AUSTIN (KXAN) - Change could be coming to how many--and which--representatives Austinites vote for to make up City Council.
"For a lot of folks, it's been a long history of, 'We don't feel like Austin representatives hear our voices, that we're not being represented,'" said James Nortey, with Austin Community for Change.
Ask any advocate of reforming the way Austin is governed, and they'll tell you the city has a lot of work to do.
"The current political system, in my opinion, has not addressed all needs in the city," said Nelson Linder, with Austinites for Geographic Representation. "It simply hasn't for the last 40 years."
"Austin is the only major city in Texas and in the United States that doesn't have geographic representation in some form," said Peck Young, with AGR, "(Austin's) the only city in the United States--and that's a little too weird for me."
On the November ballot, voters will have a couple of new options for how elected officials are chosen.
The two plans steer away from the city's current method, which is seven Council members and one mayor, all elected at large.
But finding a fix, well, it's complicated.
Known as "Proposition 3" and "Proposition 4," the two plans to change City Council representation both include single member districts.
Here's the difference:
The "10-1 Plan"
- This plan includes 10 geographic districts, each electing one member to council.
- The mayor is elected at large.
The "8-2-1 Plan"
- This plan includes eight geographic districts, each electing one member to council.
- Two members are elected at large.
- The mayor is elected at large.
Supporters of the 10-1 Plan, like Young, say it's the fairest, most equally spread-out method for electing city leaders.
"We put together a petition of 33,000 signatures," Young said, "So it's on the ballot because of a citizens' initiative."
And they argue the 8-2-1 Plan, keeping two at-large Council members, is a political insider approach that only makes the strong stronger and the weak weaker.
"It creates the same problem we've had in the past: unequal districts with lots of money, where other folks in the small districts can't compete equally because they don't have the kind of resources," said Linder.
But 8-2-1 supporters, like Richard Jung with ACC, defend their hybrid model, saying voters get the best of both worlds.
"It allows for the change that Austin needs to be more representative of geographic districts--areas of Austin that haven't been well represented in the past, but it retains the elements of what has made Austin successful and one of the top cities in the U.S. so far," Jung said.
And 8-2-1 proponents argue the solely single member district 10-1 Plan could keep minority groups from getting their voices heard.
"There are smaller, dispersed minority communities in Austin, including the African-American community, the Asian-American community, gay-lesbian, and others, that need to be able to go to someone besides the people that represent a geographic district," Jung said, "They can pool their resources together and lobby an at-large member and go to them for help on issues that they need help with."
The debate is live and active. Proposition 3 and Proposition 4 activists are getting their message out--doing everything from passing out flyers around the city to participating in a debate on The University of Texas campus.
Ultimately, voters will chose in November.
Voters will also have the option to keep representation in City Council as is. Again, that's seven at large members, with no geographic representation, and the mayor.
Under a so-called "gentleman's agreement" made decades ago, one Council seat is reserved for an African-American and one for a Latino.
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