FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                   January 10, 2013
From: Austinites for Geographic Representation (AGR)
Contact: Jessica Ellison
Telephone: 512-653-9179
Email: Press@AustinGeoRep.org

AGR Wants a Larger Pool of Eligible Applicants for Independent Commission, but Finding 60 People out of 30,000 Eligible “Not a Problem”

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Austinites for Geographic Representation continue its work to assure fair and representative elections for Austin. AGR has requested 4 revisions to the latest CD10-1 implementation plan defined by Austin City Auditor Ken Mory. Fred Lewis, re-districting expert and AGR’s legal counsel, said “After a thorough review of Mr. Mory’s ‘Draft Interpretative Guidance for the Redistricting Process,’ AGR has sent a 9 page letter to Mr. Mory requesting 4 changes to make the city’s plan reflect more accurately the intent and purposes of the new law. In summary the changes are:

  1. the panel chartered to qualify applicants for the Independent Citizen Redistricting Commission (ICRC) should ensure the applicant pool reflects the diversity of Austin,
  2.  eligibility for the ICRC should be based on voter participation in both May and November City General elections,
  3. political party precinct chairs should be qualified to serve on the ICRC, and
  4.  the auditors who assess applicants for the ICRC should be paid for their services.”

“AGR will continue to work with Mr. Mory and his team to incorporate these changes.”

One of the proposed changes has been more controversial than the others. Many critics of the ICRC argue that the eligibility rules concerning voter history in city elections are too restrictive. Currently, the City Auditor’s plan for ICRC eligibility requires all applicants to have voted in 3 out of the last 5 May city elections — but, that could change.

“AGR believes that the language found in CD 10-1 does not exclude the November 2008 and 2012 elections, which would significantly increase the pool of Austinites eligible for the ICRC.” said Roger Borgelt, Travis County Republican Party Vice Chairman and co-chair of the AGR CD10-1 Advisory Committee. He went on to note that, “AGR intended to include those elections — both of which had city issues and bonds on the ballot — when drafting the language for the ICRC. We want to make sure that the people who voted for CD 10-1 are getting a chance to participate in the process of drawing district lines.”

Nelson Linder, President of NAACP – Austin and co-chair the AGR CD10-1 Advisory Committee of explains AGR’s position, “Critics have warned in the press that there will be insufficient voters eligible for the ICRC. That argument is ridiculous. Yes, AGR wants ICRC eligibility based on all city general elections: May and November. Austin November elections have been important. Prop 3 was passed in November, 2012. However, whichever qualification the City Auditor requires, finding 60 qualified applicants for the ICRC is not a problem. Our research, given to Mr. Mory, shows that even if only May elections qualify, the pool is 35,000 potential applicants. The fairer qualification of both May and November elections has a pool of almost 70,000 potential applicants.”

Former Senator Barrientos outlined AGR’s commitment to CD 10-1: “AGR will continue to monitor and support the city’s implementation of CD10-1. We will co-operate with others, including the City Auditor, to organize neighborhood outreach programs to educate citizens on CD10-1 and to attract applicants to the ICRC. CD10-1 was defined by Austin’s citizens, put on the ballot by Austin’s citizens, and made law by Austin’s citizens. AGR will assure CD10-1 will be implemented with Austin’s citizens.”

Find complete text of AGR’s letter to the Auditor here: http://trustaustin.org/agrs-comments-to-the-auditors-draft-interpretative-guidelines/

A printable copy is here.

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♦ If you want to support the changes requested by AGR, or to offer your own comments on the Auditor’s plan, please go to the Auditor’s website. That website says:

“The public can provide comments through January 16, 2013 via e-mail at OCA_Auditor@austintexas.gov; by phone at (512) 974-2805; or by mail at Office of the City Auditor, 10-ONE Process, 301 W. Second Street, Austin, TX 78701.

♦ KUT News coverage of the Auditor’s Draft Guidance includes an article “Comment Ending on Auditor’s Read of Geographic Representation” by Marissa Barnett and Wells Dunbar. In part the article reads:

“What are some of the biggest points of contention? Austinites for Geographic Representation, the citizens’ group that got Prop 3 on the ballot, says one of the eligibility requirements for serving on the commission – having voted in three of the last five May elections – should be loosened to include people that voted in the last three of five elections, May and November included. Another grey area is whether party precinct chairs would be eligible to serve. You can read AGR’s comments on the auditor’s interpretation online.

♦ The Austin Chronicle article’s “10-1, Step One: Finding Commissioners” published 1/18/2013 included:Austin Chronicle logo

“Austinites for Geographic Represent­a­tion already had its comments posted and available for public viewing. The group not only spearheaded the 10-1 campaign, it also wrote the charter amendment that will govern the formation of the independent Citizens Redistricting Commission – the group ultimately responsible for drawing district lines. AGR has also formed an advisory committee to monitor the process. Last week, the group sent a nine-page letter to the city auditor’s office, suggesting four changes to the current interpretation of the law.

“Most significantly, the letter calls for the voting requirement to include May and Nov­em­ber elections in tallying whether applicants to the districting commission have voted in the last three out of five “City of Austin general elections” – charter language that could be construed to mean only the May municipal contests. Roger Borgelt, Travis County Republican Party vice chairman and co-chair of the AGR Advisory Committee, explained, “AGR intended to include those [November] elections. … We want to make sure that the people who voted for CD 10-1 are getting a chance to participate in the process of drawing district lines.”


♦ The Austin Neighborhoods Council also supports AGR’s request that November elections “count” as qualifying elections for membership on the Independent  Citizens Redistricting Commission. In a letter to the City Auditor, Carol Lee, ANC president stated:

“We respectfully request that the City Auditor and the Interpretive Guidance allow an applicant for the Commission to count towards this requirement her or his participation in any local election where the ballot included either City of Austin candidates or City of Austin propositions (charter amendments and/or issuance bonds). … We believe that Austin voters who went to the polls in November 2012 and voted on Proposition 3 participated in a city election.


♦ The following comment was provided to City Auditor Mory on behalf of Rosemary Edwards, Travis County Republican Party Chairman.

Dear Mr. Mory:

The Travis County Republican Party (TCRP) recommends revising the definition in the Draft Guidance, Section 2(a)(4)(p)as follows: “Officer” with respect to a political party means a county chair, county secretary,  or a member of a party executive committee under Title 10 of the Texas Election Code.”

Austin’s disqualification for being an officer of a political party should include only the major party principals and should exclude precinct chairs.   We do not consider our precinct chairs to be officers of the TCRP.  Precinct chairs do not have the day-to-day responsibility for running the party, unlike the Chairman or Treasurer.  It is also my understanding from discussions with our TCRP Vice -Chairman, Roger Borgelt, who was heavily involved in the discussions within AGR, that excluding precinct chairs was not the intent of the group.

Please do not intentionally exclude a group of citizens and voters who have no inherent conflict and have already shown an interest in being involved and contributing to civic affairs.  Thank you for your consideration.

Rosemary Edwards, Ph.D., Chairman
Travis County Republican Party
www.traviscountygop.org


♦ Support from Change Austin:

Dear City of Austin Auditor:

On behalf of ChangeAustin.org, I am writing to express enthusiastic our support for the memorandum recently submitted by Austinites for Geographic Representation.

We would only add our concerns about a few political consultants aligned with some members of the council, who fought the passage of Prop 3, who are now engaging in parroting doubts about the Commission process in the press. We prefer not to name names as we also believe they have a right to make a living.  The Auditor’s Office can easily discern who these folks are and we trust you will do so.  However, we wanted to get on record a clear request that these people not have any part in this process.  This should include any firms or individuals you hire to shepherd this process.

Thank you for your efforts to make this an open and transparent process.

Respectfully,

Brian Rodgers
ChangeAustin.org

How you can get involved

We hope you, and all Austinites, work to keep Austin livable for everyone.

Austinites for Geographic Representation has disbanded after accomplishing its objective: making the 10-1 plan of geographic representation the election law in Austin.