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Mitchell petition pending at Supreme Court

Friday, April 5, 2002 by

Faced with a loss at the Texas Supreme Court and rising legal costs, Place 3 challenger Linda Curtis decided Thursday to drop her lawsuit against Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman. After hearing that the Texas Supreme Court had rejected her application for a writ of mandamus, Curtis said she would no longer pursue the lawsuit. Her writ asked the court to order City Clerk Shirley Brown not to place Goodman’s name on the May 4 ballot. She also asked that the court prohibit the city and the clerk from “counting, canvassing, or certifying any votes cast for Jackie Goodman.”

The court acted without asking for a response from either the city or Goodman, denying Curtis’ request within a few hours of the legal filing. Her arguments were based partially on unproven allegations concerning the method the city used to get a statistical sample of signatures on Goodman’s petitions. The Supreme Court generally responds to legal arguments based on facts brought out in lower courts, reviewing the record of what was decided. Judge Jeanne Meurer had told Curtis she could have a trial, and Goodman’s attorney had asked for a jury. That was pending when Curtis’ attorney Ann del Llano filed her Supreme Court request.

Curtis told In Fact Daily, “So let’s run a campaign. We got a ruling from the highest court . . . I think the issues (in the campaign) are not unrelated to how the petitions were handled. It’s all about whether you get a fair hearing at City Hall or not, and the people of Austin will have a choice.” She said she wanted to offer “serious, real democratic input by all of our neighborhoods.”

Going to court costs money

The challenger, who is best known for her petition drives to put various matters, such as campaign finance proposals, before the voters, said she had not yet received a bill from her attorney. But she said del Llano would be charging her standard rate of $150 per hour. Curtis noted that she had spent $700 just on making copies for the Supreme Court petition.

City Clerk Shirley Brown said those who requested copies of incumbents’ petitions, including Curtis, paid a total of $1,127.84 for those copies. A private service was brought in to make the copies overnight during the time the signatures were being counted, in order to expedite the copying. Brown stressed that the money was paid in advance and did not come out of taxpayers’ pockets.

Goodman also knows about the costs of justice. She said, “I was very happy about that (the ruling), because good lawyers are expensive and I get a little nervous when we have all these things for them to do.”

Also Thursday, Council Member Daryl Slusher’s most serious opponent, Kirk Mitchell, asked the Supreme Court to issue a writ of mandamus. His grounds were not the same as Curtis put forward, but were based on the contention that the incumbent had not played by the rules when he submitted signatures gathered by former Mayor Bruce Todd. Mitchell also claims that the city’s statisticians made significant errors when figuring out how many valid signatures the petitions contain.

Slusher’s attorney, Buck Wood, said his office had received a copy of Mitchell’s latest pleadings. The petition asks the court to order Judge Suzanne Covington, who dismissed Mitchell’s suit against Slusher, to hold a trial on the matter. Wood said the Supreme Court had not requested a response from Slusher, and absent that request, no response is required. Generally speaking, if the high court fails to ask for an opponent’s response within a day or so, it is an indication that the request for a writ is going to be denied.

Mitchell said Thursday night that he would follow his lawyer’s advice after receiving a ruling from the Supreme Court. He was contacted while driving home from a meeting with members of the Circle C Homeowners Association . In spite of their past differences, Mitchell said, he and the group were not as far apart as one would think. He said the group’s desire to have “appropriate local businesses,” seemed reasonable, so long as they do not want to put large office buildings over the aquifer, or add too much to the area’s impervious cover.

He said he too is ready to move on with the campaign. “I’m going to support Prop. l,” he said, referring to the public financing proposal. “People are going to criticize me for writing checks to fund my campaign, but I bet I’ll match Daryl Slusher stride for stride,” in collecting contributions. As far as the statistical errors he claims were made in counting the incumbents’ signatures, Mitchell said, “I have concluded that they were honest mistakes. They’re doing their best to do an honorable job. It’s not the same as getting rigged. My impression is they’ve done a pretty good job.”

Austin: still the home of the weird, the land of the free

Media-savvy City Council Candidate Linda Curtis was upstaged briefly during her own news conference outside the HEB on E. 41st Street at IH-35. Members of the Travis County Green Party and Libertarian Party joined Curtis to protest the store’s decision to bar petition-gatherers from its property. That action had provoked Curtis into filing a lawsuit—though she later dropped the case.

Curtis also called on HEB to allow its stores to be used as early voting locations. Three HEB stores are sill early voting sites ( http://www.co.travis.tx.us/county_clerk/election/early.asp ), but several others are not. That company decision stemmed, in part, from the lawsuit Curtis filed over access to the store’s property for her petition-gathering efforts. “They are our main local grocery store,” Curtis said. “We’re not picking on HEB, we’re giving HEB the credit for being our neighborhood grocery and we’d like them to reopen their early voting sites.”

Just after Curtis finished criticizing Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir for failing to put public pressure on HEB, DeBeauvoir arrived at Curtis’ news conference. Most of the assembled reporters continued to interview Curtis, at least until the arrival of Alfred Stanley, who carried a sign reading “ Linda ‘Sue’ Curtis.” “ HEB does more for this community in a minute than Linda will do in her entire life,” Stanley said. “It’s because of her lawsuit we’re not able to vote here any more. If she’d just stop suing people and start working for the good of the community, we’d all be better off.” Stanley, who serves as Jackie Goodman's Finance Chairman, said he was there simply as a private citizen. “It’s my birthday, and I’m celebrating with my own personal demonstration,” he said, “I came over here without discussing this with anybody beforehand after I read it in In Fact Daily. I know Linda appreciates outspokenness, and I’m being a little outspoken.”

Curtis resumed her news conference and spoke for another fifteen minutes about her legal efforts to have Goodman removed from the ballot. She also promoted the inaugural meeting of her group, “Independent Texans,” scheduled for this Saturday at the Carver Library at 1161 Angelina from 10am to 2pm

Neighborhood petition falls short of 20 percent requirement

The yearlong debate over the “Villas on Guadalupe” ended Thursday as the Council granted the requested zoning change to MF-6. The 4-3 vote was especially frustrating for members of the North University Neighborhood Association (NUNA), who had hoped a valid petition would trigger the requirement for a super-majority vote. However, the names they submitted on Wednesday amounted to 19.75 percent of the surrounding property owners, leaving the group just a few tenths of a percentage point short of the required 20 percent and allowing the zoning change with a simple majority.

“It’s agonizing,” NUNA President Jerry Roemisch said of the group’s failure to obtain a valid petition.

Council Members Daryl Slusher, Will Wynn, Danny Thomas and Mayor Gus Garcia voted in favor of the zoning change. Council Members Beverly Griffith, Raul Alvarez and Jackie Goodman were opposed.

Supporters of the project, including outgoing Student Government President Matt Hammond, say the 150-unit complex at 27th and Guadalupe will help fill a need for student housing near the UT campus. Opponents have criticized the number of units in the proposed complex, saying the added residents will aggravate the problems they’re already experiencing with parking and traffic. They’re also concerned that other developers will ask for MF-6 zoning, eventually driving out single-family homeowners.

Alvarez said he sympathized with the neighborhood concerns and would have preferred the MF-4 zoning recommended by the Zoning and Platting Commission . “One hundred and fifty units is too dense,” Alvarez said, “and that’s the reason I can’t support the current version of the proposal.”

Slusher said he had listened to the concerns of NUNA residents before reaching his decision. “I’m convinced the neighborhood is going to be adequately protected, and that this is not a precedent-setting case for anything on the other side of 31st street, or really anywhere,” Slusher said. “I just think that with the number of students we have, that this is an appropriate development.”

Garcia agreed, noting that the population of the university had grown dramatically since he attended in the late 1950’s. “I’ve seen the area grow and develop from when I came here in 1957,” Garcia said. “What has happened to the city is, it has grown . . . and the university has grown along with it. We need to find ways to provide housing for those students so that they don’t have to get on buses and come all the way from the edge of town to go to the university. Everything considered, given the compromises the developer has agreed to, I think it’s a good project.”

Neighbors say they will express their disappointment with the vote at the ballot box. “We’re certainly going to take it to the polls; that’s going to be the next step,” Roemisch said. “We’ve got elections coming up and we need to have neighborhood-friendly Council members.” Slusher, Griffith and Goodman are all up for re-election on May 4th.

The project worked its way through the zoning process for over a year. There were several postponement requests, the issue was sent to mediation and the zoning change was considered more than once by the ZAP Commission because of an error in listing the actual address of the site. There was also a last-minute adjustment when the developers agreed to set aside ten percent of the apartment units for affordable housing under the city’s SMART Housing program. Those units could be rented to UT students or university employees and their families.

Mike McHone, who represented property owner Brad Zucker throughout the process, said he was happy the Council reached a decision. “It’s been a very long year,” McHone said. “We’re very, very pleased. We think it’s the right decision to make for the community of Austin . . . providing student housing close to the university.”

McHone says the property owner hopes to begin construction this August. The complex would take about one year to complete, with a possible opening in August 2003.

Neighborhood resident Mary Gay Maxwell was very disheartened by the outcome. “We followed the rules and operated in good faith as if it might matter. But it didn’t. Money matters, and we don’t have that kind of money.” She thanked the three Council Members who voted against the zoning change. “We’re so grateful for the Mayor Pro Tem’s support, and Beverly Griffith and Raul Alvarez.” Griffith and Alvarez had consistently voted no, and Goodman has a policy of not voting against valid petitions. Maxwell said Goodman came to a recent neighborhood meeting and paid attention to NUNA’s concerns.

Cedar Door barely squeaks through on first vote . . . The City Council yesterday approved on first reading only allowing the Toomey Road property to be designated CS-1 so that alcohol may be served. The property is part of land owned by Susan Toomey Frost, the landlady of the Shady Grove Trailer Park. Neighbors in another trailer park are worried about possible noise generated by the bar. However, the Council voted 5-1-1 in favor of the change, with Council Member Danny Thomas voting no and Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman temporarily off the dais. It was clear from the discussion, however, that the developer needs to do more talking with the neighbors . . . Futrell decision next week . . . Council Member Daryl Slusher said that he and Mayor Gus Garcia will be co-sponsoring an item on next week’s agenda to appoint Deputy City Manager Toby Futrell to be City Manager on a permanent basis. Futrell was designated to take over as Acting City Manager shortly after City Manager Jesus Garza announced his departure a few months ago. Futrell would only say that she was, “Obviously pleased,” with Slusher’s announcement. I think we’ve had a sufficient amount of time now for people to see her perform in the role. Obviously, these experienced Council members would not post the item for action if they didn’t have the votes for approval . . . Appointments . . . The City Council appointed Chien Lee to the Bond Oversight Commission and Assistant City Manager Mike McDonald to the Animal Advisory Board. Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman appointed Valerie Malone to the Austin Commission for Women. Grace Hsieh was appointed to the Resource Management Commission by Council Member Daryl Slusher and Ivan Javier Naranjo was appointed to the Community Development Commission by Council Member Raul Alvarez . . . Campaign finance reports . . . Yesterday was the deadline for turning in campaign finance reports, although some chose the US mail route, which is perfectly acceptable to the City Clerk. Vincent Aldridge, the Planning Commission member who is running against Council Member Daryl Slusher, along with Kirk Mitchell, cross-dresser Jennifer Gale and student Craig Barrett, reported no contributions or expenditures. Place 3 candidate Billy Sifuentes, the former police officer, reported total political contributions of $2,390 as well as a $1,000 loan to himself. His expenditures as of March 31 were reported as $3,588. In contrast, Council Member Beverly Griffith reported she had raised more than $33,000 and spent more than $46,000 during the past three months. She paid Linda Curtis, petition-gatherer, nearly $4,000. Consultants at Grassroots Solutions are also receiving $2,000 per month. Kirk Mitchell said yesterday he has also hired Grassroots Solutions as consultants on his campaign. In fact, according to Mitchell’s contribution and expenditure report, his total expenditure for this reporting period was $3,500 to Grassroots Solutions. He reported bringing in $600 in campaign contributions.. . . Single-member what? . . . One person spoke at the last night’s public hearing before the City Council on the single-member district maps. Ron Smith suggested a redistricting commission and told Council members not to worry too much about “one-man, one-vote” problems. What we can’t figure out is whether everyone already knows how they will vote, or if anyone even knows it’s on the ballot. Early voting starts April 17. To read ballot language for all the Charter Amendments, visit http://www.ci.austin.txand a loan to himself for.us/news/02/elec_charter.htm

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