Process of revising Austin’s charter may be coming to an end

Published 6:43 am Thursday, October 29, 2009

The long process of revising the Austin charter could be nearing an end.

That’s because the nine-member charter commission is expected to meet with city council members Nov. 30 and hopefully impress all of them with the proposed changes — it requires unanimous council approval to amend the charter.

The council won’t necessarily adopt any or all changes at that meeting, but getting to this point is an accomplishment in of itself.

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The commission has been meeting on and off for the past two years, trimming the document down from more that 130 pages to around 40 in an effort to make the charter more usable and readable.

The goal was to get changes adopted this past spring, but a few sticking points have required more work.

These have revolved around the position of mayor — specifically, whether he or she should be allowed to cast a vote during council meetings and whether he or she should oversee the police department.

The consensus so far? Yes, the mayor should be allowed to vote, but only if the council is locked in a tie, which could happen if one of the seven members was absent.

And yes, the mayor should ultimately be in charge of the police chief and the rest of that department.

While allowing the mayor to oversee Austin police would not be a change from the current charter, allowing him or her to break ties with a vote would be a departure — and would have to be approved by the council.

Another change could come in the mayor’s term of office — currently, he or she is elected for two years, but the commission has proposed bumping that to four years.

How council members react to the changes at the Nov. 30 meeting, which is scheduled for 5:30 p.m., remains to be seen.

But one council member — Jeff Austin — sat in during a charter commission meeting Monday and gave some indication.

“We understand there could be major changes.” he said.