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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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Homestead Exemptions a Tax Loophole

Appraisal district processing relies mostly
on homeowners statements, not scrutiny

Investigative Report by Ken Martin
Part 2 of a series
Data Research by Brandon Roberts
© The Austin Bulldog 2014
Posted Thursday February 27, 2014 7:52pm

Two hundred eighty eight thousand dollars.

And counting.

That’s how much homeowners have been charged for back taxes so far as a result of The Austin Bulldog’s investigation of improperly granted residence homestead exemptions.

As important as it is to collect these back taxes, in the long run it may be more important to staunch the bleeding of tax dollars that would’ve gone on unabated had it not been for this investigation.

This investigation has spurred numerous actions by the Travis Central Appraisal District to validate existing homestead exemptions, but numerous significant barriers exist that prevent more effective screening of new applications. (More about that later.)

Homestead residence exemptions lower the taxable value of a home. (The amount of exemptions granted by local taxing entities were published in Part 1 of this series on December 20.) When improperly granted, these exemptions cause the homeowner to be under-billed for property taxes.

Texas law entitles homeowners to have a residence homestead exemption on only one home per tax year. The exemption is authorized for the home that is the owner’s primary residence on January 1.

Although nearly $300,000 has so far been billed for back taxes owed by homeowners who have managed to obtain more than one exemption, correcting the mistakes exposed by this investigation is very much still a work in progress for the Travis Central Appraisal District and Travis County Tax Collector’s office.

As reported by The Austin Bulldog December 20, 2013, several hundred homeowners have obtained homestead tax exemptions on more than one residence—and thus avoided paying the full amount of property taxes that would otherwise be due.

Some 165 of these property owners had more than one home located in Travis County that enjoyed a tax exemption. Additional taxes billed to these homeowners as a result of this investigation totals $143,716 to date. (For details, click on: Homeowners Who May Have an Improper Residence Tax Exemption in Travis County.) As indicated by the questions inserted in “Remarks” (Column Z of this database), not all of these improper exemptions have been removed. Even in those cases where improper exemptions have been removed, it appears that not every homeowner was billed for the correct number of years for back taxes.

Another 120 homeowners dodged taxes by obtaining exemptions in both Travis County and another Texas county. (For details, click on: Homeowners Who Had an Improper Residence Homestead Exemption in Travis County or Another County.) The Travis Central Appraisal District eventually removed the inappropriate exemptions and initiated billing for back taxes totaling $144,367 for these properties.

Appraisal District corrective action

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Celebration of Democracy Honors Achievements

But notes the challenges ahead with a City
Council composed of district representatives

by Ken Martin
© The Austin Bulldog 2014
Posted Thursday, February 6, 2014 5:48pm

An extended standing ovation, completes with whoops and hollers, erupted Wednesday night when the League of Women Voters Austin Area’s Francis McIntyre announced to a crowd of some 125 people at the Green Pastures restaurant, “I present to you the first Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission in the history of Austin.”

Each of the 14 members of the Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission (ICRC) was honored with an award as McIntyre called them one-by-one to step in front of the crowd. (See list of members below.)

The League’s State of the City 2014 dinner celebrated voter approval of Austin’s new form of city governance that will be launched following the first-ever election this coming November of council members from geographic districts that were drawn by the ICRC.

The Proposition 3 ballot measure to establish 10 council districts drew 146,496 votes in the November 6, 2012, election, besting by more than 24,000 votes the alternative plan put on the ballot by council members opposed to the 10-1 plan.

Steve BickerstaffSteve BickerstaffFeatured speaker Steve Bickerstaff—the founder of the Bickerstaff Heath law firm and the attorney who drafted the initial plan that wound up as Proposition 3 on the ballot through the grass-roots petitioning of Austinites for Geographic Representation—called the victory “an extraordinary example of the ability of people to take control of government and an exercise in democracy.”

Bickerstaff praised Linda Curtis, the sparkplug campaign coordinator for Austinites for Geographic Representation; City Auditor Ken Mory, who was instrumental in implementing the application process for volunteers who wanted to serve on the ICRC; the CPAs who (during tax season) winnowed the 450 applications to form a pool of those best qualified to serve on the ICRC; and the ICRC members themselves for accomplishing the difficult task of holding together and drawing the boundaries of the 10 districts from which future council members will be elected.

“A lot of people thought it (the process) would crash and burn but the reality is, you did it,” Bickerstaff said. “The ICRC is extraordinary because the commissioners were willing to spend their own time and skills to make the process work.” He also noted that the ICRC’s mission was completed for less than $150,000.

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Homestead Exemptions Rife With Abuse

Honor system applications and inadequate scrutiny
for hundreds of homeowners not billed for full taxes

Investigative Report by Ken Martin
Part 1 of a series
Data Research by Brandon Roberts

© The Austin Bulldog 2013
Posted Friday, December 20, 2013 5:48am

Pablo Ornelas Jr. is being hit this month with a sudden increase in property taxes totaling more than $18,000 that he must pay by January 31 or face stiff penalties and steep interest charges.

Still, it’s hard to complain when he enjoyed an improper tax break for 15 years on one of the homes he owns.

For Ornelas, it’s actually good news that the law restricts the collection of back taxes to just five of those 15 years (2008-2012).

Renea DeckardRenea DeckardWhile that adds up to a lot of money, he will not have to repay the additional $21,000 in taxes he was under-billed for in tax years 1998 through 2007, according to calculations provided by Renea Deckard, associate deputy for collections in the Travis County Tax Office.

The bottom line is that a single oversight by the Appraisal District has so far cost taxing entities some $39,000 in revenue that was due on a single house. As stated above, Ornelas is being billed for only $18,000 (46 percent) of that amount.

If not for this investigation—which triggered the Appraisal District’s action to initiate collection of back taxes from Ornelas, and upped the taxes for 2013 as well—this hemorrhage would have continued for the foreseeable future.

Not an isolated case

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Austin Impact of Supreme Court Decision

Ruling on Section 5 of Voting Rights Act ends
need for federal approval of council districts

by Steve Bickerstaff
© The Austin Bulldog
Posted Tuesday June 25, 2013 5:50pm

President Lyndon Johnson signs the Voting Rights Act of 1965President Lyndon Johnson signs the Voting Rights Act of 1965Today, the United States Supreme Court by a vote of 5-4 effectively struck down Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. For Austin, that means that federal approval of the 10 council districts being drawn by the Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission will not be needed.

Technically, the Court left Section 5 in place, but unusable. The Court directly struck down the formula in Section 4(b) of the Act that determined which states and local jurisdictions nationwide were covered by the requirement of Section 5 that changes in election procedures and practices by those covered jurisdictions had to be submitted for preclearance. Section 5 was effectively left dangling inapplicable to any jurisdiction.

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Bulldog Open Records Lawsuit Continues

 Key issue is whether it is permissible to
redact officials’ private e-mail addresses

by Ken Martin
© The Austin Bulldog 2013
Posted Friday June 7, 2013 11:25am

How could you find out if Austin City Council members participated in an illegal quorum discussion about city business using their private e-mail accounts—a violation of the Texas Open Meetings Act?

The short answer is: you can’t.

Under the Texas Public Information Act (TPIA) you may request copies of e-mails exchanged by public officials about public business and you would be entitled to get them—including e-mails sent or received on private accounts (although in the past, the private-accounts issue has been a matter of legal contention).

But the e-mails you get from the public officials’ private e-mail accounts would not include their private e-mail addresses. Those addresses would be blacked out, redacted—to the point you would not be able to determine who sent or received a given e-mail, or whether a quorum of the governing board had illegally participated.

That was what The Austin Bulldog encountered in 2011, in response to a public information request for the e-mails about government business exchanged by the mayor and council members.

The Austin Bulldog eventually obtained copies of e-mails about government business exchanged by these elected officials using their private e-mail accounts—but only after filing a lawsuit to get them.

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Austin Governed By the Well-to-Do

November 2014 elections may deliver
economic diversity in next city council

by Ken Martin
© The Austin Bulldog 2013
Posted Friday May 17, 2013 1:46pm

Lee LeffingwellLee LeffingwellMayor Lee Leffingwell has investments in stocks and mutual funds with an estimated value of anywhere from $159,000 to $643,000 (since shares are reported in ranges a more specific estimate is not possible).

He enjoys an annual income of $150,000 from all sources, roughly half of which comes from his mayoral salary of $77,688.

Sheryl ColeSheryl ColeMayor Pro Tem Sheryl Cole and husband Kevin Cole have a real estate portfolio valued on the tax rolls at $1.3 million and combined salaries of more than $100,000.

Mike MartinezMike MartinezCouncil Member Mike Martinez and wife Lara Wendler have combined salaries of $186,000.

They own a couple of houses that are on the tax rolls for a total of more than $1.1 million; have 38 stocks that have a bare minimum value of $170,000 (and likely far more); and their other investments are conservatively estimated at more than $250,000.

Laura MorrisonLaura MorrisonCouncil Member Laura Morrison with her husband Philip Morrison reported owning 27 stocks, six bonds and shares in 31 mutual funds.

They live in a West Austin home valued at $1.9 million. The Morrisons drew dividends of more than $35,000 and rental income of more than $35,000, and their combined salaries are $173,803.

Chris RileyChris RileyCouncil Member Chris Riley owns a downtown home with domestic partner Denise Brady.

The home, valued at $807,077, also serves as a four-plex and produces rental income of more than $20,000.

Bill SpelmanBill SpelmanCouncil Member Bill Spelman reported owning stock in 26 companies and shares in 29 mutual funds.

With wife Niyanta Spelman he owns a Hyde Park home and two other rental properties in Austin, as well as an interest in undeveloped West Texas rangeland.

Kathie TovoKathie TovoCouncil Member Kathie Tovo and husband Tom Hurt own or have interest in more than a dozen businesses; possess an extensive investment portfolio; and own approximately 26,000 acres of ranch land spread over four Texas counties that produced income of more than $500,000 last year from oil, gas, and land sales.

As it stands now, all seven of the city’s elected officials are comfortably well off. Just how wealthy they are is an open question. The sworn financial statements provide clues but the lack of required specificity prevents accurately quantifying the value of reported assets.

The good news is that these affluent and concerned citizens enjoy a level of financial security that allows them to use their intelligence and skills in service to the community. If they are rich it’s not because they capitalized on their elected positions.

Will geographic diversity spawn economic diversity?

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Hotze a Persistent Political Voice

Houston physician’s lawsuit challenges Obamacare,
continuing a lifelong pursuit of conservative causes

by Ken Martin
© The Austin Bulldog 2013
Posted Wednesday May 8, 2013 3:56pm 

Steven Hotze at an Austin anti-gay rally 1981Steven Hotze at an Austin anti-gay rally 1981Steven F. Hotze, M.D., has made conservative causes his life’s work and his latest endeavor is filing a federal lawsuit in an effort to overturn the Affordable Care Act.

The Austin American-Statesman reported yesterday that Hotze, “founder of the Conservative Republicans of Texas and a leading donor to GOP candidates, said Tuesday he had filed a federal lawsuit seeking to overturn the Affordable Care Act.”

The Statesman reported that Hotze’s lawsuit “raises different issues than were considered when the U.S. Supreme Court upheld most aspects of the Affordable Care Act last summer.”

While it means nothing in a court of law and certainly will not affect the outcome of Hotze’s lawsuit, it seems worthwhile to let the public know a bit more about Hotze. And, as it happens, I wrote an in-depth feature story about him and his politics more than 30 years ago.

Austin Citizens for Decency

Hotze was front and center in my first big political story. The piece I wrote for Third Coast magazine was published in January 1982. “Decency Ordained: Austin’s Anti-Gay Crusade,” focused on an initiative that was on the ballot that month as a result of a successful citizens petition drive. (Click on the title to access the story and a lengthy sidebar, “Conscience of a Conservative,” that provides deep insight into his origins and motivation.)

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What Can Austin Learn From California?

Panel discussion focuses on how Golden State
experiences inform city’s move to 10-1 council

by Ken Martin
© The Austin Bulldog 2013
Posted Monday, May 6, 2013 2:00am
Updated with video link Tuesday May 7, 2013 10:50am

Emcee Bickerstaff and panelists Ancheta, Lewis, Hadavi, Limaye, FishkinEmcee Bickerstaff and panelists Ancheta, Lewis, Hadavi, Limaye, FishkinCalifornia’s official nickname, The Golden State, adopted in 1968, harkens back to the discovery of gold in 1848. Now the left-coast state’s experiences with using an independent citizens commission to draw maps for 177 seats in four different governing bodies offers a golden opportunity for learning how best to implement the City of Austin’s 10-1 plan.

The 10-1 plan for electing council members from geographic districts was approved by 60 percent of Austin voters last November 6 who voted for Proposition 3. Work is well underway to establish an Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission (ICRC) that will draw council districts to be implemented in the November 2014 election. The ICRC’s duties are specified in Article II, Section 3 of the Austin City Charter.

Close to a hundred people attended the panel discussion held the evening of Thursday, May 2, at the Bass Lecture Hall on the University of Texas campus. Upwards of half of those raised their hands when asked who had applied to serve on the ICRC.

The event was jointly hosted by UT’s School of Law, the LBJ School’s Center for Politics and Governance, and Austinites for Geographic Representation.

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