TABLE OF CONTENTS
Austin (Tex.). 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.
Charter Revision Committee 1971-1973
The 1971 City of Austin Charter Review Committee was appointed on July 29, 1971. The members of the committee included Bill Youngblood, Gus Garcia, Emma Long, Philip White, Dean Banks, Joe Quander, Victor Ravel, Ralph Janes, Jr., Barr McClellan, Robert Tinstman, William Holmes, and Louis Shanks. It was the first time since 1953 that such a committee had been appointed to do an in-depth study covering each section and article of the City of Austin Charter. Over 10 months they held approximately 40 meetings, and presented to the Council on May 25, 1972 their final report which represented a small part of the testimony, statements, recommendations, and suggestions that were made to amend the Charter.
The committee agreed to postpone an election on Charter amendments until after the September 1972 bond election. The Charter revision election was eventually held on April 7, 1973. The two major amendments that were voted on were 1) creating a 6-5 council, where 6 members are elected by district and 5 members are elected at large, and 2) increasing the compensation to $100 per week for all council members so that “qualified people of modest means can serve on the council.” The amendments both failed to gain voter approval. Also failing to gain approval was a proposed revision lowering the council age qualifications from 25 to 21.
Charter Revision Committee 1975-1976
First proposed in 1974 by Mayor Friedman, the City Council selected a 21-member Citizens Charter Study Committee in February 1975. Each Councilmember submitted 3 people to be appointed to the committee. The members included Charles Miles (Chairperson), Mary Beth Rogers (Vice Chairperson), Ruth Epstein, Dick Nichols, Bill Youngblood, Joan Bartz, Diana Camacho, and other citizens. In May 1975, the committee increased to 25 members when Eloise Campos, Margaret Gomez, Cora Briggs, and Dan Ruiz were appointed. They held over 100 meetings and their final report was submitted to Council in February 1976.
Their main recommendation was to amend the Charter to provide for the election of the Mayor at Large and the election of the members of the City Council from numbered districts. The majority report favored a 10:1 system and the minority report favored an 8:1 system. The ballot item never went to election due to state law clarification that had not been properly done earlier. It was not discussed again until October 1977, and went to election in 1978. The proposed amendment was rejected by voters.
Charter Revision Committee 1983-1985
On May 12, 1983 another City Charter Revision Commission was established by City Council, composed of 11 members. The following persons served on the commission: Gary Witt, Chairperson; Margaret Gomez, Vice-President; Missy Mandell, Secretary; Caroline Scott, Parlimentarian; Daron Butler; Bert Cromack; Gabe Gutierrez; Mary Ann Neely; Volma Overton; Bernard Snyder; and Kurt A. Vander-Meulen.
The Charter Revision Commission was created to recommend the following: whether the City Charter should be revised to create single-member districts instead of the current at-large seats; whether council members should serve four-year terms; whether council members should be limited to serving two consecutive terms; whether the City Council should be elected on a staggered basis every two years, if four-year terms are instituted; recommend how often City Council districts should be redrawn; recommend whether there should be a limit on campaign spending; whether there should be a shortened period for runoff campaigns; whether the City Charter’s references to “councilman” be changed to “councilmember”; and if the City Charter should redefine the duties of the Planning Commission.
On January 19, 1985, the City of Austin voted on multiple proposed amendments to the Charter (Propositions 5-19), including creating an 8-1 Council where 8 members are voted from districts and the Mayor is voted at large. That proposition failed to pass, as it did in previous years. Amending the Charter to use both male and female words to address government officials passed, as did the amendment to use revenue bonds for the funding of energy or resource conservation programs, and the amendment to redefine the duties of the Planning Commission.
Charter Revision Committee 1990-1994
Charter Revision Committees were appointed on April 26, 1990 and April 15, 1993 and elections held to vote on amendments to the Charter in 1991 and 1994. Please see Austin (Tex.). Law Department Records (AR.2004.040) for materials documenting these Charter Revision Committees.
Charter Revision Committee 1997-2000
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.
Charter Revision Committee 2001-2002
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 five separate Austin Charter Revision Committees dating from 1971 to 2002. Meeting minutes, recommendation summaries, and reports from minority members make up the 1971 and 1975 Charter Revision Committees’ materials. Along with meeting minutes and research in the 1983 Charter Revision Committee materials is a resolution for committee members to not seek political office for a period of 6 years after serving on a Charter Revision Committee.
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.
Restrictions on Access
Open to all users.
Restrictions on Use
Donated by the Committee Chair, Barbara S. Hankins. Various Charter Revision Commission meeting minutes and supplementary materials were moved from the General Collection and integrated into the Austin Charter Revision Committee Records (AR.2006.004) in 2018. Final reports are kept in the General Collection.
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 in 2010. Additions and updates by Kelly Hanus in 2018.
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.