SOS: The Amendment That Didn't Bark

SOS slow to submit paired "open government" petitions to city

Save Our Springs Alliance, first among equals in the environmental coalition hoping to revise the city charter in the May election, submitted its petitions Monday supporting the Save Our Springs amendment. If adopted by voters, the charter revision would enact stricter and more enforceable restrictions on development over the Edwards Aquifer and the Barton Springs watershed. Once the city clerk verifies the petitions contain at least 20,000 signatures of registered voters, the amendment will be forwarded to City Council in time to be confirmed for appearance on May's municipal ballot.

SOS and the other environmental groups supporting the amendment say it is necessary to protect the aquifer and the watershed from explosive commercial development, represented currently by the decision of AMD to move its major Austin facility to the Lantana tract on Southwest Parkway, in the contributing zone to the Barton Springs watershed. Groups opposed to the amendment are also mobilizing, charging that it will mean economic damage to the city and continuous lawsuits by property owners and developers over development rights and conflict with state law – an argument that will ensue at megaphone volume over the next two months.

Curiously, at press time SOS had not yet submitted its paired "open government" petitions (the petition effort is called "Clean Water Clean Government"), although SOS Director Bill Bunch said Monday he expected it would be filed in the next few days, pending ongoing discussions with City Council members and city administrators, who want to recommend revisions that would make the amendment more acceptable (among other issues, the city claims it would cost $36 million to create and monitor the real-time online computer system the amendment mandates).

Therein lies another tale. Last week Jo Clifton, editor of online political newsletter In Fact Daily, reported she was physically barred from a city hall meeting between SOS petitioners (among them Bunch, petition consultant Glen Maxey, and the ACLU's Kathy Mitchell) and City Manager Toby Futrell and Council Member Lee Leffingwell. "I tried to follow them into [City Clerk Shirley Brown's] office," said Clifton later. "Toby said I couldn't come in. And when they saw me standing outside the door, they moved the whole meeting down to the end of the hall to a room without windows. I was a little annoyed."

To Clifton, the episode suggested that the petitioners' commitment to "open government" is conditional at best. Although it was city administrators who explicitly barred her from the meeting, she said, Bunch and the others "didn't say anything. They say they want open government – they only want it when it suits them. As a reporter, I represent everybody. … Then they come out of the meeting, and all they say is 'no comment.'"

Asked about the incident later, Bunch said, "We didn't keep her out of the meeting. The city did that. I would have been happy to have her there."

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