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Democrats complain about alleged illegal contributions and expenditures

Thursday, October 31, 2002 by

Travis County Judge candidate Bob Honts apparently paid himself for working in his own campaign. Honts’ most recent contribution and expenditure report to the Texas Ethics Commission shows the campaign paid the candidate $26,331 as “reimbursement to Bob Honts for campaign labor.” No date is given for the transaction, but the report covers Oct. 5-Oct. 26, 2002. One alternative explanation would be that Honts paid for the labor of one or more campaign workers and was reimbursing himself—although there is no indication that that was the case.

Elliott McFadden, executive director of the Travis County Democratic Party, lodged a complaint against Honts, a Republican, with County Attorney Ken Oden yesterday. McFadden said he would also file a complaint with the Texas Ethics Commission, which has civil enforcement obligations. In his letter to Oden, McFadden states that “Honts failed to file Schedule G of this report listing political expenditures from personal funds and may not therefore reimburse himself for political expenditures from personal funds.”

McFadden’s letter to Oden also alleges that Honts’ business, Bob Honts Properties, Inc. illegally made contributions to the campaign. Although the contribution and expenditure reports for this year do not show contributions from the corporation, there are five notations showing that the campaign reimbursed a total of $26,766 to Bob Honts Properties, Inc. between July 1 and Oct. 4, 2002. The report indicates that the reimbursements are for such items as signs, banners and postage.

Karen Lundquist, general counsel for the Ethics Commission, told In Fact Daily that it would be illegal for a candidate to pay himself for working in his own campaign. She also confirmed that the Texas Election Code prohibits corporations from making contributions to political candidates.

Honts’ latest report shows that he loaned the campaign $75,000 sometime in October. Aside from the loan, he collected more than $95,000 in total contributions for this year. He lists expenditures of more than $90,000 for Oct.4-Oct. 26. Previously, Honts had reported campaign spending of about $56,000 for the year. He collected about $18,000 in contributions this month.

Incumbent Judge Sam Biscoe’s most recent report shows he collected nearly $26,000 and spent about $20,000 for the same time period. Overall, this year, Biscoe has reported raising a little more than $40,000 and spending about $49,000. Campaign finance reports may be found:

In Fact Daily contacted Honts’ campaign spokesman Seton Motley, who declined to comment on the matter, saying he would return the call when he had more information.

Travis, Williamson counties would be first in state

Today is the day the rubber meets the road as the Texas Transportation Commission considers the creation of the Travis-Williamson County Regional Mobility Authority (RMA).

It was only five months ago that the two commissioners courts sat down together at the Capitol to consider the creation of a regional toll road authority, says Commissioner Karen Sonleitner. Such fast movement amazes Sonleitner, who remembers standing at the side of Roy Mullen as a young television reporter when the former Austin mayor told her the long-anticipated US 183 would take about 20 years to complete.

The state is now prepared to create a vehicle that could drastically reduce such extended timetables, said Sonleitner. She describes the progress toward US 183A and State Highway 45 as “on the fast track.”

“It’s amazing how much progress we’ve made in a matter of months,” Sonleitner said, pointing out that Travis and Williamson are “two very different counties and two very different courts” with the same critical mobility needs.

Travis and Williamson Counties still have plenty of work ahead, even before the feasibility study begins. Hoping to press the Legislature to address some of the shortcomings of RMAs, the two courts intend to appoint a 7-member RMA board by the second week of December. Each court will appoint three community members who must have both transportation and public service experience, as well as a history of participating in local, state and federal governmental processes. The governor will appoint the seventh member of the board.

At last week’s meeting, the Travis County Commissioners Court agreed to open applications for the board on Nov. 12,assuming the state’s conditions provide no surprises for the county, says County Judge Sam Biscoe.

“Our expectation is that the minute order will come from the state as an offer, and if we agree with it, both courts will sign off on it,” Biscoe said.

In Travis County, the Transportation and Natural Resource Department will review applicants and produce a short list of five or six finalists for the Commissioners Court to interview the first week of December. Sonleitner said the goal is to have a board in place by the start of the Legislature, giving State Rep. Mike Krusee (R-Round Rock) some leverage in asking for bonding and condemnation authority for RMAs.

Sonleitner said it’s critical to make sure the right people are picked for the board, adding that “the eyes of Texas are truly upon us” in the creation of the state’s first Regional Mobility Authority. Other counties are going to determine the potential of RMAs from the degree of success Williamson and Travis counties have in setting them up.

Once the board is approved and the legislation is passed, the first real work, a feasibility study of the first two proposed toll projects, can begin. At last week’s meeting, Travis County also set a $40,000 cap on engineering and legal services it may purchase from Williamson County to aid in the creation of the RMA. Williamson County has already hired toll-road consultant Mike Weaver to assess project feasibility.

“Where we can do it, we will do it in house,” says Biscoe. “Where we will request the help of Williamson County, we will request it in advance, and this sets out the caps.”

The interlocal agreement between Travis and Williamson Counties approved by Travis County Commissioners Court last week included both creation of the RMA petition and formulation of the RMA’s operations. Those tasks would include a preliminary financing plan, identification of environmental permits, review and processing of a draft petition to the Texas Transportation Commission, preparation of two public hearings on the RMA and the coordination of the RMA board meetings.

Reduced in size, cost, Waller

Interim work to stabilize streambed pegged at $8.5 million

City Council members stopped short of taking the Waller Creek tunnel project off the table Wednesday, despite an adjusted price tag almost double what voters approved back in 1998.

Voters approved $25 million for the Waller Creek tunnel project back in 1998, based on a 1996 study. The project was intended to move land out of the flood plain on Waller Creek and provide a new venue for development on the edge of downtown. New cost estimates, however, put the cost of the 5,000-foot tunnel at $53 million.

At a presentation before the Council yesterday, Assistant City Manager John Stephens, together with Mike Heitz and George Oswald of the Watershed Protection & Development Review Department, assessed the following funding options for the tunnel: • A Tax Increment Financing District (TIF) • A Public Improvement District • Additional venue project bonds paid by Hotel Occupancy Taxes • Enterprise Fund Revenue Bonds • Certificates of Obligation Their conclusions paint a bleak picture.

With all those options coming up short, Stephens suggested interim measures such as spending $8.5 million to stabilize the Waller Creek streambed—and then waiting until hotel taxes recover. If the city and county did move to create a TIF, it could take 8 to 10 years of debt service before tax revenue cover project costs.

City staff also recommended reducing the diameter of the tunnel from 22 to 15 feet, which would save an estimated $4.5 million. At $48.5 million, the tunnel would thus be scaled to address a 10-year flood rather than a 100-year flood, Stephens said, yet still be able to handle 98 percent of the affected land.

Council members want to continue tinkering with interim funding methods to keep the project in play, at least until development revenue from 1.2 million square-feet of land rescued from the flood plain starts flowing in. Council Member (and developer) Will Wynn, in particular, was unwilling to rule out the use of a TIF, estimating that only $300 million of development on 28 new acres along Waller Creek would be necessary to underwrite the $3 million a year necessary to pay for the tunnel’s construction and maintenance. Current zoning already allows dense development in the area.

In the meantime, Wynn urged his colleagues to consider issuing variances for the development of land along Waller Creek, despite its location within the 100-year flood plain. All resulting buildings would require special pier-and-beam construction to safely channel any floodwater beneath them.

Council Member Betty Dunkerley suggested locating alternative funding sources for the period between construction of the project and the creation of a taxing district. Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman said she too had not given up on the idea of the tunnel, but recommended quickly finding new ways to improve drainage along Waller Creek. And Council Member Daryl Slusher asked for more specifics on how the $8.5 million would be used to decrease erosion and shore up Waller Creek.

Charlie Betts, executive director of the Downtown Austin Alliance, said he was encouraged by the Council’s openness to funding alternatives, to “think outside the box” in finding new ways to fund interim activity until a TIF becomes viable.

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

Stuart Hersh at Seton . . . Stuart Hersh worked for the City of Austin long enough to retire—and did so—but returned quickly to assist his colleagues in the Office of Neighborhood Housing and Community Development. His boss, Paul Hilgers, reports that Hersh had a triple bypass operation on Monday. Seton Hospital affirmed that he is improving. We wish him a speedy recovery . . . Anti-billboard sentiment for 130 . . . The executive committee of the Austin-San Antonio Corridor Council, under the leadership of Council Member Will Wynn, has adopted a resolution in favor of prohibiting new billboard construction on SH 130. Austin, Georgetown, Manor, Pflugerville and Round Rock have all adopted regulations to prevent new billboards within their jurisdictions, but legislative help will be required to stop signs from going up on the new highway. Wynn plans to take a similar resolution to CAMPO . . . Goin’ to Kansas City . . . Midwest Express will launch its new nonstop service from Austin-Bergstrom International Airport to Kansas City on Friday, beginning with a press conference at 9:45am. Mayor Gus Garcia, Kevin Shatley of the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce and Midwest president and CEO Timothy Hoeksma will speak . . . Oops! . . . On Monday, In Fact Daily identified Ray Ramirez as a co-leader of the Capital Metro RFQ committee for the East Cesar Chavez neighborhood. However, Ramirez has stepped down and Eric Zeigler has taken over the position . . . Happy Halloween! . . The City Council will be celebrating the season with a very short meeting today, with numerous items postponed to next week’s agenda. While the Council’s normal agenda and back-up material frequently reaches the size of a metropolitan phone book, today’s back-up looks more like a phone book for Terlingua . . . Montopolis affordable zoning . . . The Council is scheduled to hear a requested zoning change for land on St. Elmo Road in the Montopolis Neighborhood today. The Planning Commission last week endorsed the requested change from RR-LO-CS to MF-3-CO-NP to allow construction of the Pleasant Valley Courtyards . Plans call for the affordable housing development to have 163 multi-family units. Neighbors in Franklin Park and Kensington Park have voiced concerns about traffic and the impact on nearby creeks, but have withheld expressing opposition pending the outcome of negotiations over restrictive covenants. Since the area is within the Southeast Combined Neighborhood Plan, the Council is also posted for a hearing on amending the land-use map associated with the plan.

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

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