Austin will keep fighting on Champions tract transparency case

Dec 29, 2017
The Austin City Council took a preliminary vote on the Champions tract at its Sept. 22, 2016, meeting, pictured, then gave final approval to the development in November. A lawsuit argued the city’s agenda did not provide enough information about the actions the council planned to take.

Austin will appeal its most recent court loss involving the Texas Open Meetings Act.

A judge ruled last month that city leaders did not give the public enough notice of what they were considering before voting to waive environmental regulations for Champions tract, a controversial housing development near RM 2222 and Loop 360. Austin filed a notice appealing that decision Thursday.

The Champions decision was the second time in just over a year that the city lost a similar lawsuit. Last year, a judge struck down up to $80 million in fee waivers for the Easton Park/Pilot Knob development because the City Council’s posted meeting agenda didn’t mention any possible fee waivers. Attorney and former Travis County Judge Bill Aleshire filed both lawsuits.

The American-Statesman is also suing Austin in a Texas Open Meetings Act case, arguing City Council members broke the law by leaving a posted public meeting for an undisclosed location to interview city manager candidates in a more private setting.

BACKGROUND: Judge voids Austin approval of controversial Champions development

Matthew Tynan, the city lawyer who is arguing the Champions case, said the appeal isn’t about the Champions development, but about getting more clarity on what is required in agenda postings. The judge in the case didn’t give details on what colored his decision.

“This is a question of precedent and it’s something we’re pursuing to obtain clarity on (the Open Meetings Act) and how it will apply to our future postings,” Tynan said.

A redo of the council’s vote on the Champions tract is set to move forward separately from the appeal. The council tentatively approved one reading of it Dec. 14 and will vote Feb. 1. The city’s Environmental Commission is expected to review it Wednesday and give a recommendation.

Richard Suttle, an attorney representing the Champions developers, said at a City Council meeting this month that he didn’t want the Open Meetings violation to allow a full reconsideration of the merits of the development.

LAST YEAR: Judge strikes down city of Austin’s Easton Park development deal

Council Member Alison Alter, whose district includes the development, said Friday she was disappointed by the appeal.

“Although I find it unfortunate that the city has appealed a lawsuit unnecessarily, I am glad that in our final meeting of the year the Council passed a resolution that I sponsored which directed the City Manager to examine best practices on posting,” Alter said via text message. “The Champions case is not the first time the Council has lost a lawsuit related to posting requirements, and I believe that the resolution helps us address the root causes of how we ended up in this situation yet again.”

Aleshire is not done scrutinizing city meeting notices. Last week, he emailed City Attorney Anne Morgan an objection to the agenda posting for the Environmental Commission’s consideration of the Champions tract for again omitting reference to watershed regulations.

Deputy City Attorney Deborah Thomas responded, thanking Aleshire for the heads-up and saying the item would be re-posted.