Monday, May 15, 2006

Losing campaign ahead of its time

Well, we lost. It was ahead of it's time, I suppose (or perhaps just the victim of scurrilous lies by the opposition) but the open government online amendment failed big at the ballot box. Personally I'm stunned at the margin. I mean, how often in a campaign does a judge say negative attacks are "misleading"? In the end it didn't matter - repetition trumped verity. Surprisingly, with strict message discipline, outright fabrications work well as a campaign tactic in the short run, expecially if, as in this case, the folks who buy ink by the barrel are on their side.

Which was the other odd part about this campaign: It forced the local Austin print media, the Austin American Statesman and the Austin Chronicle, to choose sides: Are they insiders and power brokers, in which case they benefit from secrecy? Or are they journalists who benefit from public information? News flash: They're insiders. They'd rather be gatekeepers for the news than let everybody see information themselves online. After all, then why would we read them?

As a result, there was a bizarre, near 100% media blackout on any positive news about the campaign, while the smallest bureaucratic errors by the Save Our Springs Alliance meritied front page headlines questioning their integrity. No one could buy enough media to counter that barrage. (Thanks to Ken Martin and The Good Life for bucking the trend.) For myself, I've never really seen the news pages at the Statesman used so blatantly to promote a political agenda before, even back in the days of Roger Kintzel. It seems a new day has dawned at the local daily. After this, they should make it official and formally merge the news and opinion sections. Why bother any longer with pretense?

Thanks to everybody who helped on the campaign and supported the cause of open government. Now help hold the feet to the fire of those who claimed they're REALLY for open government just not for this amendment - they'll get a chance down the road to show us whether such declarations real, or just opportunistic lip service aimed at thwarting openness.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Sign building party tonight!

Build Signs! Put them up!

Build signs tonight, Wednesday, beginning at 5pm at our Headquarters! Come by any time after 5 to help up build over 1,000 signs!

We need these signs up by Thursday morning, and you can help make this happen.

Haven't been to our office yet?

We are located at 505 Willow. Click here for directions.

You will have the option of building or delivering signs, or both!

We are almost there. This has been an exciting campaign and with your help we will be victorious on May 13th.

Visit Our Website

Women for Clean Water Press Conference

Community leaders Shudde Fath, Brigid Shea, and Mary Arnold, among others, will be holding a press conference tomorrow, Thursday, at High Noon at City Hall.

______

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
5/9/06
ATTN: POLITICAL ASSIGNMENTS DESK
PRESS CONFERENCE

Environmental Integrity Is Good For Business
Women for Clean Water
Thursday, May 11, 2006
High Noon, City Hall Plaza

Contact Persons: Abbe Waldman, 736-5802; Susan Bright: sbright1@austin.rr.com

Speakers:
Shudde Fath, Treasurer of Save Barton Creek Association and member of Electric Utility Commission-442-2718
Brigid Shea, former Austin City Council Member and co-founder of the SOS Alliance-698-2025
Mary Arnold, has served on Austin's Planning Commission, the Parks Board, and the Water and Wastewater Commission-350-5847
Marcia Lucas, Owner of El Interior, a long time Austin business
Abbe Waldman, Austin Realtor full time since 1983, longtime community activist-736-5802

Women for Clean Water speak out against Advanced Micro Devices' (AMD) move onto the Barton Springs watershed, endorse Props 1 & 2 on the May 13 city ballot.
Shudde Fath and other longtime Austin women activists and business persons are calling for AMD to move off the Barton Springs watershed and urging citizens to vote "Yes" on Props 1 & 2.

Our community values both the environment and the economy. These interests should not be pitted against each other. Businesses move to Austin and do business here because they value clean water, large lots, greenbelt views, low density and deed restrictions which protect their neighborhoods. People stay here because of creeks, clean water, greenbelts, and scenic beauty. Recent reports published in the Austin American Statesman show the opposition to Props 1 & 2 is paid for by the Real Estate Council of Austin, the Home Builders Association and developer attorneys who tell us Clean Water and Open Government are too expensive.

We say the cost to the people of Austin and to our economy of losing Barton Springs and permanently damaging the aquifer would be immeasurable. We say Barton Springs is priceless.

We say the cost to Austin businesses and our economy of losing the watershed which provides sole source drinking water for 50,000 residents would be immeasurable. Without water and green space, there is no economic growth.

Women for Clean Water call on the people of Austin to work together for Smart Growth which directs major employment centers onto the Desired Development Zone, away from environmentally sensitive land. Austin's Smart Growth plan is the product of thirty years of debate, discussion, and far-reaching community consensus that began in the 1970s with the Austin Tomorrow Plan. In the 1990s under Mayor Kirk Watson, the City of Austin adopted Smart Growth as city policy. Citizens then reaffirmed those same principles at the regional level with Envision Central Texas.

We should be working together and could if AMD would act responsibly and move its 850,000 square foot corporate headquarters off the Barton Springs watershed.

Barton Springs is the soul of our city and water is the core of our economic engine.

# # #

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Last day to early vote!

Today, Tuesday, marks the end of early voting.

Get your early voting locations here.

Mobile voting locations are as follows:

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

  • Dan Ruiz Library
    1600 Grove Boulevard
    10 am - 7 pm
  • Conley-Guerrero Senior Center
    808 Nile Street
    2 pm - 5 pm
  • Rollingwood Municipal Building
    403 Nixon Drive
    7 am - 7 pm
  • Bee Cave Elementary
    14300 Hamilton Pool
    7 am - 7 pm
  • Crystal Falls Golf Clubhouse
    3400 Crystal Falls
    7 am - 7 pm
  • Manor Middle School
    10323 Hwy 290 E.
    8 am - 12 pm

Monday, May 08, 2006

Response to Cousar and Slusher

Jim Cousar, an attorney working for the Real Estate Council of Austin (RECA), and former councilmember and current city employee, Daryl Slusher published a guest editorial in the Austin Statesman opposing Prop. 1. Here is a response.

Slusher and Cousar most prominently argue that all e-mail would have to go online.

This is simply not true. The Amendment sets an overall policy goal of placing all public information online “as expeditiously as possible” and “to the greatest extent practical.” This goal is set in the framework of efficiency and the city’s own ongoing efforts to manage its business online. The City would determine what is "practical" based on budget, legal, and technical constraints.

The Amendment then sets out very specific measures. Two of these specific mandates directly address e-mail and read as follows:
“In order to better preserve written electronic communication for public disclosure, the City must establish a system that automatically archives all incoming and outgoing electronic communication that deals with City business to and from [top city officials].” (Section 3(c)(1))

“Public information also includes the following categories that must be produced in response to a public information request: . . . Email or other written electronic communication to or from a public official concerning City business is public information, including communications to or from privately owned email accounts or computers.” (Section 4(E))
This second provision is a restatement of current Texas Public Information Act law. It was included because there is reason to believe that City officials are not retaining or producing this public information when it is requested as required by law.

These two provisions make clear that e-mail is to be preserved, not deleted, and produced when requested. It says nothing about placing email online. Further, the City’s own information officer has agreed that posting email online is “not practical” because of the cost and difficulty of screening email for various exceptions to public disclosure.

Cousar and Slusher also argued that the Open Government amendment would expose “informers” or whistleblowers. The amendment preserves all exceptions to disclosure under state and federal law except for a few, very specific “optional” exceptions that are circumscribed. Criminal investigation files, attorney-client and attorney work product files, personal privacy and personnel files retain all their protections, with the lone exception of making police misconduct records public to the same extent they are public at the Travis County sheriff’s office. Nothing in the amendment requires disclosure of the contents of conversations between anyone – meetings with top level city officials must be identified only by “subject.”

The City is fully capable of managing its internal HR investigations as well as external citizen complaints of possible wrongdoing within the framework of the amendment and without compromising privacy, security, or internal affairs.

Finally, to be clear, the City’s inflated cost estimate for implementing Prop. 1 was thrown out of the ballot language because City representatives admitted that the basis of the estimate (that literally all information had to go online in contradiction with privacy laws) was not reliable and was not required by the amendment. The City’s information officer has confirmed the estimate of $2-3 million for upfront implementation of the mandatory provisions of the amendment that was determined by the Liveable City independent study.

In short, this amendment will cost less, and do more for Austin.

Toll roads and the propositions

Check out Sal Costello's post about the new KLRU piece on tolls here in Austin. He gives links to where you can watch the video for yourself.

Section 2 A(2) of the Clean Water amendment, helps stop toll roads here in Austin by forbidding the City to support the tolling of roads based on increased growth over Barton Springs.
(2)The City must not support any toll road project, as an expansion, extension or conversion of a roadway located in or leading to the Barton Springs watershed, that relies on projections of toll revenue collections that predict any significant traffic increase from or over the Barton Springs watershed to support financing of all or part of the project.
Even though traffic can get bad out in that part of town, experts agree that cities "cannot build their way out of a traffic problem." Building more roads leads to more growth which leads to more traffic. It also leads to a polluted aquifer. We must find ways to support our existing population while prohibiting damaging increased development.

The Open Government Online amendment, Proposition 1 on your ballot, will make sure that bad deals, such as the toll road projects foisted upon us, are out in time for the public to react to the problem. In part one of the video, you'll notice that the Statesman's reporter talks about how the toll road deal was sprung on Austin with only three months for the public to react before a vote. The OGO will help give Austin more time to actually and effectively participate in our city government.

Monday's mobile voting

Mobile voting for Monday.
Tomorrow, Tuesday, is the last day for early voting. Please go out and exercise your right to vote!

Here are today's mobile voting locations and times:

These are, of course, in addition to the regular early voting locations.

Monday, May 08, 2006

  • The Park at Beckett Meadows
    7709 Beckett Road
    12:00 pm - 2:00 pm
  • Summit at Lakeway
    1915 Lohman's Crossing Road, Lakeway
    3:30 pm - 5:30 pm
  • Bee Cave Elementary
    14300 Hamilton Pool
    7 am - 7 pm
  • Rollingwood Municipal Building
    403 Nixon Drive
    7 am - 7 pm
  • Winters Building
    701 West 51st Street
    8 am - 5 pm
  • East Rural Community Center
    600 West Carrie Manor Street, Manor
    8 am - 6 pm
  • Vietnamese Senior Center
    8222 Jamestown Drive, Building C
    9:30 am - 10:30 am

Friday, May 05, 2006

Friday's mobile voting

Here are today's mobile voting locations and times:

These are, of course, in addition to the regular early voting locations.

Friday, May 05, 2006

  • Northwest Rural Community Center
    18649 FM 1431, Suite 6A Jonestown
    10 am - 6 pm
  • Del Valle ISD Administration Building
    5301 Ross Road, Del Valle
    4 pm - 6 pm
  • Rollingwood Municipal Building
    403 Nixon Drive
    7 am - 7 pm
  • Bee Cave Elementary
    14300 Hamilton Pool
    7 am - 7 pm
  • Services for the Deaf
    2201 Post Road
    8 am - 10 am
  • Travis County Courthouse
    1000 Guadalupe St.
    9 am - 5 pm
  • Huston-Tillotson University
    900 Chicon Street
    Noon - 2 pm

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Mobile Voting for Thursday

Here are today's mobile voting locations and times:

These are, of course, in addition to the regular early voting locations.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

  • Town Lake Center
    721 Barton Springs Road
    10 am - 6 pm
  • Rollingwood Municipal Building
    403 Nixon Drive
    7 am - 7 pm
  • Lago Vista ISD Administration Building
    8039 Bar K Ranch Road
    7 am - 7 pm
  • Manor High School
    12700 Gregg Manor Road
    8 am - 7 pm
  • South Rural Community Cente
    3518 South FM 973, Del Valle
    9 am - 5 pm

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Mobile voting for Wednesday

Here are today's mobile voting locations and times:

These are, of course, in addition to the regular early voting locations.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

  • Lago Vista City Hall
    5803 Thunderbird St
    10 am - 6 pm
  • Montopolis Recreation Center
    1200 Montopolis Drive
    4 pm - 6 pm
  • AIDS Services of Austin
    7215 Cameron Road
    8 am - 10 am
  • Travis Building
    1701 North Congress Avenue
    8 am - 6 pm
  • Bluebonnet Elementary
    11316 Farmhaven
    8 am - 7 pm
  • Travis County Courthouse
    1000 Guadalupe St.
    9 am - 5 pm
  • St. Edward's University
    3001 South Congress Avenue
    Noon - 2 pm

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Today's mobile voting locations

Here are today's mobile voting locations and times:

These are, of course, in addition to the regular early voting locations.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

  • Lago Vista City Hall
    5803 Thunderbird St7 am - 7 pm
  • LBJ Building
    111 East 17th Street
    8 am - 6 pm
  • Sam Houston Building
    201 East 14th Street
    8 am - 6 pm
  • Decker Elementary School
    8500 Decker Ln
    8 am - 7 pm
  • Travis County Courthouse
    1000 Guadalupe St.
    9 am - 5 pm

Monday, May 01, 2006

Watson misrepresents OGO

The letter was recently sent by Karin Ascot to Kirk Watson

____________________

Dear former Mayor Watson,

I was disturbed to hear your misrepresentations on the robocall I received today with your voice recording. Opponents of the charter amendments (Props 1 and 2) have been using ridiculous tactics to scare people away from voting for open government, and it’s sad to know you have jumped on the bandwagon. I was particularly annoyed at two particular assertions you made.

In the first place, you are surely aware that the Open Government Online amendment would not invade people’s privacy. It would merely give citizens more insight into business at city hall. Yes, it might slow things down a bit and get a little messy, not what the mayor really wants when he’s in the midst of a big deal; but this is our government and our money, and the public process is important, even when inconvenient for elected officials.

Contrary to frequent assertions, the amendment does not require emails to go online instantly. The language reads, “The City must, as expeditiously as possible and to the greatest extent practical, make all public information available online in real time and accessible to the public.” It requires email to be archived. There is no Big Brother provision to bug phone calls of citizens to city hall. There is no requirement for a stenographer to be present when a council member meets with a developer, only a provision that the public is entitled to know that such a meeting occurred. The hysterical and exaggerated claims of your side certainly make a person wonder what there is to hide, as you all continue to distort the truth even in the face of Judge Yelenosky’s ruling.

Even more offensive, however, is your claim about the amendments being drafted in secret by a small group of people. -- Of course this objection is rather disingenuous, considering that SOSA and other non-profits do not, like the government, collect taxes and make laws, so it is really not the same thing at all as when council makes decisions without public input. -- But the real point is that you personally were contacted by SOS well before the petition drive began and were asked for your input; but you never took time to respond. It might be fair for you now to say you don’t support the amendments, but to complain about their being written in secret when you yourself were contacted multiple times is outrageous. For a seasoned attorney and council member like yourself, it should have been a matter of a couple of hours to analyze them and offer an opinion at a time when your comments could have been usefully incorporated. Instead you refused to participate. Your actions certainly throw your motives into question.


Karin Ascot
Austin

Early voting begins today

Today marks the start for early voting! Get out there and show your support for Props 1 & 2!

Find out early voting locations here:

CleanAustin Early voting locations

We also have an excellent mobile voting program here in Travis County. These are today's early voting locations:

Monday, May 01, 2006

  • Manor Elementary School
    600 E. Parsons
    10 am - 7 pm
  • Lago Vista ISD Administration Building
    8039 Bar K Ranch Road
    10am - 6 pm
  • Englewood Estates
    2603 Jones Road
    4 pm - 6 pm
  • Heatherwilde Assisted Living
    401 South Heatherwilde Boulevard, Pflugerville
    4 pm - 6 pm
  • Summit at Westlake Hills
    1034 Liberty Park Drive
    8 am - 10 am
  • Westminster Manor
    4100 Jackson Avenue
    8 am - 10 am
  • Stephen F. Austin Building
    1700 North Congress Avenue
    8 am - 6 pm
  • Parsons House
    1130 Camino La Costa
    Noon - 2 pm
  • Heritage Park Nursing Center
    2806 Real Street
    Noon - 2 pm


Friday, April 28, 2006

The Good Life endorses Props 1 & 2

And some local news links.

The Good Life Magazine endorses Props. 1 & 2
"While critics have labeled the lead proponents as special interest groups we view them as public interest groups. They are fighting for our legitimate right to be more informed citizens." 4/27/06

"Why Do They Say 'Open Government' and 'Clean Water' Like They Were Bad Ideas?"
The Good Life Magazine 4/27/06

Cost of Austin's Prop. 1 hotly debated
"The 30-page document states it would take about $2 million to $3 million to get things up and running, not the city's estimate of $36 million."
News 8 Austin 4/26/06

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Indy report reveals OGO costs less

Independent local research group Liveable City has released its non-partisan study of the Open Government Online Amendment, Proposition 1 on the May 13th ballot. The major conclusion is that the cost of the OGO will be less than 1/10 of the City's first cost estimate. The City of Austin has now confirmed Liveable City’s cost estimate, and Clean Austin has confirmed Liveable City’s report as accurately reflecting the priorities set out in the amendment.

From Liveable City:

Liveable City released two studies examining the hotly contested Open Government (Proposition 1) and Clean Water (Proposition 2) Charter Amendments in the upcoming May 13 City of Austin Election. The ballot studies are intended to help Austin voters sort out the critical issues, including arguments by supporters and opponents, and possible impacts of passage of the proposals.

Two separate teams of Board members worked on the ballot studies over the last two months. The studies uncovered the fact that 122 developments had been grandfathered over the aquifer since 1999, and that a more focused open government online plan could cost less than 1/10 of the City's current estimate.

In other good news, start looking for our TV ads, which start today!

CleanAustin volunteer party tonight!

With free stuff, and that is free as in BEER!

Please come to our Volunteer Party this Thursday night at 7PM. Free Beer and Pizza!! We'll make yard signs and do other campaign tasks that must get done to win this election. Please pass this invitation on to your friends in Austin.
WHAT: Volunteer party with pizza and beer
WHEN: Thursday night - tomorrow - at 7PM
WHERE: Clean Austin campaign headquarters, 505 Willow (downtown near the Convention Center, one block south of Cesar Chavez and one block west of Red River).

Thanks to Black Star Co-op for the beer!

If you can't make the party on Thursday, you can still help! Sign up to volunteer at CleanAustin.org or just call the campaign office at 476-5100.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Understanding "G" Files in Austin

"G" files is the term used to refer to the secret police misconduct files here in Austin. "G files” include misconduct complaints submitted against Austin police officers by citizens or by other officers and the files of subsequent investigations. Currently, only about 3% to 7% of these files are available to the public in Austin because the file is available for public inspection only in cases in which the officer was found guilty AND was disciplined with 3 or more days of leave. Any less discipline than a 3-day suspension and the whole file is secret.

Why does Austin accept this relatively low level of transparency with respect to its police? Austin voters voted to "opt in” to Chapter 143 of the Civil Service Code along with about 70 other Texas cities, including Houston and San Antonio, in 1949. At the time Austin voters “opted in” to the Civil Service Code, the “G” files were public—it was decades after Austin voters had voted to “opt in” to the Civil Service Code when the police unions successfully lobbied the Texas Legislature to get the Civil Service Code changed to make the “G” files secret. All Chapter 143 cities follow the same guidelines about police "G" files, unless they have used meet and confer contract negotiations to override these civil service rules.

It is important for comparison purposes to note that over 2,000 other Texas law enforcement agencies, including the Travis County Sheriff's Department, are not under Chapter 143 and thus have close to 100% of their "G" files available to the public.

One common point of confusion in Austin is whether or not this issue is governed by state law. Although Austin has opted to be governed by Chapter 143 civil service, a “state law,” another state law allows the City of Austin to override any state law in its "meet and confer" labor contract with the police association. Therefore, in Austin, the City literally chooses which parts of the state civil service law it will agree to follow and which parts it will agree to override with the meet and confer agreement. Simply put, the City of Austin is governed by whichever state laws it chooses in the meet and confer contract.

Greater Transparency in "G" Files

There is a clear public interest in allowing access to "G" files, specifically the ability to:
  • Understand performance patterns of individual police officers
  • Understand overall performance patterns of the police force in Austin
  • Understand the management responses to complaints in general as well as certain types of complaints in detail create protection for complainants who are less likely to suffer retribution when there is a public record that they have filed a complaint against the police
Early voting is May 1-9. Election Day is May 13th.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Hear ACLU grill candidates on Prop 1 and city issues

The ACLU will host a candidate forum Monday night, 6:30 to 8:30 so our members can query the candidates about their positions on Prop 1, and ask other questions relevant to individual liberty in Austin. Everyone is invited to attend!

Where: Cafe Caffeine, 909 W. Mary
When: 6:30 for mingling, and 7 pm to start the first panel of candidates.

For the ACLU, Prop 1 does something critically important for Austin--it opens records about police misconduct. That's why it is a major priority of ACLU's Central Texas chapter. It takes the entire community working together to counter the powerful forces responsible for the system we have today. We may not get the opportunity to make these positive changes again in our lifetime!

The ACLU worked for years to implement civilian oversight of police, but the system negotiated in secret meetings between the city and the cops is toothless and gagged. Members of the civilian review board cannot even talk to the public about what they learn without facing criminal penalties. That's absurd. Why create civilian oversight if the civilians are prohibited from telling the community what's wrong with the system! This super secret oversight process--with sealed misconduct records that even victims cannot peak into--was designed to fail, and it has failed.

Proposition 1 gives the public a voice in the design of the civilian oversight system by opening the now-secret negotiations to the public and requiring the city to STOP maintaining police misconduct records in sealed files.

With police misconduct information available under a public information act request, victims' families can learn exactly what happened to their sons and daughters, and you can learn why a handful of problem officers continue to divide our police force from the community it serves. Finally, our civilian oversight board will be able to analyze the problems it sees and bring real solutions forward to the Council and the citizens.

The City had the opportunity to do this on its own four years ago. We begged them, and the ACLU stood side by side with many other organizations to protest the secret process and the final, overpriced agreement. But we were told this was all the Austin Police Association would agree to...and the city can't do anything without their agreement.

It's time to end the stranglehold the Police Association has on this community. They work for us! Good behavior on the job is not an option. Its a mandate, and one that can finally be enforced if Proposition 1 passes. Its time for a change. And our city officials have made it very clear that they won't implement this change on their own.

Negative mailer misrepresents Prop 1

Over the past few days, Austin voters got a big, colorful card in the mail making the same old false claims about Prop 1--in particular, it repeats the false claim that the charter amendment would cost $36 million and requires email to go online. We've debunked this falsehood on numerous occassions, so this time I'll just remind readers that email is among the "categories that must be produced in response to a public information request" (Section 4, first sentence), not on the narrow, specific list of things that must be put online.

Think about it: If email was online, there would be no need for a public information act request. All the language about email in this amendment merely ensures that email will be retained so that if a citizen files a request for Brewster McCracken's emails related to Stratus/Freeport, they will still exist.

Instead, Prop 1 will put the following basic information online: development agreements, tax abatement agreements, big city contracts, policies and procedures that affect the general public, the records of our public meetings (agendas, minutes and transcripts or audio recordings), the city's legal docket, and a calendar of meetings and calls about official business for our city's top officials. That's all good stuff, the kind of thing that will really change the way the city does things--for the better.

Because it does so many good things, Prop 1 is endorsed by the Sierra Club, the SOS Alliance, Tx PIRG, the ACLU, the Gray Panthers, the SEED Coalition, Texans for Public Justice, the Greens, Save Barton Creek Association, Consumers Union...in fact almost all of our good, local advocacy groups back it.

Who opposes it? The Real Estate Council of Austin (RECA), Stratus/Freeport, Temple Inland, and the developer lobby law firms. Mike Blizzard, a paid consultant for Stratus/Freeport, has been the lead voice for the EDUCATE PAC that sent that big card. Does this sound familiar? It's the same special interests lining up once again to keep Austin's citizens from exercising control over Austin's government.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Why a citizen's charter initiative?

Organizations have sought a more open city government for years to no avail. The primary example of this is the ACLU's fight over police misconduct records. The ACLU and other local organizations participated in months-long negotiations with the police association and the city over police records, finally accepting a very narrow opening that allowed only complainants to see the investigation file on their own complaint. The city and the police association then turned around and eliminated this carefully crafted compromise in favor of additional secrecy—criminal penalties for civilian review board members who reveal anything they learn.

The people of Austin have been told that under no circumstances will the police association agree to any transparency provisions through the current, secret meet and confer process. For those of you unfamiliar with the term, "meet and confer" is the name given to the negotiations between the police union and the city. These negotiations result in the contract that governs many aspects of how APD is run by setting the terms that the officers, as a union, agree to as part of their employment. It includes items far beyond just officer pay, and currently includes many provisions ensuring secrecy.

City officials should be able to simply make transparency a non-negotiable item on the city's side of the table, but they will not do so. Police misconduct records are key to an accountable force and opening up these records is no more than what is already the norm for most departments. As far as the negotiations themselves, open meet and confer negotiations are now required by state law for cities starting a new meet-and-confer program. If we don't bring Austin in line with the rest of Texas, we will be an anachronism that allows for unnecessary secrecy.

In addition to allowing more transparency, opening up the meet and confer process will bring more balance to our budget. The last meet and confer process resulted in the city tying up all future sales and property tax revenue without any public discussion. This will leave only city utility revenue in the future to pay for other city services, such as libraries and parks. The city's own budget summary states that the salaries negotiated during the last (secret) meet and confer "are already out of line in comparison to other major Texas cities – on average our police officers’ salaries are between 18 percent and 33 percent higher than the average salaries of their counterparts in the major Texas cities." Given the budget dollars involved in meet and confer and the impact on all other aspects of Austin’s budget, we desperately need an open meet and confer process.

These are reasonable changes to the police process, but there is no alternative to a ballot initiative to getting them changed in Austin—not because they lack public support but because of a single special interest that exerts too much power over city management and council.

The same holds true for economic development agreements. Companies will not agree to public negotiations if it's left up to them. They have no incentive. Long experience has shown that city staff cannot be counted on to bring the public in early in the process, although they have some discretion. Instead, the City typically announces a done-deal and tries to move it quickly before public debate becomes serious--as they've tried to do with the Guerrero / Green Water treatment deal. State laws protecting third party information (company information) allow for a great deal of secrecy and cannot be overturned by an ordinance or a charter amendment.

Only a clear policy at the city that companies must negotiate in the open to apply for tax breaks can get us a truly transparent process. Because of powerful special interests wanting secret giveaways, this couldn't come to fruition except through a ballot initiative, and couldn't be a permanent part of Austin life unless it was in the charter.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Hearing tonight about surprise Guerrero deal

The Parks and Recreation Board is meeting tonight (Monday, April 17) at 6:30 p.m. to discuss the City's surprise idea to move place a Green Water Treatment Facility on top of one of a handful of East Austin parks. The move was a surprise to the whole community, as Council has been secretly negotiating the deal in closed session.

This has been another case of "done deal first, public disclosure second." The public is just now finding out about a major project mere weeks before Council votes on the issue. Perhaps if Council had opened up discussions with the community earlier in the process, there wouldn't be such an outcry going on right now. If the Open Government Online amendment (Prop 1) had been in place, the people of Austin might have been a part of the process.

Today's Statesman has an editorial asking "Is a park the right place for water plant?"

Come out and express your views at the meeting tonight:

6:30 PM
One Texas Center
3rd Floor Conference Room
505 Barton Springs Road


Agenda available here.


Sunday, April 16, 2006

Tax abatements weren't difference maker in Samsung move

Do tax incentives really make the difference when attracting corporate jobs? Not in the Samsung deal. New York offered double the incentives Austin did, but they're still moving here. Reported the Statesman:
State and local governments ponied up an estimated $233.4 million in tax abatements and other incentives for the project. The State of New York, which is trying to build up its chip industry, offered more than $500 million in incentives.

Samsung chose Austin because of its existing investment here and because Austin has a large high-tech work force and a network of support companies that New York's proposed site, north of Albany, lacked.

Central Texas has about 15,000 chip industry workers and is home to the main manufacturing center of Applied Materials Inc., the world's leading maker of chip manufacturing equipment. Dell Inc. also is a key Samsung customer.

"If it was just based on actual dollars, we would probably be in New York, no question about it," Cryer said.

Lots of people disagree about whether tax abatements are necessary to recruit and retain businesses. According to this academic literature review (pdf, p. 10), "Many economists have been prompted to question why municipalities continue to offer abatements indiscriminately when they have been shown to be largely ineffective and resource-wasting."

By their own admission, Samsung's decision to build a factory here was primarily based on workforce and client factors, not tax abatements that amount to a pittance spread out over two decades compared to a $4 billion investment.For the most part, though, we cannot actively debate the value of these deals in Austin because they are secret until just before a public vote.

Austinites who'd like to participate more fully in discussions about tax abatements should support Prop 1 on the May 13 ballot. If Samsung would have moved here anyway (the New York option lacked the necessary labor pool and supplier network), why should homeowners and local businesses pay a disproportionate share of the increasing tax burden for our city's growth?

Whatever you think about the deal, Austin at least deserved to have that public discussion before city negotiators foisted Samsung's long-term tax burden onto average citizens.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Some winners and losers under the OGO

Like any change, there will be some winners and losers under new legislation such as the Open Government Online (OGO) amendment. There are several groups that will benefit from greater openness and transparency here in Austin:
  • Austin Taxpayers – The amendment will save money in the long term from streamlining the open records process, by giving Austin better development and tax abatement deals, and by exposing waste and inefficiency in city government;
  • Neighborhoods – The amendment will allow neighborhood groups to be early and effective participants in the development projects that directly affect their property values and their quality of life;
  • Community groups and individual citizens – Any community group or individual citizen that wishes to become more active in local politics will quickly and easily get the tools and information needed to become active participants in local issues;
  • Press – Members of the press will get complete and timely access to important issues and will, in many cases, not have to go through the laborious and sometimes expensive process of open records requests to get crucial information. The role of the press will be enhanced because reporters will be able to review complex documents in the timely fashion they need to meet tight deadlines, and the public still needs the independent and balanced assessment reporters can provide;
  • Council members – Council members need effective access to information about the City more than anyone. Opening up many of the records and information contained in the Open Government Online Amendment will allow Council members to more quickly and efficiently keep tabs on the wide variety of activities that make up City business;
  • City staff – Much like council members, city staff need effective and quick access to important documents. Under this amendment, policy manuals and other crucial documents will be available online for quick and easy reference;
  • City Auditor – The City Auditor’s office, which oversees Austin business, will have quick and easy access to important contracts and other documents needed for the effective oversight of city affairs;
  • Companies doing business with the City – Companies wishing to do business with the City will gain because they can get better feedback on their bids by easily analyzing winning contracts. This will allow them to become more competitive for future contracts by gaining insight into the contracting process;
  • Police officers – The majority of police officers follow all the rules and do their jobs without any taint of misconduct. Because police misconduct files are hidden, the majority of honest cops get the taint of misconduct every time there is an allegation of misconduct that can’t be cleared up or balanced by information about the actual record of most officers.
Some groups will not, of course, benefit from the Open Government Online Amendment:
  • Police officers with a history of misconduct – The small minority of officers that have committed some sort of misconduct will lose some of the secrecy that currently surrounds their behavior.
  • Special interest lobbyists – Any lobbyist or group that depends on keeping their meetings with officials a secret will lose the edge over the public that secrecy brings, but they will no doubt change with the new policies and continue to meet with council members and provide input into the processes that affect them.
  • Corporations bringing proposals not aligned with community interests – The Open Government Online Amendment makes community groups and neighborhood associations early participants in the development process. Any corporation trying to bring a development that is not aligned with community interests will no longer be able to use secrecy and delayed notices to shield their efforts.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Charter amendment would open police misconduct records

I first became aware of the City of Austin's decision to close most police misconduct records after the infamous Cedar Avenue Valentines Police Riot in 1995, when more than 80 officers descended on a junior high schoolers' Valentine party and maced or beat up most of the African American kids there. The episode happened in my neighborhood and involved longtime family friends.

When we tried to use the public information act to investigate records of officers involved in that incident, we drew nearly a blank - almost nothing was publicly available. But if the same incident had occurred involving a Travis County Sheriff's Deputy, we learned, all those records would be open.

Since that time, working with ACLU of Texas' Police Accountability Project, I've seen the same situation continue to thwart civil rights groups and families of police brutality victims who can't get information about controversial cases. Under Texas' civil service law the City can choose to close most records about police misconduct, but more than 2,000 other Texas law enforcement agencies operate right now with the same information public.

Some opponents of the Open Government charter amendment have obfuscated how this key provision would work. The proposed change regarding police records is essentially similar to that proposed by the Sunshine Project for Police Accountability in 1998, and unanimously recommended by the Austin charter review commission in 2002. In 2001 then-state Rep. Glen Maxey, now leader of the CleanAustin.org campaign, carried legislation that would have opened some of these records - the bill passed the Texas House but died for lack of time in the Senate. So these are records the community has been seeking to open up for a long time.

Here's a clearcut summary of the provision on police records from CleanAustin.org in their section by section analysis (Word doc):
Under the Texas civil service code, which covers records about misconduct for Austin police officers, two personnel files are described. Cities "must,” maintain a file where public records about discipline are kept, and "may" keep a second file where they can store records that become closed (Local Government Code 143.089 a-g). All civil service cities (about 70) including Austin use the two-file system to close as many files as possible, while the disciplinary files of the other 2,400+ Texas law enforcement agencies are governed by the more generous Texas Public Information Act (Government Code 552.108). By maintaining only the mandatory file under this amendment, APD records will be open to the same extent they are presently open down the street at the Travis County Sheriff's Department and in most other cities.
So the new amendment doesn't propose any radical new revelation of police records -- it would only open records about allegations of police misconduct to the same extent as they're presently public at police departments in Dallas, El Paso, and "down the street at the Travis County Sheriff's Department." It's an elegant and much-needed fix -- a decisive exercise of local control to open critical records to the public.

The Open Government charter amendment would also make negotiating meetings public between the City of Austin and the police officer's union over their "meet and confer" contract. A new law that took effect last year covering most other Texas cities made their labor negotiations public, so this provision just brings Austin into compliance with established practice throughout the rest of Texas.

Most police officers never engage in serious misconduct. But for the few who do, they deserve the same public scrutiny as sheriff's deputies or police in Dallas and El Paso. Transparency, really is all we're talking about. Police administrators would still make all disciplinary decisions, it's just that the public would know a lot more about the outcomes.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Debate Thursday at St. Edwards over Props 1 and 2

Please mark your calendars and plan to attend!

Public Forum on Prop. 1 and 2

OPEN GOVERNMENT ONLINE AMENDMENT
&
SAVE OUR SPRINGS AMENDMENT

Moderated Debate & Question/Answer Session

This Thursday, April 13, from 6:30-8:30pm, a public forum on this decade’s two most important Austin charter amendments will take place at St. Edward’s University.


SAVE THE DATE

WHEN:
Thursday, April 13 2006, 6:30-8:30pm (doors at 6:00)
WHERE:
St. Edwards Campus: Jones Auditorium in the Ragsdale Center—the debate will be in Room 100, on the west side of the bottom floor (Ragsdale is the long building in the middle of campus).
WHO:
Speaking In Support:
Bill Bunch, Executive Director of Save Our Springs Alliance
Glen Maxey, former State Representative and Clean Austin Campaign Director

Speaking In Opposition:
Gus Garcia, former Mayor
Daryl Slusher, works for Austin Energy and former City Council member
Presenting the most passionate, informed, and open discourse on these crucial issues, Thursday’s forum is designed to thoroughly expose, educate, and involve the public in the “Open Government Online” and “Save Our Springs” debates.

Debate hosted by the Environment Science and Policy program of the School of Behavioral and Social Sciences at St Edwards University.

Free parking for event. Campus Maps at: www.stedwards.edu.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Austin can't afford secrecy

How much will the Open Government amendment cost? No one knows, though we know for sure the City's cost estimate is vastly overstated and the City conceded in court the amount would not be enough to require a tax increase.

The real question is how much would open government save? Business and governments, including the City of Austin, already are racing to do their work on the Internet because it is so much more efficient.

Just as important, how much would we save by changing the culture of city hall to reduce the influence of special interests? If public scrutiny means the City refrains from approving just a handful of these all-too-common back-room-deal tax giveaways, like the ones to Home Depot and AMD where all the important decisions were made behind closed doors, the amendment would assuredly pay for itself.

The question isn't can we afford open government in Austin. The question is whether Austin can afford continued secrecy surrounding how the City conducts business.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Brewster, you lost, not us

Brewster McCracken made a sound bite/statement that was nothing more than misinformation aimed at persuading the other council members to follow his lead on quashing Proposition 1 at Monday’s special session to fix the City's illegal ballot language. This incorrect statement has been caught up by several media outlets around town, and so some context and accuracy needs to be brought up in order to stop this misstatement from spreading.

The Chronicle described the events thusly:
Describing the e-mail clause, he [McCracken] virtually blew raspberries at the audience. "That was litigated and you all lost. ... [T]his language has been upheld as being accurate," he said, generating chamber-rattling boos and catcalls of "Liar!" and "Shame!"
This is referring to his, and other council members', insistence that emails will go online. This mistaken interpretation remained in the new ballot language under section (b):
(b) to require that private citizens' emails to public officials be placed on the City website in "real time," including emails or electronic communications between private citizens and public officials in all City departments, and limit the ability of citizens to keep private the details of these communications, unless legal exceptions apply;
The truth about this interpretation and the fact that the amendment does not require emails to go online has been blogged extensively on Open Government Austin, and is available here, here, and here. But I digress; this post is about the court ruling and its interpretation.

McCracken adds error upon error and somehow thinks that the Court ruled that emails must go online. Nothing could be further from the truth—that is why he generated such a harsh reaction that day. He repeatedly referred the audience and the rest of Council to page 10 of the hearing transcript (not the written ruling), where the court discusses the “any” and “all” issue. He took out this quote:
“all private emails to any public official in all city departments, and the last, to all city departments, may very well be correct.”
But the whole paragraph actually reads:
The only instance [using “any” and “all”] I had in mind was with respect to the [first] ballot measure, was all private emails to any public official in all city departments, and the last, to all city departments, may very well be correct. I don’t know that there are any city departments that would be excluded but certainly private citizens emails to any public official because there are exceptions that apply.
The exceptions the judge is referring to in the last sentence are all of the privacy laws that protect private information from being disclosed, online or off. We won on that one – though the ballot language still does not accurately reflect these protections in the amendment.

But Brewster is off on a different tangent. Brewster wants to turn “may very well be correct” into a pronouncement that the amendment requires all email to go online. I don’t know about you, but my dictionary refers to the word “may” as a “contingency or liability; possibility or probability.”

The judge simply did not express an opinion as to whether emails were required to go online.

What was important to his ruling was that the Council had grossly overstepped their bounds by portraying the amendment as somehow overriding all of the privacy protections that the law grants us, and that the amendment preserves. This is a simple matter of the pecking order of city government, which is explained here. We won on that issue. The court just didn't rule on the interpretation of the amendment.

So no, Brewster, we didn’t lose.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Council fails scorecard... so far

What with the court ruling that they committed illegal electioneering, and their poor attempts to fix it in a special session on Monday (except for Danny Thomas!), I know that the City Council has been busy.

No one has filled out the Open Government Scorecard.

Last week, I sent out the Open Government Scorecard by fax, email, and regular mail to all members of City Council to see how they respond. The Scorecard is an easy, step-by-step, walk through each specific reform asked for by the Open Government Online Amendment. It was designed to put aside some of the Council’s arguments that they support open government but that they do not support this amendment and to get each one to commit to reforming our city government.

The lone official response that I have received so far is from Lee Leffingwell, and he declined to fill out the Scorecard.

Mr. Leffingwell almost immediately sent back a response by email. He actually refused to answer the Open Government Scorecard because he wants to keep his open government ordinances secret. I am not kidding. This was said without one single shred of irony.

Here is the exact language he used, when asked if he would answer which open government reforms laid out in the Open Government Online Amendment he supports:
I AM STILL IN THE DISCUSSION STAGE WITH REGARD TO WRITING THE ORDINANCE, AND SO CAN'T COMMENT ON ANY ASPECT OF YOUR SCORECARD AT THIS TIME.
You can read it for yourself here.

Apparently, it is important to keep discussions on open government a secret. Sounds more than a little funny to me. Secrecy must be a requirement of the job.

He wouldn’t commit to a timeframe for his plan to introduce his set of reforms either, leaving the voters with serious doubts as to whether he is just offering this possibility as yet another way to (ab)use his power as an elected official to try to dissuade the voters. When specifically asked about whether he would commit to opening up the City’s AMANDA system, which he seemed to say at the press conference, he declined to answer directly. He instead used a looser phrasing, saying only that this information “should” be posted online. Too bad he didn’t take the opportunity to address the more practical “how” and “when” rather than giving a bland wish to open up this process. The Open Government Online Amendment, however, does require this system to be open.

Leffingwell also seemed to acknowledge that the City's cost estimate is too high and their interpretation too broad when he stated he referred to the cost "potentially required" by the amendment. Now if he would just take the next step and realize what the OGO actually requires to be placed online and what THAT would cost, we would be approaching a rational debate on the topic. If he would fill it out, the Open Government Scorecard might help clarify things for him.

I went to check the mail this morning to see if anyone else had bothered to respond, but no Scorecards were waiting in the box. I called each Council member’s office to ask if they were planning on responding, but either got voicemail or a staffer saying that they will check on it. I am still holding out some hope that one of them will take a small amount of time to answer the simple questions I asked. But since I said April 3rd for a deadline, this is your update.

Email the council and tell them you want them to answer the scorecard.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Congratulations Danny Thomas

Congratulations to Danny Thomas for being the only member of the Austin City Council willing to say the obvious: The ballot language approved by the council for the two citizen-initiated charter amendments did not meet the "fairness" standard laid out last Thursday by Judge Stephen Yelenosky in his judicial order. (See the Statesman's coverage.) Here's the new language:
Proposition 1:

Shall the City Charter be amended: (a) to provide online access to public information, which for the most part is already available, by creating an online electronic data system for most city communications and documents at taxpayer expense; (b) to require that private citizens' emails to public officials be placed on the city website in "real time," including emails or electronic communications between private citizens and public officials in all city departments, and limit the ability of citizens to keep private the details of these communications, unless legal exceptions apply; (c) to require that the heads of all city departments, all city manager's staff and all City Council members and their staff post online in real time information about meetings and phone calls with private citizens; and (d) to prohibit the city from exercising state law protection for information that could expose the city and taxpayers to greater financial and legal liability and risk?

What do you think of it? I think it's still misleading, though better than before.

Judge Yelenosky criticized the City's original language for containing only negative examples and no postive ones. He said the problem could be solved by eliminating all examples, or by including positive ones. But the council merely edited the existing language, and added no counterbalancing positive statements about the amendments. As several speakers pointed out, that's not complying with the order in good faith.

Council also included language making mistaken claims about email that the judge said "is misleading." All of section (B) in the ballot language is just flat out false. Nothing in the amendment requires emails to go online except where the council determines it's "possible," "practical," not violative of privacy rights, and not exempted by other state or federal laws. The judge said those caveats should be included if putting emails online was discussed, but the council kept much of the old language in there.

Even the first section (A) is technically false - the amendment does not require creation of a system to put all city documents online. It requires certain, specified documents to go online in a specified timeframe, and tells the City in the future to put more records online when the council decides it's "possible," "practical" and doesn't violate anyone's privacy rights. What they're claiming here is much broader than what the amendment really does.

They did take out the City's bogus cost estimate after the judge pointed out in his order the city conceded no tax increase would be necessary. Section (C) is mostly accurate but skewed and incomplete. Section (D) is pure argument, not descriptive of the amendment at all.

Brewster McCracken continued his disingenuous, defiant stance, claiming openly from the dais that the judge approved portions of the ballot language as acceptable when in fact the judge expressly called those sections "misleading"! At least Councilmembers Thomas and Kim had the grace to be more contrite. The rest seemed angry, defiant, not in a mood to more than minimally comply with the order. As CleanAustin.org spokesperson Ann del Llano pointed out, this was the first time in Texas history a court has had to overturn ballot language and order a city council to make it more fair. Never in the history of this state has that happened before.

Bottom line, City Council still wants to play games. They like to make up impractical schemes where putting records online would create problems, then pretend the amendment "requires" them to implement whatever they just made up, no matter how stupid, ignoring what the amendment really says. That may be an effective campaign tactic, but the judge said they shouldn't do it on the ballot.

Even so, this is the language voters will see May 13. Mail ballots must go out soon and it's too late for the language to change again. Even if the judge rules the language is still unfair, the only remedy would be to overturn the election if we lose. So let's don't lose.

Will the City respect a judge's order? We'll know soon

New ballot language should be approved this morning for the Open Government Online charter amendment after a district judge told the Austin City Council their attempt to mislead the public was improper.

Read the judge's order for yourself (pdf). That's what I'm doing while I'm waiting in City Council chambers for them to get out of executive session.

Judge Stephen Yelenosky last Thursday told the City they must identify the chief feature of the amendment, which is public information - the current ballot langague only lists misleading, negative information without even stating the purpose of the amendment.

Yelenosky also said that the City must not to claim public email must go online, "because significant exceptions apply," and told them they could not claim the amendment would require a tax increase, since the City admitted to the judge that it would not.

The City Council should view this second opportunity to draft ballot language as a chance to redeem themselves - they tried to pull a fast one last time and they got caught. Now if they do the right thing, all would be forgiven. If they continue to try to thwart voters' right to a fair election, though, Austin voters will remember it, I bet, for a long time.

The councilmembers are all filing back in now, so I'll end this and post more when we know more.

Plaintiffs' proposed ballot language

I figured that all of the Open Government Austin readers out there would like to know the proposed language sent to Council for today's court-ordered rewrite at 10AM at the City Council (Ceasar Chavez and Lavaca):
“Proposition 1-- Shall the City of Austin Charter be amended to place certain public documents on the Internet, to place additional information on the Internet to the greatest extent practical and protective of privacy, to ensure that public records are archived, to open certain new information when requested under the Public Information Act including police misconduct records, and to conduct public meetings to negotiate economic development agreements and the police meet and confer contract?”
Glen Maxey, former state representative and plaintiff in the suit, said that "The city has a chance to make democracy work." We will find out what the council does starting at 10. I'll be blogging it as soon as possible on the City's free WiFi in the Council Chamber.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Statesman Editorials just can't get it right

Whoever is writing these editorials on open government just can't get it right.

In today's Statesman, in the Asides section, the writer mentions Thursday's decision by District Judge Stephen Yelenosky that the City of Austin's ballot language misrepresented the amendment. In describing the Open Government Online amendment, the writer states that it would:
"force city officials to reveal all conversations, e-mails and phone calls online instantly."

The judge specifically ruled this interpretation misleading.

Pay attention editorial writers. I know that what you write are opinions, but these must be based on facts. Judge Yelenosky specifically ruled that "the use of 'any' and 'all' where exceptions apply" is misleading. It was illegal for the City to frame this amendment as requiring all information to be online when only public information can go up. This means that the amendment protects your privacy rights because only public information is being considered. This is a simple matter of the pecking order of government. This amendment absolutely in no way, shape, or form requires information private by law to go online. Your medical records, library records, other private matters are protected by state and federal law. This is a fact.

It is also a fact that the amendment only has a relatively short list of information that is required to be placed online. Anything else, such as email, is up for Council to decide. This amendment does not require email to and from City officials to go online. If it goes up, it will be because your Council members want it to, not because of the amendment. This is a fact as well.

It is also misleading to say that it requires calendars and phone logs "instantly". The phrase used is real time. Much has been made of this phrase, and we have discussed it here. The end result is, that Council defines it by ordinance. It is not instant and it only applies to calendars, phone logs, and certain development information. It is a goal and a standard for the Council to use, so that they do not delay reporting their activities or developer information untill such time as it is meaningless. Every other item is to be placed online is on a basis that Council is free to decide. This is a fact too.

Everyone welcomes free and open debate about the amendment. That is what we are supposed to have in a democracy. Part of that free and open debate is an ethical opinion page that will use facts to form their opinions and a Council that won't use their position as a bully pulpit.

Friday, March 31, 2006

Wynn misrepresents timeframe

Mayor Will Wynn, speaking to In Fact Daily, tried to blame the City's illegal wording of the ballot language for the two amendments on short notice:
"It is a big challenge to take an ordinance [ed. note, this is actually an amendment] that one hadn't seen before. We had to (analyze it) in a few days. How do you condense four or five pages into four or five sentences? We want to get it right."
"A few days"? The amendments became public documents before December 1st 2005 (over 3 and 1/2 months ago) when petition signatures started. The City's own cost estimate is dated for January 27, 2006 -- clearly they were reading and analyzing the amendment long before March 9th when they finally set the language. The SOS Amendment was even on the agenda the week before council set the language on March 9th.

Apparently, misrepresenting things to the public is just a habit for the Mayor.

"The city government one"

Judge Yelenosky half-jokingly said yesterday that the City could just name the two propositions "the one about the springs" and the "the one about open government" in order to meet the legal standard of identifying the issue for the voters.

He might be joking, but I agree.

On Monday, I hope that we can just have very simple language for the voters so that they can identify the two propositions. What is wrong with "the open government one" or -- if even the use of the word "open" is too biased for Council -- "the city government one"? The voters only need to know which one, so why not keep it as simple as possible? The Chronicle thinks that our suggested language paints too prosaic of a picture, and that the city's (now illegal) version only paints death and destruction.

I think that our language was pretty reasonable, but even if, why not we just clear the playing field alltogether and just have a very short, very simple phrase stating which amendment is which.

The actual names of the amendments, Open Government Online and SOS, seem to be the simplest way to do it.

If you think so too, please follow this link to email the entire council and tell them just that.

McCracken says inaccurate ballot language won't change much

In this morning's Austin American Statesman, we find that City Councilmember Brewster McCracken, rightly dubbed "Brewster the Bully" by environmentalist Robert Singleton, declaring he would press the city council minimally comply with Judge Yelenosky's order.
McCracken said he expects that the new language will look almost identical to the earlier language with some minor tweaking to address the judge's specific concerns, such as removing the cost estimate and some of the examples. He anticipates that other contentious issues, such as the statement that e-mails to any public official will be placed online in real time, will remain in the final wording.
The judge specifically said the language about emails was inaccurate, so I wonder what McCracken's thinking? I also wonder why he thinks he gets to decide this matter for the other six councilmembers, with no public input? The new language will be decided at a hearing Monday at 10 a.m. Contact them before then to ask for accurate, descriptive, ballot language for these two amendments.