Clean Water, Clean Government Campaign Kicks Off

SOS Alliance wants more open and more proactive government on aquifer issues

Most anyone at City Hall would tell you that open government is a bright idea. But city officials may actually end up walking the sunshine talk if a citizen initiative passes muster – first with a petition drive and then at the ballot box.

Last week, a grassroots coalition led by the Save Our Springs Alliance kicked off a double-header campaign – Clean Water, Clean Government – to get two city charter amendments on the May 2006 city ballot.

One proposal, the "open government online" initiative, would require "most" city business to be carried out online, meaning real-time postings of such items as contract agreements, permits, correspondence with lobbyists, and the mayor's daily calendar. The idea is to shine more light on the day-to-day affairs of city government, including the cloaked process by which companies receive millions of dollars in government subsidies.

On the water front, the "Save Our Springs" charter amendment would strengthen the existing SOS ordinance, which voters overwhelmingly passed in 1992 to limit development in the Barton Springs zone of the Edwards Aquifer. Several lawsuits, loopholes, and legislatures later, city leaders are more inclined to acquiesce to developers' pre-existing "grandfather" claims than to enforce the ordinance. With voter approval, the amendment would force the city to get behind its own ordinance. It would, for example, require officials to actively direct all forms of development away from the environmentally sensitive areas of southwest Austin, prohibit the city from offering tax abatements or other economic development carrots to companies angling to build in the Barton Springs watershed, and force the city to tighten the noose on its rather loose definition of "grandfathered."

If recent and past petition drives in Austin are any indication, the Clean Water, Clean Government campaign should meet its mark of collecting 40,000 signatures of registered voters – that's 20,000 signatures for each charter amendment – to secure a spot on the ballot. Former state Rep. Glen Maxey, who led the unsuccessful campaign against the anti-gay marriage amendment Nov. 8, is coordinating the petition drive, as he did with the successful smoking ban initiative. More details on the newest effort are at www.cleanwater-cleangovernment.org.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

open governmentenvironment, Clean Water, Clean Government, Save Our Springs Alliance, Save Our Springs ordinance, SOS, Glen Maxey, Edwards Aquifer, Barton Springs

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