AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin City Council voted Thursday to adopt language handed down from the Texas Supreme Court on a ballot item for a proposed police staffing ordinance set to appear before voters in November.
The group Save Austin Now PAC brought forward the proposed ordinance, which demands adequate staffing, funding and training in the Austin Police Department. It does not provide guidance for funding the demanded changes, which the city predicts would cost hundreds of millions of dollars.
The group gathered more than 25,000 signatures for the city to adopt the ordinance, and the petition was certified by the city clerk in August. In mid-August, Austin City Council chose to put the proposal before voters for them to decide, instead of adopting the resolution themselves, their only lawful option.
Since, Save Austin Now filed a lawsuit with both the 3rd Court of Appeals and the Texas Supreme Court later on in August, saying the city changed the ballot language of the proposed ordinance in a way that was “deceitful” and would mislead voters.
City Council chose to list the price of the ordinance in the ballot item at the top, saying if approved by voters, it could cost up to an estimated amount of $598.8 million over five years. Save Austin Now says this cost is exaggerated and could deter voters from approving it.
The Texas Supreme Court ruled while the cost is an acceptable addition to the ballot item, Austin City Council should replace its ballot language with the petition language made by Save Austin Now. The cost should only be listed after the petition language.
Accordingly, we conclude that the ballot language must consist of the petitioned ordinance’s caption followed by ‘at an estimated cost of $271.5 million – $598.8 million over five years.'”Texas Supreme Court
Save Austin Now calls this a “big win” for Austin voters.
“City leaders have been playing political games with ballot language for many years, ignoring the City Charter and undermining the rights of petition signers who only wish to petition their government,” Save Austin Now PAC co-founders Matt Mackowiak and Cleo Petricek said in a press release. “Mayor Steve Adler and Council Member Greg Casar rewrote our ordinance in poll-tested language intended to intentionally and negatively bias voters against our true aims.”
Austin Mayor Steve Adler also issued a statement Wednesday, saying it was a win for the city in that it still got to include the cost. He went on to say the court struck additions made by Austin City Council to the ballot language not because they were inaccurate, but because not all details needed to be listed.
“I am glad the court upheld the fiscal note portion of this proposition,” Councilmember Vanessa Fuentes said during Thursdays vote.
The proposed ordinance would require the city to employ a minimum of two sworn police officers for every 1,000 residents and enroll at least three full-term cadet classes until APD’s staffing levels return to normal.
In August, Save Austin Now said its petition also called for diversifying the police force to be reflective of the demographics of Austin, with emphasis on bilingual and multi-lingual officers.