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Austin City Clerk verifies group's push to reform local government system

Austinites for Progressive Reform is pushing for a strong-mayor system, as opposed to a strong-manager system.

AUSTIN, Texas — Editor's note: The related video was published in March 2020.

Local group Austinites for Progressive Reform (APR) announced Tuesday it has received a Certificate of Sufficiency from City Clerk Jannette Goodall, meaning a petition it filed earlier this month has now been certified.

The group has been advocating against the City's strong-manager form of government, arguing a strong-mayor system should be adopted instead.

The next course of action will be decided by the Austin City Council, which is expected to vote to call an election and determine ballot language for the amendments, which APR has already summarized in its petition. The deadline for setting the May 1 election is on Feb. 12.

"We are in a new era of voter suppression, but we are not powerless," said Laura Hernandez Holmes, co-chair of APR’s Leadership Committee. "There are steps we can take to fortify our democracy. As we learned again last week, the threat to democracy is not abstract. We must move our democracy forward."

RELATED: Group pushing to reform City of Austin government

The group is pushing for four amendments:

  • Moving mayoral elections to coincide with presidential elections
  • Instituting ranked-choice voting when allowed under state law
  • Putting in place a campaign finance reform known as Democracy Dollars
  • Moving from a strong-manager form of government to a strong-mayor form of government and adding a geographic district

"A community-driven process is at the heart of these amendments. Crafted by a diverse group of Austinites, presented through a robust community engagement process and backed by 24,000 signatures, our amendments demonstrate our city's desire to move democracy forward," said Ali Khataw, a member of the steering committee that drafted the amendments and Leadership Committee co-chair.

Advocates say Austin's current system is linked back to a charter revision campaign in 1924 by Monroe Shipe, the developer of Austin's Hyde Park, which, at the time, was said to be advertised "for white people only."

"Austin must come to terms with how its current form of government came about during the Jim Crow era," said NAACP Austin branch President Nelson Linder, another co-chair and member of the steering committee. "The 1928 Master Plan came as a direct result of the installation of the strong-manager government in 1926. The time has come for change."

Other groups such as Austin for All People and the Austin Central Labor Council have opposed the proposals.

According to Austin For All People, this strong-mayor system is a "dramatic" change to the current council-manager form of government. It says it would "create a government system that transfers power to the politically connected members of society instead of all people and businesses residing in Austin."

"For a century, labor unions have organized, block walked and held powerful interests accountable to create a more democratic, free and just world for all working people," said Jason Lopez, president of the Austin Central Labor Council. "We oppose these charter amendments because they aren't genuine democratic reform; each is part of a strategy designed by a small group of people to concentrate power into fewer hands at a time when wealthy elites are flocking to our city."

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