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Council sets ballot language for charter amendments

Friday, August 22, 2008 by Kimberly Reeves

With relatively little fuss and minor opposition from the amendment’s supporters, Council adopted the language for the proposition that will appear on the ballot often referred to as the Domain subsidy amendment.


City Attorney David Smith and his staff had inserted “placeholder” language into the Council agenda. When it was replaced, Brian Rodgers and Bill Bunch were at the microphone to protest the new language, which Council Member Randi Shade noted was closer to the language in a letter Rodgers presented to Council this month.


Council took up the ballot language issue in a closed executive session. Smith drafted the final language, in consultation with city’s election attorney:


“Shall the City Charter be amended to prohibit the City from entering into future agreements to provide financial incentives and to stop the City from providing financial incentives under certain existing agreements, in connection with the development or redevelopment of property that includes one or more retail uses?”


The vote was 7-0 on the proposed language. Rodgers, who was allotted 15 minutes due to donated time, said it was disingenuous for the Council to suggest ballot language at the last minute when the city clerk had verified the petition on Feb. 19.


Rodgers went on to outline the case he makes on his website,  Rodgers said the city could have spared itself the cuts to city services being proposed in the upcoming budget if it had only claimed the $65 million in tax dollars it had handed away to Simon Properties. The city has yet to pay any tax rebates to the Domain.


Among Rodgers’ points: City documents indicate Domain jobs have generated far less income than forecast. The opening of The Domain has not led to an increase in new jobs; instead, a number of chain retailers closed locations in other parts of town once their stores had opened in The Domain.  Local businesses like Reed’s Jazz and Supper Club have suffered because of subsidized businesses. And The Domain has failed to deliver on promised amenities under the contract, such as open space.


Bill Bunch said the agreement between the city and Simon Properties, the owner of The Domain, violated the state constitution because it binds future Councils. Therefore, future payments were optional and there was no reason to say “a deal is a deal.” Bunch called the agreement “a horrible deal.”


And Libertarian Wes Benedict provided the comic relief of the evening, presenting his $46 underwear he purchased during a visit to Neiman Marcus in The Domain. He admitted, though, they were more comfortable than his $2 pair from WalMart.


“We need to send the message that if you come here to screw Austin taxpayers, Austin taxpayers will rise up and screw you right back,” Benedict said.

He ended his speech by asking the Council whether they were either smart and corrupt or just plain stupid.  He let the seconds tick by as his time ended, without an answer from Council members, who sat by stone-faced.


The motion for the language on the city subsidies for retail projects also reiterated the Council’s support for language, approved in March that would give the City Auditor a five-year term unless a super-majority, six members, of City Council voted for his removal.


The election is November 4.

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