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District Citizens Doing Due Diligence

Districts 4 and 7 hosting websites for
independent review of candidates

by Joseph Caterine
© The Austin Bulldog
Posted Wednesday September 3, 2014 10:56am

Hopeful citizens are counting on Austin’s adoption of the 10-1 City Council system to result in grassroots candidates being elected this fall, while others are taking a more hands-on approach in deciding who represents their interests at City Hall.

The general election will be held November 4 and runoffs, which are expected in most contests, will be held December 16.

Citizens in two of the 10 geographic districts from which City Council members will be elected have organized and launched websites to vet the candidates that are running to represent these districts.

This grassroots attention to detail is underlined by the fact that only one person who lived in areas now designated as Districts 4 and 7— both located in North Central Austin—has ever been elected to the City Council, at least since 1971. This according to the mapping project covering 40 years of election history published by The Austin Bulldog August 4, 2011. That lone council member was Berl Handcox, who lived at 3108 Whiteway Drive, which is in District 7. Handcox, the first African American elected to the City Council, was elected in 1971 and reelected in 1973.

Eight candidates have filed for a place on the ballot in each of these districts.

Residents serious about scrutiny

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2014  Candidates
1st # D R   Candidates
1990 42 14 0 Stephen Ira “Steve” Adler
1990 55 19 0 Sheryl Nelson Cole
1994 29 8 0 Ronald J. “Ron” Culver
1990 14 1 0 Mary Catherine Krenek
1990 33 15 0 Michael William “Mike” Martinez
2006 15 1 1 David Martin Orshalick
1990 18 1 4 Todd Howell Phelps
2010 11 2 3 Randall Forrest Stephens
District 1
1990 33 10 0 Andrew Joseph Bucknall
2004 24 6 2 Michael Denard Cargill
1994 44 0 17 George William Hindman
1990 57 20 0 Ora Elliott Houston
2002 10 3 0 Christopher J. “Chris” Hutchins
2008 6 1 0 Norman Andes Jacobson
1990 49 18 0 DeWayne William Lofton
1990 35 15 0 Valerie Monique Menard
2002 19 2 2 Samuel Amechi “Sam” Osemene
District 2
2000 23 7 0 Delia Aileen Garza Voting History ***
NR 0 0 0 Michael James Owen
2004 7 2 0 Edward A. “Wally” Reyes Jr.
1994 43 12 2 John Charles Sheppard
District 3
1990 51 19 0 Susana Renteria Almanza*
1996 32 11 0 Mario G. Cantu
1990 25 12 0 Julian Limon Fernandez
2008 11 4 1 Christopher Lee Hoerster
2011 10 5 0 Shaun Dylan Ireland
2004 28 8 0 Fred L. McGhee
2008 12 0 5 Kent K. Phillips
1990 39 14 1 Jose Quintero Sr.
2010 13 5 0 Eric Javier Rangel
1990 58 22 0 Sabino Pio Renteria
2010 8 0 0 Ricardo Turullols-Bonilla
2008 2 1 0 Jose Antonio Valera
District 4
2012 5 2 0 Gregorio Eduardo “Greg” Casar
1998 37 9 1 Katrina Michelle Daniel
1990 25 8 0 Monica Ann Guzman
1990 48 10 6 Louis C. Herrin III
2010 9 3 0 Marco Mancillas
1996 11 2 0 Sharon Elise Mays
2010 6 2 0 Roberto Perez Jr.
1990 22 5 1 Laura Ann Pressley
District 5
2007 17 7 0 Daniel Lawrence Buda
2008 9 0 5 Jason R. Denny
1994 23 5 4 William David Floyd
1992 26 3 0 CarolAnneRose Kennedy
1990 54 22 0 Ann Elizabeth Kitchen
1996 41 1 15 Luis Miguel “Mike” Rodriguez
1990 42 3 9 David Craig Senecal
District 6
2012 4 2 0 James Timothy “Jimmy” Flannigan
2004 3 0 0 Mackenzie-Anne Kelly
2012 3 0 2 Lloyd Gordon “Pete” Phillips Jr.
2008 17 8 0 Matthew Duane “Matt” Stillwell
2014 3 0 2 Jay Byron Wiley
2001 43 0 14 Donald Shelly “Don” Zimmerman
District 7
1994 55 21 0 Jefferson Elmer “Jeb” Boyt
1990 27 2 4 Edwin Edgar “Ed” English
2004 6 2 0 Zachary Ray Ingraham
2002 8 3 0 James Anthony “Jimmy” Paver Voting History ****
1990 57 21 0 Leslie Howard Pool
1998 8 4 0 Pete A. Salazar Jr.
2006 19 7 0 Darryl Robert Wittle
2012 6 3 0 Melissa Ann Zone
District 8
2002 30 1 5 Rebecca Anne “Becky” Bray
1990 43 16 0 Eliza May
1990 49 15 1 Darrell W. Pierce
1994 42 12 0 Edward Scott “Ed” Scruggs
2010 12 0 6 Ellen Gale Troxclair
District 9
2003 26 2 3 Erin Kendra McGann
1990 57 21 0 Christopher John “Chris” Riley
2000 39 12 0 Kathryne B. “Kathie” Tovo
District 10
1990 29 3 6 Marjorie Presley “Margie” Burciaga
2004 15 7 0 Audrey Christine “Tina” Cannon
1990 54 19 0 Amanda Mayhew “Mandy” Dealey
1990 43 4 7 Sheri Perry Gallo
2011 12 0 5 Matthew Lamar “Matt” Lamon
1994 33 8 0 Jason Warren Meeker
1990 39 8 4 Robert Dartanian Thomas
2000 33 2 10 William Lee “Bill” Worsham
1st The earliest year in which the candidate voted.
# Total number of times voted in all elections
D Times voted Democratic primary
R Times voted Republican primary
NR Not registered to vote
* Almanza registered as Susie Almanza
** Have not voted in Travis County
*** Updated with data supplied by voter registrar 8/29/14
**** Updated with data supplied by voter registrar 10/20/14
+ District 6 Candidates Only
Flannigan, Phillips, Stillwell and Wiley totals for voting in Williamson County.

Kelly total for votes in Travis County, recently moved to Williamson County.

Zimmerman total for voting in Travis County.

All other districts and mayor’s race reflect voting only in Travis County.

Sources: Voter registrars
© The Austin Bulldog 2014

 Candidates Have Voting Records Too

Some vote often, some don't vote much
and one candidate isn’t a registered voter

by Ken Martin
© The Austin Bulldog
Posted Friday, August 29, 2014 9:57am
Updated August 30, 2014 10:22am for Delia Aileen Garza’s voting history

When considering which candidates to vote for, we can examine the records of incumbent elected officials to see how their performance aligns with our own interests and values.

Sheryl ColeSheryl ColeMike MartinezMike MartinezYet in this historic election that transforms the election of city council members—a transition from an at-large system in which all voters get to cast ballots for all council members, to a system in which council members are elected from geographic districts—just four incumbents are running. At most, only two of them can be elected.

Mayor Pro Tem Sheryl Nelson Cole and Council Member Michael William “Mike” Martinez are running for mayor and they have six other opponents. Cole and Martinez have both been on the council since 2006.

Chris RileyChris RileyKathie TovoKathie TovoCouncil Members Christopher John “Chris” Riley and Kathryne B. “Kathie” Tovo are running for the District 9 seat, as is newcomer Erin Kendra McGann. Riley has been on the council since 2009, and Tovo since 2011.

But what of the other 74 candidates running for mayor and council? None have held elective office. So aside from what these candidates say on the campaign trail, how do we judge their fitness for office?

The Austin Bulldog aims to provide information that assists voters in choosing which candidates are deserving of donations, volunteer efforts, and votes. To that end, this is the first in a series of articles that will offer filters through which the candidates fitness to serve will be assessed. This article will focus on how much the candidates have participated in democracy by exercising their right to vote.

The Austin Bulldog obtained records from voter registrars in Travis and Williamson counties that provide the voting history of each of the 78 candidates running for mayor and city council.

The adjacent chart indicates the year in which the candidates first voted in an election, the total number of times they have voted, and the number of times they voted in Democratic and Republican primaries or runoffs. Click on a candidate’s name to download the voting history obtained from voter registrars. (Note: Travis County computer records only go back to 1990, so these numbers will not reflect voting in prior years.)

A significant number of these candidates—27 in all—have been voting since at least 1990.

Who’s most vested in voting?

Nine candidates have voted in more than 50 elections, including primaries, primary runoffs, and general elections. These include:

• Mayoral candidate Sheryl Nelson Cole (55 times).

• District 1 Ora Elliott Houston (57).

• District 3 siblings Susana Renteria Almanza (51) and Sabino “Pio” Renteria (58).

• District 5 Ann Elizabeth Kitchen (54).

• District 7 Jefferson Elmer “Jeb” Boyt (55) and Leslie Howard Pool (57). Boyt’s total is all the more remarkable because his first vote was cast in 1994, while all the others go back to 1990.

• District 9 incumbent Chris Riley (57).

• District 10 Amanda Mayhew “Mandy” Dealey (54).

In stark contrast, some candidates have not voted with great regularity. For purposes of this analysis, any candidate who has voted in one-third or fewer elections than the candidates who have been voting most frequently may be said to have very low participation. These include:

Mayoral candidates Mary Catherine Krenek and Todd Howell Phelps both started voting in 1990, yet Krenek has voted just 14 times since then, Phelps 18 times.

District 3 candidate Jose Antonio Valera first voted in 2008 but only voted twice, while District 6 candidate Matthew Duane “Matt” Stillwell, who also voted for the first time in 2008, has cast ballots in 17 elections.

Political party affiliations

Our earlier investigation (City Elections Are Nonpartisan, Right?) detailed how the Travis County Democratic Party is providing significant assistance to candidates for mayor and city council, if those candidates are deemed sufficiently Democratic and willing to be identified as such in this election.

However, that article was published before the field of candidates was made final at the close of business August 18—the filing deadline for a place on the ballot. Nine individuals who showed intent to run by appointing a campaign treasurer dropped out by not filing for a place on the ballot.

Seven other people waited until the filing deadline to appoint a campaign treasurer and apply for a place on the ballot. And a few more did so within the last week of the filing period.

Now that the ballot is officially set, a fuller examination indicates that 19 of the candidates actually running appear to be Republicans. This assessment is based on voting histories that indicate they either voted exclusively in Republican Party primaries or did so a majority of the times they cast ballots in primaries or runoffs. These include:

• Mayoral candidates Todd Howell Phelps and Randall Forrest Stephens.

• District 1 George William Hindman.

• District 3 Kent K. Phillips

• District 5 Jason R. Denny, Luis Miguel “Mike” Rodriquez, and David Craig Senecal.

• District 6 Lloyd Gordon “Pete” Phillips Jr., Jay Byron Wiley, and Donald Shelley “Don” Zimmerman.

• District 7 Edgar Edwin “Ed” English

• District 8 Rebecca Anne “Becky” Bray and Ellen Gale Troxclair.

• District 9 Erin Kendra McGann

• District 10 Marjorie Presley “Margie” Burciaga, Sheri Perry Gallo, Matthew Lamar “Matt” Lamon, Robert Dartanian Thomas (not because he voted in more GOP primaries but because in 2012 he ran for state representative as a Republican against incumbent Democrat Donna Howard), and William Lee “Bill” Worsham.

A couple of other candidates show an even split in votes cast in GOP and Democratic primary elections: mayoral candidate David Martin Orshalick (one each) and District 1 candidate Samuel Amechi “Sam Osemene (two each).

All other candidates appear to be Democrats or lean toward that party preference, based on their voting in primary elections.

Candidate criteria minimal

Aside from ambition, a candidate doesn’t need much to meet the basic qualifications to run for elective office in the City of Austin.

Article II, Section 2 of the Austin City Charter prescribes the basic criteria. All candidates must have resided continuously in the state for 12 months and in the city for six months immediately preceding the regular filing deadline for a place on the ballot (in other words, they were required to have taken up residence in Austin by no later than August 18, 2013).

Candidates for a city council district must also have resided in the district from which they are seeking election for six months immediately preceding the filing deadline (by no later than February 18, 2014).

While meeting these criteria—in addition to paying a filing fee or submitting signatures in lieu of filing fee—is all that’s needed to get on the ballot, voters might like to know that candidates have been around town for a while and thus have had opportunities to be more familiar with the city and the issues important to its citizens.

Yet many candidates are relatively recent participants in local voting. For purposes of this article we define “recent” as having been voting in the City of Austin for five or fewer years (in 2010 or later). We chose that criteria because having been registered for five or more years was one of the qualifications to serve on the Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission, which drew the maps for the city council districts that are being used for the first time in this election.

The candidates who first voted in 2010 or later are:

• Mayoral candidate Randall Forrest Stephens (2010)

• District 2 Delia Aileen Garza (2010) (The correction posted August 30 indicates that Garza first voted in 2000.)

• District 3 Shaun Dylan Ireland (2011), Eric Javier Rangel (2010), and Ricardo Turullols-Bonilla (2010).

• District 4 Gregorio Eduardo “Greg” Casar (2012), Marcos Mancillas (2010), and Roberto Perez Jr. (2010).

• District 6 James Timothy “Jimmy” Flannigan (2012), Lloyd Gordon “Pete” Phillips Jr. (2012), and Jay Byron Wiley (2014).

• District 7 James Anthony “Jimmy” Paver (2014) and Melissa Ann Zone (2012).

• District 8 Ellen Gale Troxclair (2010).

• District 10 Matthew Lamar “Matt” Lamon (2011).

Not a registered voter?

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Chris Riley Nailed for Back Taxes

Council member had a homestead exemption
on his entire house, including two rental units

Investigative Report by Ken Martin
© The Austin Bulldog
Posted Wednesday, August 20, 2014 4:03pm
Updated Thursday, August 21, 2014 10:25am to add additional document links

Chris RileyChris RileyIn January 2002, Council Member Chris Riley bought a house at 1310 San Antonio Street in downtown Austin. For 11 years he enjoyed a homestead for the entire property—despite the fact that two upstairs units have been rented for most if not all those years.

An anonymous complaint filed with the Travis Central Appraisal District June 20 resulted in removal of the homestead exemption for the 46 percent of the property that is rented. Riley retains the right to claim 54 percent of the property for his homestead.

Yesterday Riley responded to an inquiry from The Austin Bulldog and provided a copy of an e-mail he sent to the Travis Central Appraisal District (TCAD) June 19, 2014, the day he found out about the complaint.

“I was made aware of this issue via a constituent letter received by my office on June 19, 2014,” Riley stated in his response to our inquiry. “I immediately called TCAD about it, and based on their instructions I sent the following e-mail that night.” (A copy of Riley’s e-mail received by the appraisal district is linked at the bottom of this story.)

The Travis County Tax Office billed Riley for $7,294.87 for back taxes for the tax years 2009 through 2013. Riley paid that amount August 15, said Susan Zavala, tax supervisor for property tax collections in the Travis County Tax Office.

Although Riley paid back taxes for the years 2009 through 2013, he was not billed for $1,208.21 that he would otherwise have owed for the tax years 2003 through 2008, because the law permits removal or reduction of a homestead exemption for only five years.

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City Elections Are Nonpartisan, Right?

But that’s not stopping the Travis County
Democratic Party from helping candidates

by Ken Martin
© The Austin Bulldog 2014
Posted Wednesday August 13, 2014 3:01pm
Updated Tuesday August 19, 2014 8:45pm

David ButtsDavid ButtsIn Deep Blue Austin the apprehension about having a Republican on the City Council was exploited by political consultant David Butts at a meeting of the Central Austin Democrats, back in 2012 when he was stumping for passage of the 8-2-1 plan. Peck Young was on the same program, pushing for passage of the 10-1 plan brought to the ballot through a petition drive conducted by Austinites for Geographic Representation.

Butts said, you know if we have 10 council districts we’re going to have a Republican on the City Council, surely a statement meant to strike fear into the hearts of the Democrats listening.

Sitting in the audience and hearing this, I thought to myself, well what’s wrong with a little political diversity, to go along with the geographic diversity that we’re going to have with council districts?

Turns out there’s a lot wrong with it, according to J.D. Gins, executive director of the Travis County Democratic Party.

J.D. GinsJ.D. GinsGins believes the Travis County Republican Party is recruiting candidates to run for Austin City Council and fears if elected they will be able to build a platform to later run for state representative. Then the Democratic Party will have to spend a lot of money fending them off.

“There’s no way the GOP can’t see this as the only way to build a base in Travis County,” Gins said in a July 22 interview.

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Steve Adler Land Developer

The mayoral candidate profited from not
having to comply with the SOS Ordinance

Investigative Report by Ken Martin
© The Austin Bulldog 2014
Part 6 in a series
Posted Tuesday August 5, 2014 10:25am

Steve AdlerSteve AdlerEnvironmentalists sharply criticized mayoral candidate Stephen Ira “Steve” Adler for representing land owners who avoided compliance with current environmental ordinances, as The Austin Bulldog reported in Part 4 and Part 5 of this series.

A review of several hundred pages of public records obtained through research and public information requests indicate that Adler himself personally profited from not having to comply with the Save Our Springs Ordinance for development of a tract in Oak Hill.

The steeply sloped 16-acre tract that Adler and law partner Michael Barron bought in January 1995 carried with it a Restrictive Covenant executed in December 1987—more than 10 years before any development plans were filed. The Restrictive Covenant granted rights to 65 percent impervious cover on the tract. If subject to the Save Our Springs Ordinance, enacted more than two years before Barron and Adler purchased the tract, impervious cover would have been limited to 25 percent.

The site plan for development of the property was filed by Barron and Adler in May 1998, more than three years after they bought the land.

A post-bust bargain?

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Neighborhood Leader Files Ethics Complaint

Land Development Code Advisory Group Member
Neslund accused of failing to register as lobbyist

by Ken Mart in
© The Austin Bulldog 2014
Posted Thursday, July 24, 2013, 10:34pm
Updated Friday July 25, 2014 9:55am to link recording of statements made at press
Updated Friday, August 15, 2014 8:15pm

Update: The Ethics Review Commission met the evening of Tuesday, August 12, 2014. After spending more than an hour and a half in executive session, the Commission heard testimony from the complainant’s attorney; Fred Lewis, from respondent Melissa Neslund; and from her attorney, Casey Dobson of Scott Douglass & McConnico LLP. After hearing testimony the Commission members asked questions, debated matters, and on the motion of Commissioner James Ruiz, seconded by Commissioner Dennis Speight, voted 4-2 to dismiss the complaint. Voting in favor of the motion were Commissioners Ruiz, Speight, Austin Kaplan, and Peter Einhorn. Voting no were Commissioners Donna Beth McCormick and Velva Price.

Mary IngleMary IngleThe president of the Austin Neighborhoods Council, acting as an individual, lodged a Sworn Complaint Filed by Mary Ingle July 24, 2014 with the City of Austin alleging that an appointed member of the Land Development Code Advisory Group failed to register as a lobbyist.

The complaint names Melissa Neslund, a senior associate and project director for land use and entitlements with Bury Inc., a consulting firm founded by professional engineer Paul J. Bury III in 1984, according to the firm’s website.

The Austin City Council approved the establishment of the Advisory Group December 6, 2012, “to assist in the development of a new Land Development Code per the Imagine Austin Comprehensive Plan.” The minutes for City Council Agenda Item 74 of December 6, 2012 state the resolution specifically prohibited members “who are registered or required to register as a lobbyist under City Code Chapter 4-8 or who are employed by a person registered or required to register under that chapter.”

The Austin City Clerk’s website lists the names of 65 lobbyists registered with the city. That list does not contain Neslund’s name or the name of anyone else The Austin Bulldog could identify as working for Bury Inc.

In a e-mail responding to The Austin Bulldog’s request for comment, Neslund provided a written statement, as follows:

Melissa NeslundMelissa Neslund“I am not a lobbyist (registered or unregistered), and I do not undertake in lobbying activities. My role at Bury is to support real estate industry clients through the City’s land development process.  At no time during that process do I lobby or solicit support for my projects from any City official. If I (or my firm) are working on a project that requires lobbying, we refer our clients to a land use attorney. 

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Travis County Democrats Upbeat

Pep rally revs crowd to achieve
the dream of turning Texas blue

by Ken Martin
© The Austin Bulldog 2014
Posted Tuesday July 22, 2014 1:59pm
Updated Wednesday July 23, 2014 1:24pm to link recording of speeches

Kirk Watson with Randall Slagle and Lloyd DoggettKirk Watson with Randall Slagle and Lloyd DoggettWell you can’t blame the Democrats for wanting what they haven’t won in the last two decades, and that’s the election of the governor who will succeed Rick Perry.

The year 1994 marked the end of an era for Democrats. Governor Ann Richards lost her reelection bid to George W. Bush, but, in a last hurrah, Democrats Bob Bullock, Dan Morales, John Sharp, Martha Whitehead, and Garry Mauro all won another term. Ever since then every statewide race on the ballot has been won by Republicans.

Yet hope springs eternal in eternally deep-blue Travis County, the scene for a Saturday evening Democratic Party rally featuring the tried-and-true combination of barbecue, beer, and stump speeches, all emceed by State Senator Kirk Watson of Austin. A crowd estimated at more than 400 sprawled out over the grounds of the new party headquarters on East Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.

In introducing U.S. Representative Lloyd Doggett (D-Austin), Watson said, “Here we are in the heart of Travis County, the heart of the city of Austin, but we ain’t in his congressional district, because we’re sitting in the congressional district of somebody from Fort Worth.” (This is the result of the last legislative redistricting that left Central Austin in the congressional district of Representative Roger Williams, a Republican whose district stretches from almost to Cowtown all the way to Wimberley and includes the State Capitol.)

“This is really a place of hope, right here,” Doggett said. “And every time we walk another block, we call another person who might not otherwise have voted, you write a check, you put up a sign, you expand that hope for Texas. But it’s not just hope for Texas. It's hope for our entire country.”

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Scruggs Runs for District 8

The man who organized Circle C Democrats
loves to knock on doors and meet voters

by Ken Martin
© The Austin Bulldog 2014
Posted Thursday July 10, 2014 2:14pm
Updated 10:10am Monday, July 14, 2014

Ed Scruggs addresses the crowdEd Scruggs addresses the crowdIt would have been impossible to pack more people or more energy into the side room of the Santa Rita Tex Mex Cantina on Slaughter Lane in southwest Austin when on June 24 Edward Scott “Ed” Scruggs launched his bid for the District 8 seat on the Austin City Council.

Being in the heart of the Circle C Ranch development in Southwest Austin, Scruggs, 49, started his talk by recalling that he and Steve Urban, who co-chairs Scruggs’ council campaign, led the charge to convert the homeowners association from developer control to homeowner control “and it was a tough job,” he said.

“We had a slate of five of us that ran, walking door to door and we managed to all come into the board at the same time and it’s never been the same since.”

Just as Circle C’s governance changed, so has the City of Austin’s. This election will put control in the hands of council members from 10 geographic districts in which they live.

Circle C Ranch was not part of the City of Austin until annexed December 18, 1997. Circle C is among most populous parts of District 8’s south end. The district stretches west nearly to the Village of Bee Cave and north to Lady Bird Lake and includes Barton Springs Pool. Yet all five candidates who have appointed campaign treasurers for the District 8 race live south and west of Loop 360 (Ben White Boulevard).

The candidate’s speech

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Undoing Racism Forum Confronts Candidates

Speakers provided tough talk to some
two-thirds of declared council candidates

by Joseph Caterine
© The Austin Bulldog 2014
Posted Tuesday, July 8, 2014 3:00pm

Citizens and City Council candidates alike filled the small conference room in the Westminster Branch Library June 24 for Undoing Racism Austin’s City Council Candidate Forum on Racism. About 40 candidates attended, with future voters making up the rest of the crowd

Marisa PeralesMarisa PeralesMarisa Perales, a lawyer with Frederick Perales Allmon & Rockwell PC, who serves on the City's Environmental Board, opened the briefing, expressing her gratitude for the number of people who showed up and emphasizing that the presentations were intended for the candidates. She asked the audience to defer to the candidates during the question-and-answer session at the end, adding, “this is a safe space. There are no stupid questions.”

Despite this assurance, tension began to build as presentation after presentation confronted the would-be city leaders with hard facts about Austin's history of institutional racism.

Anika FassiaAnika FassiaAnika Fassia, a program associate from the nonprofit Public Works, set the stage for the other speakers, defining the “racism” being discussed as not necessarily the prejudice imposed by one individual upon another, but rather intentional policies that disproportionately exclude or negatively affect people of color. “Intentional policies do define opportunity in the United States.” she said.

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Meeker Enters District 10 Race

Second try for City Council seat energizes
Zoning and Platting Commission member

by Ken Martin
© The Austin Bulldog 2014
Posted Wednesday July 2, 2014 10:02am

Jason MeekerJason MeekerJason Warren Meeker launched his bid for the District 10 City Council seat Sunday June 22 at the Waterloo Ice House in northwest Austin with some 16 adult well-wishers on hand and a total of 26 who signed in at some point during his two-hour appearance.

Meeker, who heads marketing communication firm Meeker Marcom, roused his backers with a stump speech that quoted Abraham Lincoln quoting the Bible, saying, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.”

“Here in Austin we’ve been divided politically for far too long and even today the power is too concentrated, it’s too deaf and too blind to the concerns of the people of Austin,” Meeker said. That changed in 2012, he said, when 60 percent of Austin voters approved the election of city council members from 10 geographic districts, a new system that will take effect in January, after the November 4 general election and December 16 runoffs.

“We’re about to witness a new experiment in democracy that will unite our city. Not just 10 different districts, but one city united, represented equally, a house united—and that’s why I’m running.”

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Kitchen Launches District 5 Bid

Former state representative packs the
house at the iconic Broken Spoke

by Ken Martin
© The Austin Bulldog 2014
Posted Friday, June 20, 2014 10:59am
Updated Friday, June 20, 2014 12:09pm (to add other District 5 candidates)

Ann KitchenAnn KitchenThe dance floor was far too crowded for boot scooting at the legendary South Austin honky-tonk as City Council Candidate Ann Elizabeth Kitchen stepped to the mic for a speech Tuesday night, June 17.

“In the 20-plus years that I’ve lived in South Austin, I have dedicated my life to taking an active role in improving our community,” Kitchen said. “As a former state legislator and as an advocate I’ve represented much of District 5 in the past. I do know how to effectively work with, listen to, and advocate, fight for the people of South Austin.”

She said she moved to Austin in 1973 to attend the University of Texas. “After graduating I worked with special needs kids and their parents. That was important to me. It taught me a very important lesson. That lesson was that if we’re going to make real progress sometimes we have to roll up our sleeves and change the system.

“That’s one reason I went back to school to study law at UT. I wanted to use my energy to help reform government, to find some real solutions for tough issues and work towards giving people the chance to create a better life for themselves. I’ve been trying to do that for the past 20 years,” Kitchen said.

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Steve Adler's Other Environmental Lawsuits

 Three more cases in which the candidate’s legal
work pitted him against environmental regulations

by Ken Martin
© The Austin Bulldog
Part 5 in a series
Posted Tuesday, June 17, 2014 10:45am

Steve AdlerSteve AdlerAustin mayoral candidate Stephen Ira “Steve” Adler has handled hundreds of lawsuits, he says, and he doesn’t want to be judged by the handful in which he represented developers who, through his legal assistance and occasional legislative maneuvering by others, were able to avoid complying with the City of Austin’s current environmental regulations.

“My concern is that others in the city want to get me defined by three cases out of hundreds of cases and there's a narrative they're trying to create on the street and it's not fair and it's not true,” Adler said in a May 15 interview. (For the record, there are four such cases.)

“I’m talking to as many people in the environmental community as I can,” he said. “I’m asking people to judge me on matters over time and not ... walk away thinking I was challenging SOS Ordinance.”

That’s one way of putting it. Another would be that he and other attorneys he worked with helped property owners avoid complying with the Save Our Springs Ordinance, or other environmental protection ordinances that preceded it, by asserting a right to develop under older, less restrictive ordinances.

Whether an attorney running for office should be judged by the clients he represented is a question for voters to decide.

But an attorney’s clients definitely played a decisive role in a past city council election.

Opponent’s clients helped Slusher get elected

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Tovo Launches Reelection Bid

Jam-packed crowd enthusiastic about keeping
Tovo as sole survivor from current city council

by Ken Martin
© The Austin Bulldog 2014
Posted Friday June 6, 2014 11:06am

Ruby Roa, Laura Morrison, Kathie Tovo, and Saundra Kirk pose post-speeches at the June 3 campaign kickoff eventRuby Roa, Laura Morrison, Kathie Tovo, and Saundra Kirk pose post-speeches at the June 3 campaign kickoff eventRousing cheers greeted incumbent Council Member Kathie Tovo, a District 9 candidate, as she launched her campaign to win a second term Tuesday night at El Mercado Restaurant in South Austin.

Tovo’s chief opponent is Council Member Chris Riley, who was first elected in 2009 to fill the unexpired term of Lee Leffingwell, when Leffingwell vacated that seat to run for mayor. So far the only other candidate to appoint a treasurer for the District 9 contest is Erin K. McGann, who lives on South Third Street. Riley lives downtown on San Antonio Street and Tovo lives north-central on West 32nd Street.

“When I ran for Council in 2011, I promised to be a different kind of council member, and I have worked hard to keep that promise,” Tovo said. “My service on the Council has been about representing people, representing everyday Austinites—not the lobbyists and developers that come before us in a steady stream. And I weigh every Council action, large or small, against the effect that it’s going to have on the people who live and work and raise their families in our neighborhoods.

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Monitoring City Staff Conflicts of Interest

Public information requests and ongoing investigation
triggers reforms by Austin’s Ethics Review Commission

Investigative Report by Joseph Caterine and Ken Martin
© The Austin Bulldog 2014
Posted Wednesday June 4, 2014 10:33am

The Austin Bulldog’s investigation indicates that 12 non-elected City of Austin officials failed to file Statements of Financial Information that were due in April 2013. That number is disputed by the City. (More about that later.) A public information request for the statements due in April 2014 is awaiting the City’s response.

Of the 147 Statements that were filed by non-elected officials in 2013, only 56 forms were filled out correctly, according to The Austin Bulldog’s analysis.

This is not a story exposing conflicts of interest among City of Austin staff members but about the city’s lack of oversight that would prevent or assist in the discovery of such conflicts.

This investigation exposed problems the city has in identifying which city staff members are required to file and found the city has done nothing to discipline those who file late or not at all.

The stir caused by six public information requests filed for this investigation between January 6 and April 2 caused the city staff and Ethics Review Commission to initiate a number of reforms. These reforms include revising reporting forms to clarify what information is required and agreeing to perform annual audits after the filing deadline.

Peter EinhornPeter Einhorn“It’s always been my position that it seems like a waste to make people file this information if nobody actually looks at it,” Ethics Review Commission member Peter Einhorn said at the April 29 meeting.

And that's one of the key findings of this investigation: City Code requires designated city officials to file these reports but, beyond reminding officials to file, oversight has been nonexistent.

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Sheryl Cole Launches Mayoral Campaign

Large, diverse crowd voices loud support and
commitment to her call-and-response initiatives

by Ken Martin
© The Austin Bulldog 2014
Posted Saturday May 31, 2014 8:53pm
Updated Wednesday June 4, 2014 3:19pm (added recording and transcript of kickoff speech)

Sheryl Cole interviewed by KXAN after her speechSheryl Cole interviewed by KXAN after her speechSheryl Cole, the current mayor pro tem, is winding up her third term on the Austin City Council and—because of term limits—it's either up, out, or run a petition drive to get back on the ballot as a council member. She’s looking to step up to take the mayor’s job.

She is the first African-American woman to serve on the council and wants to be the first African-American mayor, and only the second woman mayor.

Cole, the third major mayoral candidate, formally kicked off her campaign to be Austin’s next mayor at a private home across the street from Lee Elementary School on a steamy hot Saturday afternoon.

Other mayoral candidates with significant resources are Council Member Mike Martinez and attorney Stephen Ira “Steve” Adler. Also running are Todd Phelps and Randall Stephens.

Decked out in skirt, cowgirl boots and a blue-jean jacket, Cole recalled that she had come to Lee Elementary to register the nephew she was raising after his mother died in a car accident. That’s when she met sixth-grade teacher Julie Brown, who calmed Cole’s fears and said, “Sheryl, Sheryl. We. Got. It.”

“There are some debts you can never pay back,” Cole said of that experience, “you can only pay forward.”

She praised the active members of PTA organizations, neighborhood associations, civic groups, the Democratic Party, and church groups for their commitment and service, despite lack of recognition.

“Now I’m a lawyer, and I’m a CPA, but some of the best lessons I learned were from the PTA,” she said. “I took that with me to go ahead and serve on several community boards,” including the Urban League, Planned Parenthood, Communities in Schools, “and I took it all the way to City Hall.”

“It served me well to be able to put groups of people together and watch what they could do for the city,” she said.

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 Steve Adler’s Baggage: Environmental Lawsuits

Mayoral candidate a lawyer whose work puts
him at odds with environmental organizations

by Ken Martin
© The Austin Bulldog
Part 4 in a series
Posted Wednesday May 21, 2014 2:13pm

Kirk WatsonKirk WatsonThe last lawyer elected mayor of Austin was Kirk Watson, now a state senator. Watson was elected in 1997 with strong endorsements of local environmental organizations. And why not, for he had served as the appointed chairman of the Texas Air Control Board, one of the predecessor agencies to what is now the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. The Watson-led City Council was the first in which every member was endorsed by environmentalists—an important milestone in the mainstreaming of environmental values.

The 2014 mayoral election will be like none that preceded it. The strength of environmental group endorsements, as well as the endorsements of other groups, will be diluted now that elections are moving from May to November. Voter turnout will be much larger, about 300,000 as opposed to some 50,000 that usually vote in May elections. If no candidate wins an outright majority on November 4—and has to face a December 16 runoff while competing for voters’ attention during holiday shopping and vacations—the importance of the environmental vote may be a larger factor in who gets elected.

Still, no one aspiring to be mayor wants to be seen as anti-environmental.

Which may be a challenge for mayoral candidate Stephen Ira “Steve” Adler.

Steve AdlerSteve Adler

As reported in Part 2 of this series, Adler earned respect for his work in the state legislative sessions 1997-2005 as chief of staff and general counsel for State Senator Eliot Shapleigh (D-El Paso), and for his leadership in, and financial support of, numerous important nonprofit organizations.

Environmentalists are wary of Adler because as an attorney he represented developers who gained rights to construct projects over the Barton Springs portion of the Edwards Aquifer without having to comply with the Save Our Springs Ordinance, in one instance, or with predecessor ordinances in two others.

Brad RockwellBrad RockwellIt is important to remember that when Steve Adler helps clients evade City of Austin environmental regulations, Adler is representing polluters,” said attorney Brad Rockwell, who was deputy director of the Save Our Springs Alliance and represented it in a 2004 lawsuit that tried to stop the construction of a Lowe’s Home Center in Sunset Valley.

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Steve Adler Launches Mayoral Campaign

Big crowd turns out on a hot day to hear
what the little known candidate would do

by Ken Martin
© The Austin Bulldog 2014
Part 3 in a series
Posted Monday, May 5, 2012 11:08am
Updated May 5, 2014 9:50pm (to add a transcript of Adler’s recorded speech)

Steve Adler and supporters onstage at his campaign kickoff May 4.Steve Adler and supporters onstage at his campaign kickoff May 4.The shaded concrete bleachers at the City Hall plaza were filled with supporters of 58-year-old attorney Stephen Ira “Steve” Adler, who’s not well known outside the numerous nonprofit organizations that he’s assisted and led. The open-air plaza was likewise populated by fans standing in the 92-degree hot sun and enjoying treats from Amy’s Ice Cream.

Adler, who’s widely known for being soft-spoken, was nevertheless forceful in delivering a 22-minute speech that touched on most every major area of concern and sometimes varied from Steve Adler’s Scripted Campaign Kickoff Speech that was shared with the press during the event. (For a more accurate account of his speech, listen to the recording linked near the bottom of this article.)

Adler did not address his main political opponents by name, those being declared candidate Mike Martinez and possible candidate Sheryl Cole, both of whom have served on the Austin City Council since 2006.

But he took a backhanded swipe at both, near the end of his speech, when he said, “Others have had the chance over the last eight years (the length of time that Martinez and Cole have been in office) to address the very same challenges we face today. It is time for new leadership.

“We don’t want experience in how things have been done in the past; we need a new and broader experience and a vision for how things should be done tomorrow.”

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What’s Steve Adler Done for Austin?

This mayoral candidate has given significant time,
energy, and money to numerous important causes

by Ken Martin
© The Austin Bulldog 2014
Part 2 of a series
Posted Thursday, May 1, 2014 2:45pm

Steve AdlerSteve AdlerStephen Ira “Steve” Adler has for decades been an attorney specializing in eminent domain cases to protect the rights of property owners in condemnation proceedings.

But what has he done to demonstrate he has the skills needed to lead Austin into a new era of grassroots governance, in which for the first time every area of the city will have a representative seated on the council dais?

Plenty, according to the leaders of numerous significant organizations.

Adler started law school at the University of Texas in summer semester 1978, fresh out of Princeton, and immediately jelled with fellow law student Eliot Shapleigh, a future Texas state senator.

Eliot ShapleighEliot ShapleighShapleigh said in a recent interview that after serving three years in the Peace Corps he entered law school at the same time as Adler. Both were slow to graduate, Shapleigh in 1981, Adler in 1982.

“We took off a year and worked for Procter & Gamble,” Shapleigh said. “One of his friends in Princeton had a connection and Steve and I went over there and learned how to take a product and market and got an experience in life.”

For Adler, earning money was essential: “I took off a year-and-a-half after my first year to make some money to finish law school,” he said.

Shapleigh said, “We got to be really good friends, played on the touch football team against a guy who defended (President Richard) Nixon, Charles Alan Wright. ... Our team was set up to defeat Wright... (but) I broke my thumb so we got beat pretty bad.”

Adler and Shapleigh formed a lasting bond that included being best man at each others weddings. Adler married Melany Maddux in 1989 and they divorced in 1995. In 1998 he married Diane Tipton Land, president and CEO of DT Land Group Inc. The couple celebrated their 16th anniversary last month.

In 1996 Adler helped Shapleigh, an El Paso Democrat, achieve a come-from-behind election victory for a seat in the Texas Senate, then served as his chief of staff and later general counsel during the legislative sessions of 1997 through 2005.

“He wanted to do pubic education and in a few short months he was the expert on school funding formulas and how that works,” Shapleigh said of Adler's quick mastery.

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Steve Adler Wants to Be Mayor

He views the 10-1 system as a gift and an
opportunity to restart, revitalize city government

by Ken Martin
© The Austin Bulldog 2014
Part 1 of a series
Posted Wednesday, April 23, 2014 2:58pm

Steve AdlerSteve AdlerIt may have been inevitable that Stephen Ira “Steve” Adler, a soft-spoken attorney, would one day want to lead the City of Austin into a new era of governance.

Adler is one of three children born to Lee Elliott Adler and Selma Adler. He was born in Washington. DC, March 23, 1956, and raised in that city and in Maryland, where he went to public schools. He grew up steeped in the culture of national news and political coverage broadcast from Washington by CBS television, where his father worked. As a boy he sometimes found himself in the studio with legendary journalists Eric Sevareid, Roger Mudd, and White House reporter Dan Rather, with an occasional visit from New York-based Walter Cronkite.

As a budding 17-year-old high school senior Adler clerked for Congressman Gilbert Gude, R-Maryland, in the Capitol. It was 1973 and the Watergate hearings were underway that summer. Adler said he sat in on the Senate hearings on the only day, June 27, 1973, when John Lennon and wife Yoko Ono also attended the hearings. At the time Lennon was appealing a federal deportation order that sprang from President Richard Nixon’s disdain for Lennon’s political views and influence.

John Lennon and Yoko Ono at Senate Watergate hearingsJohn Lennon and Yoko Ono at Senate Watergate hearingsForty years later, in an exclusive interview with The Austin Bulldog, Adler said, “That was one of the highlights of my life. I sat behind John Lennon and Yoko Ono. It was pretty cool.” (Unfortunately he didn’t get into the widely circulated photo shown here.)

Adler arrived in Austin in 1978 to attend law school at the University of Texas. He was fresh out of Princeton University with a bachelor of arts degree. “I worked and they gave me a scholarship, which is the only way I could go to the college I went (to).”

Over the ensuing decades Adler has spent a lot of time, energy, and money supporting nonprofit organizations and political causes. (The next story in this series will provide an in-depth examination of these community service endeavors.)

Now he wants to be Austin’s next mayor.

“I think that when you find yourself in a city that you love that has been so good to you, that’s facing the challenges that it’s facing with a new government restart, making it an absolutely crucial moment in time, and you are able to be able to help, I don’t know how you don’t do that. I don’t know how five years from now you look back and say, ‘I was in a position to be able to do something and I didn’t do it.’ That’s why I’m running.”

A new mayor for a new government

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Criminal Complaint Hits Commissioner Daugherty

Save Our Springs Alliance files complaint a day
before vote to fund State Highway 45 project

 by Ken Martin
© The Austin Bulldog 2014
Posted Monday, March 17, 2014 8:29pm

Gerald DaughertyGerald DaughertyThe Save Our Springs Alliance filed a criminal complaint with the Travis County Attorney’s Office today, alleging that Travis County Commissioner Gerald Daugherty had violated the Texas Public Information Act by not turning over his correspondence related to the proposed controversial State Highway 45 Southwest. (See: SOS Alliance Criminal Complaint re: Travis County Commissioner Gerald Daugherty)

The complaint came the day before the Travis County Commissioners Court could vote to approve an initial payment of $2.5 million to help pay for design and construction of SH45 SW and to be obligated to pay an additional $12.5 million by October 30.

The SOS Alliance has long opposed the construction of SH45 SW over the sensitive recharge zone of the Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer. Daugherty has spearheaded efforts to get SH45 SW built.

The timing of the vote is important, given the recent Democratic Primary election. Former Travis County Commissioner Sarah Eckhardt is the Democratic nominee for county judge, and former City Council Member Brigid Shea is the party’s nominee for the Precinct 2 county commissioner’s seat that Eckhardt vacated to run for county judge. Both are unlikely to support the new highway.

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