Deciding on geographic representation

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In February, Austin’s Charter Revision Committee approved a “10-1” proposal for City Council representation — with 10 geographic, single-member districts and one at-large mayor — which, though imperfect, would likely increase student representation at the city level. Now, more than two months later, the council has yet to agree on or fully discuss the plan, according to the Austin American-Statesman.

It is not as though the council is fundamentally opposed to the committee, which was created by the council itself. Other recommendations made by the committee, including campaign finance reforms, have been heard and discussed by the council in the past month.

So why the delay? The hold-up is partially the pressures of the May municipal election in which several council members are running and partially the divergent views of council members on the issue. Some council members support the 10-1 plan, while others hope to reject the committee’s recommendation in favor of putting a “hybrid” version — a more representative plan which would mix single-member and at-large districts — on the ballot for popular approval in November.

A major concern for proponents of the hybrid model is local activist group Austinites for Geographic Representation, which could simultaneously get 10-1, their favorite choice, on the ballot by petition. With two geographic representation plans on the ballot, both will likely fail.

For months, Mayor Lee Leffingwell has fought to increase turnout in municipal elections by proposing changes in the city election process. Unfortunately, Leffingwell has been consistently overruled by both factions of council members and overshadowed by factions of a local, vocal citizen minority.

Although the 10-1 plan is flawed, the issue of geographic representation is crucial to students who are typically underrepresented at the council. Despite opposition, and even if council members disagree with the nature of the 10-1 plan, not deciding the matter at all does a disservice to the city and to students.