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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When Gov. Greg Abbott announced that he would rescind business capacity limits and a statewide masking mandate on Texas Independence Day, he framed it as a step forward. "With this executive order, we are ensuring that all businesses and families in Texas have the freedom to determine their own destiny," he said during a press conference at a Mexican restaurant in Lubbock.
But some local restaurants and bars, which have been caught in the regulatory crosshairs since Texas' first positive COVID test 364 days ago, have chosen to ignore Abbott's overture. Instead, they will continue to maintain pandemic precautions once the executive order takes effect next week, citing a desire to keep their staff and patrons safe.
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(AUSTIN, TEXAS) Austonia has hired Claire Partain as a reporter covering Austin FC, the MLS expansion team that will be Austin's first major league sports franchise.
Partain is a former sports editor for the The University Star, Texas State University's daily newspaper. She edited, covered sports, produced podcasts, and hosted a pre-game TXST football tailgate live series. Partain has been freelancing with the company since January, prior to accepting a staff position.
A native of Fairfield, Texas, Partain grew up playing youth soccer. In her high school years, she played alongside her mother in what was then called the Freestone County Hispanic Women's Soccer League.
Claire's coverage philosophy: "I like to bring out the humanity of sports, and I want to make this the most accessible sports coverage possible."
She notes that soccer is the predominant sport for young people. "It's a global sport, and we're more connected to the world than older generations."
That approach fits the team's already visible presence in Austin, says Austonia CEO Mark Dewey. "Austin FC has established itself as a leading Austin brand, one that stands for a more unified Austin community, a bigger global presence for Austin and fun. Austonia shares those values."
Partain's soccer coverage begins immediately, with her free, hosted text service—Austonia FC. For updates, special access and inside info, all moderated by Claire, sign up below.
Austonia is the city's independent, free, locally-owned and all-digital source for Austin news, information and entertainment.
Connect with Austonia through its daily email newsletter and text updates, @austonianews Instagram feed, @austonianews and @austinist Twitter feeds, @austonianews Facebook page and its website austonia.com.
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Austin Public Health will release another batch of first dose COVID-19 vaccine appointments for Thursday on Wednesday evening. A department spokesperson estimates between 3,000 and 4,000 slots will be available.
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