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Texas Supreme Court denies challenges to two ballot items for Austin voters this fall

Tuesday, August 28, 2018 by Audrey McGlinchy, KUT

The Texas Supreme Court has denied petitions from two Austin residents asking that the city rewrite a pair of November ballot measures.

Attorney Bill Aleshire filed challenges earlier this month with the court over the wording of a citizen-initiated petition that asked whether the city should hire a third-party auditor to scrutinize the efficiency of all city departments. A second challenge came over the wording of a petition asking whether citizens should have the right to vote on every land use rewrite, like the now-defunct CodeNEXT.

In the case of the land use ballot item, Aleshire argued the city “lacks discretion” to craft its own question to voters. In the case of the efficiency audit, he argued the language approved by City Council discouraged voters from approving the measure.

“With this denial, the Texas Supreme Court has confirmed that our ballot language conforms to the legal requirements and represents the key features of both citizen-initiated petitions,” a city spokesperson said.

Attorney Bill Aleshire, who represented both men suing the city over the proposed ballot language, carefully explained to the Austin Monitor why he thought the Supreme Court had rejected his arguments. What it boils down to is that the writers of the petitions did not provide exactly what the charter requires in terms of a caption for the proposed ordinances. That being the case, those suing the city could not win on their legal arguments.

Under this particular type of lawsuit, there is no room for a factual dispute. So the court could not decide factual questions, such as whether the audit proposed by the petition would actually cost $1 million to $5 million, as the ballot language states.

Aleshire concluded, “Here’s my advice to voters: Read the two proposals, because that’s what’s going to be adopted.” He said voters should definitely read the ordinances before going to vote. Although the city disputes the contention that the ballot language is misleading, “voters aren’t voting on the ballot language – they are voting on the proposed ordinances. … If they like it and decide they want it to be city law, they should vote for it.”

This story was produced as part of the Austin Monitor’s reporting partnership with KUT. Photo by Gabriel Cristóver Pérez/KUT.

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