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Reporter’s Notebook: Unmusical chairs

Monday, February 24, 2020 by Austin Monitor

Who’s not running for Watson’s seat..? Possible candidates for the Austin/Bastrop-area Senate seat being vacated by Sen. Kirk Watson are dropping like flies. Three state representatives – Donna Howard, Gina Hinojosa and Celia Israel – have all announced that they do not intend to run for the seat, according to media reports. And it appears that Austin Council Member Greg Casar may not be eligible because of an obscure provision in the Texas Constitution. According to Article 3, Section 19, no person who holds “a lucrative office under the United States, or the State … shall during the term for which he is elected or appointed be eligible to the Legislature.” The mayor of Eagle Pass learned about this provision the hard way in December when he attempted to run for a seat in the Texas House. According to the Eagle Pass Business Journal, Texas Democratic Party Chair Gilberto Hinojosa informed Mayor Ramsey English Cantu in December that he was declaring Cantu ineligible because of his current position.  The story is more complicated than that, of course, but it boils down to a council member not being eligible to run until after he has resigned and a successor has been elected or appointed. The Supreme Court has weighed in on this in a case (Willis v. Potts) involving a member of the Fort Worth City Council, who attempted to run for the Senate. Casar told the Austin Monitor via email, “I have much to consider as I make my final decision on whether or not to run for SD14. Conversations with my family, friends, staff, and legal team about what is best at this time are all a part of that process. In the meantime, I am grateful for amount of encouragement I’ve received to represent our community in the Texas Senate.”

ZAP thinks outside of the Robert’s Rules of Order box… Sometimes the city inadvertently excludes residents from the public process. At the Feb. 18 meeting of the Zoning and Platting Commission, eight residents came from the neighborhoods surrounding the site at 4229 N. FM 620 to speak against the case. However, all of them found themselves barred from speaking to the commission. “The process wasn’t clear for us in the beginning,” said Sandra Delgado, speaking on behalf of the neighborhood. “Hopefully we have some other option to reopen or appeal.” Since no one from the neighborhood officially signed up to speak to the commission, the item passed on consent and the associated parties left the meeting before the neighborhood asked for reconsideration. Delgado said there was no notification on the meeting notice indicating that it was necessary to sign up with the commission liaison upon arrival. “This is where it gets really tricky because we’ve already passed (the item) and the applicant is not here,” said Chair Jolene Kiolbassa. Commissioners took a recess to debate how to allow the neighbors to be heard yet still follow Robert’s Rules of Order. Commission parliamentarian Ann Denkler came up with a novel solution: Off the dais, she called the agent on the case, Michele Rogerson Lynch, and mediated a discussion between her and the neighborhood. After several minutes of conversation, both parties agreed to meet in person and discuss the project. Despite the creative resolution to the conundrum, Commissioner David King suggested that in future, the commission begin its meetings with an announcement that those who wish to speak must first sign up. “I can understand how it wouldn’t be clear if you don’t come down here often,” he noted.

Early voting numbers up… No one can accuse Travis County of suffering from a lack of civic enthusiasm; at least, that’s what the early voting numbers suggest. Early voting continued at a brisk pace through Saturday, with 37,814 Travis County voters casting ballots ahead of the March 3 primary. According to figures released by Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir, more than 2,000 voters had voted at the Randalls stores located at Research and Braker Lane, at South MoPac and William Cannon, and at Brodie and Slaughter. More than 2,000 voters also cast ballots through Saturday at the Ben Hur Shrine Center in Northwest Austin. Voters are also showing up at the polls in large numbers in the Houston area and in other large Texas cities as well, determined to beat the election day crowds.

This week’s Reporter’s Notebook comes from the notebooks of Jo Clifton and Jessi Devenyns.

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