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Austin City Clerk validates petition in favor of city charter changes, including a shift to a strong-mayor system
Austin City Clerk Jannette Goodall verified a petition to make four amendments to the city charter, including a shift to a strong-mayor form of government, moving it one step closer to the May 1 ballot.
The local political action committee Austinites for Progressive Reform submitted more than 24,000 signatures in support of the petition on Jan. 11 and learned it had been certified on Tuesday.
Next up, the Austin City Council must vote to call an election and determine the ballot language for the proposed amendments. "State law allows the Council to choose the date of the election," a city spokesperson wrote in an email to Austonia. "Council may either order the election to be held (in May 2021 or in November 2022."
The amendments proposed by APR are intended to increase voter turnout and would:
- Move mayoral elections to presidential election years
- Institute ranked-choice voting when allowed under state law to eliminate runoff elections
- Implement a public campaign funding program that would give voters $25 vouchers to support the local candidates of their choice
- Shift the strong-manager form of city government to a strong-mayor one
"At their core, these four amendments are about ensuring all of us can vote and have a say in choosing our leaders," APR Leadership Committee Co-Chair and former Dell executive Tom Meredith said in a statement.
A strong-mayor city?
The amendment to make Austin a strong-mayor city has drawn the most pushback.
Currently, Austin operates like a business, according to Terrell Blodgett, a professor emeritus at the LBJ School of Public Affairs. An elected board of directors (City Council) is led by a chairperson (the mayor), who work together to set policies. The city manager, whom they appoint, functions like a CEO, directly the implementation of those policies and managing city staff.
Under the proposed amendment, Austin would shift from a strong-manager system to a strong-mayor one; 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.
"We just possess a fundamental belief that Austinites should be able to vote for the person who runs the city," APR co-founder Jim Wick told Austonia earlier this month, pointing to a 2009 study from Austin Community College's Center for Public Policy and Political Studies that found lower voter turnout in strong-manager cities.
The PAC also pointed to the origins of Austin's strong-manager form of government: a 1924 charter revision campaign led by Monroe Shipe, the developer of Hyde Park, which was advertised as a white-only neighborhood.
"Austin must come to terms with how its current form of government came about during the Jim Crow era," Austin NAACP President and APR co-chair Nelson Linder said in a statement.
Not everyone supports this proposal, however.
Fifteen community members—including labor union representatives, criminal justice reform advocates and one former steering committee member—wrote a letter to APR Chair Andrew Allison on Dec. 15 opposing the strong mayor amendment, which they argue will undercut the gains achieved under the 10-1 system, enacted in 2014.
"If passed, your amendment would reward these efforts and hard-earned results by hollowing out the Council's power and transferring it to a single, unknown person in 2022," they wrote.
More recently, the citizens group Austin For All People announced its formation in opposition to the strong mayor amendment earlier this month. Its leadership includes Kerbey Lane CEO Mason Ayer, retired Seton Healthcare FAmily CEO Jesus Garza and Enoch Kever member Catherine Morse.
AFAP argues that a strong mayor system would transfer power "to the politically connected members of society" and criticized APR for rushing to change the city government "in the middle of a pandemic."
The other amendments
The first three amendments are progressive agenda items intended to drive voter turnout and reform campaign finance.
Mid-term and runoff election turnout is typically much lower—and their electorates tend to skew older and more conservative—than in general elections during presidential years.
Ranked choice voting, which is favored by progressives because it would eliminate runoffs altogether, is prohibited under state law. A city charter amendment, even if passed, would not be implemented unless state lawmakers enact the same change.
A "Democracy Dollars" program would use city funds to issue vouches to voters to donate to the City Council and mayoral candidates of their choice, who could then redeem them for cash.
In addition to this petition, the city clerk also validated a second petition that, if approved by voters, would amend the city charter to add a binding arbitration clause regarding the city's contract with the local firefighters union, similar to the one that exists for police contracts. A third petition to reinstate the city's public camping ban is still under review.
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Police have arrested one of two suspects involved in a mass shooting at Austin's Sixth Street in the early morning hours on Saturday, leaving 14 people injured and two in critical condition.
The arrest was made by the Austin Police Department and the Lone Star Fugitive Task Force. One suspect is still at large.
Police started receiving 911 phone calls at 1:24 a.m about a man that fired shots into a large crowd, and responded to a chaotic scene on the 400 block of East Sixth Street. Detectives are surveying video footage captured by bystanders and cameras on the scene to identify the suspect.
The Austin Police Department has narrowed down their search to two male suspects and believes there was "some type of disturbance" between the two parties.
No deaths have been reported. Fourteen victims are receiving treatment in a hospital in stable condition with one treated in an emergency room; two are in critical condition.
According to Interim Police Chief Joseph Chacon, "almost all" of the victims are innocent bystanders but police have not ruled anyone out at this time.
Shooting on 6th Street Austin Texas 6-12-2021 (Aftermath) youtu.be
The shooting occurred on the weekend of the Republic of Texas Motorcycle Rally. With lots of people downtown, police say it was difficult to get EMS in and out of the scene. Police arrived while the scene was still an "active threat," officers "immediately began lifesaving measures" and drove six victims to the hospital in their squad cars, said Chacon, and four were transported in ambulances.
Chacon said that the incident is believed to be isolated, and they optimistic they will be successful in getting the two suspects into custody. Multiple departments, including APD, the FBI, Texas DPS and the ATF, are involved in the investigation.
Austin police are also requesting state troopers for patrol assistance in the coming days. Chacon stressed staffing issues are increasingly making responding to emergency calls "very hard."
"Overall, we remain a safe city," Chacon said. "Also keep in mind when you come downtown, you need to be safety conscious. Be vigilant of your environment and your surroundings."
Today marks the five-year anniversary of the Pulse nightclub shooting in which 49 were killed and 53 wounded in Orlando, Florida. Anyone with information on the shooting is asked to call 911 or 512-472-TIPS.
This story was updated at 2:47 p.m. to include new information and will be updated as more details are revealed.
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Austin police are investigating a homicide in North Austin where a woman was shot and killed, just hours after a mass shooting in Downtown Austin hospitalized 14 people.
APD is working a suspicious death near the 1900 block of W Rundberg Ln. PIO is en route and will update with media staging location. PIO6
— Austin Police Department (@Austin_Police) June 12, 2021
Police originally responded to Ironhorse Flats Apartments, 1900 block of W. Rundberg Lane, at 3:20 p.m. when they found the woman with multiple gunshot wounds. She was transported to a local hospital, where she was pronounced dead at 4:07 p.m.
No one is in custody as of yet but police are speaking with potential witnesses. Officials said they believe this was an isolated incident with no danger to the public but said possible relation to the downtown shooting has not been specifically ruled out.
Officers could not provide a suspect description and the relationship to the victim is still unknown.
This is a developing story that will be updated as details become available.
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