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Little solved in Charter debate

Friday, April 14, 2006 by

Garcia, Slusher say amendments will not accomplish goals;

Bunch, Del Llano say city needs to recommit to save springs

Opponents of the “Clean Water” and “Open Government” amendments to the Austin City Charter brought out a few new arguments last night in a debate on the campus of the St. Edwards University. However, most of the crowd of around 75 people in the audience sided squarely with SOS Alliance Executive Director Bill Bunch and Ann Del Llano of the ACLU, who argued in favor of Propositions 1 and 2 on the May 13 ballot.

Bunch and Del Llano, who filled in for Glen Maxey, squared off against former Mayor Gus Garcia and Former Council Member Daryl Slusher. The two former elected officials warned that Proposition 1, the “Open Government” amendment, was poorly worded, would have unintended consequences, and would cost millions of dollars to implement. Slusher also told the crowd that putting the system in place to accomplish all of requirements of the amendment within the time frame stipulated in the proposal would not be possible.

“The city’s going to have to assess the scope of what this means and develop a request for proposals. The companies are then going to have to study the proposals and bid on them. The city’s going to have to evaluate those proposals and make a recommendation to the Council. The Council will award the contract,” Slusher said, concluding that “you’ll be lucky if you can complete that process within a year, and then the work will begin after that.”

Garcia argued that the City Charter was not the right place for the proposal to put government records on-line. “Amendments to the charter are not legislation, they are mandates from the people. This is a piece of legislation,” he said. He offered a similar analysis for Proposition 2, the “Clean Water” amendment. “This particular kind of detailed kind of legislation is getting into the Charter and it doesn’t belong there. It belongs somewhere else. It talks about process, and process is not what the Charter is about,” he said.

Bunch responded that the Council had failed to pass sufficient ordinances to protect the Edwards Aquifer or make city government transparent, so putting those priorities in the City Charter was appropriate. “It cracks me up to hear how sacred this Charter document is,” he said. “I can’t imagine hardly anybody in this room has read it. But if you read it, there’s some dusty stuff in there that was important at one time…it’s not important now. There’s some stuff in there that was legal at one time, it’s illegal now. What’s sacred here is the soul of our city, it’s not this document called our Charter. But if there’s something in here that’s not exactly right, please…that’s such a trifle when we’re staring at losing our city to a satellite downtown on Southwest Parkway.”

The debate over Proposition 2 took Bunch and Slusher over some familiar ground, rehashing some of the arguments surrounding environmental controversies in Austin during the past 15 years. For Bunch, Proposition 2 is a clear referendum on the city’s environmental priorities, including keeping AMD from building over the Edwards Aquifer. “What really is important is to recognize the juncture we are at,” he said. “I personally think that the soul of our city should be protected in our City Charter.”

Slusher countered that Proposition 2 would not affect AMD. “It doesn’t stop AMD from building in the Barton Springs Zone. It doesn’t force them to build to stronger or higher environmental standards,” he said. “It doesn’t eliminate grandfathering on the AMD site. This doesn’t do any of those things.”

Bunch eventually conceded that the impact of the charter amendment on AMD would be questionable at best. But he said that the power of the amendment would extend beyond its legal authority. “The SOS Ordinance was limited by grandfathering legislation, and there’s a fair chance this will happen as well,” he said. “But for many years we got incredible protection out of that ordinance, not because of the specific words on the page, but because this community said ‘save our springs. This is important to us.’ This may or may not stop AMD as a matter of law. If two-thirds of the people vote for it, I don’t think they can fade the heat. Who care what the law is? Hector Ruiz could not fade the public heat if the community speaks.”

Slusher argued that the amendment would put the city in an untenable legal position, forcing lawyers to argue cases in which the outcome was predetermined. “I thought SOS had a legitimate lawsuit, one they lost earlier this week,” he said, referring to the organization’s suit against the city over AMD’s site plan. “What this does it forces the city to follow the legal theory that was thrown out in court this week, and it ties the city’s hands in negotiations with developers…and this lack of flexibility is very likely to end in higher impervious cover.”

Bunch countered that taking action was preferable to remaining silent, and challenged his former ally to do more to keep AMD from building at the Lantana site. “Will you join me tomorrow at Barton Springs for a press conference asking Hector Ruiz to please stand down and honor our community, respect the scientists, and reconsider his move?”

Slusher, who got plenty of experience sparring with Bunch during his final two terms on the Council, refused the offer. “I’m not going to engage in Bill’s kind of grandstanding and challenges,” he said. “I think AMD should not locate over the aquifer. I think that is very damaging to the aquifer and to the city of Austin, but I also believe that it’s not quite as simple as Mr. Bunch states, because there’s going to be another development come in behind there if they don’t go. They lost their case trying to get it to comply with SOS…they’re putting the legal theory that was thrown out of court into the City Charter and saying that’s how the city has to deal with these developments.”

Reports show little election money raised, spent

Mayor far outpaces all other candidates with more than $126,000

From the lavish to the low budget, candidates for the three Austin City Council seats and the Mayor’s race filed their campaign finance reports Thursday at the City Clerk’s Office.

Yesterday’s filings mean that the races for the May 13 election are now in the home stretch. Candidates were required to file a report on contributions and expenses by 5pm yesterday for the period January 1 through April 13, 30 days before the city election. Candidate were also required to file an earlier report on January 15 outlining funds collected and spent through December 31, 2005

The contribution and expense (C&E) reports, which appear to be just dull documents full of numbers, do present an interesting snapshot of Austin political races and how they are funded.

The bottom line—the total amount of campaign contributions collected thus far by candidates who are still actively running—totals $358,921. The candidate collecting the most money up to this point (for both reporting periods) is Mayor Will Wynn. The incumbent Mayor has taken in $126,438 in his bid more a second term. Wynn spent $117,105 to win his first term as Mayor.

The majority of Wynn’s $78,000 in expenditures has gone to campaign staff, consultants and media production.

Wynn’s war chest has boosted the Mayors race to the top spot among the races insofar as contributions are concerned. The three candidates in the Mayor’s race, Wynn, Mayor Pro Tem Danny Thomas and Jennifer Gale, have collected a total of $134,237 through Thursday. Thomas has collected a total of $7,700 while Gale reports $99.

Of the Council races, the Place 6 battle to replace Mayor Pro Tem Thomas has drawn $83,767 in contributions. Sheryl Cole is the money leader in that race with $49,037. Darrell Pierce has received $29,575, and DeWayne Lofton has collected $5,155.

Cole’s expenses have gone mostly for campaign staff and events, while Pierce has spent his money on campaign staff.

The Place 2 race to replace retiring Council Member Raul Alvarez has amassed a total of $72,295. The money leader in that race is Mike Martinez, who has collected $49,174. Eliza May reports $29,080 in contributions plus a $12,000 loan. Hector Uribe, who dropped out before the filing deadlines, reported $8,667 and Wes Benedict just $619.

Martinez’s major expenditures have been for consultants and political signs. May’s expenses have been mainly campaign set-up costs.

In the Place 5 race, incumbent Council Member Brewster McCracken has collected almost all of the $68,622 in the race. McCracken reports a total of $67,442, while challengers Colin Kalmbacher reports $1,080 and Kedron Touvell just $100.

McCracken’s expenditures have gone towards consultants and campaign events.

Several political action committees also filed reports Thursday with the City Clerk’s office.

The Austin Firefighter’s PAC listed contributions of $8,082 made since February, listing support for 299th District Court Judge candidate Charlie Baird. In an earlier filing in March, the Firefighters PAC listed total political expenditures for candidates such as Sate Rep. Donna Howard, Senate Candidate Kirk Watson, Mike Martinez and general donations to both the Travis County Democratic and Republican parties.

The Committee for Austin’s Future, which is opposing Charter Amendments 1 and 2 on the ballot (Open Government and Save Our Springs) listed a total of $118,500 in contributions. Major contributors include the Real Estate Council of Austin ($50,000), HOME PAC ($10,000), and a number of business and development interests with $5,000.

Although it is legal to mail in reports, most participants opted to file their reports in person. The PACs which did not file in person include the pro Proposition 1 and 2 group called Clean Water Clean Government and the anti-proposition group EDUCATE PAC (Environmentalists and Democrats United for Charter Amendment Truth and Education). Those reports will be considered filed on time if they are postmarked by April 13.

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

ANC opposes Green site. . . The Austin Neighborhoods Council has released a statement saying that it “strongly opposes the concept of industrializing our parkland. In particular the proposed siting of the Green Water Treatment Plant to Roy Guerrero Colorado River Park is inappropriate. ANC supports the neighborhoods adjacent to the park and other organizations in their opposition to this plan.” However, Matt Curtis with the Mayor’s office points out that there is a flaw in ANC’s logic. In an email to In Fact Daily, Curtis points out that “the East Riverside Neighborhood Association (mine – the only one that is adjacent to the park and this area) is not opposed to this. In fact, they are for it, especially with mitigation funds being directed to ACC golf course and more amenities for Guerrero.” He pointed out that a map shows that the two neighborhoods ANC referred to–Holly and River Bluffs—are both about 2.5 miles away, Holly to the Northwest across Town Lake and River Bluffs to the Northeast across the Colorado River. “Therefore,” Curtis wrote, “the ANC resolution is grossly incorrect.” . . . Planning workshop Saturday. . . Planning Commissioners, professional planning staff, neighborhood leaders and business folks will get together Saturday to study results of a preliminary "10 Year Review of Neighborhood Planning" conducted in collaboration with a graduate class in the UT School of Community and Regional Planning. To see some of the research, visit . . Martinez fundraisers . . . The Mike Martinez campaign is planning a number of events in the next few days. On the schedule is a Fish Fry from 5-8pm today at Rabbit's Lounge, 1816 E. 6th; and a fundraiser on Monday hosted by Robin Rather and Brigid Shea. The event is scheduled at 5:30pm at 2604 Geraghty Ave; and a fundraiser hosted by Janis & Joe Pinnelli on April 24 . . . New shelter. . . Groundbreaking ceremonies are set for 2 p.m. next Wednesday for the new Williamson County Regional Animal Shelter on the Inner Loop in Georgetown. Williamson County Commissioners Court and officials from partner cities of Cedar Park, Hutto, Leander and Round Rock as well as Georgetown will be present. Building architect Larry Connolly and contractor FT Woods will be in attendance. The ceremonies will be held east of the entrance to the Williamson County Juvenile Services, 1821 S.E. Inner Loop, in Georgetown. . . . Nature Day . . . Saturday is Austin Nature Day. Now in its second year, it is an annual event celebrating the beauty, vitality and diversity of natural resources that contribute to Austin’s high quality of life. Austin Nature Day is a collaborative effort of more than 20 organizations in the Greater Austin area offering unique opportunities to experience and enjoy the open spaces and natural places that make Austin special. Scheduled programs include art projects, gardening lectures and demonstrations, guided daytime and nighttime hikes, stargazing, caving and other unique opportunities for individuals and families. More details on planned programs (including cost and reservation requirements) are available at . . Piling on . . . The Texas Ethics Commission web site shows which political action committees have gotten into trouble with the agency for failing to file semiannual reports due in mid-January. The latest filing shows that the TEC referred the Capital Area Democratic Women PAC to the Attorney General for collection of a $500 fine. The treasurer of the PAC was Kristi Willis, who disclosed to former colleagues and bosses that she had pocketed money from PAC coffers. The organization’s president, Alicia Butler, said, “Kristi filed our January report two days late because that was the point when she was coming clean. That fine was added to the amount she owes us. . It’s in the process of being paid”

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