City of Austin Charter Amendments
Information from the League of Women Voters Austin Area Voters Guide
What is a charter? A municipal charter is a legal document that establishes a town and defines its powers. Think of it like the constitution of a city.
Shall the City Charter be amended to give the Austin Firefighters Association, Local 975 of the International Association of Fire Fighters, the authority to require the City to participate in binding arbitration of all issues in dispute with the Association if the City and the Association reach impasse in collective bargaining negotiations?
Currently, when the Austin Firefighters Association and the City of Austin reach a stalemate when negotiating contracts, they have the option to participate in binding arbitration. However, if one party wants to participate in binding arbitration but the other party does not, then the binding arbitration process does not happen. Binding arbitration is a tool to resolve a dispute where a neutral third party hears the evidence from both sides and makes a decision. The decision made by the neutral third party is final and can then be enforced by a court.
In 2020, the Austin Firefighters Association collected more than the required 20,000 signatures to put a proposition on the ballot that would require binding arbitration. Proposition A, if passed, will require both the City of Austin and the Austin Firefighters Association to enter into binding arbitration when there is a deadlock in contract negotiations.
Shall an ordinance be adopted that would create a criminal offense and a penalty for sitting or lying down on a public sidewalk or sleeping outdoors in and near the Downtown area and the area around the University of Texas campus; create a criminal offense and penalty for solicitation, defined as requesting money or another thing of value, at specific hours and locations or for solicitation in a public area that is deemed aggressive in manner; create a criminal offense and penalty for camping in any public area not designated by the Parks and Recreation Department?
Before 2019, Austin had a city ordinance that made it illegal to sit and lie in certain areas and to camp in most parts of the city. In 2019, the Austin City Council changed this ordinance to make sitting, lying, camping, and peaceful panhandling legal in many parts of the city.
A local non-profit and political action committee called Save Austin Now collected more than the required 20,000 signatures to put a proposition on the ballot to reinstate parts of the camping and panhandling ban.
Proposition B, if passed, would reinstate the camping ban and make it illegal to sit or lie down in many public spaces. It would also make panhandling illegal in many areas.
Shall the City Charter be amended to allow for a Director of Police Oversight to be appointed or removed in a manner established by City Council ordinance, with duties that include the responsibility to ensure transparency and accountability as it relates to policing?
Currently, the Office of Police Oversight is an administrative department that reports to the City Manager. The mission of the Office is to provide impartial oversight of the Austin Police Department’s conduct, practices, and policies. The director of the department is appointed by the City Manager.
Proposition C, if passed, would allow the City Council to change how the Director of Police Oversight is appointed or removed. This proposition doesn’t make a specific path for the appointment of the Director, but instead gives flexibility in the City Charter for the City Council to offer different ways of managing the Office.
Background for Propositions D–H
A local political action committee called Austinites for Progressive Reform collected more than the required 20,000 signatures to put 4 propositions on the ballot concerning city governance and voting. In a February meeting, the City Council opted to split one of the propositions into 2 separate propositions (Propositions F and G) for the May election.
Shall the City Charter be amended to transition the election for mayor from gubernatorial election years to presidential election years, providing that the mayor elected in 2022 will serve a 2-year term and then mayoral elections will occur on the same date as presidential elections starting in 2024?
Currently, the mayor is elected every 4 years in the same election as the governor. Proposition D, if passed, would move the election of mayor to the same election year as the president. Proposition D would also mean that the mayor elected in 2022 would only serve for 2 years. Then, the election of the mayor would switch to the presidential election year beginning in 2024.
Shall the City Charter be amended to provide for the use of ranked choice voting in city elections, if such voting is permitted by state law?
Currently, the city mayor or a city council member wins an election if they win more than 50% of the vote. If no candidate wins more than 50% of the votes, a runoff election is held between the two candidates with the most votes.
Proposition E, if passed, would allow ranked choice voting in city elections if it is permitted by state law. Ranked choice is another system of voting that allows voters to rank candidates from the voter’s most favorite to least favorite. (Voters also can just vote for one candidate if they like.) The candidate who receives more than 50% of the top choice votes wins the election, but if no candidate breaks 50%, an instant runoff takes place using the ranked choices of voters.
The instant runoff removes the candidate who placed last among the top choice votes. Voters who chose the last place candidate have their second-choice candidate vote counted instead. Those second-choice votes are added to the other candidates’ votes. Following this procedure, the candidate who receives more than 50% of the top choice votes wins the election. If no candidate breaks 50% again, a third round of counting takes place.
The third round removes the candidate who placed last in the instant runoff. Voters who voted for this candidate now have their second-choice vote counted instead. (If a voter’s second-choice candidate has already been removed from voting, their third-choice candidate receives their vote.) This procedure continues until a candidate breaks 50%.
Shall the City Charter be amended to change the form of city government from ‘council-manager’ to ‘strong mayor-council,’ which will eliminate the position of professional city manager and designate an elected mayor as the chief administrative and executive officer of the city with veto power over all legislation which includes the budget; and with sole authority to hire and fire most department heads and direct staff; and with no articulated or stated charter authority to require the mayor to implement Council decisions.
Currently, Austin’s form of government is called ‘council-manager.’ In this form of city government, the city council is the legislative body for the city; they pass legislation and approve the budget. The city council appoints a city manager to oversee the day-to-day operations of the city, draft the budget, and appoint department heads. In this type of government, the mayor represents the city and is an equal member of the city council. The mayor’s vote does not count more than other council members’ votes.
Proposition F, if passed, would change Austin’s type of city government from the council-manager to a strong mayor-council system. In a strong mayor-council system, the mayor, not the city manager, oversees the day-to-day operations of the city, drafts the budget, and appoints department heads. Also, the mayor is not a member of the city council and can veto legislation the city council passes.
Shall the City Charter be amended to provide for an additional geographic council district which will result in 11 council members elected from single member districts?
The city of Austin has 10 council member districts divided into geographic areas of Austin. Each district has one representative that serves on the city council along with the mayor. Proposition G, if passed, would add an 11th district. The district would be drawn by the City of Austin Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission with census data.
Shall the City Charter be amended to adopt a public campaign finance program, which requires the city clerk to provide up to two $25 vouchers to every registered voter who may contribute them to candidates for city office who meet the program requirements?
Proposition H, if passed, would give every registered voter in Austin $50 in vouchers to contribute to candidates running for city council or mayor. This money would come from the city budget. If a voter does not use the vouchers, the money is returned to the program’s budget.
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