Naked City

Lawyers and Lawlessness

Yet another Georgetown resident has been rebuked for challenging city government authority, but this shouldn't surprise regular "Naked City" readers. Last week, we reported that Georgetown attorney West Short -- who is a member of the political action committee Citizens for Georgetown (a small group of citizens concerned about open government issues) -- wrote a letter to City Secretary Sandra Lee demanding that she review a referendum petition that Georgetown Deputy City Secretary Shirley Rinn had failed to certify just three weeks before. The petition seeks to do away with a development ordinance passed during an "emergency" session of the council in July.

At issue was the city's interpretation of language in the city charter. Short contended that Deputy Secretary Rinn failed to take the language at face value. His letter, he said, was aimed at having Lee review Rinn's decision. (Lee was out of the office the day Rinn made the call.)

Although Short requested that Lee respond to his letter by the close of business on Oct. 15, he didn't get a reply until Oct. 18 -- from Austin attorney Patricia Carls. (Since February, Carls' firm, Brown & Carls, has handled Georgetown's legal affairs after the City Council opted to disband its in-house city attorney's office.) In her letter, Carls wrote that Short's offer of "legal advice" to the city was a clear violation of Texas' professional conduct rules for attorneys. "By that letter you have communicated directly with my client, the city of Georgetown, and purport to give legal advice to my client," she wrote. In closing, she asked that any further correspondence on the matter be directed to her. Carls could not be reached for comment, but Short said he found the letter somewhat disheartening. He was not trying to "offer legal advice," he said, but instead was trying to call attention to the discrepancy in the city's decision versus the language of the city's charter -- just as any random citizen might do. "They're just trying to find ways to ignore it and this is just a legalistic way to do so," Short said.

In other Georgetown petition news: On Tuesday, the City Council accepted a recall petition that seeks to remove Mayor MaryEllen Kersch and four council members. While the council certified the petition --presented to the city last month by resident Mike Henry -- they did not pick a date for the recall election. Instead, they intend to set a public hearing for next week, affording the Mayor and council members a chance to "rebut" the petition organizers.

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