AUSTIN, Texas - In less than a month, Austin voters will begin to decide a handful of proposals that could restructure the city's government, among other things.
Prop F, one of the more contested items on the May ballot, would change the city from what's being called a "strong manager" system to a "strong mayor" system.
On Wednesday, the majority of city council members spoke in opposition of the proposal saying it would stifle community voices. However, Austinites for Progressive Reform, who petitioned to put the proposal on the ballot said it would actually give more power to the people by making an elected mayor the city's chief executive rather than a council-appointed city manager.
"A great deal of power would be taken away from your city council members," said Jesus Garza, former Austin city manager and current volunteer co-chair of Austin For All People, a community group advocating against Prop F.
"The mayor is not some dictator in a third-world country. He's an elected politician by the voters," said Nelson Linder, Austin NAACP president and advocate for Prop F.
If passed, Prop F would put the mayor in control of appointing other city leaders. "This mayor would be able to appoint virtually every department head in our government, from Austin Energy, to airport, to zoning and planning," said Garza.
"That will give the mayor the ability to make very quick decisions without bureaucracy. That's the only difference and, even in that system, again, you have say so. I mean, this notion of the mayor being a dictator is just way out of bounds," Linder said.
The proposal would create a city council president position with more control than the current mayor pro tem. However, the mayor would have veto power over city council decisions, unless they can garner enough support for a two-thirds majority vote. Supporters of Prop F said that's a good thing because it will move resolutions along more quickly.
"It diminishes your voice and your vote at City Hall and it hands over too much control over policy and day-to-day workings of your city into the hands of an elected strong mayor," said Councilmember Kathie Tovo, District 9, who opposes the proposition.
"If something is wrong, I'm going to talk to my colleagues, we're gonna get a two-thirds vote, and we're gonna stop it. Because let's face it, you're not working on your own. You've got to work with the mayor, he's got to work with you," Linder said.
Currently, 13 of the country's 20 largest cities use a mayor-council form of government instead of a council-manager system, including Houston.
Supporters said it gives voters more control of their government, as the city's chief executive would be elected and not appointed. Opponents said it removes community input because the council is currently able to fire the city manager at any time, instead of having to wait for an election.
"Basically, the mayor could do anything he or she wants to do and nobody could stop it," said Garza.
"The voters have more power to pick their leadership," Linder said.
If passed by voters, the new mayor-council system would take effect after the November 2022 election.