IndyAustin strikes again, launches signature gathering to force public vote for any stadiums on public land
It won’t be on the ballot before next May but IndyAustin, the nonprofit that spearheaded the petition drive to get the CodeNEXT petition on the November 6 ballot, is at it again.
IndyAustin this afternoon announced it has launched new petition drive to get an initiative ordinance on the ballot. It takes dead aim at upsetting, if not upending, the deal being negotiated with Precourt Sports Ventures LLC to build a soccer stadium on public land.
The petition launch comes just six weeks after the Austin City Council, at a special-called meeting August 15, 2018, voted 7-4 to authorize the city manager to negotiate and execute an agreement with Precourt Sports Ventures LLC to construct and occupy a sports stadium on a city-owned site at 10414 McCalla Place.
The stadium would be home to Austin FC, the new name for the Columbus Crew team to be moved from Ohio.
Under that agreement the City would receive an annual site rental fee of $958,720, escalating at 2 percent annually, according to the amended Term Sheet. But the project is to be exempt for property taxes not only from the city but also from the Austin Independent School District, Travis County, Central Health, and Austin Community College.
What the petition ordinance would require
The petition ordinance (copy linked at the bottom of this story) would require that any use of city-owned land for a sports or entertainment facility “shall require city council supermajority approval and voter approval.” The same goes for site development permits and variances.
Further, any sports or entertainment facility on city-owned land would be required to pay ad valorem property taxes or, if such land is determined to be exempt from taxation, the facility would have to pay a fee in lieu of taxes equal to the amount that would have been due if it were taxable.
The sports or entertainment venue also would be responsible for the costs of any off-site infrastructure and municipal services costs necessitated by the construction or operation of the facility.
The petition ordinance would also require that all records be subject to disclosure under the Texas Public Information Act—regardless of any of the usual exemptions to disclosure provided by law or judicial decision.
Who drafted the petition?
The petition ordinance was drafted primarily by attorneys Bill Aleshire and Roger Borgelt, with input from others, Borgelt told The Austin Bulldog.
In a phone interview Borgelt said, “There was a whole group of people concerned about fiscal responsibility, about ‘giving away’ this city-owned facility. There was no competitive bidding. It was done secretly to a great extent. The perception was it was rushed and did not result in enough benefits for the city. It was a bad deal.”
“We want to prevent this happening again,” he said. “If we can get this passed in May it could even prevent this deal with Precourt, because the site plan and performance bonds are presumably not part of this deal” and the requirements for council supermajority approval and public vote imposed by the petition ordinance would apply.
“There’s no doubt the petition will get the required signatures,” Borgelt said. “We wanted to launch early so we can be at early voting sites to collect signatures.”
The first day of in-person early voting is Monday, October 22, according to the Texas Secretary of State’s votetexas.gov website. Early voting ends Friday November 2 and election day is Tuesday November 6.
Aleshire is focused on more than just the petition ordinance.
“Even if the Precourt contract is signed I’m going to be lawyer filing suit to challenge that deal,” he said. “I’ve got a client and I’ll be ready to file as soon as they sign the agreement.”
Among the grounds for a lawsuit, Aleshire said, is the fact that the City Council delegated authority to negotiate and execute the Precourt deal without coming back to the City Council for approval. (See page 13 of the minutes, linked below.) The minutes state that Council Member Leslie Pool’s motion to delete the words “and execute” from the City Manager’s delegated authority failed on a vote of 4-7. The motion was supported by Council Members Alter, Houston and Troxclair.
“I love the idea they think they can delegate (the authority to execute the contract),” Aleshire said. “The council can’t say they are enacting a law and then delegate authority to the city manager to write the law.”
In a phone interview with Council Member Pool it was pointed out that she was on the short end of the vote to approve the soccer deal. She countered, saying, “It was the right side to be on.”
Pool said, “I would anticipate there would be like-minded folks signing the petition. There was a lot of concern generated about that (council vote) and if it’s in the hands of the public, I’m good with that.”
Via email, Pool added, “The text of the petition reveals continuing public reservations about the city giving publicly owned land to a private business. It speaks to a desire for full disclosure and transparency, and I echo those concerns.”
Aleshire pointed out that Travis County is considering filing suit to overturn the soccer deal as well, because it would provide no property taxes. No such suit can be filed until the deal is finalized, however.
Aleshire, a former Travis County judge, is also analyzing the political ramifications of when the soccer contract might be signed and made public—to the extent it might be made public given that Precourt likely will object to its release.
“Mayor Steve Adler does not want that released before the election,” Aleshire said, “because it would be an embarrassment.”
“If I were Precourt I wouldn’t be popping the champagne corks just yet,” he added.
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An Initiative Petition Ordinance: No Stadiums on Public Land Without a Public Vote! (2 pages)
City of Austin Major League Soccer Stadium Project Term Sheet, August 9, 2018 (27 pages)
MLS Stadium Proposed Amendments to Term Sheet, August 10, 2018 (7 pages)
Minutes of Austin City Council Special-Called Meeting, August 15, 2018 (13 pages)
Ken Martin has been covering local government and politics in the Austin area since 1981. See more on Ken on the About page.
Email [email protected]. This is his 14th article about Central Health and indigent healthcare arising out of his ongoing investigation that begin in early 2017.
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