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Prop F proponents vs. opponents: How should Austin vote on strong mayor?

(City of Austin Government/Facebook)

Austin voters will decide starting Monday whether to change the city of Austin's government from a strong-manager system to a strong-mayor one. The controversial proposal stems from a citizen-led petition organized by the political action committee Austinites for Progressive Reform, whose members argue that a strong-mayor system, sometimes called a mayor-council system, would empower voters, correct the Jim Crow-era origins of the current system and better position the city to address intractable issues such as homelessness.

But a diverse, and unlikely, coalition of opponents has formed to defend the current strong-manager, or council-manager, system. Labor leaders, environmental groups, business interests, criminal justice reform activists and most council members have denounced Proposition F, which they fear will create a power imbalance between the mayor and council and erode the gains of the 10-1 system.

Austonia sought out clear and brief editorials from either side of the debate. Arguing in favor of Prop F is Laura Hernandez Holmes, an APR co-chair and political consultant who previously served as the Texas finance director for Beto O'Rourke's presidential campaign and deputy campaign manager for Mayor Steve Adler in 2014 and 2018. Mason Ayer and Nico Ramsey are arguing against it. Ayer is CEO of Kerbey Lane Cafe and co-chair of Austin for All People, a local organization that formed in opposition to Prop F. Ramsey is the volunteer director of community engagement for A4AP, a corporate social responsibility professional and a civil rights activist.

Editor's note: These submissions are the unedited views of their authors. Claims made have not been fact-checked to give the proponent and opponent a chance to speak their minds freely.

Pro: For accountability in City Hall, vote for Prop F

Prop F is about letting voters, not politicians, choose the person who leads our city government. Austin is one of the few large cities in the country where an unelected city manager runs the city, including drafting the budget, overseeing the police, and managing transportation, planning and other city services. Instead, Prop F would put voters in charge, with a structure that is familiar to all Americans. We would have two co-equal branches: a legislative branch (the council) and an executive (the mayor). The branches would be independent, with checks and balances, so no branch would be superior to the other. The key difference? Both branches would be democratically accountable.

We have big challenges in our city, including an escalating affordability crisis, issues with water quality and faltering crisis responses—from the vaccine rollout to police oversight to homelessness. Many of these issues are the executive's responsibility, but we do not have a say in choosing that person. Each of us has a say in choosing only two of the eleven people who do.

Opponents of Prop F have fixated on one of the checks and balances: the veto. They argue that it would put too much power in the mayor's hands. But the veto can be overridden by a simple two-thirds vote of the council, and the council takes two-thirds votes every week. The council would still have the final say over all legislation and the budget, and we would be gaining accountability over the person who executes those laws and leads the city.

Every other argument against Prop F boils down to: "Austin voters cannot be trusted to choose the right person." We do not agree. Austin voters have the capability—and should have the right—to choose the person who runs our city government.

Con: Why Prop F deserves a failing grade

On May 1, Austin voters will have an important decision to make regarding the future of our city. Proposition F would shift the city from our current council-manager form of government that has helped make Austin a top place in the country to live, to one that would utilize a mayor-council–or strong mayor–form of government.

The current council-manager form of government divests power and provides checks and balances that safeguard all people of Austin. If Prop F is successful, we would witness a consolidation of power unlike anything Austin has seen before into one office. This proposal would take power from both the city manager's office, which would be eliminated, and from the council, and transfer it to one person–the strong mayor. This includes veto power and the ability to dole out political favors to supporters for critical city jobs.

When labor unions and other groups voiced opposition to Prop F, labels like "special interests" were thrown around. Labor unions are not special interest groups, and they are part of a coalition opposed to Prop F including environmentalists and business people–and everyone in between–concerned about the future of our city.

There has also been a charge levied that the current system of government is inherently racist because it came about during the Jim Crow era. Those making these arguments are exhibiting a narrow understanding of racism in America that fails to identify the real challenges and struggles that so many in our society face every day–especially people of color. We cannot be dependent upon the assumptions that come with these proposed changes to our city's charter to create a more just and equitable society. We must come together as a community, city, country and people to achieve true equality.

Austin For All People believes Prop F should be given the failing grade it deserves.


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