We believe that a “strong mayor” system will concentrate too much power in the hands of one individual who will be less accountable to diverse constituencies across our city.
For years, Workers Defense members have fought alongside labor, environmental, criminal justice and community groups to win protections for immigrants, to improve working conditions for construction workers, and to pass a watershed paid sick leave policy—among other efforts. We pushed for these changes to bring to life to our vision of a more just and inclusive Austin for working families who are all too often overlooked and exploited. That vision of a more just future and years of community organizing is why Austin continues to be a model of progressive policy-making for all of Texas. That progress is at risk of being undone and our voices silenced this May with Prop F, the “strong mayor” proposition.
Prop F would transform our local government to a “strong mayor” system with the Mayor holding the power to unilaterally determine what gets done and what doesn’t at city hall. The strong mayor will be able to veto any action by city council, which could only be overturned by a supermajority vote of council. Furthermore, a strong mayor will be more accountable to those who elect them, and in an expensive city-wide election that means developers, wealthy political operatives, and the majority white West Austin. This overwhelming concentration of power with one individual would undemocratically weaken the ability of underserved communities to advance policies and proposals that improve the lives of working families in Austin.
“As members of the Workers Defense, we believe that democracy in the Austin Council should remain in an equitable manner, supporting the entire community and continuing with the ability to advance laws in the city that protect working families. Giving all power to the mayor leaves our community at a disadvantage, this is an attack on our democracy and the work that Workers Defense members have achieved to protect us.“– VIRGNIA BADILLO, WORKERS DEFENSE ACTION FUND BOARD MEMBER
Council members are most directly accountable to their constituents, communities of color, immigrants, working families and low-wage workers. Since Austin switched to a geographically elected council in 2014, that accountability has been apparent—council has taken up and passed a litany of policies driven by council members who are responsive to the needs of these groups, who previously had less of a voice at City Hall. Paid sick leave, fair chance hiring, construction standards for expedited permitting, greater investment in affordable housing, policies to reduce racial disparities in policing and increase transparency around racial profiling, support for renter organizing—all of these are initiatives driven by a council that is responsive to all residents of the city. Furthermore, a strong Mayor will be more accountable to those who elect this person, and in an expensive city-wide election that means developers, wealthy political operatives, and the majority white West Austin. This overwhelming concentration of power with one individual would undemocratically weaken the ability of underserved communities to advance policies and proposals that improve the lives of working families in Austin.
Proponents of Prop F rushed through a so-called stakeholder process during a pandemic and economic crisis. While all eyes were on the most consequential election of our lifetimes, with the very foundations of our democracy at stake, they failed to invite critical constituencies, and now ask for an election on a change to our local form of government in an off-season May election where turnout historically hovers below 10%. This effort to transform our local government is simply an effort by a handful of wealthy individuals hoping Austin voters will fall for their ploy of packaging an elite power grab in the guise of a suite of democratic reforms.
“We’ve seen the devastation COVID-19 has had on our communities, especially immigrants and communities of color, directly because of leaders in top positions of power at the federal and state level making bad decisions. More than ever, we know just how much suffering can be inflicted on our communities when the wrong person with significant influence leads and we can’t allow that to happen in our city.”– ANA GONZALEZ, POLICY DIRECTOR, WORKERS DEFENSE ACTION FUND
Our current form of government has some flaws and we agree that City Council needs stronger tools to hold city staff accountable when they fail to execute their directives. But we need a thoughtful and intentional process that leads to reforms that increase that accountability. There is much work to do. But how we guarantee accountability and who truly is the driving force behind Austin’s most consequential decisions are at risk of being concentrated into the hands of the rich and privileged.
Quite simply, Prop F would take power away from the people. Our members, who are immigrants and construction workers who have continued to build Austin even in the midst of an economic and public health crisis, understand that Prop F would be a setback for their families and historically underrepresented groups. This May, we urge Austin voters to stand with our members and vote no on Prop F.