Canyon Creek Rebels Target MUD Lawsuit

Municipal utility district board members resist suggestion they withdraw federal suit

There may be a polite rebellion brewing in Canyon Creek. As we reported a few weeks ago ("Point Austin: MUD in Your Eye," Nov. 9), the municipal utility district underlying the Northwest Austin suburb of Canyon Creek (Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District No. 1) sued the U.S. Department of Justice this year to overturn Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which requires every electoral body in nine states with particularly discriminatory histories, including Texas, to "preclear" proposed changes in election procedures with the Civil Rights Division of the DOJ, in order to protect minority voting rights. Although the MUD's board – led by Republican activist Don Zim­mer­man, who is currently promoting the local Ron Paul presidential campaign – admits that complying with the law has not been burdensome, board members consider the preclearance requirement unfair. Support­ed by right-wing foundations, the MUD sued in federal district court in D.C. to have Section 5 declared unconstitutional; a decision is pending.

At the MUD's Nov. 18 meeting – a lively affair, dealing with issues ranging from replanting the soccer field to fighting feral hogs to preventing teenage vandalism in Trailhead Park – several of the dozen residents in attendance requested that the board consider withdrawing from the suit, or at least not pursuing an appeal should the court rule against the MUD. While none of the residents directly disputed the board's insistence that Section 5 is "inequitable" – because "it assumes that we're guilty" of potential voting violations, said one board member – several called it an "ideological" lawsuit that is "not germane" to the practical business of running the MUD, which exists to repay infrastructure bonds and manage park facilities. One resident even offered to pay the estimated $1,200 that administering compliance with the Voting Rights Act has cost the MUD over the years, if that's what it would take to get the board to drop the suit. "Canyon Creek is incurring a big black eye from a PR standpoint," said the resident.

But board members resisted the suggestion that they withdraw the suit, unless they can confirm that a majority of residents concur. "This turnout is about 10 times what you get at most meetings," pointed out one audience member. Among the observers was MUD pro bono attorney Gregory Coleman, the former Texas solicitor general (now with Yetter & Warden), who said it could be six months to a year before the D.C. court makes a decision. He also said it's extremely unlikely that the MUD would be liable for any penalties in the event of a loss, but if there were any, his law firm "might pay it."

Residents said they would begin a neighborhood petition campaign against the suit, and departing board Vice President George Freder­ickson, chairing the meeting, said he would consider a substantial petition "a significant data point" against the suit. Zimmerman, resplendent in a red Santa hat and a Ron Paul polo shirt, did not speak – having informed the group he was suffering from laryngitis.

*Oops! The following correction ran in the January 8, 2004 issue: Due to an editing error, in the article, "Canyon Creek Rebels Target MUD Lawsuit," a sentence concerning the MUD board was inaccurate. It should have read: "Although the MUD's board – led by Republican activist Don Zim­mer­man, who is currently promoting the local Ron Paul presidential campaign – admits that complying with the law has not been burdensome, board members consider the preclearance requirement unfair."

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Canyon Creek, Voting Rights Act, minority voting rights, Don Zimmerman, Ron Paul

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