AUSTIN (KXAN) — At a special meeting Tuesday, Austin City Council members could approve an ordinance that would put a proposal on a ballot as early as May that could change the way the City of Austin operates.
Austinites for Progressive Reform is spearheading the change. They’re proposing eliminating the council-manager form of government and putting the mayor in charge, and the group has gathered enough signatures to put it before the council.
The change would give the mayor the power to veto items and change policy. At present, the city has a 10-1 council-manager government where the mayor is able to vote with the rest of the council members on items and hold equal power.
Mayor Pro Tem Natasha Harper-Madison believes this is important to maintain because it helps provide community representation. However, she said there are pros and cons.
“A pro could be sort of eliminating some of the time between initiating policy that will help out the community and our constituents and the actual execution,” Harper-Madison explained. “This is the con, I also see how having the opportunity for there to be so many levels of intervention without the threat of the big ‘V’ veto is important too.”
That con is what makes Harper-Madison uncomfortable for the future.
“You never know who is going to be in that spot,” she said as she looked at how the proposal would have a long-term effect on the city. “While I appreciate and respect and I think our current mayor is confident and capable and has the best interest of Austinites at heart, who knows who’s going to land in that spot. And if nothing else our politics over the last decade and a half have shown us just how quickly things can swing, ebb and flow and we really want to be very considerate to not put ourselves in a position where there aren’t more safeguards in place.”Natasha Harper-Madison
While she is not convinced, she’s not opposed to having more discussions.
South Austin’s District 5 Council Member Ann Kitchen said the idea is undemocratic.
“It undermines what we did with giving people more representation when we put the single-member districts in, so if you take that power away from your councilmembers and concentrate it in one person, in a mayor, then you’re reducing representation,” Kitchen said.
Other parts of this proposal include changing the date of the mayoral election to presidential election years, a ranking-choice voting system, creating an additional single-member council district and changing the voluntary public campaign finance program.
In a statement, City Manager Spencer Cronk said in part: “Ultimately, this is a decision for the voters.”
Tuesday morning, labor and grassroots groups are at City Hall to rally against the proposal. KXAN photojournalist Julie Karam is at the rally and provided these photos: