CodeNEXT vote could get Austin sued


AUSTIN (KXAN) — A pending decision by the Austin City Council could get the city of Austin sued.

Thursday night, the council will decide whether to ask City Manager Spencer Cronk to prepare draft language to put the CodeNEXT petition on the ballot. If it chooses not to, the groups that organized the petition say they plan to sue.

More than 30,000 Austin residents signed the petition even though the city charter only requires 20,000 signatures to put an item on the ballot. It would give Austin voters the final say on large scale land development and zoning changes in the city. The petition drive was organized by a coalition of groups that are against CodeNEXT.

Even before those signatures were certified, attorneys for the city warned the petition language was unconstitutional, saying it violated the Texas Constitution and city charter.

On April 27, the City Council narrowly voted down an ordinance that would have enacted the provisions of the petition without putting the petition on the ballot. Many believe that narrow 6-4 vote will foreshadow future Council decisions on CodeNEXT, including the one Thursday night.

If the City Council votes down the resolution asking the city manager to move forward on the petition’s ballot language, attorney Fred Lewis, who wrote the petition, says he’ll see the city in court.

“The law says [City Council Members] have a duty to put it on the ballot,” Lewis said. “Councils tend to think that they know more than the voters and therefore voters shouldn’t be allowed to vote on things. This is not unusual. That’s why Austin has been sued several times to put petitions on the ballot and why it’s lost every time.”

Lewis cited two Austin cases, one in 1951, and a little more recently, the fight over the Save our Springs ordinance, which was finally decided in 1998.

“Every legal presumption is used to allow the public to vote,” Lewis added. “The presumption is it goes on the ballot.”

If the City Council does pass the resolution Thursday, it still does not mean the petition will make it to the November ballot. There are several more steps. The city manager would have until June 14 to prepare the petition language. Council would then have to approve that language and vote to add it to the ballot. Thursday night’s vote is just the first of several votes that — if voted down — could lead to a lawsuit.

Thursday’s resolution is sponsored by Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo, as well as council members Ora Houston, Alison Alter and Leslie Pool. That means you can expect those four to vote in favor of the resolution. It remains to be seen whether anyone else will join them.

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