Tom Nuckols
Monday, July 23, 2018 by Jo Clifton

Nuckols takes parting shot

Assistant County Attorney Tom Nuckols has stepped down from the Planning Commission, but in a statement provided to the Austin Monitor, he made it clear that he was not leaving the commission because Attorney General Ken Paxton sued him.

A staunch Democrat, Nuckols wrote, “I’m glad I stayed long enough to be sued by Paxton. What a badge of honor! If Ken Paxton is suing me, I know I must be doing something good!”

Nuckols is one of eight members of the commission named as defendants in the suit alleging that they were serving unlawfully. The city charter prohibits the commission from having more than one-third of its 13 members who are “directly or indirectly connected with real estate and land development.”

Nuckols was not one of those named by attorneys Fred Lewis and Bill Aleshire, two of the people who wrote to District Attorney Margaret Moore last October urging her to sue to remove seven commissioners. Presumably, they did not name Nuckols because he works for Travis County and could not be considered to be involved in private real estate and land development. (They named engineers Fayez Kazi and James Schissler, as well as architects Trinity White, Stephen Oliver and James Shieh. They also named Michael Wilson, who worked in real estate investment, but he no longer serves on the commission and was not named in the lawsuit.)

Oliver, who stepped down from his position of chair of the commission in June, was included in the lawsuit as well as another commissioner, Patricia Seeger, who retired from her job as a real estate broker in 2015. Lewis and Aleshire did not name architect Karen McGraw and Greg Anderson of Austin Habitat for Humanity, but both are named in the lawsuit.

White has already indicated that she will be leaving the commission after the July 24 meeting, but not because of the lawsuit. She said the commission has taken a great deal of time and she wants to watch her two small children grow up.

Nuckols also said in his email to the Monitor that he hopes that the city will fight the suit. He explained his interpretation of the charter provision, noting that there are two different ways to “interpret Austin voters’ intent when they adopted the Charter limit on the number of commissioners ‘directly or indirectly connected with real estate and land development.

Nuckols wrote: “The first way is what I call ‘anti-developer bias’ intent: Austin voters intended the Charter to limit the number of PC members who profited directly or indirectly from real estate and land development speculation. The second way is what I call ‘anti-expertise bias’ intent: Austinites didn’t want too many PC members who had the knowledge, experience, and qualifications to call BS on developer lobbyists and city staff who propose bad things.”

Clearly, he said, voters intended the former interpretation not the latter. “It’s ridiculous,” he wrote, “to think Austinites voted for anything other than the ‘anti-developer bias’ interpretation. That Charter provision was voted on in the Gary Bradley days. Who in Austin back then thought architects like Jame Shieh, Trinity White, and Karen McGraw were ‘developers’ like Gary Bradley the way Paxton/Lewis claims? Only people with an extremist agenda like Paxton/Lewis would think that.”

Image from the city of Austin.

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Key Players & Topics In This Article

City of Austin Planning Commission: This commission addresses issues of land use as assigned to it by Austin's City Code. These include the abilities "[t]o make and amend a master plan, recommend approval or disapproval of proposed zoning changes and control land subdivision within neighborhood planning areas and submit, annually, a list of recommended capital improvements." It has sovereign authority, or the right to make final decisions on certain cases.

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