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Austin City Council could grow to 13 districts
(Charlie L. Harper III)

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.

Tricky math

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.

A workaround

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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