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Jo Clifton is the Politics Editor for the Austin Monitor.
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Photo by city of Bee Cave
Tuesday, June 30, 2020 by Jo Clifton
Bee Cave Council member sues over removal
A member of the Bee Cave City Council who was removed from office on June 17, five weeks after being sworn in for a two-year term, filed suit against the city as well as the mayor and Council members who voted to remove him for violating the city charter. Bill Goodwin’s lawsuit alleges that the Council abused its authority by removing him and asks the court to reinstate him.
Goodwin sued Mayor Kara King, Council members Andrea Willott, Jon Cobb, Andrew Clark and Kevin Hight in their official capacities, and the city itself.
According to the lawsuit, which was filed in Travis County District Court on Monday, the Council acted “arbitrarily, capriciously and unlawfully” when it voted to remove Goodwin for allegedly violating the city charter. He is seeking an injunction and a declaration that the removal action is void.
Goodwin, who has served on the Council since 2005 and was reelected on May 12, was removed by his fellow Council members in June based on allegations that he violated the city charter by “impermissibly giving orders to subordinates” of the city manager and pressuring those subordinates to provide information to Goodwin “before that information was made known to the city manager,” according to a report by attorney Martha Dickie, who investigated the matter on behalf of the Council.
Goodwin was mayor pro tem starting in 2014 until he resigned on April 1 of this year. The events that precipitated his removal from office start with an email he sent to the city manager and several other city employees including City Attorney Megan Santee on March 21, although Dickie’s report refers to allegations dating back to 2015.
Goodwin’s message to City Manager Clint Garza stated, “I insist that the regular City Council meeting scheduled for the 24th go forward as planned, as a meeting at City Hall open to the public … I will not allow attendance by teleconference unless in the specific opinion of our city attorney the law requires me to. I would like all members of staff that have business on the agenda to be in physical attendance, and urge you to tell them that I expect that of them. Feel free to remind them that they are under your supervision and that I have no authority to require anything of them, that I am cognizant of that and nonetheless want them there.”
He did not mention the coronavirus or public safety concerns. Travis County started issuing emergency orders on March 6.
However, after hearing from Santee, Goodwin sent out a second email the same day, thanking the attorney and stating, “We will have the meeting at City Hall and those that want to teleconference can do so.” Dickie’s report does not mention the second email.
Attorney Scott Tschirhart, who will be representing Bee Cave in the litigation, told the Austin Monitor, “We only received the petition today and we are investigating the claims. We generally do not comment on pending cases.”
However, Tschirhart pointed to a statement Goodwin made during a special meeting on March 28 that was reported in the Austin American-Statesman:
“During a special meeting March 28, Goodwin apologized for his actions, saying ‘upon reflection I probably did overstep.’
“‘I do admit guilt,” he said. “I violated the charter. I’ve been here a long time. I know the staff very well and I’ve always been a believer in getting to know the staff because if we only get information from one person, I think that can be a good or a bad thing but it gives that person a lot of power because they’re the gatekeeper of the information.”
Despite his April 1 resignation, Goodwin was reelected, and was serving in a new term when other members of the Council voted to remove him, not for actions he had taken since his reelection, but for actions taken earlier.
According to the lawsuit, the forfeiture and removal provision in the Bee Cave city charter does not allow a member of Council to be removed for actions taken during a previous term. If that were the case, it would amount to a lifetime ban on City Council service.
Attorney Bill Aleshire, who is representing Goodwin, said in a press statement Monday, “The hateful, arbitrary and unlawful action taken by the mayor and Council must be challenged, not only to restore Bill Goodwin to the Council, but to protect the right of voters to choose their Council members in the future.” Aleshire said he expects the Council to “waste even more tax dollars by trying to call an election in November for a vacancy (Goodwin’s seat) that is not vacant.”
Aleshire noted that although Goodwin did not attend the meeting at which Council members voted to remove him, several members of the public testified against removing him from office.
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