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Austinites vote to revamp city council

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Voters rewrote the history books for Austin in 2012.

The election in November led to some of the biggest changes Austin’s city government has seen in its 173-year history.

Perhaps the change which will have the most impact, Austinites voted to change the way they are represented in City Hall.

Austin will now be sliced into 10 representative districts and each will elect their own council member to speak for them at City Hall meetings. As it stands, all of the council members are elected at large, meaning all Austinites vote on each member.

Former Mayor Frank Cooksey says Austin is long overdue for the city council overhaul.

“There are some people who were not able to be elected before who will be able to be elected now," Cooksey said.

The move retires an unspoken gentleman's agreement that's been in place for more than three decades. The agreement has reserved one seat on the Council for a black representative and another for a Hispanic member.

"We picked ten districts specifically because it gave African Americans an opportunity district,” Peck Young with Austinites for Geographic Representation said. “Frankly, it also gives Hispanics two districts now and probably by the end of the decade, a third."

In all, Austin voters had 18 issues on the ballot to mull over.

Eleven related to city government structure like single-member districts and council member terms. The other seven divvied up nearly $400 million in bond money.

Many—including Political Science Professor Brian Smith—felt the ballot was overloaded.

"We're voting on stuff that's very important, but we have the least amount of knowledge on," Brian Smith with St. Edward’s University said.

Voters approved everything except $78 million for affordable housing and giving the city council power to hire the city attorney. That remains the duty of the city manager.

Leaders are now looking at other ways to grow affordable housing in a market that continues to push 97-percent occupancy, further driving up rental rates.

Austinites will cast their votes for the first single-member district city council in November 2014.

Elections continue every other year in November, which coincide with the election of the Texas governor and U.S. president.

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