an odd number of voting members.
The meeting stems from Council's decision on Tuesday to approve a series of propositions related to a citizen-led petition meant to increase voter turnout.
Local political action committee Austinites for Progressive Reform submitted a petition last month, which was later verified by the city clerk, that proposes a series of amendments to the city charter. Among the amendments is one that would shift the city government from a strong-manager form to a strong-mayor form.
If voters approve this change, the city manager position would be eliminated and replaced by the mayor, who would not be able to vote on items brought to council but could veto legislation approved by its members. Because this amendment would entail the mayor no longer serving as a council member, APR proposed creating an 11th council district to prevent tie votes.
Co-founder Jim Wick told Austonia last month that the creation of an additional council district would also serve the city's growing population, which is expected to double by 2040. "Adding an 11th district would keep the districts smaller, which means your district representative is directly accountable to a smaller group of people, which is good in our opinion," he said.
However, council members decided—in a 6-5 vote—to include these changes as separate propositions, which means that voters could approve one and not the other. If the strong-mayor proposition is approved but the 11th council district is rejected, council would have 10 voting members. If the inverse occurs, it would have 12.
Although many council members expressed support for the idea of increasing the number of council districts, they also raised concerns about whether these overlapping propositions will be confusing to voters.
"I think that the challenge of this being a second item creates too many possible futures for the voter," Council Member Greg Casar said Tuesday. He—along with Mayor Steve Adler, Mayor Pro Tem Natasha Harper Madison and Council Members Alison Alter and Paige Ellis—were in the minority.
To prevent either of these outcomes, Council Member Vanessa Fuentes proposed a special meeting on Friday to consider a new ballot proposal that would "avoid the unintended consequence of gridlock on policy issues moving forward," as she explained in a post to the council message board.
The meeting is currently scheduled for 9:45 p.m. on Friday, which runs nearly right up against the 11:59 p.m. deadline for council to set the May 1 ballot. If there is a quorum—or six members—present, council will decide whether to include a proposition that would allow for the creation of another council district to avoid an even number of voting members.
If they vote to do so, Austin voters will find nine propositions on their local ballot this May, including ones that propose to overturn the city's camping ban and move the office of police oversight under council control.
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Matthew McConaughey is reportedly weighing a run for Texas governor in 2022.
The Austin resident and Oscar winner has been "quietly making calls to influential people in Texas political circles, including a deep-pocketed moderate Republican and energy CEO" as he decides whether to run, according to Politico.
McConaughey said a gubernatorial run is "a true consideration" while on a March episode of Houston's "The Balanced Voice" podcast.
Although most political strategists doubt McConaughey's commitment and viability as a candidate, some are still intrigued by the possibility.
"I find it improbable, but it's not out of the question," Karl Rove, a top Republican strategist with a long history in Austin, told the political news site. He added that the big question is whether McConaughey would run as a Republican, a Democrat or an independent.
Brendan Steinhauser, an Austin-based GOP strategist, told Politico he's surprised McConaughey isn't being taken more seriously. "Celebrity in this country counts for a lot," he said. "It's not like some C-list actor no one likes. He has an appeal."
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott plans to run for a third term and remains popular among Republican voters, 77% of whom approve of his performance as of April, according to the Texas Politics Project.
Some strategists believe an independent McConaughey run would benefit Abbott. But a recent poll from The Dallas Morning News and the University of Texas at Tyler found that McConaughey would beat Abbott, 45% to 33%, with 22% opting for someone else.
Mimi Swartz, an executive editor at Texas Monthly, mulled a McConaughey run in a recent opinion essay from the New York Times. "Texas may not be ready for a philosopher king as a candidate, much less governor," she wrote. "May the best man win, man."
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Some JuiceLand production facility workers and storefront employees are organizing to demand wage increases, better working conditions (including air conditioning in the warehouse) and pay transparency, among other asks. They are also calling on staff to strike and customers to boycott the Austin-based company until their demands are met.
JuiceLand responded on Saturday. "We are listening," the company wrote on their Instagram story. "JuiceLand crew now makes guaranteed $15 an hour or more companywide."
JuiceLand, which was founded in 2001 by Matt Shook and now has 35 locations in Austin, Houston and Dallas, acknowledged the rising cost of living across Texas and the added stress of the pandemic in an email to employees on Saturday, part of which @juicelandworkersrights shared on social media. "There's no denying that times are tough and financial security means more now than ever," the company wrote.
Organized JuiceLand workers rejected this proposal, according to a recent post on the @juicelandworkersrights Instagram account, and reiterated their demands.
"Cost of living in Austin is rising exponentially and will only continue to get worse with the tech boom," the post read. "$15 is barely a sustainable living."