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Council split on dual plans for single-member districts

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The Austin City Council is discussing two different plans to bring single-member districts to the city.

Right now, Austin has six at-large city council members and one mayor, but that could change if voters approve a new plan this November.

One plan is known as the 10-1 structure, which includes 10 members from specific parts of Austin, overseen by one mayor. Advocates, particularly Austinites for Geographic Representation, say they've gathered more than 30,000 signatures from voters supporting the 10-1 system.

However, critics of 10-1 say it dilutes influence of minority groups. Groups like Austin Community for Change are in favor of another plan, called 8-2-1, which would be a hybrid council with eight members representing respective districts, two-at large members and the mayor.

Fred McGhee served on the city's Charter Revision Committee. One of the group's major tasks was to look at how to restructure Austin City Council. The committee also needed to make sure minority groups, like Latinos, Asian-Americans and African-Americans, could be represented.

"African-Americans live throughout the city, although we are concentrated largely in the northeast quadrant of the city, but our portion of Austin's population has shrunk," McGhee said.

McGhee and six other committee members support the 8-2-1 plan, which also has the backing of Mayor Lee Leffingwell and Council Member Chris Riley.

Eight others on the Charter Revision Committee swung support toward the 10-1 plan, which has support from Mayor Pro Tem Sheryl Cole and Council Member Mike Martinez.

"If you have your own representative, then you have someone that you are closer to and fewer people, they are accountable to because fewer people are electing them,” Cole said.

On the other hand, Cole says voting for council members who represent the entire city makes each accountable to every voter.

"It is important that you give people as much choice as they can to be able to either approve a 10-1 system or and 8-2-1 system,” Cole said. “What about terms? How long should the terms be?"

Attempts to establish single-member districts have failed six times in the past. Advocates of both plans hope at least one will succeed this time, despite their differences.

Thursday, Austin City Council will vote to place one or both plans on November's ballot.

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