The Road to 10-1 Ethics Charges Flying in D3 & D6

Where do Susana Almanza's donors work? Where does Jay Wiley live?

Last Friday, Sept. 5, the Ethics Review Commission addressed the case of Susana Almanza's campaign finance reports. When the District 3 candidate first filed her July 15 report, she failed to include employer and occupation information for donors who made contributions of $200 or more, as required by the Austin Fair Cam­paign Ordinance. Almanza waived her right to appear before the Commission, instead filing a sworn affidavit saying the oversight was unintentional. She said she had followed Texas Elec­tion Code, and hadn't realized that Austin's election rules were more stringent. When the requirement was brought to her attention, she corrected the mistake. Four of the five Com­mis­sioners present agreed that Almanza's omission, while not intentionally flouting the rules, showed disregard, and that a letter of reprimand was appropriate. The rules are clearly stated in the candidate packets each candidate receives from the City Clerk. "When in doubt, fill it out," said Commissioner Donna Beth McCormick.

Commissioners also discussed scheduling; they may need to meet monthly until any run-offs are completed (likely in December) in order to address future complaints. One issue that may yet come before them is the accusation that Jay Wiley isn't actually eligible to run for Council. Wiley owns a home in the River Place Municipal Utility District, which, although it's technically within District 6, is currently undergoing limited purpose annexation by the city; residents of such areas aren't eligible to run for Council. Last year, in order to be able to run for District 6, Wiley rented an apartment in Anderson Mill, and now lists that as his official residence.

A Matt Stillwell supporter filed a protest with the City Clerk, alleging that Wiley's principal place of residence in fact is River Place – where his kids attend school, and where the Wileys filed for a homestead exemption on their property taxes this year. Wiley calls the Council exclusion of River Place a clear example of "taxation without representation," but says he's done everything he needs to do in order to comply with the law. The City Clerk has responded to the complaint, writing, "Resolving a dispute of fact regarding an individual's residency is not within the purview of this office, but rather falls under the jurisdiction of the courts." But in cases like this, said Buck Wood, a lawyer widely regarded to be the local expert in this area of the law, residency is "almost unchallengeable" in court. The residency laws are meant to be liberal, Wood explains, and in order to violate them a candidate would have to do something like register to vote at a different address. Wiley says his Anderson Mill address is on his voter registration, driver's license, and State Bar of Texas license.

Voters can decide for themselves whether they think it's okay for Wiley to claim one residence for the purpose of running for Council, and another to get a break on his property taxes. However, a defecting Wiley voter is unlikely to run to Stillwell's camp, since Wiley's a conservative Republican and Still­well's a Democrat.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

10-1, November 2014 Election, City Council, Ethics Review Commission, District 3, District 6, Susana Almanza, campaign finance, Stefan Wray, Matt Stillwell, River Place Municipal Utility District, Buck Wood, Mayoral & City Council

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