After seeing tepid interest from Austinites about serving on a city commission that will draw 10 new City Council districts, the city has now received more than 500 applications.
But the applicant pool is still disproportionately white, compared with the city’s overall population. City officials have said they want a diverse commission that reflects Austin’s demographics.
Fourteen people will be chosen for the commission this spring, as the city carries out a plan voters OK’d in November to change the council from seven citywide representatives to 10 district-based members and a citywide mayor.
The commission must draw maps by next spring, when candidates for the 11 council seats can start campaigning for a November election.
As of Friday, the deadline for commission applications, 531 people had applied, but mailed forms are still trickling in to City Auditor Ken Mory’s office, which is overseeing the application process.
“It’s an excellent number,” said Linda Curtis, a coordinator for Austinites for Geographic Representation, the citizens group that petitioned to get the 10-district plan on the ballot last fall.
City officials were worried in early February that there weren’t enough applicants and that they weren’t sufficiently diverse. At that time, mostly white men had applied.
But the city got a deluge of applications as the deadline neared.
As of Monday’s tally, 67 percent of the applicants are white, 17 percent are Hispanic, 10 percent are African-American and 2 percent are Asian. Austin’s overall population is 48 percent white, 36 percent Hispanic, 7 percent African-American and 7 percent Asian.
Most of the applicants — 58 percent — are male.
The applicants are spread across the city, with the biggest concentrations in West and Central Austin, according to a city-generated map showing where each applicant lives.
Commission applicants must have no paid ties to city politics, to keep the map-drawing work free from political influence. They also must be registered voters who have voted in at least three of the past five city general elections.
That voting requirement is probably the reason so few Asian residents applied, said Richard Jung, chairman of the Asian American Resource Center’s board.
Because many Asian residents moved to Austin in the past few years, they do not have a long voting history here, he said.
The city auditor also accepted applications from certified public accountants to serve on a three-person panel that will whittle the map-drawing applicants to 60 finalists by mid-May. Eighty-one people applied for that, and Mory will choose three panelists at random on Monday.
Once the CPAs have chosen 60 finalists for the map-drawing commission, each City Council member will be able to strike one. The first eight commission members will then be picked at random from the remaining finalists in late May. Those eight will select the final six members, looking to round out the commission’s diversity.
Commission members are likely to attend several meetings over many months and won’t be paid.