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Republican PAC vows fight

Friday, October 22, 2004 by

ART PAC will take matter to Texas Supreme Court

The political action committee Associated Republicans of Texas (ART), enjoined from spending or collecting more corporate contributions on Wednesday, will take the matter to the Texas Supreme Court as soon as possible. Pat Robbins, spokeswoman for ART, said Thursday, "We are absolutely appealing to the Texas Supreme Court." She said Republicans were hoping to get "some kind of answer by as early as (today)," noting that the action, taken out of the normal order of litigation could only be done "if someone has something happen to them like we did—and needs immediate recourse.”

Travis County District Judge Paul Davis signed an injunction Wednesday prohibiting ART, from "soliciting, accepting, and/or spending . . . any corporate or union treasury funds, as defined in the Texas Election Code." (See In Fact Daily, October 21, 2004.)

Two Democratic candidates for the Texas House of Representatives, David Liebowitz of San Antonio and Bobby Glaze of Gilmer in East Texas, sought the injunction. Attorney Fred Lewis of Campaigns for People told In Fact Daily that the appropriate remedy for the Republicans would be a writ of mandamus, an order to the judge who issued the TRO, not an appeal. The writ is an extraordinary measure, said Lewis, which the Supreme Court is unlikely to grant unless the judge has clearly abused his authority in granting the TRO. Lewis, who has served as an attorney for the court, said such an action is "as rare as snow in July." Lewis argued in Harvey Kronberg’s Quorum Report on August 2 that the Texas Election Code actually prohibits corporate dollars from being used for anything other than the administrative expenses of corporate PACs. ART does not fit into that category and Judge Davis was convinced on Wednesday that the non-corporate committee had violated the law by taking corporate contributions.

However, Robbins told In Fact Daily, "This absolutely doesn’t change what we’re doing as far as elections," adding that the PAC’s corporate account "right now is around $3000." The complaint filed against ART says that, contrary to state law, the political action committee “has solicited and accepted at least $688,000 in corporate funds from 2000 through the present."

Robbins said, "The money they were talking about was used for court costs during redistricting . . . This is just a smokescreen."

Corporate contributions to ART include $144,000 from Altria Corporate Services, according to the lawsuit. The website of the Texas Ethics Commission shows Altria gave ART $50,000 in March of this year.

The Democrats complained that ART was able to put more non-corporate money into their opponents’ campaigns because the committee was able to pay all their administrative costs with corporate funds. The plaintiffs did not say that the PAC had given corporate money to any candidates.

In a press release issued yesterday, Robins quoted Norman Newton, Executive Director and campaign treasurer of ART, as saying "When you can’t win at the ballot box, sue someone." Robins said ART "has been operating with no hint of wrongdoing for over 30 years . . . When a lawsuit is filed just two weeks before election, any thinking person would have to consider political motivation." A hearing on the matter is set for November 3—the day after Election Day.

Records at the Texas Ethics Commission show that the PAC contributed to numerous Republican candidates, including Hays County Republican Alan Askew, who is locked in a tight race with Democratic Representative Patrick Rose. Also receiving money from the PAC were Austin Representatives Todd Baxter and Jack Stick, as well as Representative Ken Mercer of San Antonio, Liebowitz’ opponent. There is no implication that any of these candidates took money illegally or that the money they received from ART PAC came from corporations.

Hospital board seeks little help with hiring

The Travis County Hospital District's Board of Managers intends to hire a hospital district administrator with only limited input from a search firm. Vice Chair Carl Richie, chair of the Personnel Committee, called the hiring of the district administrator "the most important decision" the Board of Managers will make in coming months. At a low-key meeting last night, the board agreed to consider a Request for Qualifications for both the search firm and a district administrator, with the intention of calling on the search firm on an "as needed" basis.

Purchasing Officer Cyd Grimes will post the two RFQs almost immediately, given that the board already has outlined the job description for a district administrator. Both Richie and Chair Clarke Heidrick expressed confidence they the district could solicit a solid pool of candidates without a consultant. Both managers, however, wanted a search firm with some expertise to help the board sift through the resumes submitted to the committee.

The Budget Committee, headed by Tom Young, met twice in the last week. The committee reviewed a 12-page memorandum of understanding for accounting services between the hospital district and the Travis County Auditor's Office. County commissioners also must approve the memorandum of understanding, which includes policies and procedures on matters such as travel reimbursement, cash disbursements, payroll procedures and the valuation of the assets the city is handing over to the hospital district.

The Board of Managers has a five-year goal of a $15 million allocated and unallocated reserves, with the intention of putting aside 11 percent of budgeted expenditures each year. Under the policy, the priority for excess revenues would be to put money aside, first and foremost, for capital and operating reserves. The policy also is intended to provide some flexibility to use funds for unexpected costs, with an effort to recoup that expenditure.

Manager Tom Coopwood described the subcommittee discussion on the reserve policy as "spirited," as the subcommittee grappled with what it both expects and anticipates will be some of the expenditures in the coming years. Coopwood said the policy reflected a solid respect for the "inheritance" of funding from the city and county. Manager Frank Rodriguez said the strategy for replenishing the fund could be revisited next year.

The hospital district is a "small and simple operation" at this point, with only four employees, but that fact is complicated by the need to follow state law and interface with county procedures, Young said. The most complicated area will be payroll. The hospital district will pick up the county's payroll process, which Young does not expect to be a problem until the city's employees might be transitioned to the hospital district's payroll.

"Many thanks to the County Auditor's officer, not only for what they've done but for what they're going to do," said Heidrick, drawing some appreciative laughs from the board.

The County Auditor's Office has a vested interest in the finances of the district. For instance, the hospital district's end-of-year financials must be included in the county's year-end report. That means that County Auditor Susan Spataro and her office must sign off on the report from the hospital district.

The memorandum of understanding will have a one-year term, with the possibility to renew. Both sides would be given the chance to adjust the agreement. The Board of Managers already has an RFP on the street for legislative services. An RFP also will go out for an external auditor for the district.

The Board of Managers even managed to take a look at a couple of versions of a seal for the Travis County Hospital District last night. The seal, which is not yet ready for approval, is required under state legislation.

Some zoning cases settled, some not

Although the Central Austin Combined Neighborhood Plan has been on the City Council agenda for months, there always seems to be a property or two that the parties cannot agree upon. That was true again yesterday, when both the property owner and the neighborhood said they needed until December 1 to work out the details of the zoning case for 2309 Rio Grande.

Neighborhood team member Mary Gay Maxwell said the staff, the property owner, and the neighborhood are “trying to make UNO work and it will take them that long to get it straight.” Outside of the meeting, Maxwell said there is one property owner who wishes to redevelop his property but does not want to pay for the wide sidewalks and other improvements required by the overlay. However, an attorney for the property owner said that was not the problem, indicating that the situation was considerably more complex.

However, after months of negotiations, zoning was finally approved for property on Hampton Road and Red River. The disagreement was not just between neighborhood residents and a developer, but also between residents who have different plans for their property. At least one homeowner on nearby Harris Boulevard expressed dismay over the changes her neighbors were proposing.

Nikelle Meade, attorney for Stadler Custom Homes, said her client plans to build five-bedroom homes on his property, even though it is now zoned MF-6. She said the landowner had agreed not to take access onto Hampton Road, but only onto Red River. The development could be like the super-duplexes that have caused so much controversy in the North University area, but are allowed under the final agreement.

The Council approved on first reading the rezoning of two tracts of land totaling 6.5 acres at 11800 North Lamar Blvd. from Development Reserve, Limited Office (DR, LO) to Community Commercial (GR) and Limited Office (LO). The tracts, which sit on the west side of Lamar between Braker Lane and Parmer Lane, currently have one restaurant, two business offices, a sales office and a vacant building.

According to the landowner’s consultant, Sarah Crocker, the primary reason for requested change is that the two tracts have temporary zoning status.

“The owner wants to get permanent zoning for the property,” Crocker said. “The businesses can still operate being grandfathered in, but bankers want to see permanent zoning in order to provide financing.”

Some members of the nearby North Park Estates neighborhood expressed concern that the zoning changes could mean different types of businesses in the area, bringing more traffic and/or late night operations. North Park Estates resident Melissa Guthrie said her family lived in the area because of its wooded beauty and close proximity to downtown.

“We are very concerned that a zoning change to GR could mean a strip mall will be built on the site,” she said. “That could mean 24-hour businesses with drive-through access. That would have a major impact on us.”

Wayne Tobias, president of the Walnut Creek Neighborhood Association, told the Council there is concern that the property owner is attempting “speculative rezoning . . . There’s been no indication that the applicant has any interest in maintaining the integrity of the neighborhood surrounding the property,” Tobias said. “Concerns with businesses allowed in GR zoning include consumer convenience services, general retail service convenience that operate 24 hours businesses, or indoor entertainment that may operate well past midnight.”

Crocker said that while the property could be redeveloped, environmental standards and other regulations make that unlikely.

“They (regulations) would most likely make it prohibitively expensive to build the kind of business they are concerned about on this site,” said Crocker. “There is a long, long list of businesses that this zoning would prohibit on the site. It makes more sense for us to talk about the few types of business that will be possible

The property is divided into two tracts. Tract 1 fronts Lamar and contains the existing businesses. while Tract 2 is on the western half of the property, and abuts Little Walnut Creek. City staff recommended that the Tract 1 be zoned Community Commercial – Conditional Overlay (GR-CO) and Tract 2 be designated Limited Office-Conditional Overlay (LO-CO).

The Council voted to approve the zoning only on first reading and directed staff to study options for restricting future development on the property when it comes back up for consideration in two weeks.

In addition, the Council postponed action on a case in the Brentwood Neighborhood. Council Member Daryl Slusher said the Council was torn between the desires of the neighborhood, which wants to prevent too much retail development, and the needs of the small business owner.

Finally signed . . . Brian Cassidy, attorney for SR Ridge, owner of the controversial non- Wal-Mart tract at MoPac and Slaughter Lane, said yesterday the order dismissing the lawsuit against the City of Austin and Stratus Properties has finally been signed. Cassidy said dismissal of the case was a necessary condition for sale of the property but would not disclose the name of the potential buyer. There has been speculation that another big box store, or Stratus, was the potential buyer, but those who know have been uncharacteristically reticent when asked to name the purchaser . . . No toll talk today . . . The Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority has cancelled a work session on toll policies for Friday afternoon, deferring the discussion until next week. Spokesman Trey Salinas said the problem was one of scheduling rather than content. The CTRMA's regular meeting is next Wednesday. The toll policy is scheduled for approval in December . . . Appointments . . . The City Council yesterday reappointed three veterans of the downtown revitalization fight to the Design Commission. Architects Girard Kinney, Phillip Reed and Richard Weiss will continue to serve. Mayor Will Wynn nominated attorney Timothy Sulak to the Ethics Review Commission and the Council approved that appointment. Council Member Betty Dunkerley appointed Jason Neulander and Council Member Danny Thomas reappointed Rodger Brown to the Music Commission. Michael Voticky was reappointed by consensus to the Airport Advisory Commission . . . Travis County votes . . . Pollsters may have to write some new rules as a result of this year’s election. So far, 5,177 voters have cast ballots at the University of Texas, the second highest polling location in the city after Northcross Mall. Last night’s total from the Travis County Clerk’s Office showed than more than 12 percent of registered voters, a total of 66,527 voters have made their choices already. The clerk’s office adds the caveat that the percentage is based on 553,565 registered voters, the total number of voters that was obtained when the Elections Division began programming the ballot. Voter registration is under the Tax Assessor-Collector’s Office, not under the County Clerk. As of last Friday, Travis County had 584,250 registered voters, so that number is actually about 11.4 percent, still an impressive number . . . Hit, protest, and run . . . If you are one of the people still unhappy with last year’s redistricting efforts by the Texas Legislature, there will be a “flash mob” demonstration against redistricting, Tom DeLay, and local Republican representatives at noon today at 38th and Guadalupe streets. Organizers say to gather under the sign for your Congressional District. Not sure what a flash mob is? We suggest you Google the term for enlightenment, but rest assured it does not require you to spend any time at Hippie Hollow. . . Libertarians say take a hike . . . The Travis County Libertarian Party says CAMPO statistics show that in 2000, twice as many people were willing to walk or ride a bike than those who rode mass transit. Based on that, the Libertarians say Capital Metro should admit that buying the rail line was a bad idea and quit throwing money at it. They suggest making a hike and bike trail out of the rail right of way that runs from downtown to Cedar Park. Their reasoning? "A 30 mile walk and bike commuter way that connects downtown to the suburbs would serve the public better than a train.” Happy hiking . . . No resolution after all . . . A resolution endorsing Capital Metro's commuter rail proposal on the November 2nd ballot was pulled from the Council's agenda on Thursday. While the Council did not vote on the resolution to avoid even the appearance of violating state law, which prohibits city funds from being used for campaign purposes, individual Council Members are still supporting the proposal. "This is a relatively benign effort to take cars off the roadways," said Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman, who was one of three Council Members who sponsored the pro-rail resolution . . . City land purchases . . . The Council gave approval on Thursday for the purchase of two conservation easements covering more than 750 acres in Hays County. Money for the easements, which allow the owners to retain title to their land while preventing development, will come from the Open Space Bonds approved by voters in November of 2000. An anonymous donor is contributing $300,000 to the project, and the city is also receiving more than $1.5 million from a federal grant program. Because of their location near FM 967, the two tracts will play a key role in the city's efforts to preserve open space. "This puts together 4,300 acres in the recharge zone of the Barton Springs segment of the Edwards Aquifer," said Junie Plummer with the city's Real Estate Services Division.

Copyright 2004 In Fact Daily

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