Would Austin’s ‘strong mayor’ proposition improve police accountability?

Austin

AUSTIN (KXAN) — On May 1, Austin voters will decide whether to approve eight propositions — one of which would overhaul the structure of power in the city.

Proposition F would change the city’s government from ‘council-manager’ to ‘strong mayor-council,’ eliminating the position of the city manager. The elected mayor would then be considered the chief executive of the city and possess veto power over the city council, as well as the authority to hire and fire most department heads.

Austinites for Progressive Reform, which is leading support for Prop F, believes a strong mayor can more efficiently and swiftly respond to the needs of the community while being held accountable by voters.

“We need a strong leader who can be firm in a time of crisis,” said Nelson Linder, co-chair of APR. “In a political system, you need a leader. You need an executive branch. You need a legislative branch. Those things are important. You need checks and balances. We don’t have that in Austin.”

After the Austin Police Department’s response to police brutality protests last year, the city council passed a vote of ‘no confidence’ against Chief Brian Manley. But neither the council nor Mayor Steve Adler had the authority to make a change.

City Manager Spencer Cronk resisted calls to demote Manley. Under state law, a police chief promoted from within the department cannot be fired outright.

Manley will retire at the end of March, and his successor will be nominated by the city manager, then considered for confirmation by the city council — a process that can take months. Under a strong mayor structure, the police chief would be hired without say from the council.

Chas Moore, executive director of the Austin Justice Coalition, said a lengthy process for choosing a police chief is important to obtaining community support. He is not supporting the strong mayor proposition, because he believes the community wasn’t able to vet the proposal.

“If it doesn’t pass I think it may open up an opportunity for those folks to come back and get a better sense of what the community actually wants if they want a strong mayor system,” Moore said.

Critics of the strong mayor proposition fear it would consolidate too much power with one elected official. The mayor would have veto power over city council decisions, though the council can override a veto with a 2/3 vote.

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