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Slusher, Goodman continue to rack up endorsements

Thursday, April 4, 2002 by

Lawyers for two challengers to incumbent City Council members spent Wednesday pondering their next legal moves, as Council Members Daryl Slusher and Jackie Goodman continued to rack up endorsements from local civic organizations.

The Austin Lesbian/Gay Political Caucus endorsed both Slusher and Goodman Tuesday night, and gave their seal of approval to newcomer Brewster McCracken, who is running against Place 4 incumbent Council Member Beverly Griffith. The group did not take a position on single-member districts, although a majority voted against the proposal. The group’s by-laws say there must be a 60 percent vote for an endorsement.

Goodman opponent Linda Curtis said that she was not allowed to go to the ALGPC meeting because the group did not receive her email response to their questionnaire, but some of her supporters were there. “There needs to be some serious reform of the ways these groups use to endorse. It kind of sets the stage for people stacking meetings,” because members are allowed to pay their dues on the night of the endorsement vote. “I don’t know the details and I’m not pointing fingers,” however, she said.

The Austin Police Association Political Action Committee also decided to endorse Slusher, without hearing from other candidates in the Place 1 race. The incumbent has been supportive of their issues and the other candidates did not appear to offer more to the organization than Slusher, according to a behind-the-scenes observer. However, the APA PAC will ask candidates for Place 3 and Place 4 to discuss their views with a panel of police officers next week. Goodman is an honorary member of the police association and one of her opponents, retired police officer Billy Sifuentes, is a life member of the group. The police group has never endorsed Griffith.

Last night, West Austin Democrats endorsed all three incumbents, with Slusher and Goodman racking up “substantial margins” over their opponents. Griffith won by about 53 percent over McCracken, her closest rival in the tally. This group also voted to oppose single-member districts. (See Whispers for details on other propositions.)

On the legal front, Brad Rockwell, attorney for Slusher’s opponent, Kirk Mitchell, said, “We’re moving in the direction,” of filing a writ of mandamus with either the Third Court of Appeals or the Texas Supreme Court. Either court could hear the matter, but Rockwell said the higher court would be the choice if significant questions of state law were involved and the matter was urgent. He feels that both of those conditions exist. Rockwell said he would be asking the court to order Judge Suzanne Covington, who dismissed Mitchell’s lawsuit, to proceed to trial on the merits. (See In Fact Daily, April 3, 2002.) Should the court grant such a writ, the City of Austin, City Clerk Shirley Brown and Slusher would be reinstated as defendants.

Slusher's lawyer, Doug Ray of Ray, Wood & Bonilla, said he is quite familiar with the mandamus action, having participated in several of them in the past year. Generally, he said, the court would grant a writ to force a public official “to take some action about which they have no discretion.” In order to grant the writ, the court would have to rule that Covington had abused her discretion in granting the city and Slusher’s motions to dismiss. The loser of this battle can expect to pay the winner's fees. Covington's order retains her jurisdiction over the question of how much Mitchell will be required to pay Slusher's lawyers.

Ann del Llano, attorney for Linda Curtis, said she too was considering asking the Texas Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus ordering the City of Austin to remove Goodman’s name from the ballot. However, del Llano said late Wednesday she needed to continue her research before filing the extraordinary petition.

Dividing South Austin offers problems for some

Turnout at the public meetings over the proposed single-member districts has been light this week, while Council members devote their attention to tweaking the district lines. While some of the boundaries may be adjusted to satisfy Council members’ concerns, others will likely be less flexible because of the requirements of the U.S. Justice Department concerning minority voting strength.

Council Member Daryl Slusher is asking city staff to prepare a version of the map that consolidates traditional South Austin neighborhoods into one district. Under the prototype maps being shown at this week’s public meetings, those neighborhoods are divided between District Five, which covers the central city, and District Two, which covers most of southeast Austin. Slusher says he’s concerned about lumping South Austin in with areas north of Riverside Drive. He plans to offer some suggestions to staff for taking some precincts out of Districts Two and Three to consolidate into District Five. City Demographer Ryan Robinson said staff members would certainly be able to prepare maps to Slusher’s specifications, but that it might not be feasible to craft a plan that met Slusher’s request and the Justice Department standards. “That is where we probably have been most challenged,” Robinson said, “to try to balance the philosophy of maximizing minority districts and trying to keep communities of interest together.” Districts Two and Three are designed to maximize Hispanic voter impact, while District One has a high concentration of African-American residents.

In addition to maximizing minority voter strength and keeping communities of interest, Robinson said the staff had to deal with the unequal distribution of population throughout the city. “There are more Austinites north of the river than there are south of the river,” Robinson said. Grouping precincts together to form a “South Austin” district would likely reduce the population in the minority impact districts and could also force the creation of what Robinson called a “pan-suburban” district, running from Circle C across the Colorado River and up into Williamson County.

Dawson neighborhood activist Kelly Smoot (see In Fact Daily, Nov. 2, 2001) is also calling for the consolidation of traditional South Austin neighborhoods into one district. Her comments were included in a summary of remarks received so far at the various public meetings and through the city’s web site (pio.citypio@ci.austin.tx.us). “We are divorced from our natural neighbors, with whom we share our geography and membership in virtually all other city organizations,” Smoot writes.

Council Member Jackie Goodman had previously voiced similar concerns, but said on Wednesday that there may be some benefits to the proposed district arrangement. “It may generate an entirely new way for political issues to be discussed,” Goodman said. She predicts that traditional neighborhood groups that are split into different districts will continue to work together, which would help counteract the inter-district battles that frequently occur in other cities. “I’m starting to see the practical applications of this relative to city politics and community,” Goodman said. “Actually, it’s not looking as bad as I thought it would.”

There will be several more public hearings over the single-member district boundaries before the Council votes on them next week. Voters will decide whether to adopt the new system on May 4th. To see map, return to index page

Neighborhood association says new petition meets 20 percent requirement

The controversial zoning case on the proposed Villas on Guadalupe may actually reach a conclusion today. It’s scheduled for a third and final reading during today’s City Council meeting. Developers won initial approval of their request for MF-6 zoning from the Council in January (see In Fact Daily, Jan. 14, 2002), but getting a third reading on the change has proven problematic because of multiple postponement requests. (See In Fact Daily, Mar. 21, 2002.)

Neighbors who oppose the project, located between the 2700 and 2800 blocks of Guadalupe and Hemphill Park, believe they have reestablished their valid petition, which would require a 6-1 vote from the Council to approve the zoning change. North University Neighborhood Association President Jerry Roemisch delivered the updated petition to city staff yesterday. “This is the fourth time we’ve done this,” Roemisch said. “The developer on three occasions has changed the boundaries . . . just enough to invalidate the petition.” Roemisch also repeated the charge that developers of the property were attempting to use money to influence neighbors. “This last time, he actually bought off some of the petitioners. It’s turned into democracy for the highest bidder.” While neighbors are incensed over the introduction of monetary considerations into the petition process, business owners are allowed under the law to attempt to buy property or negotiate with property owners in the area surrounding their development.

Since the project was first proposed more than a year ago, neighbors have argued against the MF-6 zoning. The proposal on the table would allow developers to build approximately 150 apartment units. Representatives of the property owner say it is an appropriate level of density for a complex within walking distance from UT, and would actually generate less traffic than many of the commercial uses allowed under the current zoning classification. Neighborhood representatives instead would like to see the property zoned MF-4, which would allow only 80 units. They’re concerned about the impact the new apartment complex would have on traffic and parking. Council members hearing the case today can also expect to residents to voice concerns about the allowable height of the project under MF-6.

There have been numerous public hearings and volumes of testimony from both sides. Roemisch hopes the upcoming election will work in the neighborhood’s favor. “We’ve made several requests to Council Member Jackie Goodman and Council Member Daryl Slusher . . . they’re up for re-election and we know they’re very sensitive to these issues,” Roemisch said. “We’re hopeful that they’re going to listen to us and come along. We’ve had very good support from Beverly Griffith and Raul Alvarez up to this point.”

How West Austin Demos voted . . . Longtime Democrat Bill Reid helped count the ballots from last night’s meeting. He said WAD voted in favor of the following Charter Amendments: public financing of campaigns, repeal of the $100 limit on campaign contributions, repeal of term limits for Council members, allowing the City Clerk to electronically publish campaign finance reports and raising the limit on the City Manager’s spending authority without City Council approval. The group voted against single-member districts, a resign-to-run provision for Municipal Court judges and appointment of a consumer analyst to advise the City Council . . . Forget about it . . . Place 3 candidate Linda Curtis has written a letter to the Austin American-Statesman to decline an invitation to meet with the paper’s editorial board, which had issued a similar invitation to other candidates for the City Council. Her letter blasts the Statesman for its past editorial-page criticism of her efforts to impose campaign-finance regulations in Austin. Curtis told board members, “You can keep your crummy endorsement” She said she would be sending a copy of the letter to the Austin Chronicle. Curtis is also staging a demonstration in front of the Hancock Center HEB at noon today. She says HEB shoppers should call the store “to let them know they are shopping elsewhere during early voting at Randall’s and Albertsons,” etc. The HEB stores decided not to allow early voting after Curtis sued the company for refusing to allow her to collect signatures on her petitions at the stores . . . Two Saturday gatherings . . . While Travis County Democrats are holding their annual convention from 10am to 4pm at the Tony Berger Center, 3200 Jones Road, Linda Curtis’ political organization, Independent Texans, will meet at the Carver Library, 1161 Angelina, from 10am to 2pm. Curtis said the new organization “is lodging itself on the backside of Austin’s political establishment.” The group will be talking about campaign finance, term limits and single-member districts. Both organizations say they are seeking change in Texas' politics . . . Goodman’s representation . . . In spite of the ravings of a certain emailing lunatic, Richard Suttle, a lobbyist, not a litigator, has not been present at hearings concerning Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman and Council Member Daryl Slusher. Goodman was represented briefly by her friend, attorney Phil Durst. Her current lawyers are Jim McClendon and Tom Watkins of Hilgers Watkins.

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