Thursday, March 30, 2006

City of Austin spanked over misleading ballot language


Score one for the good guys.

Judge Stephen Yelenosky this afternnoon declared that the Austin City Council's proposed ballot language regarding the Open Government Online and Clean Water charter amendments was misleading and ordered it changed. The judge told the City to rewrite the language by Monday afternoon.

Maybe voters and the media will now start to ask: Why did the City propose misleading ballot language? What do they have to hide? That question seemed to hang in the air this afternoon while the judge announced his ruling before an elated audience and a stunned city defense team.

Judge Yelenosky declared that the structure of the ballot language was not descriptive but was "tantamount" to an argument. He relied on a prior ruling related to ballot language authorizing the South Texas Nuclear Project nearly 30 years ago in a case where language was ruled legal because it was NOT argumentative.

Yelenosky criticized the City's language for naming examples that were not representative of the amendment and that were exclusively negative -- thank heavens somebody with some authority noticed! He also faulted the City for using the words "any" and "all" in the ballot language when the amendment included substantial caveats where records wouldn't actually go online.

The most satisfying part of the ruling, to me, related to cost: the judge pointed out that the City of Austin conceded during testimony the amendment would NOT compel a tax increase, despite ballot language approved by City Council falsely claiming the amendment would require a tax hike of $.03 on the dollar. The City's wildly overstated cost figures relied on an estimate that Yelenosky said "was not sufficiently certain." The City had claimed the Open Government amendment would cost $36 million in the near term, but the judge's ruling put the lie to that figure.

Kudos to the plaintiffs, including the founder of this blog Jordan Hatcher, and the citizens of Austin who now will get an opportunity to vote on fair ballot language that accurately represents the amendment.


At 4:47 PM, Blogger Ian said...


At 8:05 PM, Blogger Sal Costello said...

Great Judge! Great Ruling! We need to clean out the city council. It's time to elect some good folks.

Let's start by FIRING special interest Brewster McCracken! Tell everyone you know!

Sal Costello


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