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McCracken raises questions over Leffingwell’s mayoral ambitions

Monday, January 5, 2009 by Austin Monitor

In a carefully worded memo sent to the city attorney and the city manager last month, Mayor Pro Tem Brewster McCracken has questioned whether a Council member who has more than a year left on his term—such as fellow Council Member Lee Leffingwell—can announce his intention to run for Mayor this week without triggering a special election.


A memo provided by the only announced mayoral candidate, McCracken, an attorney, seems to indicate that Leffingwell must wait until mid- to late-February because of requirements of Article 11, Sec. 11 of the Texas Constitution. The memo raises the question of whether the city must actually fill the seat within 120 days of a member announcing for another office or if it is sufficient to have the election within that timeframe. McCracken’s memo relies on several Texas Attorney General opinions to arrive at the conclusion that the seat must be filled within 120 days.


McCracken said he and another attorney, William Heyer, a friend from law school, wrote the memo.


City Attorney David Smith said he would answer the questions raised in the memo if asked to do so by the Council but not by reporters. “I do know what you’re asking and it’s really complicated,” Smith said, noting that part of the memo “says you have to have an election within 120 days and it raises the question of whether you have to swear someone in or just have an election. As far as I know, no one who has less than a year has announced . . .”


Smith added, “I can give advice on behalf of the city to Council in terms of issues they might have about how they go about setting an election but I do not give advice to political candidates whether they’re on the Council or not.”


The questions are important, especially during an economic downturn, because a special election could cost the city more than $500,000. If voters did not choose a new Council Member by a majority vote, the city would then have to hold a runoff, presumably in mid-June. That would mean a new Council Member could not be sworn in until June 15 or June 22, depending on the runoff date, McCracken said.


Although Leffingwell has made it clear that he is interested in the job, he knows that since he has more than one year remaining on his current term he must be careful about what he says.


Leffingwell said Sunday that he believes he could announce a decision as early as Jan. 9, which is 120 days before the May 9 Council election.” I’ve said all along…that I would not do anything to cost the taxpayers one extra penny and I’m still convinced. I’ve read Art. 11, section 11…that the only requirement is that the city have an election within 120 days of a vacancy,” he said.


McCracken was somewhat reluctant to discuss the memo, but pointed out that he and Leffingwell had both asked questions about the city’s ordinances pertaining to fundraising and as a result of their questions learned that they needed to amend them. The Council did amend those regulations last fall.


McCracken said his questions about the timing of announcements and elections were similar. He said he does not have all the answers but believes that the questions about when a candidate may announce should be answered soon. “It’s something that only becomes important if it’s not answered before people make a decision,” he said.

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