Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Districts 4 and 7 Organize Independent Review of Candidates

North Austin Voting Districts
Hopeful citizens are counting on Austin’s adoption of the 10-1 city council system to result in grassroots candidates being elected this fall, while others are taking a more hands-on approach in deciding who represents their interests in City Hall.

Steven Zettner, editor of AustinDistrict7.org, believes that residents have an obligation to conduct their own review of their district’s candidates. “I'm impressed that the mainstream media has done as good a job as they have,” he said, “but there's just a lot across the city to cover. What we're trying to provide for District 7 is more depth.” AustinDistrict7.org provides a platform for residents to discuss district issues and review candidate’s positions, without interference from political campaigns or outside interests.

District 4 organizers have created a similar website, AustinDistrict4.org, to scrutinize their own candidates. Domenic Schiera, a community spokesperson, wants everyone in the city to be aware of his district’s needs. “The goal of organizing District 4 is to ensure that everyone - media, City Council candidates within and outside the district, and residents within and outside the district - understands the issues important to District 4,” he said.
Steven Zettner, Editor of www.AustinDistrict7.org

District 7 has eight candidates running, and Zettner has interviewed five, with more to come. Each has a profile on the site that gives a brief biography, references to news articles, and links to campaign websites. Austindistrict4.org also provides biographies of their eight candidates, although independent interviews have not been conducted.

As far as narrowing down key district issues to present on the site, Zettner said that it was a combined effort of the website’s volunteer staff and District 7 residents. For District 4’s website, Schiera said, “We have about 400 people on our mailing list.  We distributed a survey and request for candidate forum questions to the mailing list, in which 51 people responded.  The candidate forum questions were edited by a group of 15-20 people, who joined from the mailing list and possibly neighborhood residents who saw the posting on their list-serve.”
Domenic Schiera, District 4 Organizer

Many of those involved in these websites are also involved in the North Austin Coalition of Neighborhoods, which has served to mobilize area interests for years. “Districts 4 and 7 were preparing for 10-1 changes before the district lines were drawn,” Schiera said. This already established network gave these website projects a head start in reporting on the election. “We planned for this site last year,” Zettner said, “before there was any mainstream coverage.  We had an inkling that this was going to be a once-in-a-lifetime, crazy election, which has proven to be the case.” North Austin is the only region of the city with this level of coordination between its neighborhood associations.

For concerned citizens outside of Districts 4 and 7, public forums provide a space to meet and question city council candidates. Forums will start Wednesday, September 3rd, and will continue into October. North Austin residents who cannot make these forums, however, will have the luxury of visiting these independent websites to judge their candidates from a grassroots perspective.