Props Forum Gets Down and Dirty

Props 1 and 2 supporters and opponents prove themselves talented beer-drinkers, chip-eaters, and yellers at Democracy for Texas forum

They say the worst fights are family fights, and that certainly held true at a Democracy for Texas forum on Wednesday, where supporters and opponents of Propositions 1 and 2 – progressives all – gathered at Mother Egan's to drink beer, eat chips, and yell at each other. Representing the pro side were Bill Bunch of the Save Our Springs Alliance and Kathy Mitchell of the ACLU, going mano a mano against Jeb Boyt of the city Parks Board and Council Member Lee Leffingwell. Audience reaction was also divided among supporters and opponents of the measures.

In a long, sweaty evening of accusations and counter-accusations, the most explosive point of contention was the city's cost estimate on Prop. 1, which would require the city to "as expeditiously as possible and to the greatest extent practical, make all public information available online in real time and accessible to the public." The city says this will cost $36 million because of what we'll call the e-mail problem. All city e-mails are already public information and can be accessed through open records requests (keep that in mind next time you fire off an outraged screed), but only after being screened and redacted of public information. If those e-mails are going to be made available online and in real time, as the language states, it would take a bevy of lawyers a-readin' and a-redactin' – some 61 million e-mails bounced around city servers last year – and lawyers ain't cheap. It's that staff time that makes up the bulk of the $36 million figure.

Mitchell dismissed the high cost estimate as a scare tactic, highlighting the two words "as practical." "If you say putting 61 million e-mails online is practical, you don't live in the same universe that I live in," she said.

Leffingwell, who was elected only a year ago as an environmentalist and who appeared distinctly uncomfortable in the role of Bad Guy, kept hammering away at the high-cost argument even after the debate was supposed to have shifted to Prop. 2. This was not well received – as audience members called him a liar and shouted for him to sit down, the moderator moved to take away the microphone. Leffingwell, frazzled, snapped at one of his challengers, activist-about-town Debbie Russell, who was seated in the front row of tables. "You do not have the right to interrupt me," Leffingwell thundered. "Who is in charge here, the people of this community or this guy?" Russell shouted back. "You can see why he doesn't want open government."

The debate finally turned to Proposition 2, giving Bunch – who long ago was cast as the physical embodiment of SOSA on As Austin Turns – an opportunity to plea that Prop. 2 is the city's best chance for halting the development that is killing the springs. Leffingwell disagreed. "I hope that if Proposition 2 fails, we'll still find ways to save the Edwards Aquifer, which, believe it or not, is what we all want to do," he said, sounding hurt. "There are other ideas. I have some ideas. My ideas are not invalid just because I'm not Bill Bunch."

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Democracy For TexasPropositions 1 and 2, Bill Bunch, Lee Leffingwell, Kathy Mitchell, Proposition 1, Jeb Boyt, Debbie Russell, Democracy For Texas

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