City Charter

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Attorneys Argue CodeNEXT Petition

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Charter Revisions Flushed Down the Drain

Two least substantial items on council agenda, if put on the ballot and passed would block other charter changes for two years It looks like...

Zimmerman Lawsuit Not First Challenge

 Zimmerman Lawsuit Not First Challenge

City has a mixed record of defending attacks on
City Charter’s restrictions for campaign finance

© The Austin Bulldog 2015
by Ken Martin
Posted Friday August 14, 2015 2:11pm

In 1998 with more than $672 million in bond propositions at stake in an upcoming election, The Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce and Texas Society of Association Executives wanted to leave nothing to chance. They sued the City and won, overturning City Charter restrictions on the $100 limit for contributions to support or oppose ballot measures.

Marc KatzIn 2003 mayoral candidate Marc Katz, owner of the now-defunct Katz’s Deli, figured he needed to raise $300,000 for a strong campaign and then do it again if he got into a runoff. He sued the City to challenge the City Charter’s $100 limit on how much an individual could contribute to a candidate’s campaign. He lost the lawsuit and placed a distant third to then-Council Member Will Wynn, who won without a runoff.

Don ZimmermanNow comes District 6 Council Member Don Zimmerman, who sued July 27 to challenge not only contribution limits (currently $350) but several other restrictions on campaign finance. We are far from knowing whether he will succeed in overturning City Charter restrictions twice approved by Austin voters.

The Zimmerman suit against the City of Austin seeks to overturn multiple aspects of the Austin City Charter with the explicit goal of building his campaign war chest and boosting his odds for reelection in November 2016.

The Charter restrictions attacked

Council Member Zimmerman Sues City

 Council Member Zimmerman Sues City

Wants to overturn campaign finance restrictions
and could gain himself a direct personal benefit

by Ken Martin
© The Austin Bulldog 2015
Posted Wednesday July 29, 2015 2:02am
Updated Wednesday August 5, 2015 10:46am (Houston court’s injunction was temporary, not permanent)

District 6 Council Member Don ZimmermanDon Zimmerman had a long history of filing lawsuits even before he won election to the District 6 seat on the Austin City Council last December.

In fact, while a candidate he sued The Austin Bulldog for defamation last October, lost the case in early January, and still owes $10,000 in attorney’s fees and sanctions for filing a baseless lawsuit. More than six months later he has not paid the debt despite efforts to collect.

Now he’s filed a federal lawsuit to overturn several aspects of the rules under which he ran for and won office. In his latest lawsuit filed July 27, 2015, Zimmerman seeks to eliminate or modify restrictions on political fundraising found in Article III Section 8 of the Austin City Charter.

The lawsuit explicitly states that Zimmerman seeks to eliminate these restrictions to prepare for his campaign for reelection in November 2016.

Jerad Najvar“Political speech is the very core of the First Amendment, but Austin’s campaign finance system seeks to control debate by controlling fundraising and spending,” said attorney Jerad Najvar of the Houston-based Najvar Law Firm, in a prepared statement. He represents Zimmerman in this lawsuit. “The result is that everybody in the world is free to speak, except for City candidates themselves.”

Campaign finance experts—and even seasoned political consultants who run Austin mayoral and city council elections—say rolling back the restrictions that Austin voters overwhelmingly approved in two City Charter elections would be a disaster for democracy at the local level. (More about that later.)

Zimmerman, a self-proclaimed fiscal conservative has in effect sued his employer, the City of Austin, which will have to spend money to defend the City Charter.

What the lawsuit seeks

Massive Interest in Redistricting

  • Massive Interest in Redistricting
  • City auditor’s forum draws standing-room
  • crowd to brainstorm how to attract applicants
  • by Ken Martin
  • © The Austin Bulldog 2012
  • Posted Wednesday December 5, 2012 9:38pm

The city auditor’s forum drew some 120 peopleAny doubts about the public’s interest in establishing the 10 council districts to take effect in the November 2014 City Council elections were put to rest Tuesday night as some 120 people attended a jam-packed program at One Texas Center.

Proposition 3’s 10-1 plan for council elections was put on the November 6 ballot through a petition drive led by Austinites for Geographic Representation and approved by 145,910 votes (60.15 percent).

Now comes implementation.

Larry Schooler“We’re at the beginning of what for some is too long a process,” said Larry Schooler, a community engagement consultant in the city’s Public Information Office. “Tonight is the beginning of that process.”

“How do we attract applicants with the qualifications the charter amendment sets out: relevant analytical skills, ability to be impartial, and appreciation of the city of Austin’s diverse demographics and diversity?

“This is the beginning of a journey. It has many parts. This is the first of those parts, “Schooler said.

Proposed Districting Timeline Draws Flak

  • Proposed Districting Timeline Draws Flak
  • Redistricting expert says schedule does not
  • allow enough time for federal approval process
  • by Ken Martin
  • © The Austin Bulldog 2012
  • Posted Tuesday, December 4, 2012 3:37pm

Ken MoryCity Auditor Ken Mory and his chief of investigations, Jason Hadavi, briefed the Austin City Council in this morning’s work session, including proposed dates for accomplishing major tasks related to establishing 10 council districts, as approved by voters November 6. (The core of the briefing is contained in the City Auditor’s Slides for City Council Briefing.)

The briefing took place in advance of tonight’s related public forum that starts 7pm in One Texas Center, 505 Barton Springs Road, Room 325. (To see a map, click here.) The purpose of the forum is to encourage participation in the Citizens Independent Redistricting Commission (CIRC) and secure a large and diverse pool of qualified applicants.

The schedule proposed by the City Auditor indicates that the CIRC would adopt a final plan for the 10 geographic districts by April 1, 2014.

Attorney Steve Bickerstaff, who has represented more than a hundred jurisdictions on redistricting in his long legal career, told The Austin Bulldog that April 1, 2014, is not soon enough.

Citizens Redistricting Forum December 4

  • Citizens Redistricting Forum December 4
  • City auditor invites public input for citizens redistricting
  • panel and how best to identify applicant qualifications
  • by Ken Martin
  • © The Austin Bulldog 2012
  • Posted Monday, November 27, 2012 7:15pm

Ken MoryCity Auditor Ken Mory today announced a public forum will be held to encourage participation in the Citizens Independent Redistricting Commission (CIRC) and secure a large and diverse pool of qualified applicants.

Once formed the 14-member CIRC will hire consultants, conduct public hearings, and draw 10 council districts the City Council will have no choice but to accept, subject to federal approval under the Voting Rights Act.

Peck Young is the volunteer political consultant who provided strategy for Austinites for Geographic Representation (AGR), which got Proposition 3 on the ballot through a petition drive and won voter approval.

Young said he was encouraged by the auditor’s quick action to seek public participation.

Peck Young“My reaction it that’s a very good first step,” Young told The Austin Bulldog. “AGR members will be encouraged to participate. I think that’s an excellent approach on Mory’s part.”

Elections scheduled for November 2014 will be held under the new system with 10 council members elected from geographic districts and only the mayor elected at large.

The forum starts 7pm Tuesday December 4 in One Texas Center, 505 Barton Springs Road, Room 325. (To see a map, click here.)

Overview of the process