Not enough Austinites — in particular, not enough minority and female Austinites — have applied to serve on a commission that will transform city politics, city officials say. The 14-member commission will draw the boundaries of 10 City Council districts, to carry out a plan voters approved last fall to shift the City Council from seven citywide members to 10 district representatives and a citywide mayor. The first election of council members under the new system will be in November 2014. The city since late January has been urging residents to apply for the map-drawing commission. So far, it has received only 98 applications, all but a handful from white men. Only five applicants are Hispanic, two are black and one is Asian. And the application deadline ends in just two weeks.
The city wants not just more people, but specifically more female, Hispanic, black and Asian residents to apply, City Auditor Ken Mory said. Mory’s office is in charge of accepting and reviewing applications.
The commission “will fundamentally redefine the governing structure of the city of Austin, so it’s important that the commission reflect the city’s diversity,” Mory said.
So far, the applicants seem to be spread across the city, according to a map prepared by Mory’s office showing where each applicant lives.
Commission applicants must meet several criteria, including having no paid ties to city politics, to keep the map-drawing work free from political influence. They also must have been registered voters for the past five years who have voted in at least three of the city’s last five general elections.
The voting rules alone would disqualify all but 35,400 residents from the commission, Mory said. Of those, only about 3,800 are Hispanic, 2,400 are black, and 700 are Asian.
Mory is also looking for a larger, more diverse pool of certified public accountants to be on a three-person panel that will winnow the map-drawing applicants to 60 finalists by mid-May. Only 29 CPAs have applied for the panel so far.
The auditor’s office has spent nearly $87,000 to recruit applicants for the auditor panel and map-drawing commission, including print and radio ads, ads on city buses, billboards and two mailers sent to all 35,400 people who meet the voting criteria.