AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin voters have a decision ahead of them: whether to approve Proposition F — a ballot measure that would replace the city manager with an elected “strong mayor” as the city’s chief executive. A panel of supporters, opponents and experts explored what the decision means for the city in a conversation during a KXAN Live event Monday.
KXAN Live anchor Will DuPree and KXAN politics reporter John Engel hosted the discussion featuring Nelson Linder and Andrew Allison from Austinites for Progressive Reform — the group behind the strong-mayor proposal — and Jesus Garza and Nico Ramsey with Austin for All People, which opposes the change. Jen Rice of Houston Public Media and former city council member Daryl Slusher provided analysis.
Proposition F would give the mayor veto power over all city council decisions and the responsibility to appoint most department leaders. Nearly every current member of the Austin City Council has come out in opposition to the proposal. Supporters of the strong-mayor proposal believe the structure provides greater accountability than the city manager-council structure.
“As cities grow, and as things change or don’t change, you need to make a more effective system. The question for me is, can Austin be a better, more inclusive city? The answer is yes,” Linder said, adding the fear that having a strong mayor “running errant does not square with reality if you know Austin, Texas.”
“The council-management system has worked for the City of Austin,” Garza countered. “The fact of the matter is, the mayor and council set policy. The mayor and council approve the budgets.”
He added a strong mayor system “puts an awful lot of power in one individual.”
The City of Houston has a mayor-council, or strong mayor, structure of government, like is being considered in Austin.
But Rice, the Houston Public Media reporter, pointed out the Houston mayor has control over the city council agenda — a power not granted in the strong mayor proposal before Austin voters. A ballot initiative in Houston is attempting to pull back some of that power.
“It sounds like what’s going on in Austin is people trying to find more of a middle path, frankly, because it doesn’t have that much control that goes to the mayor,” Rice said. “I’m really interested, and I think it’s a really nuanced conversation, and I’m really interested to see what Austin voters are going to do.”