The Save Our Springs Alliance this week filed a criminal complaint against Travis County Commissioner Gerald Daugherty, just one day before the Commissioners Court agreed, on a 4-1 vote late Tuesday, to spend $15 million for the construction of the State Highway 45 toll road project in Southwest Austin (see "Then There's This," for more SH 45 coverage).
The complaint alleges that Daugherty, a lead proponent of the controversial tollway, illegally deleted cell phone text messages and email correspondence related to the road project, a violation of the Texas Public Information Act. SOS first sought to obtain Daugherty's records on SH 45 last May, and when given only partial access to information, the environmental group responded with a civil lawsuit in November. A second open records request to Daugherty's office yielded additional materials, but other correspondence remains outstanding, the group says. (See "Then There's This: The Road of Many Sagas," Nov. 29, 2013.)
Queried by SOS attorney Bill Bunch in a two-hour deposition Feb. 20, Daugherty acknowledged deleting text messages and emails from his personal cell phone and personal and work computers. Daugherty said he also used his wife's laptop for county business, but the laptop has since been donated to a Seton rehabilitation center and neither he nor his wife cleared its records before giving it away.
The complaint also cites Daugherty's failure to post notices of meetings he held as chair of a special subcommittee of the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization, formed to address SH 45. Because CAMPO is a governmental entity, the subcommittee is subject to state public information and open meetings laws. Daugherty also failed to maintain minutes or notes from those meetings, the complaint alleges.
After filing the criminal complaint Monday with County Attorney David Escamilla (who will likely bring in outside counsel to investigate the allegations), SOS's Bunch called – unsuccessfully – for commissioners to delay Tuesday's vote until Daugherty's public records on SH 45 are released. But Daugherty told the Austin Bulldog the complaint was "nothing more than a rehash of the allegations they brought in the civil suit. I don't put anything past Bill Bunch or the SOS organization to thwart the will of the people" – referring to a 1997 bond election in which voters approved right-of-way purchases for the road project. The online publication also reported that Daugherty had retained lawyer Randy Leavitt to represent him in the complaint. Leavitt represented the city of Austin when the mayor and City Council were investigated by the county attorney's office for alleged violations of the Texas Open Meetings Act.
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