In contrast to most major cities in the U.S., Austin City Council members are elected at-large, meaning they represent all Austin residents rather than a specific district.
This spring, council member Mike Martinez suggested it is time to revamp the election structure, possibly to a district system, to ensure regional areas receive equal representation.
“Austin is a large metropolitan area with different demographics,” he said. “We used to have this urban core that received the most attention, but now areas like Northwest Austin are really coming into their own.”
Each of the seven members of the council, including the mayor, serves a three-year term, staggered in rotating elections and can serve two terms in one place. With a council-manager form of government, the council appoints a city manager to oversee city administration.
During their tenure, the council members define the budget, determine policies and administration priorities and infrastructure within their jurisdiction.
In practical terms, that translates into everything from zoning land for development guidelines to planning for water treatment.
At Martinez’s initiative, his colleagues supported a charter revision commission that will study alternative representative options, such as a district system, or a hybrid of a district system, which might include council members elected both at-large and geographically as Houston does.
The change would require voter approval, and in the past, similar efforts have failed. However, Martinez believes residents are ready for change.
“Arguably it makes it more difficult to represent a constituent base of over 700,000,” he said. “It’s not impossible, but it’s more difficult. Some issues get less attention. It feels like the council doesn’t always hear. It’s not true, but I can see why people feel that way because they feel like they don’t have an advocate.”
Council member Brewster McCracken said district representation would create a “political football.”
“Since Northwest Austin is the fastest growing part of the city, it would almost certainly lose infrastructure [if we had districts],” he said. “But now all the residents in Northwest Austin are our voters so we all have to take that seriously.”
He argues the potential loss or gain of a vote acts as accountability. If residents have a vote, they have a voice.
“That’s been the biggest revelation to me since I have come to council,” he said. “Before, I thought it would be better to have a district, but it creates ward politics. It actually empowers lobbyists.”
It is also impossible to outline districts that would reflect the diversity of people living in Austin, council member Sheryl Cole said.
“Your view point is narrow when you only consider a certain area,” she said. “The city grows better when you have a larger perspective. You think in terms of the long-range and you’re not accountable to a small group of voters.”
McCracken suggests it is particularly important for council members to encourage employers to locate in the city, no matter the neighborhood, to provide the basis for a strong economy, and that takes some consensus and preparation work on the council’s part.
“The best thing we can do is to make sure as Austin grows that we keep up the pace and make sure we have good jobs, primarily in the technology sector, coming to Austin. That’s a vitally important part of our economy and our technology is overwhelmingly located in Northwest Austin.”
Companies want to know the city’s bond rating and tax rate before they come, he said.
They also expect infrastructure from roads to sewage to be in place, which he believes is mostly ready, but the big challenge will be providing transportation, he said.
Typically, major road projects fall in the Texas Department of Transportation’s jurisdiction since many corridors belong to the state or national designated highway system.
However, the council can have some influence through its involvement with groups such as Capital Metro.
Austin City Council members
- Will Wynn, Mayor, Term: 2006 - 2009, Elected in 2003, Lives in zip code 78701
- Betty Dunkerley, Mayor Pro Tem, Term: 2005 - 2008, Elected in 2002, Lives in zip code 78735
- Sheryl Cole, Council Member, Place 6, Term: 2006 - 2009, Lives in zip code 78722
- Brewster McCracken, Council Member, Place 5, Term: 2006 - 2009, Lives in zip code 78731
- Jennifer Kim, Council Member, Place 3, Term: 2005 - 2008, Lives in zip code 78704
- Lee Leffingwell, Council Member, Place 1, Term: 2005 - 2008, Lives in zip code 78731
- Mike Martinez, Council Member, Place 2, Term: 2006 - 2009, Lives in zip code 78702
•Each of the seven members of the council, including the mayor, serves a three-year term, staggered in rotating elections and can serve two terms in one place.
•With a council-manager form of government, the council appoints a city manager to oversee city administration.
- Texas—Senator John Cornyn
- Chase Tower
- 221 W. Sixth St., Ste. 1530
- Texas—Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison
- 961 Federal Building
- 300 E. Eighth St.
- Congressional District 10
- Congressman Michael T. McCaul
- (78759, 27, 29), 903 San Jacinto, Ste. 320, Austin, 473-2357
- Congressional District 31
- Congressman John R. Carter
- (78759, 50, 27, 29), 1717 N. IH 35, One Financial Center, Ste. 303, Round Rock, 246-1600
- Congressional District 21
- Congressman Lamar Smith
- (78750, 59), 5608 Parkcrest Dr., Ste. 260, Austin, 402-9743
Texas State Board of Education Member
- SBOE District 10
- Cynthia Dunbar
- District Address: 22123 Skyridge Lane, Richmond, 463-9007
Texas State Senators
- Senate District 14
- Senator Kirk Watson
- (78750, 59, 27, 29), Capitol Office: EXT E1.712, Austin, 463-0114
- Senate District 5
- Senator Steve Ogden
- (78750, 27, 29), Capitol Office: CAP GE.4, Austin, 463-0105
Texas State Representatives
- House District 52
- Representative Mike Krusee
- (78750, 50, 27, 29), Capitol Office: CAP 1N.9, Austin, 463-0670
- House District 50
- Representative Mark Strama
- (78750, 59, 27, 29), Capitol Office: EXT E2.506, Austin, 463-0821
- House District 48
- Representative Donna Howard
- (78750, 59), Capitol Office: EXT E2.812, Austin, 463-0631
- House District 20
- Representative Dan Gattis
- (78750), Capitol Office: EXT E2.608, Austin, 463-0309
1609 Shoal Creek Blvd., Ste. 202 Austin, Texas 78701, 499-0435 • www.leadershipaustin.org
The Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce founded Leadership Austin in 1979 to prepare a diverse group of energized and experienced leaders for positions of public and community service. Leadership programs introduce citizens to numerous aspects of their community.
- For 55 selected individuals representing the diversity of Central Texas. The nine-month curriculum focuses on community issues, leadership skills, and team projects, building strong networks among class members and regional leaders to encourage innovative, collaborative solutions to regional challenges. Applications due June 18.
- For future leaders under age 40. Designed for engaging conversation by mixing emerging leaders and issue experts in conversation in an educational networking format.
- For experienced leaders who will utilize an intensive curriculum to prepare for serving in complex leadership roles.
- For networking and discussion of regional issues. Luncheons are held on the second Tuesday of the month from 11:30 a.m. - 1:00 p.m. at St. David’s Episcopal Church in Crail Hall. Registration is $15 for Alumni Association members and $20 for non-members.
- Experience Austin
- For orientation of Austin issues and opportunities, icons and institutions. The four-session survey is designed for new residents or those wanting to become more deeply engaged with the city.
- Leadership Academy for Public Service
- For those wanting to learn strategies for assessing, planning and organizing a campaign. The faculty includes elected officials and consultants who have organized successful campaigns at all levels of government.