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Spataro says Honts' ad is incorrect

Monday, November 4, 2002 by

Travis County Auditor Susan Spataro is, in her own words, “furious” at the Bob Honts Campaign. She told In Fact Daily that she has attempted to convince the campaign to change or eliminate a negative ad Honts is running in his battle to unseat incumbent Judge Sam Biscoe . The ad accuses Biscoe of issuing “$243,501,797 in non-voter approved debt,” and attributes the figure to the Travis County Auditor. Honts made the same claim in a letter dated Oct. 8, 2002 to members of the Real Estate Council of Austin

Honts’ campaign manager, Seton Motley, said Sunday that he did the research on the matter and he stands by the statement. He said the ad would continue to run today. “It’s hard-hitting, but it’s totally, 100 percent accurate. It’s only mudslinging if it’s not true. It’s called defining your opponent,” he concluded.

Spataro said, “I never gave any political candidate the authority to quote me and that number did not come from me. It is incorrect.” She said she complained about the ad to Motley on Thursday and has sought advice from the County Attorney’s Office. “It is inexcusable,” she said.

After asking for “an incredible open-records request,” Spataro said, the Honts campaign received “a bunch of raw data.” The debt was not “non-voter approved,” as the ad says, but was issued as Certificates of Obligation, rather than bonds because of the peculiarities of state law. “Counties are very regulated in how they can issue debt . . . You can issue bonds and you can borrow money without voter approval,” she said. However, a county is prohibited from issuing bonds for any purpose—whether approved by voters or not—once the indebtedness on road bonds exceeds 25 percent of the appraised value of the land.

Ironically, Spataro said, “It was under the Honts administration they put together road districts (and) the land value dropped dramatically,” That was the reason the county could not issue bonds voters had already approved. So, the county issued certificates of obligation instead for Southwest Travis County Road District # 1, she said. Spataro said Motley had promised her that someone from the campaign’s ad agency would call her back, but no one ever did. Honts left the Commissioners Court in 1986. Bill Aleshire became County Judge the following year and left at the end of 1998, as Biscoe stepped up. Biscoe served as Pct. 1 Commissioner for the previous 10 years.

According to a memo from Christian Smith, executive manager for Planning and Budget, the county issued a total of $495,695,000 in bonds and certificates of obligation between 1992 and 2002. County voters in 1984 authorized issuance of $157, 912,000 in road bonds, of which about $87 million remained unissued as of Sept. 30, 1994 for the southwest road district. About $44 million in COs was issued in lieu of road bonds between 1992 and 2002, as well as another $32 million for “road-related” expenses. The total county debt is $495,895,000. Smith’s memo says 48 percent of that amount has been issued for roads.

Motley is sticking by the numbers he’s been quoting. “Sam Biscoe’s been using COs as a county credit card year after year.” He predicted that his Republican boss would win the election Tuesday, noting that Barton Creek Mall had the largest number of early voters in the county.

Spataro pointed out that the county auditor is appointed by district judges, not by county commissioners.

Motley said he had gone over Honts’ contribution and expenditure reports thoroughly, had corrected errors and would be refiling three reports. Elliott McFadden, executive director of the Travis County Democratic Party, filed a complaint last week against Honts with the Travis County Attorney’s Office. (See In Fact Daily, Oct. 31, 2002. )

Honts’ latest report showed the campaign had paid the candidate $26,331 as “reimbursement to Bob Honts for campaign labor.” The problem, Motley explained, was that Honts loaned $150,000 of his own money to his corporation, Bob Honts Properties, Inc., so he could pay his real estate office staff for working in the campaign without paying them from corporate funds. Then, when the campaign received contributions, he repaid himself from those contributions. But the reports do not show those transactions. The new reports will make that all clear, he said, and add details about names and addresses of those receiving campaign payments. He said the Democrats filed the complaint merely to distract the Republicans during the final days of the campaign.

Maury Lane, an advisor to the Biscoe campaign, said his candidate’s “reality TV” would continue to run today. That ad reminds voters that Honts had criminal problems, filed for bankruptcy and had a number of tax liens.

Neighbors' concerns lead to restrictive covenant

The City Council on Thursday approved the zoning change required for the construction of a 163-unit affordable-housing complex at 4503 E. St. Elmo Road. The zoning change from RR (rural residential), LO (office), and CS (commercial) to MF-3-CO-NP (multi-family) passed as an emergency on all three readings, along with a change to the future land-use map for the Southeast Combined Neighborhood Plan. The developer of the project is eligible for tax credits from the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs, but needed approval for the zoning change before 5pm Friday.

Neighbors initially had concerns about allowing the project in their area, but after extensive negotiations with the developer they agreed not to oppose the project in return for a lengthy list of restrictive covenants governing the property. Those include provisions to protect area creeks and streams that are not otherwise protected by the city’s existing ordinances. Under the agreement reached between the developer and two neighborhood groups, any construction will be set back at least 50 feet from the centerline of a bordering creek. “This is a unique property with all of its environmental features,” said Lee Sloan of the Kensington Park Homeowners Association . “I think if it is developed right it will be a real showcase for the affordable housing program.” Other portions of the agreement address the amount of traffic associated with the property, staffing and maintenance of the apartment complex and security measures.

Council members liked the proposal in general, but had questions about one of the specific covenants relating to transportation. Both the developer and the neighborhoods had agreed to prohibit people leaving the complex from turning left onto Pleasant Valley Road, which would eventually run along the eastern border of the tract. That was instituted at the request of members of the Franklin Park Neighborhood Association worried about traffic through their area. City staff did not recommend that condition, however, and Council Member Daryl Slusher also voiced reservations. “I’m particularly concerned about the ‘no left turn’ on to Pleasant Valley,” Slusher said. “I just don’t think that’s good traffic planning.”

Representatives of the applicant attempted to reassure the Council that the agreement would not prevent city traffic planners from making decisions about local roadways. “In case there’s a conflict between a provision of the restrictive covenant and a requirement of a governmental entity, the requirement of the governmental entity shall take precedence,” said consultant Amelia Lopez Phelps. “We were very clear in our discussions that we would encourage the city to work on these issues, especially the right turn only.” The Council, at the urging of Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman, directed staff to review the no-left-turn restriction when the road and the apartment complex are actually built. The final vote in favor of the zoning change was 7-0.

Wednesday, Thursday,

Friday.

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

Travis & Williamson lead the pack in Early Voting . . . According to the Secretary of State’s Office, nearly 16 percent of registered in Travis and Williamson Counties had voted by the end of the day on Thursday. Results for the final day, Friday, have not yet been posted, but the next highest percentage belongs to Jefferson County (Beaumont ) with 13.11 percent . . . Pipeline ordinance hearing tonight . . . The City Council will hold a public hearing on the proposed ordinance governing placement of new buildings near pipelines at 6:30pm tonight at the Bowie High School Cafeteria, 4103 Slaughter Lane . . . Other meetings . . . The Design Commission has had less to do since the economic slowdown, but still manages to keep busy. The panel will see presentations on plans for Republic Square Park and the East 7th Street Corridor, beginning at 5:45pm tonight at 1011 San Jacinto, 3rd Floor Conference Room . . . Party on Tuesday . . . While county election workers are sweating it out counting votes at the Crockett Center, the candidates will be hosting parties for supporters at a variety of venues. A number of local Republican candidates, including Ben Bentzin, Bob Honts, and Gerald Daugherty, plan to be at JC’s Bar and Grill, 5804 N. I-35 (west side of the frontage road). The Republican Party of Texas promises that all Republican statewide candidates will be on hand at the Austin Convention Center. Festivities will begin at 7pm. Republican Land Commissioner candidate Jerry Patterson is promising food, drinks and friends at his election night party from 7pm to Midnight at the American Legion Post 76, 2201 Veterans Drive, between Lake Austin Blvd and Town Lake near MoPac . . . Democrats: the Tony Sanchez party will be at the Hyatt Regency Hotel, Texas Ballroom . Kirk Watson and Ann Kitchen will be celebrating at the Driskill Hotel, while John Sharp and Sherry Boyles will be at the Stephen F. Austin. Gonzalo Barrientos will be at the Austin Music Hall . . . Legislative requests . . . The Austin City Auditor’s Office has asked the Council’s Legislative Subcommittee to include an item related to the auditor’s working papers on its list of priorities for the next legislative session. It would make those working papers exempt from public disclosure. City Auditor Steve Morgan told In Fact Daily, “We have been considering for several years how to encourage the State Legislature to extend the public disclosure exemption” from State auditors to city and county auditors in Texas. Morgan said the Texas Municipal League is likely to support the change, but the TML Board of Directors will not meet until next month.

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

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