Group pushes for ‘strong-mayor’ government system in Austin

A measure that could dramatically increase the power of the mayor could end up on the May ballot. Proponent group "Austinites for Progressive Reform" are pushing for a "strong-mayor" form of government and believe the move will create a much better democracy.

Based on their website, lining up the mayoral election with the presidential, eliminating runoffs, and increasing the power of the mayor are some examples of what the change would include.

"We have had an at large system, we've had 10-1. We are evolving into a larger city that requires a different form of leadership where you have checks and balances," said Nelson Linder, president of Austin’s NAACP and supporter.

"As far as strong-mayor, I prefer mayor-council because with strong you are implying this person runs everything. The city council has a lot of power in this system. They are going to be legislators where they can write policies and not sit back and watch what the mayor is doing. They can build viable coalitions but also you can hold the mayor accountable," said Linder.


The reform would eliminate the city manager job, a job that Marc Ott held for years in Austin. "I've spent the vast majority of my career in council-manager cities, but I did spend about four years or so in strong-mayor cities," he said.

Ott now works in Washington D.C. as the executive director of the International City/Council Management Association and is hopeful Austin can stick with the city manager-council system.

"In a strong-mayor city the mayor is the chief executive, chief administrator, responsible for the day to day operations, they hire fire do all of those things. Mayors are also politicians and they are partisan," said Ott.

Ott also added the mayor would have veto power.

The petition is also getting criticism from the group "Austin for All People."

"This would dramatically change how the City of Austin is run. Frankly, it's a little scary to think about what happens if you have an out of control executive that doesn't follow the agenda that most Austinites want," said Mason Ayer, co-chairperson.

Austinites for progressive reform has gathered more than 20,0000 signatures on a petition to try and get the item on the ballot. The Austin City Council is tentatively scheduled to discuss the petition during a Feb. 9 special-called meeting.