» 2012 » January

Do You Support Single Member Districts for Austin?

By Terrell Blodgett, Mike Hogg Professor Emeritus in Urban Management, LBJ School, UT-Austin

Single-member districts for Austin city council members? Seems like I’ve heard that before. As a matter of fact, the idea has been turned down by Austin voters SIX times — that’s right, six times. And with good reason – and now it’s coming back up again. And – based on the slim turnout at meetings of the council-appointed charter revision committee, it’s still a minority of Austin voters who feel they are not well served by our city government.

Let’s look at some facts and figures. Right now, based on 2010 census figures, there is one councilmember for every 112,913 Austin residents. That’s considerably less than the ratio for our Texas House of Representatives. There, each of the 150 members represent an average of 167,637 persons and each congressman an average of 710,000 individuals.

Oh, you say you want your OWN councilmember. You want an area (district) where you vote for your OWN member of the council. Under what is reported to be the most popular plan floating around, the seven member council would be increased BY MORE THAN 50% to 11 members, 10 from single-member districts and the mayor elected at large as now. So, you have your OWN council member and you want something done – you have voted for TWO members – your district member and the mayor(if you voted for the successful candidates) out of ELEVEN. The other nine have absolutely NO REASON to support your position – after all, you do not live in their district, you have no vote in their district, and probably no influence in their district. SO, if what you want is your own personal council member to complain to, that’s fine, but if you want something done, you’re better off in the current situation because you have a vote for ALL SEVEN members of the council.

You say your area of town is not represented on the council. Unfortunately, that is sometimes true, BUT, there is no reason for Central Austin to control the council. There is no logical reason why the northwest, the Circle C, and the Southeast Austin areas should not be represented. The remedy – IT’S CALLED VOTING. If I were an activist in one of those neighborhoods, I would get with an activist from one of the other areas and say, “we’re going to put up a first-class candidate – you do the same and we will support each other AND VOTE.”

Finally, do you want representation or do you want results? If you want results – better services and facilities – a recent outside survey finds that we are getting better results from our city government NOW than the 13 other cities of 500,000 or more population, most or all with single-member districts. This survey, by a nationally-known survey firm, based in Kansas, that has been in business over 30 years, found that Austin ranked #1 in overall satisfaction compared to Dallas, Fort Worth, Oklahoma City, San Francisco, Seattle, Boston, New York, San Diego, Indianapolis, San Jose, Houston and Detroit. The firm conducted a statistically valid survey, receiving answers from each of six areas of the city. The company has worked in 46 states and designed and administered over l,000 statistically valid surveys in more than 300 cities and counties.

Resolving Complaints and Building Relationships

In the past I wouldn’t have thought of effective complaining as a relationship-building tool. That changed when reading The Squeaky Wheel: Complaining the Right Way to Get Results, Improve Your Relationships, and Enhance Your Self-Esteem by Guy Winch, Ph.D. Winch says that although we are chronic complainers, our complaints are seldom addressed. In fact we vent and grumble without expecting or getting results. However, knowing how to effectively complain can get problems resolved and, in the process, improve relationships, enhance self-esteem, and encourage beneficial change.

Here are a few of Winch’s ideas to make sure complaints get results:

• Complain to a person who can resolve the problem or offer a remedy. When we vent our frustrations to family, friends, and colleagues – rather than a person empowered to resolve the complaint – we may get emotional validation but not a resolution of the problem.

• Keep the conversational tone measured if the complaint is to succeed. Anger never makes a complaint more effective. Instead anger, sarcasm, condescension, and name-calling – however justified – deflect attention away from the content of the complaint and create defensiveness.

And if you happen to be on the receiving end of a complaint, use the opportunity to resolve the complaint and build client loyalty using an 8-step process.

1. Sincerely thank the individual for making you aware of the problem.
2. Explain why receiving the feedback is appreciated.
3. Apologize for the problem or mistake.
4. Take responsibility for the problem and promise to handle it immediately.
5. Ask for necessary details and information.
6. Correct the problem promptly or within the promised timeframe.
7. Follow-up with an e-mail or phone call to determine the level of satisfaction with the complaint handling.
8. Implement system changes or change procedures, if necessary, to prevent the problem from reoccurring.

For more ideas on this topic, consider Winch’s compelling book: Winch, Guy. The Squeaky Wheel: Complaining the Right Way to Get Results, Improve Your Relationships, and Enhance Your Self-Esteem. First edition. New York, NY; Walker and Company; 2011.


The City of Austin has invited the public to make comments on its new official web site. It’s expected to come out of “beta” this month, but in the meantime the City wants interested users to try it out and give feedback. On the right side of the web page, there’s a “Feedback” page where you can click to offer opinions, make suggestions and alert designers to needed corrections. Let them know what you think!