City of Austin Charter Revision Committee Records
An Inventory of the Collection
The City of Austin can hold charter amendment elections only every two years. If the City Council determines that it is necessary a Charter Revision Committee can be created to look at the issues that will be potentially placed on the ballot.
In August of 1997 the Austin City Council established a Charter Revision Committee to advise the Council whether the City Charter should be amended to provide for changes in the method of election of Council Members, with emphasis on election from single member districts. The Committee was composed of nine members chosen to represent the diversity of the City. In addition to the system of election to the City Council, the Committee also considered related issues such as length of term of offices, whether or not the Council should be elected on a staggered basis, term limits, when elections should be held, the need for periodic review of the election system, who should be responsible for drawing the lines of districts and later redistricting, and the possible use of instant runoff voting. Because of changes in the membership of the Committee and an intervening Charter amendment election in November of 1997 the Committee did not start meeting regularly until November of 1998. The group met monthly, often inviting speakers that included election experts, consultants and officials from other cities. The Committee also conducted five focus groups and seven public hearings with the citizens of Austin. Members of the Committee included Barbara Hankins (Chair), Charles Miles (Vice Chair), Raymond Chan (Secretary), Robert Chapa, Jim Harrington, Fred Lewis, Mark Anthony McCray, Eddie Rodriguez, and Diane Spencer.
Previous to the creation of this Committee Austin voters had rejected single-member districts five times since 1973. A sixth attempt in 1997 was shelved when the City Council had legal questions. In January of 2000 the Committee presented its recommendations to the City Council and suggested that a Charter Election be held in May of 2000. The recommendations included:
In their report to the City Council the Committee expressed that they felt "somewhat hampered by uncertainty about the dispersion of minority populations throughout the community as the most reliable data available is the 1990 census data." After hearing the recommendations the Austin City Council decided there were too many outstanding questions to put the issue to a vote in May of 2000. One of the things the City Council felt was missing was a map of the districts for the voters to see as part of the proposal, even if it was just an approximation. However, the Committee had decided against drawing potential district boundaries because then voters might focus on how the districts are drawn, rather than on the larger issue of how council members should be elected. In addition, reliable demographic data from 2000 Federal Census would not be available until late in 2000 or early 2001.
The Austin City Council established another Charter Revision Committee in August of 2001 to review the January, 2000 recommendations of the previous Charter Revision Committee. Three of the members of the previous committee members served on the new Committee. This 2001 Committee was able to use the 2000 United States census data that had been unavailable to the previous Committee and the main focus was to reconsider the recommendations of the previous Committee in light of the new census data. The 2001 Committee did not find that the Census data refuted any of the conclusions that the previous Committee had drawn, and in some cases the census data strengthened the argument for single member districts. The only changes in the December 3, 2001 recommendations of the Committee were the removal of both the Instant Runoff Voting issue and the suggestion to establish a Charter Revision Committee in the year preceding the Federal decennial census to review possible changes to the method of election of the City Council.
On May 4, 2002 the Austin voters rejected the charter amendment presented to them which was increasing City Council from 7 to 11 members, eight of whom would have been elected from single member districts, while two members and the mayor would have been elected by the entire city.
The collection documents the activities of two separate Austin Charter Revision Committees dating from 1997 to 2002. The majority of materials pertain to the Charter Revision Committee established in 1997. Of significance are the introductory materials given to the Committee that provided background information on the issue of single member districts including an overview of single member districts in Austin, excerpts from Austin's Charter, canvasses of previous charter elections on single member districts, the final reports of the Charter Review Committees of 1984 and 1994, relevant sections of the Voting Rights Act and the Texas Election Code, Overton v. City of Austin, charter excerpts from selected cities, and demographic maps. Also included in the collection are the meeting notices, agendas and minutes, the focus group notes, newspaper clippings, research files, a 1999 annual report of the Committees work done and both the 2000 and 2002 Committee recommendations to the City Council. In addition, included is the 2002 ordinance ordering an election to be held in Austin on May 4, 2002 for the purpose of submitting a proposed charter amendment to the voters.
Restrictions on Access
Open to all users.
Restrictions on Use
Donated by the Committee Chair, Barbara S. Hankins.
Austin Charter Revision Committee Records (AR.2006.004). Austin History Center, Austin Public Library, Texas.
Donor #: DO/1997/025
Donation Date: 2006
Finding aid created and encoded by Molly Hults/2010.
Materials originally housed in a 3-ring binder were removed and foldered in original order and the notation (3RB) has been added to the folder tab.
Detailed Description of the Collection