From the Austin City Code:
The councilmember elected to and occupying the place designated “mayor” shall be the mayor of the City of Austin. At its first meeting following each regular election of councilmembers, the council shall, by election, designate one of its number as mayor pro tem, who shall serve in such capacity during the pleasure of the council. The mayor shall preside at all meetings of the council and shall be recognized as head of the city government for all ceremonial purposes, for the purpose of receiving service of civil process, and for military purposes, but he or she shall have no regular administrative duties. The mayor, as a member of the council, shall be entitled to vote upon all matters considered by the council, but shall have no veto power. The mayor pro tem shall act as mayor during the absence or disability of the mayor, and shall have power to perform every act the mayor could perform if present.
The Mayor of Austin is a ceremonial position that relies on the moral authority and informal power-wielding skills of the position’s holder to resemble what most people traditionally think of as a ‘Mayor’ (i.e. the person with a ‘citywide’ vision and a relative ability to get things done that can veto legislators to enforce some spending/policy discipline.) Well, we don’t have that here in this town.
So, when people say that at-large seats under a hybrid city council election system are mini-Mayors, they kinda have it wrong. They are full-blown Mayors, at least in terms of formal power. It’s what we have now, but would be diluted to increase the weight of geographic-based representation under a hybrid at-large/SMDs plan.
I am all for utilizing SMDs in our election design as I want a greater set of identity and opinion groups/minorities represented. But not having a countervailing force that represents the median voter, or more plainly, the ‘majority’, is a recipe for relatively high-cost-low-public-value neighborhood expenditures since there is no one to provide discipline on overall spending . More worrisome is the potential disinterest in policy priorities that extend beyond geographic boundaries; some issues like the city’s approach to human capital or economic development can not just be the aggregation of neighborhood priorities.
I’d much prefer a true Mayor with veto power, but if that is not possible, then a set of ‘fake’ Mayors with a few votes is better than just one citywide elected with a neat title.