Background Investigation: Dominic Chavez

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Dominic Chavez
Dominic Chavez
Here’s What the Public Records Say About the City Council Candidate
by Rebecca LaFlure
Dominic Chavez
Dominic Chavez

Throughout his campaign for Austin City Council, Dominic Chavez said some have characterized him as a conservative, developer-backed candidate vying for a seat on a Democrat-dominated council.

After all, Chavez is a former spokesperson for the Real Estate Council of Austin, voted in five Republican races—and one Democratic primary—and nearly half of his campaign contributions come from people indicating they work in real estate or development.

But in an interview with The Austin Bulldog Thursday, Chavez, who is challenging incumbent Bill Spelman for the Place 5 seat, said he is not the “caricature” some people and media outlets have painted him to be.

He said he is an independent voter and pointed out that he opposed recent property tax breaks granted to Apple, even though he knew his position would turn off some voters in Austin’s business circles.

“I’m not a straight-party person. I never have been,” said Chavez, an Iraq War veteran and director of external relations for the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. People “like to create an image of what you are. I’m an independent, and I think I’ve proven that throughout this campaign.”

In an effort to educate Austin residents about candidates vying for a seat on the City Council, The Austin Bulldog researched the backgrounds of all incumbents and major challengers.

We used an organized plan to find, copy and publish public records, and compiled links to relevant news articles and web pages.

Chavez is the final candidate featured in our series leading up to Saturday’s election.

Spelman leads in endorsements;
Chavez garners police support

Spelman, a two-term council member and public policy professor at the University of Texas, garnered six challengers for his Place 5 council seat up for grabs this Saturday. A single candidate must receive at least 50 percent of the vote to win and avoid a runoff election.

Although Chavez has not raised nearly as much money as Spelman, he’s received more campaign contributions than any of the other challengers, and was involved in city government issues prior to his City Council bid.

Place 5 candidate Tina Cannon, an entrepreneur, has also been active on the campaign trail.

Spelman received a broad range of support for his re-election campaign, garnering 23 endorsements from organizations like the Austin Board of Realtors, Austin Central Labor Council, Sierra Club’s Austin Regional Group, and multiple Democratic groups.

Chavez touts endorsements from the Mexican American Democrats—which opted not to back any incumbents this election season—and the Austin Police Association.

He also won a straw poll conducted at a March 27 candidate forum sponsored by the Real Estate Council of Austin, Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce and 10 other real estate groups. However, the results do not reflect an endorsement from the organizations, according to RECA’s website.

In a statement announcing the Austin Police Association’s endorsement Monday morning, APA President Sgt. Wayne Vincent said Chavez, “is committed to keeping our police department one of the premiere agencies in the nation. Unlike others, he sees the true value in that, and also understands that our neighborhoods depend upon it.”

Spelman received some criticism in September after he questioned whether hiring 49 more police officers, as Austin Police Department leaders requested, was the best way to ensure safety and the most effective use of taxpayer dollars.

Hiring the 49 police officers would allow the city to maintain its standard of two officers per 1,000 residents.

Spelman, who has studied public safety issues for more than three decades, instead proposed hiring 33 officers and 14 civilian APD employees, and funding a drug treatment program for returning ex-offenders.

Spelman told The Austin Bulldog in March that he felt the city could get “more bang for the buck” by allocating some money toward civilian staff and drug treatment because simply adding sworn police officers is not the best way to reduce crime.

“I think he’s dead wrong on that proposal,” Chavez said at his campaign kickoff, noting that experts have said the I-35 corridor is a major focal point for drug distribution. “I think I speak for a great deal of this community, particularly the outlying areas. They want to make sure that their neighborhoods, schools, and businesses are safe.”

Several organizations have opted to issue no endorsement for the Place 5 race, such as the Austin Neighborhoods Council, Better Austin Today PAC, Austin Firefighters Association PAC, University Democrats and Austin Tejano Democrats. Typically, a majority of members must agree to back a single candidate in order for an organization to issue an endorsement.

From Real Estate Council to state’s higher ed board

Chavez grew up in the Los Angeles area and moved to Texas after high school to attend Trinity University in San Antonio, where he obtained a bachelor’s degree in speech communication and political science in May 1998. He went on to attend Texas A&M University, and earned a master’s degree in speech communication in 2000. Trinity and A&M confirmed that Chavez attended and obtained degrees from these universities.

Chavez began working as a government affairs liaison in January 2001 for the Real Estate Council of Austin, a nonprofit committed to economic development and real estate issues.

He left the organization in August 2002 to start his own consulting business, according to Chavez’s personnel file obtained from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board through a Texas Public Information Act request.

Chavez said the short-lived company, called RLC Consulting, helped small businesses build databases to track inventory and do invoices.

Five months later Chavez returned to the Real Estate Council to take a new position as government affairs director.

In his THECB personnel file, Chavez stated as the Real Estate Council’s government affairs director, he “drafted, promoted and secured passage for House Bill 3461, a key real estate initiative.” The bill outlined provisions for when and how city governments can declare a moratorium on commercial developments.

He served as the Real Estate Council’s official spokesperson for more than four years, until leaving in 2007 to work as assistant director for state government relations in the THECB’s Office of Strategic Alliances.

Chavez has been promoted several times throughout his time at the THECB, and in less than four years, his annual salary nearly doubled, from $62,508 to nearly $115,000.

Chavez, who served in the Army Reserves for about 10 years, temporarily left the state agency in 2008 when he was ordered to deploy to Iraq, according to his personnel file. Chavez was a staff sergeant (E-6) when honorably discharged November 13, 2009, according to a copy of his Certificate of Discharge From Active Duty that he provided. He received credit for 10 months and 11 days of foreign service.

He returned to the THECB in December 2009 as full-time interim senior director of government relations, and was promoted to his current position in August 2010.

Chavez has received high marks on performance evaluations throughout his time at THECB. His supervisor noted in his personnel file that Chavez “exceeded all expectations … as interim senior director of government relations” and produces “high quality work” focused on the board’s legislative priorities.

Chavez criticized transportation bond,
sued city over historic tax exemptions

Travis County voting records show Chavez voted in three Republican primaries, two Republican primary runoffs and one Democratic primary. While the City Council race is nonpartisan, all current council members are known Democrats.

Chavez described himself as an independent and strategic voter.

“I’ve voted for Democrats and Republicans in general elections and primary elections,” Chavez said. “Which person most reflects the community? Sometimes it may be a Democrat, and sometimes it may be a Republican.”

Chavez has a history of involvement in city government activities, and, according to a November 19, 2010, Austin Chronicle blog post, was considering a 2011 campaign for City Council, but decided not to run.

He’s received support from homebuilder Ed Wendler Jr.—Chavez’s campaign treasurer and Council Member Mike Martinez’s brother-in-law—and retired Texas Monthly founder and publisher Mike Levy, who serves on the Austin Public Safety Commission. Levy created a political action committee specifically to support Chavez’s campaign.

Chavez, former president of the Castlewood-Oak Valley Neighborhood Association in far South Austin, has been most publicly vocal about his views on transportation issues.

Chavez, along with Wendler and Levy, opposed a $90 million transportation bond voters passed in 2010. According to city documents, Chavez was treasurer of the Sensible Transportation Solutions political action committee, which ran full-page ads in the Austin American-Statesman and Community Impact Newspaper to oppose the bond package.

Chavez said although he supported the bond’s investments in roads and sidewalks, he felt the bond was skewed toward the downtown area. He also objected to the city including a $14.4 million Lady Bird Lake boardwalk project in the bond package, arguing it should have been a separate item on the ballot.The proposition passed with 56 percent of the voters approving.

“I did not oppose the Lady Bird Lake project. I opposed bundling it with these other programs. … That’s not transparent government,” Chavez said.  “If you’ve got a project like that, it ought to stand on its own.”

If elected, Chavez said he would support a rule that places projects as stand-alone ballot items if they exceed a certain percentage of the total bond package.

Chavez also once served on the board of Austinites for Action, a nonprofit led by Republican Carole Keeton Strayhorn, a former Austin mayor and state comptroller who ran a failed mayoral campaign against Lee Leffingwell who, after serving on the City Council since 2005, was elected mayor in 2009.

Austinites for Action co-chairs are listed as Roger B. Borgelt, a lawyer and vice chairman of the Travis County Republican Party, and Shiree Sanchez, who served as special assistant for public liaison to President George H.W. Bush for issues related to Hispanic Americans. In the 1980s Sanchez served as assistant director of the Republican Party of Texas and was the state’s director for Hispanic outreach for George H.W. Bush’s first presidential campaign. Sanchez is currently a member of the board of advisors for the Hispanic Alliance for Prosperity Institute, a conservative group that strives to “promote policy and legislation to advance traditional Hispanic values.”

According to Austinites for Action’s website, the nonprofit strives to research and disseminate information on city issues in an effort to increase voter turnout in city elections, stating that “a select few special interests and their handpicked candidates control our city government.”

The group supports moving city elections to November and creating council districts—two initiatives Chavez supports.

According to an April 7, 2010 Statesman article, the group raised questions about a plan that would increase Austin Energy’s reliance on wind, solar and other renewable energy sources. Austinites for Action calculated that the climate protection plan would increase electric rates 57 percent over the next decade—a significantly higher percentage than what the city calculated.

Chavez, as an Austinites for Action spokesman, argued the plan should be decided by citizen vote, not the City Council.

“Climate protection is laudable; the question is about what balance we want between affordability and climate protection,” Chavez said in the Statesman article. “We think Austinites should have the chance to answer such an important question themselves.”

The council nevertheless adopted the plan, and Chavez said he stepped away from the organization early last year when he first considered a council run.

In February 2003, Chavez garnered some publicity from In Fact Daily and the The Austin Chronicle about his response to a proposed city resolution opposing the Iraq War.

Chavez, then with the Real Estate Council of Austin, wrote in a mass e-mail, “This is the kind of crap that we need to get after this council about! They have a $77 million shortfall and absolutely no plan to create jobs or fix the local economy … yet they have time to voice their opinions about a foreign-policy issue they have absolutely no control or purview over.”

More recently, Chavez, Levy and Democratic political consultant Alfred Stanley filed a lawsuit against the city and every City Council member on April 11, 2011, over historic tax exemptions. According to district court records, they argued that the city gave tax breaks to historic properties without exploring whether tax relief was necessary to preserve the site.

“In clear conflict with state law, the defendants have diverted $4.2 million of local revenue to reduce property taxes for a small, privileged class of residents that own ‘historic’ properties, many of whom do not require such relief,” the lawsuit stated.

The council voted to pay up to $123,000 for legal services related to the case, according to city documents. The suit was dismissed on August 15, 2011.

“It was an issue of fundamental fairness and making sure a justifiable process was in place,” Chavez said.

A February 14, 2012, Statesman article stated that, “in exchange for dropping the suit, the city agreed to require the owners of historical homes to justify each year why they need a tax break to preserve their properties’ historic character.”

Chavez receives nearly $22,000 in
donations; PAC fails to file report on time

Like all challengers this election season, Chavez lags the incumbent in campaign contributions by a significant amount, according to campaign finance reports.

As of May 2, Chavez has raised $21,820 and spent $16,751—$82,260 less than what Spelman raised.

He received contributions from Brian Rodgers—a real estate investor and civic activist who won a lawsuit against the city over the council’s decision to grant tax subsidies to The Domain mixed use development, although the City Council continued to pay tax rebates under the original agreement. Other contributors include the Home Builders Association, Austin Apartment Association and Austin Police Association political action committees.

Chavez reported in his April 12 campaign finance report that Richard “Dick” Anderson, co-founder of HPI Real Estate, bundled contributions for his campaign. (Bundlers are individuals who solicit contributions of $200 or more from five or more people.)

Chavez, who did not indicate which donations were bundled on his finance reports, sent The Austin Bulldog a list of contributions, totaling $7,950, that Anderson collected. (City Code does not require candidates to report which donations were bundled, but some choose to do so anyway.)

His campaign received a total of $4,950 from individuals who indicated they work for HPI.

In contrast, Spelman has raised $104,088 and spent $57,746.

He reported three bundlers: David Armbrust, city lobbyist and lawyer at Armbrust & Brown; Nikelle Meade, city lobbyist, real estate partner at Brown McCarroll and vice president of the Real Estate Council of Austin; and Steve Sexton, president of Circuit of the Americas, the future F1 racetrack under construction in Austin.

These bundlers collected a total of $21,000 for Spelman’s campaign.

Cannon is the only other Place 5 candidate who has raised any campaign funds, reporting $8,239 in contributions.

In Fact Daily reported April 26 that the political action committee Levy created to support Chavez failed to file an expenditure report with the city as required by Austin’s election code.

Levy’s assistant Pam Keller, who said in the story she was responsible for not submitting the report on time, filed the paperwork with the city clerk’s office the day the story ran.

The article stated that the Dominic Chavez for Austin City Council PAC operates independently of Chavez’s campaign, and Chavez said he “knew nothing” about it.

According to expenditure reports filed April 26 and May 4, the PAC spent $20,646 to design, print and place campaign signs in support of Chavez. Chavez reported that he is now aware of the PAC’s existence in his latest campaign finance report.

Stresses workforce development, affordability

Chavez—who, according to property records, owns a home in far South Austin—has run a campaign focused on affordability, workforce education and representing residents who live outside Austin’s central city core.

No one on the current City Council lives south of the (Colorado) river, an area that is home to about 40 percent of Austin’s population.

The South Austin area “is one of the fastest growing and people feel like they aren’t being represented because you have a council that represents literally a mile-and-a-half radius of this community,”

Chavez said at his campaign kickoff. “That was one of the reasons I decided to run.”

Chavez, who assists with the THECB’s state higher education plan, said he wants to ensure that Austin has an educated, competitive workforce so local businesses don’t have to look outside the city limits to find qualified employees. He said he would push the city to take a more active leadership role in collaborating with local school districts, colleges and business leaders to develop a long-term workforce development plan.

On transportation issues, Chavez said he is against building an urban rail system in Austin and favors expanding bus rapid transit because it is “much more cost effective and flexible.”

Chavez said he supports creating City Council districts, particularly the 10-1 plan being petitioned for by Austinites for Geographic Representation and recommended by the council-appointed 2012 Charter Revision Committee. Spelman has stated publicly that he supports district representation and would back whichever plan he feels voters would most likely approve.

Chavez criticized Spelman for voting against moving city elections from May to November, arguing the change would save the city money and increase voter turnout. However, Spelman voted against the proposal to move the election, as permitted by a recently enacted state law, because he felt voters should decide whether to make changes to Austin’s City Charter, which requires a May election.

Chavez is also critical of recent subsidies the council granted to companies, particularly an $8.6 million property tax rebate for Apple to build a new campus that would bring about 3,600 new jobs to the city. The council unanimously approved the incentives package.

Critics argued the tax breaks were unnecessary, particularly after The Arizona Republic reported that Phoenix—cited as Austin’s chief competition for the new campus—was never in the running to attract Apple.

Chavez said “subsidies should be a strategic tool that we have,” but companies should prove that they need the city’s help.

“Apple has $100 billion in the bank,” Chavez said. “Explain to me why you need Austin’s tax base, why you need a rebate, a kickback, to build your building here and relocate here. It’s a very simple question, and I don’t think their answer is satisfactory.”

He said he would support looking into creating a city homestead exemption for residents who meet certain income requirements. Laura Pressley, who is running against incumbent Mike Martinez for the Place 2 seat, has described a similar idea throughout her campaign run.

“The best affordable housing solution we can have is helping to keep people in their homes,” Chavez said.

During his campaign kickoff, Chavez and his supporters emphasized that the council should focus their efforts on improving affordability, rather than spending time on issues like the recently approved ban on bags at retail store checkout counters.

“I’ve talked to the reddest conservatives to the bluest Democrats. They’re concerned about the same issues: rising property taxes, higher utility rates, traffic,” Chavez said “They’re not concerned about, in most cases, what’s our policy on plastic bags.”

The data

Dominic M. Chavez

Age: 36

Current office: None

Office sought: Place 5 on the Austin City Council, held by University of Texas at Austin professor Bill Spelman

Place 5 office salary: Chavez would not be allowed to receive the $64,043 annual salary given to council members if he were elected and chose to stay at the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, a state agency. Section 40(c) of the Texas Constitution prohibits state employees from getting paid to serve on local governmental bodies. Spelman, who also works for the state, does not receive a council salary.

Chavez said he would step down from his senior-level position at the THECB if elected, but would consider serving in a lesser position at the agency.

E-mail address: [email protected]

Telephone: 512-538-5452

Career: Chavez is senior director for external relations at the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. According to his campaign website, Chavez’s office is focused on improving cost efficiency and college completion rates at Texas public universities and community colleges. Chavez is an Army veteran, and was deployed overseas in Iraq. He also served as the spokesman of the Real Estate Council of Austin.

Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board personnel record (119 pages)

U.S. Army Reserve record

Board of directors, current: None

Board of directors, past: President of the Castlewood-Oak Valley Neighborhood Association, Austinites for Action

Business records: (none found)

Campaign finance reports

2012 Campaign finance report

Expenditure report for Chavez PAC created by Mike Levy

Campaign finance reports for Sensible Transportation Solutions for Austin Political Action Committee, for which Chavez served as treasurer.

Campaign staff:

Ed Wendler Jr., an Austin developer and Council Member Mike Martinez’s brother-in-law, is campaign treasurer. Wendler is the son of the late Ed Wendler Sr., an influential Austin lawyer-lobbyist.

Retired Texas Monthly founder and publisher Mike Levy created a political action committee in support of Chavez.

Chavez said he has no paid campaign staff or consultants.

District court record:

Chavez et al v. City of Austin et al

Education: Chavez obtained a bachelor’s degree in speech communication and political science in May 1998. He went on to attend Texas A&M University, where he earned a master’s degree in speech communication in 2000.

Education records

IRS tax returns: Chavez volunteered to give copies to The Austin Bulldog. IRS tax returns are not public record.

Tax returns for 2010 and 2011

Marriage record: According to Travis County court records, Chavez married Julie Dunn on November 5, 2007. Chavez filed a petition for divorce November 28, 2011. The couple has two children, a boy age six and a girl age four.

Divorce petition

Marriage certificate

Municipal court record: Chavez was issued two citations for speeding on a state highway, one for an expired inspection sticker, and one for failing to “signal intent to change lanes.” He paid the fines and submitted required paperwork on time for all the charges.

Driving record

Personal financial statement

Property records:

Home owned in Austin: Chavez owns one 2,032 square-foot home at 9401 Queenswood Drive. The house is appraised at $214,665.

Property tax records

Travis County Grantee Records (property acquired) 13 pages

Travis County Grantor Records (property sold) 41 pages

Voting record: Chavez has voted in three Republican primaries and two Republican primary runoffs since March 2006, and voted in one Democratic primary in March 2002. He voted in city elections in 2011, 2009, 2008, 2006, 2005 and 2003.

Travis County voter registration and voter history

Web pages:

Campaign Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Dom4Austin/info?ref=ts

Campaign website: http://www.domchavez4austin.com (This link is no longer functional.)

Candidate video statement: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mBZgY-CouiA&feature=share

Twitter: https://twitter.com/#!/Dom4Austin

Stories involving Chavez

Links to stories (most recent first). Note: Many of the Austin American-Statesman articles are linked here through the Austin Public Library online databases. Access is free but requires a library card number to view. You must log in on the library site for these links to work. Or, alternatively, Statesman articles can be accessed by searching the newspaper’s online archives and creating a user account.

Supporting progressive change, April 30, 2012, The Daily Texan

Spelman faces crowded field in bid to regain Austin council seat, April 29, 2012, Austin American-Statesman

Six candidates are gunning to unseat Bill Spelman, April 13, 1012, The Austin Chronicle

Background Investigation: Bill Spelman, March 28, 2012, The Austin Bulldog

City Campaign: Voters Wanted, Endorsements start to filter in for what should be an interesting city election season, April 6, 2012, The Austin Chronicle

Austin council candidates spar over incentives, other issues, March 27, 2012, Austin American-Statesman

Chavez Targets Spelman in Council Contest: First-Time Candidate Sued City of Austin Over Tax Abatements for Historical Preservation, March 7, 2012, The Austin Bulldog

Spelman draws challenger in City Council race, February 14, 2012, Austin American-Statesman

Deal near to settle suit on tax breaks for landmarks, July 2, 2011, Statesman archives

City sued over tax breaks for landmarks, April 12, 2011, Statesman archives

Dreams of an education, November 13, 2011, Statesman archives

Bond proposal’s support strong in city’s center, weaker on edges, November 4, 2010, Statesman archives

The Daily Hustle, October 19, 2010, The Austin Chronicle

Letters June 25, 2010, Statesman archives

Strayhorn calls for energy referendum, April 7, 2010, Austin American Statesman

Mayor may seek delay for bond vote; Spending ideas so far don’t meet goals for region, critics say, November 17, 2005, Statesman archives

Projects chosen for bond election; Missing from the county list is extra money to buy Travis land that would remain undeveloped, August 24, 2005, Statesman archives

Austin, against war: Our fiscal crisis is exactly why we need a resolution on Iraq, February 7, 2003, The Austin Chronicle

Texas traffic plan moves to slow lane; Commission delays vote on limiting driveways along Texas’ major roads, August 20, 2002, Statesman archives

This report was made possible by contributions to The Austin Bulldog, which operates as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit to provide investigative reporting in the public interest. You can help to sustain The Austin Bulldog’s reporting by making atax-deductible contribution.