Catching Hell in G'Town

Battle over recall, development, and civility continues in Georgetown.

Last Friday, Georgetown City Secretary Sandra Lee announced that citizens had collected enough valid signatures to certify a recall petition submitted to the city last month. The petition seeks to recall Mayor MaryEllen Kersch and four of the six current City Council members (Clark Lyda, Sam Pfiester, Charles Burson, and Llorente Navarrette). In a press release, Lee announced plans to present the petition to the City Council during its regular Oct. 23 meeting. The mayor or council members may call for a public hearing to respond to the petitions within five days of certification by the council. Assuming no delays, the recall election will most likely be held in February 2002, Lee said, with any consequent vacant spots filled in a May election. "We're glad to hear [the petition] has been verified," said Mike Henry, who led the recall effort. "What we'll see next, hopefully, is more truth come out about this council's actions that hasn't [come out already]."

Just two weeks ago, Deputy City Secretary Shirley Rinn rejected another that called for a referendum on a development ordinance passed in an August "emergency" council session. Rinn said she had determined that the number of signatures collected was insufficient because, as she reads the city charter, it requires the signatures of 15% of all registered voters, not merely 15% of those who voted in the last election.

Since then, however, attorney West Short, speaking as a member of the Citizens for Georgetown political action committee, has challenged that interpretation. He notes that the charter calls for signatures from "at least 15% of the qualified voters in the last municipal election, but not less than 250 qualified voters of the city." If this actually meant 15% of all voters, Short said, the subsequent phrase of "not less than 250" would make no sense. He points out that the charter was revised in "1986, not 1886, [and] in 1986, it was impossible for 15% of the total number of registered voters to be less than 250."

Last Thursday, Short delivered a letter to Lee demanding the referendum petition be certified "immediately, without delay," to avoid a class-action lawsuit. Short asked for a reply from the city by the close of business Monday; at press time Wednesday, he had received no response. "It's unfortunate," said Short. "It puts us all in the unfortunate position of suing a city that will use citizen money to defend against its own. It puts a tremendous burden on all of us."

Meanwhile, in the City Council chambers tempers are still flaring. During the Sept. 25 council meeting, Mayor Kersch and Council Member Clark Lyda berated petition organizer Mike Henry from the dais for 12 minutes, claiming that, among other things, he is lying and is doing a disservice to the Georgetown community by circulating the petitions. On Oct. 9, they were at it again, this time spending eight minutes admonishing Della Green, a longtime Austin activist who now lives in Georgetown, for coming forward to address the city's recent public relations problems.

Yelling at constituents from the dais, Green suggested, was tantamount to malfeasance. "Open government is not just about open meetings, records, and telling people what you are going to do," she said. "Open government also allows for any citizen to have a voice ... without [being subject] to intimidation or humiliation from their elected representatives."

Without a hint of irony, Kersch replied that she and her fellow council members had demonstrated nothing but righteous behavior on the dais. "We have never attacked anyone. We have maintained a high level of dignity," she said, adding that, when "people tell lies" about the council, they should expect to be taken to task for it. "I think public service does not mean public abuse," she said.

Memo to Mayor Kersch: If the shoe fits ...

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Georgetown, Sandra Lee, MaryEllen Kersch, Clark Lyda, Sam Pfeister, Charles Burson, Llorente Navarrette, Shirley Rinn, Citizens for Georgetown, West Short, Mike Henry

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