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Neighbors win Open Meetings suit again

Monday, December 2, 2019 by Jo Clifton

Once again, the city of Austin finds itself on the losing end of a legal battle over public information. Last week, the 14th Court of Appeals sided with the Lake Austin Collective, which sued the city for failing to give adequate notice of an agenda item changing the terms of development regulations for the Champion tract in Northwest Austin.

On Nov. 10, 2016, Council approved an agenda item amending a settlement agreement with the Champions for property at 6409 City Park Road, known as the Champion tract. The agenda item failed to mention that the ordinance included a waiver of certain requirements of the Hill Country Roadway Ordinance, as well as parts of the Lake Austin Watershed regulations.

Although the caption of the ordinance approved by Council clearly noted those waivers, there was no way for the public to learn about the proposed waivers prior to the Council meeting. One year later, Travis County District Judge Scott Jenkins ruled that the city had violated the Open Meetings Act by failing to note the proposed ordinance changes on its agenda. At the time, a city spokesperson told the Austin Monitor, “While we are disappointed in the ruling, we appreciate the court’s thoughtful consideration of this matter. We are committed to following the Open Meetings Act. In light of the judge’s decision, we will assess our options, and will advise Council accordingly.”

It turned out that the city chose the option of appealing.

Bill Aleshire, an attorney who frequently represents clients who believe the city is not living up to its open meetings obligations, represents the Lake Austin Collective. He told the Monitor on Sunday, “Of all the cities in Texas, I would not have thought our city of Austin would have such a problem with transparency, but they do.”

Aleshire also represented Brian Rodgers, who successfully sued the city over its failure to provide adequate notice when Council was considering zoning regulations for Pilot Knob.

The Lake Austin Collective ended up in a better spot than it originally anticipated when entrepreneur Jonathan Coon decided to buy the Champion property to combine it with another piece of land.  However, it is unclear what exactly will happen to that property now that Coon has sold some of the land.

This story has been corrected to reflect the fact that Coon has not sold all of the Champion tract.

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