Has 10-1 led to ‘ward privilege’?


Over on his blog, Austin On Your Feet, Dan Keshet shares some thoughts on the implications of the City Council election results. Among other things, he discusses the 10-1 system has led to a system of “ward privilege” on development cases. The theory was put forth back in 2012 by blogger Chris Bradford of Austin Contrarian:

From where I sit, parochialism is the City’s principal problem.  Single-member districts are not a cure for  parochialism.  On the contrary, they institutionalize parochialism.  A Council member whose district will be affected directly by a particular vote will have an incentive to consider only the effect on his or her district, rather than the broader harm or benefit to the City as a whole.  Council members whose districts will not be affected  directly will have an incentive to defer to the affected Council member; they will want and expect that deference to be reciprocated.  That is the genesis of “ward courtesy.”

Keshet says that at the time he shared Bradford’s concerns,  but so far things haven’t turned out that way.

I agree. The development-friendly Council members don’t appear to care much whether a development is opposed by a colleague who represents the affected area. Leslie Pool has opposed a number of projects in her district in vain. Alison Alter hasn’t had much more luck either.

I can think, however, of a couple instances when Ann Kitchen’s opposition to cases in her district (two different proposals on Thornton Rd) likely helped doom the projects.

Indeed, the more serious “ward politics” issue is not Council members vetoing developments, but Council members squabbling over services. Hence the notorious vote when Ora Houston accidentally gave away $5 million of sidewalk funds from her own district after Sheri Gallo proposed taking half of the sidewalk funds in the 2016 transportation bond and allocating it equally between Council districts for school safety initiatives. Five Council members joined Gallo and the oblivious Houston to allocate the money based on politics, rather than where transportation staff identified the greated need.

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