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Open Meetings, Closed Minds

Posted Tuesday January 25, 2011 4:30am
Open Meetings, Closed Minds

Private Meetings to Discuss Public Business Shows
Austin City Council May Be Violating Open Meetings Act

Investigative Report by Ken Martin
© The Austin Bulldog 2011

Chris Riley, Sheryl Cole, Randi Shade, Lee Leffingwell, Laura Morrison, Bill Spelman, Mike Martinez

Brian RodgersBrian Rodgers has been a thorn in the side of Austin city government since at least 1997, when he was one of the citizens who launched a successful campaign to eliminate the influence of big money donations in mayoral and city council elections.

He has agitated for changes on a wide range of issues, including repealing tax subsidies for high-end retail development, achieving equity in property taxes, and arguing his case before the city council against the city’s plan to pay all costs of extending water and wastewater service for the F1 racetrack.

In all of these battles with the powers that be he has done his homework, and spent significant sums to produce studies that provide facts for the city council to consider in carrying out its fiduciary duty and protect the interests of taxpayers.

The only victory he’s been associated with in all these years was the 1997 campaign to limit campaign contributions. He’s been a one-hit wonder who lost on every new issue that came along. At the ballot box he narrowly lost in his campaign to Stop Domain Subsidies. At the podium, pleading with the city not to approve $13.5 million to pay all costs for the F1 track’s water and wastewater service, the council voted 7-0, with little discussion, to do so.

Having mostly lost by trying to influence city policies from the outside he decided to consider running for city council this year, as reported by The Austin Bulldog January 12. In exploring the idea of running, Rodgers sought to gain insights from current council members.

Chris RileyHe e-mailed Council Member Chris Riley for a get-together. Rodgers says he spent three hours with Riley on December 28, ensconced in the back room of Austin Java at 12th and Lamar. What’s it like to serve on the council, he asked. What are Riley’s days like? How does he communicate with the mayor and council members?

The answer to that last question floored him.

Rodgers says Riley told him that council members and the mayor meet in regularly scheduled private meetings with each other to talk about city business. These meetings routinely occur in days immediately leading up to posted public meetings of the city council.

“We know how we are going to vote by Thursday (council meeting day) except for (Council Member Bill) Spelman, who’s a wild card,” Rodgers says Riley told him.

“When Riley told me that the council already knows how they’ll vote on Thursdays, I sat there angrily thinking about how community activists pour their time and energy into making our city a better place to live—unaware that the council’s votes are set before they even walk into the council chambers.

“I’ve spoken many, many times before the city council, spending countless hours on research each time, preparing my presentation, getting dressed up to come burn eight hours at City Hall waiting to speak my allotted three minutes. And now I find out it was all a giant waste of time because the council had already decided?

“Why don’t they just post the answers on the entrance to City Hall each Thursday morning and save us all the trouble? It’s not just me, but icons like Mary Arnold and scores of well-intentioned people denied their rights every week by a council too busy or too contemptuous to be bothered by what we have to say.”

 

  Do private meetings predict votes?

Brian Rodgers for Council?

Posted Wednesday January 12, 2011 2:39pm

Civic Activist Brian Rodgers
Mulling Run for Austin City Council

Would File Against Incumbent
County Member Randi Shade

by Ken Martin
© The Austin Bulldog 2010

Brian RodgersBrian Rodgers has long been critical of the way the City of Austin manages taxpayers’ money. He has agitated for changes on a wide range of issues, including equity in property taxes, limiting campaign contributions, and repealing tax subsidies for high-end retail development.

Now he’s deciding whether he should run for a seat on the Austin City Council, where he would have a far greater ability to influence city policies and spending.

He’s especially eager to find ways to quit subsidizing growth that he contends does not pay for itself. That’s a theme that’s been running for years on the website of an organization he co-founded in December 2008, ChangeAustin. There’s even a Voter Pledge form on the website, that says, “I plan to vote for candidates in the May 2011 Austin City Council election who will fight to make Austin’s growth pay for itself and to halt the long-standing practice of special interests (large-scale developers and land speculators in particular) off-loading their costs onto current residents. Enough already.”

If he runs, Rodgers says he will oppose Council Member Randi Shade, who is seeking her second term. She hosted her campaign kickoff at Mercury Hall last night and drew an energized crowd. Her campaign website lists more than 150 supporters. Campaign finance reports are not due until January 15. Shade carried over $2,105 from previous reports.

In telephone interviews Rodgers said he’s undecided whether to seek election—mainly because he’s not sure he can run his real estate business and serve on the council at the same time.

The filing period for this election opens February 12 and closes March 14. The election is May 14.

“I’m still mulling it,” he says.

  Why run against Shade?

“The cost of living is killing us,” he says. “I think Randi Shade is tone-deaf to what regular citizens are facing.”