Austinites discuss district representation at KLRU-hosted event

Alexandra Dubinsky

Hoping to increase civic engagement, experts and community members weighed in at a panel Tuesday to discuss city representation and Austin’s 10-1 proposal.

KLRU, KUT and the Annette Strauss Institute for Civic Life hosted “Why Bother?” a TV series dedicated to engaging Texans in democracy and addressing local political issues. The episode will be broadcast on May 16. 

The panel focused on the city’s 10-1 proposition, which Austin voters passed in November. The proposition splits the city into 10 districts with one representative from each district elected to serve on the Austin City Council. Currently, the council has six members who represent the entire city. 

Kathryn Flowers, public affairs graduate student and research technician at the institute, said 10-1 will have a greater effect on neighborhoods because Austinites will see more changes from the council.

“You have someone that’s just looking at interest in neighborhood rather than city as a whole … but there are problems that come with that too, because districts often fight with each other over what issue they want,” Flowers said.

Ryan Robinson, city demographer and one of the panelists, said the proposition will help to alleviate low voter-turnout rates in Austin. Texas has one of the lowest civic-participation rates in the country, with voter turnout in Austin’s 2012 mayoral election at 10.5 percent, and voter participation in the last city council member election at 7.5 percent, according to Robinson.

The panel also featured Sherri Greenberg, director for the Center for Politics and Governance at the LBJ School of Public Affairs, and Carol Lee, president of Austin Neighborhoods Council. Kevin Foster, associate professor of African and African diaspora studies, anthropology and education administration, moderated the event. KLRU also invited 10 neighborhood representatives to voice their opinions about 10-1.

Individuals on the panel discussed balancing representing specific neighborhoods with the overall interest of the city. Carl Webb, a resident from Southeast Austin, said he is skeptical of geographical representation.

“I live along east East Riverside,” Webb said. “As they start to build condos, which they already have, are the thousands of people that live there now that have affordable rent … are we going to have as much voice as the real estate developers? Is the representative going to be beholden to [its citizens] or to the rich and powerful?”