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Critics find fault with PAC, SOS filing

Thursday, April 20, 2006 by

The SOS Alliance made contributions totaling $93,547.82 to the Clean Water Clean Government Political Action Committee (CWCG PAC), according to the contribution and expenditure report filed with City Clerk Shirley Gentry this week. The report includes an affidavit from SOS Alliance Executive Director Bill Bunch stating that SOS made a total of more than $74,000 in in-kind contributions to the PAC between October 2005 and Feb. 23, 2006.

However, critics say the filing does not remedy the problem of failing to file a report on January 15 for last year’s expenditures—all of which went into the successful petition drive—nor failure to file the PAC’s designation of campaign treasurer until mid-February.

The funds represent the amount SOS spent on the Clean Water Clean Government charter amendment petition drive which resulted in placing Propositions 1 and 2 on the May 13 ballot. CWCG mailed its report for April 13 on the appropriate day but the clerk‘s office did not receive it until Tuesday.

Bunch said the problems raised by the PAC’s critics over failure to disclose the group’s earlier financing have been resolved by this week’s filing. “Everything’s disclosed. The community knows every penny that’s gone into this effort,” he said.

Attorney Carl Richie, who served as Interim Director of the Texas Ethics Commission under Gov. Ann Richards, is an expert on campaign finance law. To Richie, “Their C&E report is a legal admission of prior violations of Texas campaign finance laws.”

“First, campaign expenditures are defined as expenditures made by any person in connection with a campaign for an elective office or on a measure [Texas Election Code § 251.001(7)] SOS paid people $0.75 per signature in late November and early December through February. The sole purpose for paying people to collect signatures was to get two measures before the voters in the upcoming May election. Thus, the expenditures were made in connection with a campaign on a measure. Mr. Bunch made public statements that he was not required to form a PAC and report the expenditures to gather signatures because the petitions had not yet been submitted. This ignores the definition of ‘Measure’ in the Election Code,” Richie wrote in an email to In Fact Daily.

Jim Cousar, attorney for the Committee for Austin’s Future, one PAC opposing the amendments, responded to an email asking for his opinion on the CWCG filing. He wrote, “CWCG PAC did not exist until Feb 13. On that date SOSA INC gave them petitions valued at $73,000 plus. Whoever raised money and spent money in 2005 and early 2006 was required to appoint a treasurer and file timely C and E reports. I can't find any such disclosures by SOSA or anyone else involved.”

Arthur di Bianca, who filed a complaint with the Texas Ethics Commission against SOS, agrees. “The complaint I filed says SOS spent direct money on these petitions. What they’re now saying is this was a contribution to this PAC. Either way, somebody committed serious non-disclosure violations. My hunch is SOS is trying to cover their tracks now. DiBianca has filed numerous complaints with the TEC over alleged campaign finance violations, with mixed results.

According to Bunch’s affidavit, SOS paid consultant Glen Maxey $58,000 between November. 15, 2005 and Feb. 23, 2006 for “petition management services.” Maxey also received another $12,000 from the CWCG PAC between Feb. 23 and April 3, 2006 for a total of $70,000. The non-profit corporation also paid for in-kind services such as support staff and attorney’s fees, according to the C&E report. That includes $5,000 paid to attorney Buck Wood, who represented five citizens who sued the city over the wording of the charter amendment items on the ballot, another $6,343 for legal services related to the lawsuit, plus $746 in ballot language lawsuit expenses.

But Maxey says he only charges $4,000 per month. The rest of the money, he said, was paid out to about 150 people who were doing the petitioning, either collecting or verifying signatures or doing other work in connection with the petitions.

In addition to SOS, the PAC’s largest contributors were investor Kirk Mitchell, who gave $30.000 and Jenny Clark, who contributed $16,500. Clark, a longtime activist, lists her occupation as “retired.” Retired investor Ray Goodrich donated another $10,000 and developer Perry Lorenz, who is Mitchell’s brother-in-law, gave office space to the group, valued at $2,000.

Despite qualms, Cap Metro contract OK’d

Daycare would cost transit agency $9.2 million over 10 years

Parents with young children are quite familiar with the high cost of child care, but the Capital Metro Board of Directors felt some “sticker shock” yesterday when it approved a contract to provide a Child Care and Learning Center for children of employees.

The board approved a one-year contract with nine one-year options with Bright Horizons Family Solutions that could cost a maximum of $9.2 million over the 10 year period. Donna Simon with Cap Metro’s Human Resources said the facility will charge parents an average of about 75 percent of the market rate for child care to recover some of the costs.

“We see this as a investment in our employees,” Simon said. “We have studies that show that having on-site child care can result in a significant drop in employee absenteeism and turnover.” She said they had not yet determined the exact amount they would be charging for the service.

Bright Horizons’ bid was chosen from among three submitted. The company operates 48 employee-based child care centers around the country, including two others in the Austin area.

When fully operational, the center will be able to handle 74 children, from infants to preschool. Simon said employees currently have 122 dependents that would be eligible.

Capital Metro will operate the facility in a building it owns on Pleasant Valley Road, which will be furnished with funding from the first year of the contract, which is $735,548. Of that, $174,440 would be for furnishings.

Board Chair Lee Walker was concerned that there were no figures that showed how much of the first year’s expenditures would be at risk. He and other board members seem perplexed that the contract was being executed before a final number had been negotiated with the contractor.

With the full capacity of 74 children enrolled, Capital Metro would be spending almost $10,000 per child in the first year of operation.

Simon said the dollar amounts in the contract were maximums and each year would be negotiated based a on a number of factors. Each of the nine optional years has about a 5 percent increase built in.

But she made it clear that the contract was written to give Capital Metro an out.

“We can stop the contract at any time after the first year,” she said. “But the one year extension will give us an opportunity to maintain a long-term relationship with this vendor if everything is satisfactory.”

Board member Danny Thomas asked staff why there were no DBE bidders for the contract and was told none could be found, He suggested that DBE vendors be used for furnishing the center.

The board approved the contract on a 6-0 vote. It is expected to be in operation by July.

©2006 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.

City Council to hear from taxi drivers, etc. . . At least seven people had signed up by the end of the day Wednesday to address the Council on their decision on whether to allow Roy Velasquez to sell Roy’s Taxi to the Yellow Cab Company. The Council will also hold an executive session on the Green Water Treatment Plant’s new location. A late addition to the agenda is discussion and possible action on releasing confidential information about the city’s search for land to build the Green Water Treatment Plant . . . Council members will get yet another briefing on the November bond package, this one centering on the proposed new Central Library. Also on tap is an update on the Mueller Redevelopment Project. . . .A final reading is scheduled on a controversial condo project at 2100 Parker Lane…Public hearings likely to draw a lot of attention include the Goodnight Ranch PUD, 505 Deep Eddy, and the Canyon Ridge PUD. . . Tonight’s forum . . . Candidates will have a chance to talk to the Austin Women’s Political Caucus beginning at 6pm tonight at the Travis County Commissioners Courtroom in the Stokes Building across from the courthouse on 11th Street . . . Running two races . . . Former State Rep. Glen Maxey is a man with many irons in the fire. First, he is the political strategist for the Clean Water Clean Government PAC. His job there is mainly to craft an attractive message to the voters and get the pro-Proposition 1 and 2 voters to the polls. Second, he is a candidate for Chair of the Texas Democratic Party. That he says is one of those “amorphous kinds of things,” in which it is “extremely difficult to count votes.” But in some ways it is similar to a city race since each of the state’s senatorial districts has several hundred delegates but only a third of them will show up, Maxey said. That makes the math of winning such a race “huge and complex” . . UT presentation planned . . . Perry Lorenz told the Downtown Commission last night that fellow Design Commissioner Juan Cotera had managed to, finally, arrange a presentation on the University of Texas Conference Center. Lorenz would like the Downtown and Design commissions to both be present for the presentation, which is scheduled for 6 p.m. on Monday in the Boards & Commissions Room at City Hall . . . Labor unrest. . . After 10 months of harsh negotiations between Capital Metro subsidiary StarTran and the Amalgamated Transit Union 1091 ended in something of a stalemate last fall, things have been fairly quiet on the labor front. But union members were back picketing in front of the Capital Metro headquarters before yesterday’s Board Meeting to show their displeasure with Capital Metro’s plan to expand its use of a contractor to operate some its bus rounds. Currently, Connex, a French firm, operates 17 routes with its own bus drivers and mechanics. Union leaders say its Cap Metro’s way of trying to bust the union. Board Chair Lee Walker says the agency is just looking for the most efficient way to operate . . . Disability Award . . . For the first time, the National Organization on Disability has recognized Austin as a national leader for providing accessibility and opportunity for people with disabilities. The top three recipients of the 2005 Accessible America Competition include Cambridge, Mass.; West Hollywood, Calif.; and Austin. The cities are heralded as national models for focusing on disability issues and successful design of accessible programs, services and facilities for citizens and visitors with disabilities. Representatives of the National Organization on Disability will present City of Austin officials with the award at today’s Council Meeting . . . Austin Energy honored . . .The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality has honored Austin Energy and Goodwill Industries of Central Texas with Texas Environmental Excellence Awards. Austin Energy was honored for the Seaholm Power Plant project downtown in the "innovative technology" category. Much of the building's concrete floor was saturated with PCBs. Rather than razing the structure, which would have generated tons of hazardous materials and cost the community in financial as well as historic terms, Austin Energy devised an innovative way to contain the contaminants. That earned the building an Environmental Protection Agency "Ready for Reuse" designation among sites subject to the Toxic Substances Control Act.

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