Policing Democracy

APA wants the courts to say whose law is the law of the land.

APA President Mike Sheffield
APA President Mike Sheffield (Photo By John Anderson)

In a suit filed last week, the Austin Police Association union, the Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas, and longtime APA board member Det. Cathy Haggerty (as a solo plaintiff) asked for an injunction to allow Council Members Daryl Slusher and Beverly Griffith and Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman to run for re-election in May without having to gather more than 20,000 signatures, as required by a 1994 city charter amendment. While the Texas Election Code allows home-rule cities to "prescribe requirements" for city candidates, it then says candidates only need petitions from 0.5% of the voters in the last mayoral race -- in Austin's case, 299 people. "Our members can't vote for the candidates of their choice because of an illegal provision of the charter," says APA president Mike Sheffield. "It's really that simple." And with a departing city manager and a council that doesn't like term limits, the city's legal department may be hard pressed to vigorously defend the charter. Of the three members directly affected, only Griffith -- whose campaign is paying workers a dollar a signature -- looks assured of getting enough signatures.

The APA has its own motives for testing the power of the city charter, says Sheffield. The union's "meet and confer" contract, according to state law, supersedes the charter, which may be amended (voters willing) come May to give the City Council control over the new police-oversight process. "We want to know, for many reasons, which law -- the charter or the state code -- is the real law," Sheffield says.

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