Following through on an ultimatum he issued two months ago, attorney and former Travis County Judge Bill Aleshire filed a second lawsuit against the city of Austin on Sunday alleging Texas Open Meetings Act violations.
“Chalk this case up to the category, ‘Some People Just Never Learn,’ ” the second sentence of the suit reads.
Aleshire filed the lawsuit on behalf of a group of opponents of the so-called Champions tract development. It claims the wording of the City Council meeting’s agenda posted in advance of last year’s votes on the tract didn’t adequately describe what the council did.
Aleshire won a similar suit against the city in October regarding a City Council vote on an Easton Park development deal. A judge struck down fee waivers of $50 million to $80 million to support affordable housing at the Southeast Austin development, also known as Pilot Knob, because the posted agenda item mentioned only rezoning of the property.
Council members rescinded that action — on the same November day they voted for a settlement agreement and rezoning related to the Champions property, a planned apartment complex near RM 2222 and Loop 360. The suit argues that the posted wording didn’t give the public notice of ordinance amendments that waived some watershed regulations to allow more of the site to be covered by pavement or buildings.
“You cannot read that and tell what they’re planning to do,” said Aleshire, who also recently sued Visit Austin (the former Austin Convention and Visitors Bureau), accusing it of withholding public records.
The Lake Austin Collective, described in the lawsuit as a watchdog group for environmental and open government issues, is the plaintiff in the lawsuit. The group has existed for nearly a decade but formally incorporated as a nonprofit just weeks before Aleshire’s April letter to the city. Its size is unclear, but state registration lists Marisa Lipscher, Linda Bailey, Susan Kimbrough and Carol Lee as its representatives.
The group argues that the development will harm bird life in the area, increase traffic dangers and potentially increase runoff pollution.
Aleshire’s letter to City Attorney Anne Morgan gave council members 45 days to repost and revote on the Champions deal, and he included a copy of the lawsuit he said he would file if they didn’t.
After that, Aleshire said he received no formal response from the city but heard from Assistant City Attorney Michael Siegel that he didn’t believe it was necessary to redo the posting.
“Austin appreciates having had the opportunity to review the issue before the plaintiffs filed the lawsuit, but we disagree with Mr. Aleshire’s interpretation of the Texas Open Meetings Act,” the city said in an emailed statement Monday. “We believe the city gave appropriate public notice about the subject matter to be discussed. In fact, the record shows that this issue had a robust public engagement process.”
The Champions tract is in the West Austin District 10 of new Council Member Alison Alter, whose predecessor, Sheri Gallo, was one of four council members to vote against the zoning change in November. Alter said this week that she, too, has reservations about the development and frequently hears concerns about its environmental impact.
With a lawsuit looming, Alter couldn’t speak to why the council didn’t repost the item but suggested her colleagues were reluctant to give in too easily to opponents of a project trying to change a vote.
“That’s up to the majority of the council to (repost), and I think there’s concerns about precedents as to how we write our language,” she said.