Today is a big day in the process of determining the viability of the potential move of the Columbus Crew to Austin. The Austin City Council will vote on two resolutions: Item 60 would authorize the City to solicit offers from interested parties who would like to develop the McKalla Place site. Item 64 (now 130) would authorize the City to enter into negotiations with PSV/MLS to see if the parties can come to an agreement to bring the Crew to Austin.
Yesterday, a twist came in the form of a demand letter, sent to the City by former judge and current Austin attorney, Bill Aleshire. Mr. Aleshire has a long history following/litigating governance issues in the Austin area, and was good enough to answer some questions I had about his reasoning for sending the letter and concerns about a potential deal between PSV/MLS and the City. The “Q & A” is reposted in its entirety, and is only lightly edited for clarity. Mr. Aleshire’s answers are in italics.
Question 1: It looks like you’ve been involved in governance issues in Austin for some time. When did you first develop an interest in this issue specifically?
I’ve been involved for decades against corporate welfare. I noticed this latest example as soon as it was made public.
Question 2: Your letter mentioned that you had contacted Austin officials on several occasions prior to issuing the demand letter. For how long have you had those conversations, who were you able to talk with (if anyone), and what did those conversations entail?
I’ve won three lawsuits against the City of Austin in the last three years and each time, before I pursued the litigation, I wrote the City Attorney and forewarned what was coming and giving the City time to correct the problem. The cases were two Open Meetings Act violations resulting in reversal/voiding of Council approval of development deals (Pilot Knob and Champion tract) and a Public Information Act case involving public funds used by the Downtown Austin Alliance for a campaign contribution to a light-rail political action committee). Advance warning is a courtesy I have extended to the City Attorney for years. The comment in my letter referred to that past courtesy, not any conversations I had about the soccer deal.
Question 3: Have you received any response from Austin officials in response to this letter?
Anne Morgan [Austin City Attorney] emailed yesterday saying that she had seen my letter and would consult with her clients about the issues raised.
Question 4: As you are aware, at least two other developers have expressed an interest in developing the site. Are you representing any parties that have an interest in the vote, or do you have any formal association (financial, consulting) with those parties?
Question 5: You mentioned your concern regarding Austin not disclosing an RFP and Appraisal prior to inviting public input. To clarify, have you made a request for any relevant documents, and are any of your requests outstanding?
No, but two other people in Austin asked for those records and I have read the City’s request for an AG ruling (as I referenced in my letter).
Question 6: Have you contemplated a date by which you would file a lawsuit and seek and injunction? I assume any legal action is dependent on how the vote proceeds on June 28?
I will not file a lawsuit until I think the cause is ripe and odds of prevailing are good. By the way, any Austin Water Utility bond owner or water customer—including me—has standing to bring the claims against the McKalla deal that I raised in the letter.
Question 7: If both item 60 and 130 pass, how would that affect your decision to file a lawsuit, if at all?
See Answer to Q6.
Question 8: There has been some chatter that based on your history in Austin politics, this letter and the threat of a suit is a publicity stunt. What is your response to that?
I had a great political career (as County Judge and as Tax Collector), but for the last 17 years I have enjoyed an activist practice of law and speaking truth to power. Those who ignore the substance of the legal issues I raised in that letter do so at their peril.
Question 9: How many lawsuits have you filed against the City, if any?
Haven’t kept count, but at least half a dozen or more. One case involved my client, The Austin Bulldog, over access to correspondence between Council members that became evidence of a criminal violation of the Open Meetings Act, resulting in the entire Council being put on prosecutorial probation by the Travis County Attorney.
Question 10: One of portions of the letter that piqued my interest was the reference to the Modell law, and the implication that Austin could have some legal exposure while pursuing this process. Could you expound on your concerns? Have you done any research on the issue?
No, but I’ve wondered why Columbus or the State of Ohio hasn’t sought protection in court against Austin’s activities with Precourt. Perhaps, since the Austin Council has yet to vote, they haven’t considered it ripe for court action. Maybe that will change after tonight’s vote.
Question 11: Do you have an objection to a soccer stadium being built at McKalla Place, assuming a process that conforms to local/state laws is followed? In other words, if the best offer for the city is a proposal PSV presents, would you be satisfied?
I don’t think a soccer stadium at McKalla place, even if it were a lawful deal, is the best deal for taxpayers. There appears to be no way Precourt is going to “Show Austin the Money” to make that deal make any sense from Austin taxpayers’ perspective.
Question 12: Is there anything else you’d like interested parties to know?
Government should not be a trough for special interest ripoffs of the people government should be serving.
I appreciate Mr. Aleshire being available to answer a few (okay, more than a few) of my questions. Obviously, we will have to wait and see how the votes go this evening (potentially even early tomorrow morning) before we will be able to assess the legal options of the parties going forward. Should be an interesting day, so watch this space.