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Judge Covington to hear Mitchell's suit against Slusher

Thursday, March 28, 2002 by

The City Clerk and the City Auditor’s Office last night determined that Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman had, by a slim margin, met the signature requirement allowing her to run for a third term. According to the city, Goodman produced 18, 448 valid signatures—just 185 more than the five percent of registered voters required under the City Charter allowing her to run for another term.

City spokesman David Matustik said the staff did the same kind of analysis of signatures randomly selected as were done for Council Members Beverly Griffith and Daryl Slusher. However, because the number was so close to the required number, auditors used “a more exacting one-tailed test of confidence.” Matustik said they had a 93 percent level of confidence in their analysis.

Goodman said, “I’m glad they’re finally all counted and I understand why they had to use a more rigorous methodology, because it was close.” She added, “A ninety-three percent level of confidence, using the one-tailed methodology, is more accurate than a 99.98 level of confidence in a two-tailed test,” which is what they used for the calculations on the other two. She explained, “You don’t assume a higher end and a lower end. You let the computer calculate it. I’m confident that the statisticians know what they’re doing.”

“It ain’t over ‘til it’s over,” said activist and Goodman opponent Linda Curtis. She is scouring copies of Goodman’s petitions to determine whether Clerk Shirley Brown started with the correct number of signatures. Goodman turned in more than 24,000 signatures, but Brown eliminated about 700 of those because of missing birthdays, etc, leaving 23,313 to consider. Of those, slightly more than 79 percent were determined to be valid. Griffith and Slusher had more signatures and each had a validity rate of more than 80 percent.

Curtis told In Fact Daily she is still considering whether to intervene in the lawsuit filed by Slusher opponent Kirk Mitchell, but that suit is moving very rapidly and Curtis may not get organized in time to be part of it.

Mitchell said Judge Suzanne Covington—who ruled against an Austin Police Association challenge of the Charter language governing term limits—will be hearing the case on an expedited basis. The challenger said the case would be set for trial on Monday.

A number of media outlets reported on Wednesday that an official with the Texas Ethics Commission had declared that signatures—such as those given to the Slusher and Goodman campaigns by Bruce Todd’s Committee for Voter Choice—are a thing of value and constitute a contribution. Mitchell said it is possible the official might be called to testify for the plaintiffs.

The former mayor, who turned over more than 1,800 signatures to Goodman and Slusher, is not a defendant in the lawsuit, but has been given a notice of deposition. He criticized Mitchell for filing suit rather talking about the issues, saying Mitchell “has decided his political aspirations are more important than the will of nearly 20,000 citizens of Austin,” who signed the petitions.

Commissioners argue about what facts to consider

With one member absent, the Zoning and Platting Commission Tuesday night split 4-4 over a request to overturn a “balance of tract” waiver granted administratively for a proposed development in western Travis County. The owners of MRE Estates, LTD had asked for and received administrative permission to record a preliminary plat for a portion of the acreage they own along Pecan Road known as Medway Ranch . The land is in Travis County but within the city’s ETJ. The waiver had been granted by Mike Heitz, director of the Watershed Protection and Development Review Department, but was appealed by neighbors and environmental activists, including a group called “Citizens Concerned for Medway Preserve.” The appeal was somewhat unusual in that it was not brought by the property owner, but by surrounding residents. Attorney Amy R. Johnson argued on behalf of the neighbors, while consultant Sarah Crocker represented the owner of the property.

Neighbors told commissioners they were concerned about additional development in the area and the effect it would have on traffic. The property owner is requesting permission to build 30 single-family homes on 36 acres of land bordering Pecan Road. Access to those homes would be from Pecan Road. Construction vehicles and heavy equipment would also have to use that road during the construction process.

Environmentalists noted that the land is on the list of properties that could be acquired for the Balcones Canyonlands Conservation Plan reserve with federal grant money. Environmental activist Tim Jones told commissioners it wouldn’t make sense to grant development rights on a property that could soon be acquired for the specific purpose of preventing additional development. He also warned that development in the area might bring in domesticated animals and other, non-endangered birds that could have a detrimental effect on endangered species nearby. Officials with the US Fish and Wildlife Service have said they do not believe the tract in question currently contains endangered species habitat.

In deciding whether to grant the appeal of the administrative waiver, commissioners focused not on the environmental and traffic concerns but on the prescribed standards for granting the waiver. Those include access to the remaining portion of the tract, planning for water and sewer utilities for the area and whether there is a reasonable use for the remaining part of the tract. Commissioner Vincent Aldridge said he believed all of those standards had been met; therefore, there was no cause to overturn the decision of the department director.

Commissioner Michael Casias disagreed, saying he believed there were still questions concerning water and wastewater services in the area. The tract is within the service area for the Travis County Water Control and Improvement District #17. He also expressed concerns about access to the remaining, undeveloped portion of the tract and questioned the potential uses for the remainder of the site. “The city is required to at least conclude that there is a reasonable use of the balance of the original tract . . . and the city’s response is that, essentially, they don’t have to satisfy the requirement,” Casias said. “I think that even when we have a single owner for the entire tract, satisfying that requirement is something the city should look at.”

The commission was evenly divided on the issue. Casias attempted a motion to grant the appeal, thereby ruling in favor of the neighbors and against the property owner. But Aldridge offered a substitute motion in support of the director’s ruling, which Commissioner Keith Jackson seconded. Votes on the substitute motion and the original motion were both split 4-4, with Commissioners Aldridge, Jackson, Joseph Martinez and Chair Betty Baker electing to uphold the waiver. Commissioners Casias, Jean Mather, Niyanta Spelman, and Diana Castañeda were in favor of overturning the waiver. Commissioner Angular Adams was present at the beginning of the meeting, but not during the vote. Since those appealing the waiver could not get the required five votes, their request to overturn the waiver was denied. This decision cannot be appealed to the City Council.

Admonitions rejected

Martinez, who sided with the property owner, noted that many of the issues brought up during the discussion were not relevant to the commission’s decision. “In the future, we’ve got to get clearer on what we’re trying to do when dealing with appeals,” Martinez said. “This sounded like we heard the whole case. I think we do a disservice to ourselves and the people who sat here for two hours with the expectation that wisdom would somehow flow from the dais . . . I make a public admonishment to myself and my fellow commissioners that in all fairness to the applicants, for us to be clearer in the future about what exactly we’re doing when we’re dealing with an appeal.”

Castañeda didn’t appreciate his statement. “I refuse to be admonished by any commissioner,” she said. “This is a time of learning, this is a time of process for everyone. I think it’s only fair to be able to ask the questions that we have concerning anything regarding this parcel of land.”

That prompted a reconciliation effort from Chair Betty Baker. “If I owe you an apology, I will,” she said, “but I do feel we heard a lot of information that did not relate to what’s on our agenda.”,



BFI’s new lobbyist . . . Mark Rose, who left his job as general manager of the LCRA two years ago for a higher-paying job at Public Strategies, Inc. and then left that job last year, has taken on BFI as a client. Rose was seen in City Hall waiting to see Council member on behalf of the landfill company . . . Hot potato . . . Members of the Planning Commission got a review of the prototype map for single-member districts Wednesday night, along with a presentation from City Demographer Ryan Robinson. They’ve been asked by the City Council to study the maps and offer suggestions as to how they could affect planning issues, including the city’s future growth. At the suggestion of Chair Ben Heimsath, the matter was referred to the Comprehensive Plan subcommittee, chaired by Commissioner Lydia Ortiz. Ortiz was absent last night. Heimsath said the full commission could talk about the maps at the next meeting, April 10, after the committee has considered them. The City Council is scheduled to take a final vote on the matter April 11, but no one pointed that out last night. Robinson told commissioners that while district lines could be adjusted to make them more closely follow the boundaries of existing Neighborhood Planning areas, some planning areas would likely still be split when the maps go to the Council for final approval. “It’s hard to think of Zilker and Bouldin separately,” said Commissioner Dave Sullivan, who urged the staff to make an effort to keep closely-aligned neighborhoods in the same Council district. Commissioner Maggie Armstrong added, “To make a single-member district plan work, there should be some reason for areas to align themselves to together and to care about each other,” she said. Commissioners also got an early look at the potential political impact of the new districts. Jeff Jack, appearing on behalf of the Zilker Neighborhood Association, pointed out that many of the central area precincts that traditionally have the highest voter-turnout rates are grouped into the same district. Robinson promised that revised maps would be available either today or tomorrow. He also said the city is working to put the maps on the Internet as soon as possible . . . In Case You’ve Forgotten . . . There’s a runoff on April 9th for those party primary races that weren’t decided March 12th. In the race for the Democratic nomination for State Representative in District 51, Marcos De Leon didn’t make the runoff. He’s endorsing Lulu Flores today over opponent Eddie Rodriguez. Flores has also received the endorsement of the El Concilio, which had backed De Leon. Early voting begins next Monday . . . Money for the Y . . . Members of the Capital Area Transportation Coalition are making a trip to today’s meeting of the Texas Transportation Commission . They’re requesting funding in 2006 for three construction projects, including improvements for the “Y” in Oak Hill on US 290 West. . . Do you recognize this form ? . . . There’s a good reason why Place 1 candidate Kirk Mitchell’s press releases look almost identical to press releases put out by political consultant Mike Blizzard, who is working for the Beverly Griffith campaign. They come from the same place. Blizzard said he and Mitchell are buddies and have discussed what role he might play in Mitchell’s campaign, but as of now, he is not officially part of the Mitchell team.

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


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