Monday, January 24, 2011

Mayor Calls for single-member districts for Austin City Council

Mayor Leffingwell gets it right. He is calling for a review of single-member based districts. More specifically, he wants a 9 member city council, with 6 single-member districts and 3 at-large.

I have felt for sometime that Austin is ill-served by the at-large city council. Who represents the needs of a specific neighborhood? Some members, like Mike Martinez, have been banging that drum for some time, and he's quoted as saying "Our city has outgrown its governing system."

Exactly so. We are now one of the largest cities in the nation, in the top 20. City council elections are expensive and unwieldy, and they end up getting elected by a tiny slice of the city electorate due to the small turnout. I would prefer 7 single-member districts and two at-large, but the Mayor's 6-3 district / at-large split is just a proposal.

Now, I am not a big fan of some of Mayor Leffingwell's moves, and he's a bete noir to our northwest neighborhood for giving us the shaft, literally and figuratively. The story there is this: The AWU plans a water transmission line from the water treatment plant near Lake Travis to a water tower on NcNeil and 183. Their plans have included an intrusive shaft that would impact the neighborhoods near Canyon Vista Middle school. The parks and recreation board didn't go along with the AWU request for the (ab)use of city parkland required for putting a shaft in our neighborhood, back in October, and decided to wait on further reports on environmental and safety impact. Impatiently, the city manager and council bypassed the process and rammed the approval through the city council on a 4-3 vote. Now, Save-our-Springs coalition is readying a lawsuit over this possible violation of Chapter 26 process.

One takeaway from this and other city council interactions is that for any given neighborhood, anyone and NO-ONE on city council really goes to bat for you.

Austin has indeed outgrown the at-large city council system; it's time for single-member districts.

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