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Downtown Alliance Rail Spending Questioned

 Civic activist Rodgers warns City of Austin not to
reimburse $440,000 in Let’s Go Austin contributions

by Ken Martin
© The Austin Bulldog 2014
Posted Tuesday November 25, 2014 10:09pm

Brian RodgersBrian RodgersCivic activist Brian Rodgers sent a letter to City Manager Marc Ott and other city officials today to urge the city not to reimburse the DAA for political contributions it made to a pro-rail campaign as such payments might entail a “potential criminal violation.”

The Downtown Austin Alliance (DAA) contributed a total of $440,000 to the Let’s Go Austin Political Action Committee (PAC) to help fund the pro-rail campaign, according to campaign finance reports filed by the PAC.

The November 4 election sought approval for a $600 million bond for an urban rail starter system if the city also provided $400 million for roadway improvement projects. Voters soundly defeated the $1 billion initiative by a vote of 108,396 (57.2 percent) to 81,107 (42.8 percent).

Charlie BettsCharlie BettsDAA Executive Director Charlie Betts said he has been with the DAA for 17 years and this is the first time a question has been raised about the organization making political contributions.

Betts said, “We have contributed to issue-oriented PACs many times in the past, such as the Health District, the last two transportation bond issues, and the PAC to support the last affordable housing bonds campaign. We have never contributed to a political candidate.”

Bill AleshireBill Aleshire“That doesn’t make it legal, it just means they didn’t get caught,” said Austin attorney Bill Aleshire of Riggs Aleshire & Ray PC, who assisted Rodgers in drafting the letter to city officials. “The fact they got away with it in the past doesn’t make it any less of an issue.” (Disclosure: Aleshire is one of the attorneys who represents The Austin Bulldog.)

How DAA is funded

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Bulldog Defends Zimmerman Lawsuit

by Ken Martin
© The Austin Bulldog 2014
Posted Tuesday November 25, 2014 8:37pm

The Austin Bulldog has moved to dismiss District 6 candidate Don Zimmerman’s libel lawsuit under Texas’ anti-SLAPP law, the Texas Citizen Participation Act.

The Austin Bulldog argues that Zimmerman’s lawsuit should be promptly dismissed because The Austin Bulldog article and the accompanying e-mail News Alert were accurate reports of the abuse allegations made against him in the judicial proceedings that led to Zimmerman losing all legal right of custody or access to his only daughter.

A copy of The Austin Bulldog’s motion can be found here: Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss Pursuant to Chapter 278, Texas Civil Practices and Remedies Code (113 pages with Exhibits)

Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss Pursuant to Chapter 278, Texas Civil Practices and Remedies Code (22 pages without Exhibits)

If Zimmerman files a response to The Austin Bulldog’s motion, we will post it as well.

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Austin Political Power to Shift Radically

Interactive maps show historic achievements afoot
in 10-1 system of City Council representation

by Ken Martin
© The Austin Bulldog 2014
Posted Tuesday November 18, 2014 8:07pm

This map indicates where electees and runoff candidates said they lived when filing for a place on the ballotThis map indicates where electees and runoff candidates said they lived when filing for a place on the ballotSuburban sprawl will overtake Austin City Hall when the new mayor and 10 City Council members are inaugurated January 6.

Other significant trends are that for the first time women are almost certain to outnumber men on the council; whites will still outnumber people of color but Hispanics will have more representation than ever, including the first-ever Latina; areas never before represented will finally have a seat on the dais; Republicans may gain a foothold; and the near-stranglehold on political power that the Westside has enjoyed for decades will be ended. (More about all these later.)

These are some of the trends evident in The Austin Bulldog’s 2014 interactive map of those already elected or engaged in a runoff as a result of the November 4, 2014, general election.

Linda CurtisLinda CurtisLinda Curtis, the Austinites for Geographic Representation sparkplug who led the volunteer petition drive that got the 10-1 plan on the ballot, said, “It's obvious that we have accomplished with 10-1 the immediate goal, which was to have representatives in these districts. The real question is, ‘So what?’ Is business going to change? We'll see.”

“What does it mean to have representation that's still under the influence of the old political players—and to what extent that's still in place will be seen when the new council takes seats in January,” Curtis said. “In politics it's always about the future and what people actually do.”

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Two Women Win Without Runoffs

Delia Garza Austin’s first Latina council member,
former state representative Ann Kitchen also victorious

by Ken Martin
© The Austin Bulldog 2014
Posted Wednesday November 5, 2014 4:39pm

Two female candidates won seats on the Austin City Council in yesterday’s election, while the mayor and eight other council seats will be decided in a runoff election December 16.

Delia Garza flashes a winning smile on election nightDelia Garza flashes a winning smile on election nightDistrict 2 council candidate Delia Garza gained a place in history by becoming the first Latina elected to the City Council.

Garza thumped her three opponents by gaining 65.01 percent of the votes while her nearest competitor got just 16.53 percent. “I am honored to be the first Latina elected,” Garza told The Austin Bulldog as her party was winding down at Trudy’s restaurant off South I-35. “It’s been a long time coming.”

It has taken nearly four decades for Latin women to achieve political parity with their male counterparts. The first Latino won a seat on the council 39 years ago, when John Trevino Jr. was elected in 1975.

Mary Ann Neely, Ann Kitchen, Steve Beers, and Roy Waley gathered for Kitchen’s party.Mary Ann Neely, Ann Kitchen, Steve Beers, and Roy Waley gathered for Kitchen’s party.District 5 candidate Ann Kitchen netted 53.62 percent to beat six opponents. Her nearest opponent, Mike Rodriguez, was a distant second at 22.21 percent. Although the votes were not final when The Austin Bulldog stopped by Kitchen’s party at Red’s Front Porch on South Lamar a little before 9pm, she was edging over 50 percent and the crowd was enthusiastic.

Kitchen’s husband, Mark Yznaga, anticipating the possibility she would win without a runoff, told The Austin Bulldog if she did so he would resign his position with Opticos Design Inc., the lead urban planning consultant for the City of Austin’s CodeNEXT project.

Runoff candidates and indy backers

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PACs Indy Spending Tops $262,000

Another $68,000 dumped into campaigns
in last three days to back favored candidates

by Ken Martin
© The Austin Bulldog 2014
Posted Monday November 3, 2014 1:40pm

Local political action committees (PACs) have already spent more than a quarter-million dollars trying to influence the outcome of the mayor and City Council elections set for Tuesday November 4.

Robert ThomasRobert ThomasFor the pick of the big-money PACs look no further than District 10 candidate Robert Thomas. He has garnered nearly $60,000 in independent expenditures, so far, including a whopping $50,000 from the Austin Board of Realtors—a sum that far exceeds the total amount of independent expenditures made on behalf of any other candidate. The rest of support for Thomas came from the Austin Firefighters Association, Austin Police Association, and some free billboards courtesy of Reagan National Advertising.

Total independent expenditures jumped almost $68,000 in just the last three days of reporting as PACs chipped in to push last-minute ads, mailers, phone banks and block walkers aimed at getting preferred candidates elected. Of if not elected outright, at least getting them into a runoff where independent expenditures may be even more effective in influencing who serves as the new mayor and fills 10 council seats.

While amounts already spent are significant and might make a difference in the outcome of the general election, these PACs are sitting on more than $800,000 that can be deployed to influence voters in the seven weeks of campaigning to come, after the November 4 general election and before the December 16 runoffs.

Independent expenditures are monies spent for electioneering communication or express advocacy to support or oppose a candidate without consulting with a candidate’s campaign.

Peck YoungPeck YoungPolitical consultant Peck Young is advising a number of council candidates in this election, some of which have gotten support through independent expenditures.

“As long as you have ridiculously low limits on campaign contributions you need some mechanism to support candidates and that's what these independent expenditures are for,” Young said. “Until we get rational contribution levels these independent expenditures are it.”

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Gallo ‘Statesman’ Ads Missing Disclosures

Wednesday ad and newspaper wrappers
both failed to include required statements

by Ken Martin
© The Austin Bulldog 2014
Posted Friday October 31, 2014 3:44pm

District 10 candidate Sheri Gallo's political advertising published in the Austin American-Statesman and printed on wrappers for subscribers’ newspapers did not include key disclosures required by the Texas Election Code and Austin City Code.

Texas Election Code Section 255.001 requires disclosure of the fact that express advocacy is political advertising and the full name of the person who paid for it. The disclosure required by Austin City Code Section 2-2-14 requires stating whether the candidate has—or has not—agreed to comply with contribution and expenditure limits of the Austin Fair Campaign Chapter.

Sheri GalloSheri GalloIn a telephone interview today, Gallo said, “We realized the problem Wednesday evening and contacted the paper.”

“I take full blame,” Gallo said. “It’s my duty to make sure things like this don’t happen.”

The 4-1/4-inch by 9-1/4-inch ad published on page A6 of the October 29 Statesman focused on a few of her qualifications and notes she has been endorsed by three former Austin mayors and a former mayor pro tem.

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Indy Spending Big Election Factor

Fifteen political action committees trying
to influence mayor and council elections

by Ken Martin
© The Austin Bulldog 2014
Posted Wednesday October 29, 2014 5:14pm

While mayor and City Council candidates are scratching to raise every dollar they can for their campaigns, political action committees (PACs) are sitting on a pile of campaign cash and have already spent more than $194,000 on so-called independent expenditures to help selected candidates win outright on November 4—or at least get into a runoff.

Independent expenditures are monies spent for electioneering communication or express advocacy to support or oppose a candidate without consulting with a candidate’s campaign.

These PACs still had a combined total of more than $856,000 in contributions on hand as of their latest contribution and expenditure reports and may spend a hunk of that money in the last days of the campaign and then weigh in again for the inevitable runoffs to be decided December 16.

Click on this image to download the spreadsheet.Click on this image to download the spreadsheet.The independent expenditures and funds on hand are detailed in the attached spreadsheet, Independent Expenditures for 2014 Austin Mayor and City Council Elections through October 27, 2014.

Not every PAC reported independent expenditures and many have not disclosed their top donors in advertising or other electioneering communication, as required by the Austin City Code. The requirement to report independent expenditures and include the names of top donors in communications took effect for the first time in this election.

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Zimmerman Sues Bulldog, Claims Defamation

District 6 candidate Don Zimmerman claims
‘The Austin Bulldog’ report made false statements

by Ken Martin
© The Austin Bulldog 2014
Posted Wednesday October 15, 2014 10:59pm
Updated Thursday October 16, 2014 3pm (additions are underlined)

Don ZimmermanDon ZimmermanDistrict 6 candidate Donald Shelly “Don” Zimmerman has filed a defamation lawsuit against The Austin Bulldog, according to Courthouse News Service.

The Austin Bulldog has not been served and has not seen a copy of the lawsuit, styled Don Zimmerman v. Austin Investigative Reporting Project dba The Austin Bulldog; Ken Martin Cause No. D-1-GN-14-004290. The Austin Investigative Reporting Project is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit for investigative reporting in the public interest.

The Austin Bulldog obtained a copy of the lawsuit, which was filed electronically, this afternoon. A copy is linked below.

Bill AleshireBill Aleshire“Don Zimmerman’s attack on The Austin Bulldog for publishing truthful information from recent court records is an attack on journalism and the public’s right to know what happens in our courts,” said attorney Bill Aleshire of Riggs Aleshire & Ray PC. “The Austin Bulldog will vigorously defend its reporting and defend the right of journalists to report about court proceedings.”

Peter KennedyPeter KennedyThe attorney representing The Austin Bulldog in this litigation is Peter Kennedy of Graves Dougherty Hearon & Moody.

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Candidate Lost Custody Over Abuse

District 6 Council candidate Don Zimmerman
injured, alienated daughter, court records state

Investigative Report by Ken Martin
© The Austin Bulldog 2014
Posted Thursday October 9, 2014 3:10pm
Updated Wednesday October 15, 2014 7:42pm

Editor’s note: Don Zimmerman, through his attorney Stephen Casey, on October 10, 2014, sent a letter to The Austin Bulldog stating this article published October 9 subjected Zimmerman to defamation and demanded retraction. There is no reason for The Austin Bulldog to retract its report about the judicial proceeding that Zimmerman was involved in earlier this year.

The Austin Bulldog does listen to criticism of its reports, in this case, like all others. Therefore, in the interest of making this report the best possible fair, true, and impartial account of information contained in court records, we have updated it with additions (shown in underlined text) and deletions (shown in text with strikethroughs).

The update also includes a link to the Docket Sheet, which is the Travis County District Clerk’s official record of every action taken in this District Court case. Examination of the Docket Sheet, along with the records already linked to this report, reflects the fact that The Austin Bulldog had already published and made accessible to readers every substantive court filing made this year, starting with Casey’s filing for client Zimmerman of the Respondent’s Motion to Enter Final Order on March 10, 2014. All of the remaining court records and orders that were the basis of the story are included in the links below.

Don ZimmermanDon ZimmermanDistrict 6 candidate Donald Shelly “Don” Zimmerman, founder of the Travis County Taxpayers Union, is an aggressive leader who as president of a municipal utility district brought two lawsuits, one of which resulted in winning a case before the U.S. Supreme Court.

But aggression in disciplining his then 12-year-old daughter, Marina Zimmerman, resulted in documented physical and emotional damage and permanent loss of parental rights through civil court action. Although by court order he remains a “parent possessory conservator,” with rights to certain information about his daughter, the order explicitly states that Don Zimmerman “shall have no possession of or access to” the minor child, who is now 15 years of age. Absent Zimmerman obtaining a new court order, such denial of access is permanent while the order is in effect.

The petition that led to the court order states, “Respondent (Zimmerman) has a history and pattern of physical and emotional abuse directed against M.Z. (daughter Marina Zimmerman).”

In response to the petition, an Agreed Order issued by the court June 16, 2014, states, “The Court finds that the material allegations in the petition to modify are true and the requested modification is in the best interest of the child. IT IS ORDERED that the requested modification is GRANTED.”

The court records of the proceedings in 2014 contain no evidence that Zimmerman contested the allegations of having a history and pattern of physical and emotional abuse of his daughter. In fact, Zimmerman signed the Agreed Order beneath this statement: “APPROVED AND CONSENTED TO AS TO BOTH FORM AND SUBSTANCE.”

Yet in an interview for this story as originally published Zimmerman repeatedly characterized the allegations as lies. His protestations are left intact in this update so that readers can judge the facts for themselves.

Three documented incidents

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Candidates Rich and Poor Competing

Occupational income, investments, debts, real estate,
business interests, and much more detailed in filings

Investigative Report by Ken Martin
© The Austin Bulldog 2014
Posted Tuesday, September 30, 2014 2:54pm
Updated Wednesday, October 1, 2014 10:52am to add Delia Garza’s loans to her campaign
Updated Thursday October 2, 2014 6:07am to identify Jimmy Paver as a District 7 candidate

Steve AdlerSteve AdlerMayoral candidate Stephen Ira “Steve” Adler is clearly the wealthiest candidate running for city office, while his two chief opponents, incumbent Council Members Sheryl Nelson Cole and Michael William “Mike” Martinez, are merely well off, comparatively speaking, based on a review of their sworn financial statements.

These financial statements are separate and apart from the contribution and expenditure reports required in connection with election campaigns.

Personal resources provide a significant advantage if candidates choose to invest in their campaigns. But that advantage is diminished if not accompanied by the work it takes to build a broad base of support.

Campaigns are not won with checkbooks alone, but according to Campaign Finance Reports filed July 15, which reflected fundraising and expenditures through June 30, 21 candidates had already loaned their campaigns a combined half-million dollars—$509,926 (not $504,911 as first stated) to be exact. (More about that later.) The next batch of campaign finance reports, due October 5, will no doubt reflect even more personal spending to finance political ambitions.

The Austin Bulldog’s investigation of personal finances illustrates the vastly different resources the candidates can bring to bear as they race toward the November 4 election. And to carry them through to the December 16 runoff—if they make the initial cut. This analysis indicates the candidates range from the mega-wealthy to the downright poor. One of the candidates reported drawing unemployment benefits last year.

Shining light in dark corners

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Districts 6 & 10 Clean Energy Forum

First of a half-dozen opportunities for
candidates to outline energy strategies

by Joseph Caterine
© The Austin Bulldog 2014
Posted Tuesday September 18, 2014 2:41pm

A few dozen people braved the rainy weather last Friday night to attend the first in a series of City Council candidate forums about one of the City's most valuable assets: Austin Energy. The low turnout and rainfall did not dampen the lively discussion of the issues.

District 6 and 10 candidates mingled with district residents on the second floor of the Rissman Fellowship Hall at First Presbyterian Church, surrounded by darkened stain-glass windows and vacant chairs.

Phillip MartinPhillip MartinPhillip Martin, deputy director at Progress Texas, an organization that promotes progressive ideals, welcomed attendees as the moderator of the event and emphasized that this was a forum, not a debate. Candidates would have a chance to make one-minute opening and closing speeches, and they would have to answer a series of questions relating to Austin Energy with varying time limits.

District 6 candidates

Matt StillwellMatt StillwellThe District 6 candidates started the opening remarks. Matt Stillwell, whose campaign website states that he founded a marketing firm and an insurance company,talked about living in all the different parts of Austin over the course of his life, and his service in various community groups, including the Oversight Committee of the Round Rock Independent School District, and his neighborhood's Architectural Control Committee.

Jimmy FlanniganJimmy FlanniganJimmy Flannigan said the relationships he has built through working with the Austin Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce made him stand out among the other candidates.

District 10 candidates

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Budget Gives Stealth Pay Boost

An obscure 2006 ordinance gives policy
makers same raise as the rank-and-file

by Ken Martin
© The Austin Bulldog 2014
Posted Wednesday September 10, 2014 3:05pm

The Austin City Council The Austin City Council The Austin City Council yesterday adopted an annual budget of some $3.5 billion for Fiscal Year 2014-2015, with Mayor Lee Leffingwell casting the only “no” vote.

Tucked inside was a hidden pay bump for these elected officials.

The current incumbents will enjoy the 3.5 percent pay raise for just a few months, starting October 1. The raise will mainly benefit the newly elected mayor and 10 council members who are scheduled to take office when inaugurated at 6pm Tuesday January 6, 2015, in Council Chambers.

The mayor’s annual salary goes from $79,601 to $82,387, an increase of $2,786, by The Austin Bulldog’s calculations (the City’s public information office was not able to obtain an official figure from the Human Resources Department in time for this story).

The council members’ salaries rise from $67,695 to $70,064, an increase of $2,369 (also our calculation).

There was no public notice of the raises.

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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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