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By W. Gardner Selby August 17, 2012

Austin group says Austin is the biggest U.S. city lacking City Council members elected from geographic districts

A handout making the case for electing Austin City Council members from small-scale districts rather than continuing to elect each one citywide says: "Geographic representation brings government and people together."

We don’t know how to check that. But our attention was drawn to the next bullet point on the leaflet paid for by Austinites for Geographic Representation: "Austin is the largest city in the U.S. or Texas with no geographic representation."

Once we sorted out what that means, we wondered if it was so.

Austin’s council consists of the mayor and six members, each one elected citywide. But Austin voters on Nov. 6, 2012, will be offered two plans that would change how council members are elected. One, put on the ballot by the council, would lead to eight members elected from districts with the mayor and two members elected citywide, according to an Aug. 7, 2012, Austin American-Statesman news article, The other proposal, which made the ballot after Austinites for Geographic Representation collected more than 20,000 petition signatures, would result in 10 district-elected representatives with the mayor chosen by citywide vote.

According to the story, a district plan must get more than half the vote to pass. If both plans clear that hurdle, the one with the most votes would take effect.

We asked the group for backup on the leaflet claim, and volunteer Art Olbert told us that he earlier checked how city councils are elected in the bigger cities by looking up each city government online. At our request, Olbert replicated his work by starting from a U.S. Census breakdown of the nation’s most populous cities showing that as of July 2011, Austin ranked 13th, with 820,611 residents. Olbert shortly sent us his chart indicating that in the cities bigger than Austin, including three Texas cities, at least some council members are elected from geographic districts.

We confirmed that analysis by visiting his cited sites or similar ones.

Upshot: The larger-than-Austin U.S. cities of New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, Philadelphia, Phoenix, San Antonio, San Diego, Dallas, San Jose, Jacksonville and Indianapolis all elect all or some council members from districts. (In Texas, too, Fort Worth and El Paso elect council members from single-member districts.)

Eight of the other cities elect council members solely from districts, while the other cities -- Houston, Philadelphia, Jacksonville and Indianapolis -- elect most members from districts, choosing a few at large. Our detailed counts are posted here.

Our ruling

Each of the dozen U.S. cities bigger than Austin has a city council with members elected from geographic districts -- and eight solely elect members from districts. This claim rates True.

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Austin group says Austin is the biggest U.S. city lacking City Council members elected from geographic districts

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