Battle over changing Austin’s gov’t heats up

Austin City Hall

A political group turns in 24,000 petition signatures to the City of Austin Clerk in a bid to see Austin have a Strong Mayor form of government.

The group Austinites for Progressive Reform is pushing four local governmental changes and a new group called Austin for All People was recently formed specifically to oppose the Strong Mayor proposal, saying it consolidates power and grants the mayor veto powers.

Jim Wick with Austinites for Progressive Reform says each of their propositions, which he hopes will make it to the May Ballot, are to help promote democracy. Pointing to the city’s current City Manager system he argues, the city manager is not held accountable to the people, under the Strong Mayor plan the mayor would head the day to day operations, not a City manager and would be held accountable by the voters every four years. He compares it to the system in place at both the state and federal levels; ie: Governor and President.

However his opposite Cathrine Morse with Austin for All People counters by saying the 10-1 and city manger system has helped the city not hinder it and that the City manager is held accountable by said City Council and can be fired any day. Another problem folks have with the Strong Mayor plan is they believe it consolidates too much power in one seat.

Wick says under the Strong Mayor plan the Mayor’s station would be separated from city council, turning it into the city’s executive branch, while the council would add an 11th district and representative and act as the legislature. Wick says this would also grant the mayor’s office an executive veto. That is another thing opponents have a problem with.

Members of Austin for All People and Austin area labor unions oppose the plan because of the veto powers. They say under the current system, the mayor is but one vote on council and can be outweighed in the end, but under the strong mayor a majority vote on council could still be overwritten by the mayor.

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