The Austin Bulldog
Ethics? Who gives a damn?
“I want all of you to get up out of your chairs. I want you to get up right now, and go to the window, open it and stick your head out and yell, ‘I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore!’ Things have got to change. But first, you’ve gotta get mad! You’ve got to say, ‘I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!’ ” — Howard Beale (Peter Finch) addressing his live television audience in the 1976 movie, “Network”
They’re off and running for council
As in horse racing, the bugler has sounded, “Call to the Post” for the Austin City Council campaigns that are now officially underway. A well known variation on the Golden Rule is that, “Whoever has the gold makes the rules.” That was definitely the case in the 2022 election of Mayor Kirk Watson and five council members.
Are tax subsidies for luxury development legal?
In a lawsuit filed last April plaintiffs sought a permanent injunction to prevent the City of Austin from diverting $354 million in future property taxes from being spent to subsidize a luxury development project. (Taxpayers Against Giveaways v. City of Austin, Cause No. D-1-GN-23-002238.) The Bulldog published an extensive report on that litigation the same day.
District 10 Council candidates jump in early
With 2024 being a presidential election year—maybe a rerun of the 2020 election between Joe Biden and Donald Trump—we should be expecting record-breaking turnout in Austin voting. Add to that, for the first time in Austin’s history, the mayor’s race will be on the same ballot as the...
Latest zoning changes may trigger new litigation
District Judge Jessica Mangrum has driven another nail into the City of Austin’s defense of three zoning ordinances. (Cause No. D-1-GN-19-008617, Acuna v. City of Austin.) In an order issued December 8th, she ruled that the ordinances were void from the beginning for failure to follow statutory requirements. She ruled these actions exceeded the city’s authority and violated state law.
Plaintiffs in Acuña v. City of Austin seek sanctions and attorney’s fees
The plaintiffs won. All that’s left is a final order. To achieve that end, the trial court presided over by District Judge Jessica Mangrum requested that counsel for plaintiffs in Acuña v City of Austin (D-1-GN-19-008617) “draft an order memorializing these rulings and send same to opposing counsel for review as to form.” The draft order was due for the court’s review November 17th.
Siegel running for City Council District 7
After losing in two hard runs for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, attorney Michael John Weills Siegel (D-Austin) has lowered his political sights in hopes of winnning a seat on the Austin City Council. He is running for the District 7 seat now occupied by Leslie Pool....
Six council members and numerous lobbyists appear to have criminally violated city’s lobby law
This story was updated at 2:45pm October 17th to add documentation that shows the City Attorney has taken no enforcement action or spent even one staff hour devoted to enforcement of lobbyist regulations. More than a hundred and ten people are registered with the City of Austin as lobbyists. Their...
Trust, but verify
We would like to think people in our nation’s highest offices adhere to the highest ethical principles. Yet recent news reports have exposed U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, who let billionaires pick up the tabs for expensive vacations, private jet flights, and pay the private school tuition for his kinfolk.
Announcing the Government Accountability Project
Local officials manage government organizations that spend billions of our tax dollars. They should always act in the public interest—not for personal profit. We want to trust, but we need to verify. The Government Accountability Project (GAP) provides a means to do that. We’re making several hundred documents available...
Ruling allows immediate fundraising for 2024 elections
The City Council is scheduled to get a closed-door executive session briefing from the Law Department September 14th to discuss legal fallout from Judge Robert Pitman’s August 30th decision. The judge’s order declared unconstitutional an Austin City Code prohibition on candidates soliciting or accepting campaign contributions until a year before an election. (Case No. 1:21-cv-00271, Jennifer Virden v. City of Austin.) The item is not on the agenda for action. At issue is whether the City will appeal that decision.
Virden lawsuit overturns city campaign restriction
U.S, District Judge Robert Pitman of the Western District of Texas yesterday declared unconstitutional the restriction found in the Austin City Code that restricts when a candidate can start raising funds for a mayoral or City Council race. Pitman previous served as a magistrate judge for the same court and...
Appraisal district headed for big management shakeup
Chief Appraiser Marya Crigler has submitted her notice of intent to retire effective in early 2024. She will be ending a career spanning 33 years with Travis Central Appraisal District that began right after graduating from the University of Texas. She currently earns $270,000 a year. Consultants and a committee of TCAD’s board have started working to find Crigler’s successor.
Velasquez third council member sanctioned for ethics violations
After two hours of testimony and deliberation, the City’s Ethics Review Commission voted 6-2 last Wednesday evening to sanction Council Member Jose Velasquez for multiple ethical violations involving failure to list sources of income and a board membership in his sworn financial filings. The vote on Velasquez came as...
Auditor faults Austin’s public information process
The City Council’s Audit and Finance Committee spent less than 20 minutes this morning listening to and discussing a presentation by the City’s Audit Manager Patrick Johnson. Council Committee members hearing the briefing were Chair Alison Alter, Vice Chair Leslie Pool, Mackenzie Kelly, and Ryan Alter. Vanessa Fuentes...
Velasquez hit with ethics complaint
This article was updated again July 17, 2023, to add a detail about the Planning Commission’s vote to change zoning on the Borden Tract. This article was updated at 10:21am July 15, 2023, to insert Council Member Velasquez’s response an hour after the story was published. District 3...
Commissioners commit blatant open meetings violation
The City of Austin’s Human Rights Commission ended its June 26th meeting with an astonishing violation of the Texas Open Meetings Act. Commissioner Kolby Duhon, whose term on the Human Rights Commission began March 1, 2023, put forth a recommendation for the commission’s consideration that was not listed on either the posted or revised meeting agendas. The recommendation calls on “the Austin City Council to immediately hold a vote on the future of the joint policing agreement, and do what they know in their hearts is right for the citizens of Austin.”
Battle raging over Zilker Park’s future triggers skirmish over commissioners’ conduct
This story was updated a fourth time at 2:06pm July 10th to clarify that the Design Workshop was authorized $600,000 for its work on the Zilker Plan. The $1.35 million paid to the firm, as stated in the story, includes other work the firm has done for the city. This...
Appraisal district proposes 2024 budget bump
Travis Central Appraisal District’s 2024 Proposed Budget shows an overall increase of 7.5 percent. The proposed budget was presented to the district’s Board of Directors in a May 24th workshop by Chief Appraiser Marya Crigler and Deputy Chief Appraiser Leana Mann. TCAD budgeted to add three new positions...
Central Health launches search for new CEO
Central Health, the local government agency that levies a property tax to pay for the healthcare of Travis County residents with incomes of up to 200 percent of the Federal Poverty Level, has started the process of finding a new leader to replace its longtime chief executive. Mike Geeslin started...
The Austin Bulldog
Nonprofit investigative reporting in the public interest