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Clerk says Goodman, Slusher

Thursday, March 21, 2002 by

Have enough signatures for ballot

10 challengers file to replace 3 incumbents

Two weary incumbent Council members and eight more candidates made the trip to City Clerk Shirley Brown’s office yesterday to sign up for places on the May 4 ballot. When Brown and her deputies had finished counting last night, she reported that Council Member Daryl Slusher had delivered 24,485 valid signatures and Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman at least 23,313.

Each was required to bring in signatures of five percent of Austin’s registered voters, or 18,263 signatures, but each gathered more than necessary in case some proved invalid. Council Member Beverly Griffith had previously brought 25,942 signatures determined to be valid by the clerk. (See In Fact Daily, March 19, 2002.)

Slusher arrived about 1:30 pm, carrying his 24,626 signatures with him. Goodman arrived about two hours later, towing hers. At first Brown said her employees would not be able to verify both stacks by the end of the evening. But she later changed her mind—perhaps because of pressure put on her by activist Linda Curtis. Curtis, who has been involved in numerous referendum campaigns, worked for Griffith to bring in signatures. Curtis also helped orchestrate the Clean Campaigns petition drive. The result of that drive will be on the May 4 ballot in the form of a public-private financing proposal for municipal elections.

Curtis signed up to run against Goodman late Wednesday afternoon. She told In Fact Daily, “I’m running to make sure that there is an adequate review of these petitions and that more broadly speaking, the democratic process is a bottom-line issue in this campaign. You have all these shenanigans down here trying to squirm people on the ballot without a random validity check of these petitions. I understand this process very, very well . . . and I’m here to make sure that we have a watchdog that will kick some butt around here if they don’t do their job.”

Brown said she used exactly the same method for determining the validity of signatures on every candidate’s petition, whether they brought in thousands or only the 178 normally required. She said under previous Clerk Eldon Aldridge, a federal judge had very explicitly stated that the standard for determining the validity of a signature was whether “a reasonable person would have known what the person intended.” In some cases, she said, zip codes were missing, but it was not difficult to determine from the address and from maps whether the address was in the city. In cases where there was no affidavit, she said, the staff looked at voter registration records “in the way that some people would like us to do on all of them.” With Goodman’s, she said, “We finally got to the point where there was no advantage,” in continuing to count and seek information.

Curtis submitted a letter to the City Clerk’s office requesting a copy of the signatures filed by Goodman so she can personally review them. She also asked Brown to refrain from printing the ballot for the May 4th election until any legal challenges are resolved. “We’ve heard she’s going to send the ballot to the printer on Friday.” Curtis said, “and we’re not going to get a copy of the signatures until Friday.” She further asked that the clerk perform a statistical analysis of the validity of the signatures gathered by the Goodman campaign. That would require workers in the clerk’s office to validate a specific percentage of the signatures and apply that validity rate to the entire amount to determine if there are enough.

Brown said one of Slusher’s opponents, Vincent Aldridge, had filed a letter almost identical to Curtis’. As for the idea that the ballot might be printed on Friday, Brown said, “I don’t know why she would think that. We do a drawing for a place on the ballot (Friday) and that gives the publisher” a place to start with his layout. But since there are numerous Charter amendments—all of which must get the careful attention of the legal department after final approval today, perhaps, and then it all has to be translated into Spanish, it will take some time before the ballot is set. She said the printer requires the city to turn in its final version on or before April 5 or the printer will not guarantee ballots by the first day of early voting, April 17.

She said any requests for copies of the petitions would be treated as Open Records requests and would be honored. The cost would be ten cents a page, she said, and it may take the staff “a very long time” to make all the copies. She said Goodman had turned in 2,735 pages, Slusher 2,903 pages and Griffith 2,815 pages.

Asked to reflect on the signature-gathering process, Slusher said, “At times, it was frustrating . . . but in a way it’s been a good experience because I’ve gotten out to talk to thousands of people and listened to their concerns.”

Goodman, who never got to sleep between looking at petitions and attending Wednesday’s work session, said, “We’re the first (Council members) to ever have to deal with this. The logistics were interesting—very challenging.” She agreed that it would have been simpler and less costly to simply switch seats, “but I don’t think it would have been following the spirit of the law.”

In addition to Curtis, Goodman will face retired police officer Billy Sifuentes on the ballot. Environmentalist and bicycle activist Robin Stallings also signed up for Place 3, but did not do so in order to run against Goodman. He told In Fact Daily, “I have a great concern that with the uncertainty and the novelty of the petition process that we’re going through right now, if Jackie Goodman were challenged and knocked off, that would leave a serious gap for neighborhood and environmental interests . . . She’s been very solid on those issues. I’m here looking out for environmental and neighborhood and bicycling interests . . . and I’ll protect those interests if Jackie gets knocked off the ballot. Hopefully that will not happen, but we’ll see how it goes.”

Brown said several candidates had inquired about how they might withdraw from the race before the ballots are printed. She said she and her staff would next work on devising forms for withdrawal, since the issue seems likely to arise.

Slusher’s opponents include Jennifer Gale, student Craig Barrett, the son of former Neighborhood Planning guru Carol Barrett, attorney and Zoning and Platting Commissioner Vincent Aldridge and Kirk Mitchell, a venture capitalist who chairs the SOS Alliance.

Mitchell, who did not appear at City Hall Wednesday, sent his campaign treasurer, Ann del Llano, to file the appropriate paperwork. He said he thought petitions from both Slusher and Goodman should be “scrutinized . . . with the same care that ordinary folks’ (petitions) have.” The environmentalist/businessman was once a strong Slusher supporter. However, Mitchell’s relationship with the incumbent has soured over the years, as has Slusher’s relationship with Bill Bunch, executive director of the SOS Alliance . “I don’t see him fighting down to his last breath,” for the environmental cause, Mitchell said, believing that Slusher has turned his back on those who first elected him. However, Mitchell did not seem to be committed to a full-time campaign. He said he thought it was important to file in case the incumbent was disqualified because of insufficient valid signatures.

Bruce Todd, who started a citizens political action committee to help the incumbents, was happy to hear that the signatures had been validated. He said his group only brought in about 1,850 signatures. “The numbers of signatures submitted, even with a moderate discount from the total, is still a massive sign of support—more signatures than I think any incumbent has received in votes during an election. I think it shows that those running for re-election have broad based support . . . Had they not both been hard workers and had broad-based support, our signatures would not have helped.”

Short campaign gives Griffith advantage

Three candidates signed up yesterday to run against Council Member Beverly Griffith—two of whom may be battling for some of the same votes: former Assistant City Manager Betty Dunkerley and attorney Brewster McCracken. Both had well-attended announcements, but neither has the name recognition or the political experience of the incumbent. The other candidate in the race is Eddie Green Bradford . Bradford is a 22-year-old benefits consultant who graduated from the University of Texas in August. He and his friend Craig Barrett, who is running against Slusher, both said the city doesn’t pay enough attention to its student population. Each admitted, however, that the student population doesn’t have a very good voting record.

Dunkerley said, “I know how cities work, and I know how the city’s money works . . . Other than good financial decisions, I'm also very interested in making Austin more affordable to the average citizen. In addition to that, I’m very interested in health care and I’m quite concerned with the overcrowding in our city’s emergency rooms . . . so I'll have some programs that I hope will help alleviate that . . .I’d like for people to get to know me and know what I really stand for, and I think once they do that they’ll know that I do have something to offer at the Council level.”

McCracken said, “We’re going to be making some important decisions in the next five years . . . particularly on addressing our traffic crisis, bringing new and good jobs to Austin and protecting Austin’s uniqueness. To accomplish those things, we’re going to need consensus-builders . . . we don’t have the luxury of polarizing Council members. That’s why I chose to run in Place Four, because there’s a real difference between what I want to achieve and what the incumbent wants to achieve.”

Most cities take 6 months to a year to work on district maps

Maps of the proposed single-member districts will be available before citizens go to the polls to vote on the concept May 4th. Supporters of the single-member district proposal say having those maps in place will allow voters to know what the impact of the proposal would be before they make their decision. “This is what the citizens have cried out for,” said Council Member Danny Thomas. “I heard when I was running for office that if we did go into single-member districts, if it came on the ballot, they would like to know exactly what the districts were drawn out to be.” In order to have the district maps in place by the time early voting begins on April 17th, the Council will attempt to shorten the potentially contentious process of drawing the district lines from several months to just a few weeks.

“It’s going to take some time and some sacrifices, but that’s what it’s all about: serving the citizens of Austin,” said Thomas. The Council will likely schedule multiple special meetings in locations across the city to present the prototype maps for the eight districts and take citizen input. In addition to putting up information about those meetings on the city’s web site and in neighborhood newsletters, the city could also use commercial media outlets in its public outreach program. Any such program would include information in both English and Spanish, and publishing information in other languages would not be ruled out. City staffers are expected to present a draft of a communication plan on the redistricting process to Council members at today’s meeting.

Assistant City Attorney John Steiner told Council members the U.S. Department of Justice would be looking for evidence of extensive public participation when it reviewed any district maps. “We’ll have to provide evidence of public notice, the opportunity that the public has had to be heard, the opportunity for interested parties to participate in the decision and an account of the extent to which the participation—especially by minority members—in fact took place,” Steiner said. “If the districts are to be drawn in time for them to be meaningful for the May 4th election . . . we’re going to need to get that public participation underway pretty quickly.”

The Council is not posted for a meeting on Thursday, March 28th, but could schedule a special meeting for April 2nd to present the prototype maps to the public. Council members have been working with two alternate plans showing eight single-member districts that were prepared by the office of City Demographer Ryan Robinson. The district maps may also be referred to the Planning Commission for comment.

Robinson noted that other cities had invested much more time in the process of drawing and redrawing district boundary lines. “It seems to me that we are wanting to condense the process that other large cities have done over a half a year or a year . . . we might be pulling a rabbit out of a hat to do it in this three-week period.” But Robinson assured the Council his staff would be up to the task. “We’re ready to go and can throw as much time and energy at this as we need to.”

The process of drawing district boundary lines can be one of the most politically charged duties undertaken by a city Council. It is open to lawsuits from outside groups claiming disenfranchisement and subject to scrutiny from federal officials. Larger cities faced with the task of adjusting boundaries for existing single-member districts have spent several months coming up with even minor changes.

In Phoenix, the process for redrawing the boundary lines for that city’s 2003 Council elections began in 2001 with a series of public hearings facilitated by a team of outside consultants. The city of San Jose, California held a series of twelve public meetings between March and August of 2001 before approving a redistricting plan based on figures from the 2000 Census. City officials in Berkeley, California, took proposals on redrawing their boundary lines for a month in the summer of 2001, and then held two public hearings before voting on their changes last fall. The City Council of Fort Worth is scheduled to adopt new boundaries for their eight single-member districts in April. That city began the redistricting process in November of 2001 with a city-sponsored workshop to educate the public on the redistricting process before accepting proposals in January of 2002.

Once the lines are drawn, they would be adopted by the City Council in the form of an “anticipatory” ordinance. That ordinance would only take effect if the voters approve the switch to the new system on May 4th. Having the boundaries established in an ordinance also allows revisions, if necessary, to meet the standards imposed by the U.S. Justice Department.

Consumer advocate, term limits, campaign financing receive 2nd approval

With a full plate of complex issues yesterday, the City Council postponed until today the subject of how much money the city manager ought to be able to spend without Council approval. At least five Council members must vote in favor of any proposal to place that item before voters since three separate votes would otherwise be required. The current Charter provision allows the manager to independently enter into contracts for up to $43,000. (See In Fact Daily, March 20, 2002. )

Four members of the Council who have served long enough to face the term limits question— Mayor Gus Garcia and Council Members Daryl Slusher, Beverly Griffith and Jackie Goodman—voted to place an item on the ballot to consider the amendment’s removal. The newer members, Danny Thomas, Raul Alvarez and Will Wynn voted against it.

If single-member districts are approved by voters, the outcome of that proposition is unlikely to affect any of the current Council members, since all the Council seats will be renumbered. If the district plan fails, however, and voters reject the option of eliminating the term limit provision, some members of this Council may face the issue in future elections.

On a vote of 4-3, the Council gave second reading approval to placing the current $100 campaign contribution limit on the ballot, with Council Members Raul Alvarez, Danny Thomas and Beverly Griffith voting against it. Council Member Will Wynn argued that the measure should go on the ballot so that the Council may later enact a better campaign finance reform measure. If the proposal from the Clean Campaigns group is approved, that measure would take the place of the current Charter Amendment and would prevent the Council from enacting a contrary ordinance.

Wynn left as Alvarez moved to place the utility consumer advocate issue on the ballot. After meeting with the City Attorney, four members voted in favor of the item allowing, but not requiring, appointment of the advocate. The language approved Wednesday defines the consumer advocate’s duties as advising “the Council on electric utility rates, planning, and product and service delivery issues.” Mayor Gus Garcia and Council Member Daryl Slusher voted no. Wynn had earlier voted against the measure.

Villas on Guadalupe . . . Development representatives have once again figured out how to defeat the valid petition of neighbors of the proposed Villas on Guadalupe, and the neighbors are up in arms once more over behavior of the developer and his representatives. As neighborhood activist Mary Gay Maxwell explains it, the developers have resorted to bribery to get property owners to remove their names from the petition. Attorney Richard Suttle said, “There have been no bribes offered. There have been negotiations aimed at easing concerns of petitioners.” He said two or three of the property owners had changed their minds, but that he was “not at liberty to say” whether developer Brad Zucker was purchasing any of those property owners’ land in order to reach an agreement. At any rate, the neighborhood has requested a postponement of the third vote on the zoning change for the 2700 block of Guadalupe . . . King Fisher Creek in more trouble . . . The Council is also scheduled to reconsider a request for water service for the troubled southeast affordable apartment complex on East St. Elmo Road. Neighbors have been fighting the complex for many months and the Council has already rejected one request. Now, we hear that the development needs to request a variance from subdivision rules. The procedure could take more time than King Fisher’s financial backers will allow, so the whole project may have to be scrapped . . . Saturday work on a park project . . . Council Member Raul Alvarez will join volunteers from the Austin Parks Foundation, 3M, the LCRA, Keep Austin Beautiful, the American YouthWorks Environmental Corps and the city’s Parks & Recreation Department in cleaning up the Roy G. Guererro Colorado River Park beginning at 9am Saturday. Three shifts are planned to do all the work. Free lunch provided by Juan in a Million. For more information, call 477-1566.

© 2002 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.

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