Judge rules Austin City Council violated open meetings law for second time in a year

Austin City Council meeting on Sept. 28, 2017 (KXAN Photo)
Austin City Council meeting on Sept. 28, 2017 (KXAN Photo)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — In the last year, two separate judges have ruled against the city of Austin for violating the Open Meetings Act.

Judge Scott Jenkins ruled Austin City Council’s vote on Nov. 10, 2016 violated the Open Meetings Act by failing to give proper notice of the item they were voting on. In a statement sent to KXAN, the plaintiff’s attorney, Bill Aleshire explained council did not disclose that it was granting environmental waivers to Champion Tract developers. He also wrote that no city commission ever reviewed the waivers.

Aleshire’s statement says the “arcane wording” on the agenda item hid what the vote would really do. Aleshire was hired to represent the Lake Austin Collective, a nonprofit corporation organization of people living in the vicinity of the Champion development.

In the most recent case, Aleshire sent a draft of the lawsuit to the city attorney back in April, offering up an opportunity to drop it if they would re-post the item with more transparency and take another vote. They gave council 45 days to comply with the settlement offer, but it didn’t happen.

In a statement, Aleshire said the lesson the mayor and council should learn is, “On Council meeting agendas, don’t try to hide waivers to developers by not clearly giving public notice, because, if you do, you’ll be back in court every time and Council’s vote will be voided.”

In a written statement, a city of Austin spokesperson said, “While we are disappointed in the ruling, we appreciate the court’s thoughtful consideration of this matter. We are committed to following the OMeetingsings Act. In light of the judge’s decision, we will assess our options, and will advise council accordingly.”

Last year, Aleshire says a judge found “the city committed the same violation by granting waivers to the Pilot Knob development without disclosing that on its meeting agenda.”

The city did not settle and lost the lawsuit after plaintiff Brian Rodgers offered to drop it if council would re-post the item and clearly identify the $100 million fee waivers they were granting.

 

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