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Bill Spelman

Bill Spelman: Include All Stakeholders, Not Just The Ones You Like

by: Katherine Haenschen

Sun Feb 03, 2013 at 02:30 PM CST

Controversy arose this week over an agenda item at the Austin City Council over who can serve on the Land Development Code Task Force. The LDC TF will rewrite Austin's land use rules to reflect the Imagine Austin plan passed in 2012. These rules will determine zoning and development rules in Austin. Of the 11 member task force, 7 individuals will be appointed by City Council and 4 by the City Manager.

This week, Council Member Spelman planned to offer a resolution that would allow no more than 4 of the 11 task force members to be registered lobbyists, as currently all registered city lobbyists are forbidden from being appointed.  

At the heart of the issue is not just whether real estate lobbyists registered with the city should be eligible to serve on the task force, but whether the city should exclude a group of people from a form of participation in a public process, and if so, why.

On one hand, there are concerns that lobbyists from the real estate industry would rewrite the code to the benefit of their clients and detriment of residents. In some quarters of this city, it is inconceivable that a developer could ever do anything in the public interest. (I assume all of these people built their own homes from hand-hewn logs and never visit any commercial enterprise here in Austin.)

On the other hand, these rules will need to be applied and used in the real world, and it may not be a bad idea to have folks who will use them be a significant part of the conversation about these changes. If code is not clear, then when you, dear reader, want to add an addition to your home to accommodate your growing family, you may wind up mired in added costs and delays as the one virtuous builder working your project tries to navigate what is permitted under the Land Development Code.

In the meantime, there is no prohibition on architects, engineers, or actual builders serving on this task force -- there is no "conflict of interest" that prevents people who work in the development industry from serving. That's actually not unusual: a significant number of members of our city boards and commissions work in industries related to their appointment, due to the expertise they bring. Council members seem to welcome that knowledge and want it present in a meaningful way on our citizen boards. Only those who are paid to advocate for an industry or interest are forbidden from serving.  

The debate was largely a proxy for the same-old same-old "developers" vs "neighborhoods" battle that has been ongoing for decades. Aside from the broad anti-lobbyist rhetoric the debate raises a valid question over whether there's a difference between a paid advocate -- a lobbyist -- and a paid professional with expertise in an industry who could be the person hiring the lobbyist.

Council Member Spelman ultimately pulled the item from the agenda when it was clear that it would fail, but in doing so made some valuable remarks about the nature of public input in these important processes: essentially, "in a stakeholder process you need to include all the stakeholders, not just the ones you like."

Below the jump, please read Council Member Spelman's remarks from Thursday (edited by Spelman from the transcript of his off-the-cuff speech from the dais).

There's More... :: (0 Comments, 1697 words in story)

Austin Councilmember Bill Spelman Diagnosed with Pancreatic Tumor

by: Karl-Thomas Musselman

Thu Aug 09, 2012 at 04:21 PM CDT

This afternoon it was announced that Austin City Councilmember Bill Spelman has been diagnosed with a pancreatic tumor. The removal is scheduled for tomorrow at St. David's Medical Center.

According to the Austin Bulldog, Spelman "may need follow-up treatment after surgery but expects to be back to work on the council before the fall semester starts at UT" where he is a professor. He plans to return to the classroom by the month's end.

Mayor Lee Leffingwell released the following statement.

"Bill is a good friend and colleague. Our thoughts and prayers are with him and his family as he works through this difficult process. All of us at City Hall will be working closely with Bill to make sure he and his staff have all the support they need during this time. I look forward to having him back on the dais as soon as he is able."

Councilmember Mike Martinez posted the following on his Facebook accounts.

I am very sorry to hear about our Council mate Bill Spelman and his diagnosis of a pancreatic tumor. I wish him the speediest and best recovery ever and my thoughts and prayers are with him and his family. Please keep Bill and his family in your thoughts.

We will post any other statements as we receive them below the fold. All of us here at BOR wish Councilmember Spelman a speedy and successful recovery.

Update: Here is the official release from Bill Spelman's office.

Austin City Council Member and LBJ School professor Bill Spelman will be off the dais and out of the office for at least the next two weeks, dealing with a pancreatic tumor.

The tumor was discovered last week and will be removed at St. David's Medical Center on Friday.

"Just removing the tumor may not be enough to solve the problem," said Spelman.  "We won't know what kind of follow-up attention I'll need until after surgery.  But the doctors have assured me I can be in the classroom on the first day of the Fall semester, and I expect to get back on the council dais even sooner than that."

Spelman's family is grateful for the support of friends and colleagues, and asks that well-wishers send thoughts and notes to Spelman's city council office.

Discuss :: (0 Comments)

Vote for Both? Austin City Council Moves Toward Two Districting Plans on Ballot

by: Michael Hurta

Fri Jun 29, 2012 at 04:03 PM CDT

How Austin City Council Members Voted
on Competing SMD Proposals
Council Member 10-1 Plan 8-2-1 Plan
Lee Leffingwell No Yes
Sheryl Cole Yes No
Chris Riley Yes Yes
Mike Martinez Yes No
Kathie Tovo Yes Yes
Laura Morrison Yes Yes
Bill Spelman No No
Vote Total 5-2 4-3

At last night's city council meeting, the Austin City Council took a major step towards putting both the 10-1 and 8-2-1 city council districting plans on the November ballot. On a 5-2 vote, the Council approved putting the 10-1 proposal from Council Members Martinez and Cole onto the ballot. There was a 4-3 vote to put the 8-2-1 plan from Mayor Leffingwell on the ballot, as well. A second vote must be taken on this latter proposal when the council meets again in August, because a threshold of five votes was not reached. Check out our chart showing how they voted at the right.

Leffingwell's votes seemed to indicate that he's firmly on the 8-2-1 side while Martinez's and Cole's votes place them firmly on the 10-1 side. Everyone else appeared less fervently for one or the other. Spelman, however, voted against each item rather than for them.

(Read below the fold to see why!)

There's More... :: (7 Comments, 295 words in story)

Debate Over Austin City Council Election Plans Heats Up at City Hall

by: Michael Hurta

Thu Jun 28, 2012 at 07:35 PM CDT

It's pretty crowded here at Austin City Hall, and that's because a few items on tonight's agenda may greatly affect the city's power structure for many years to come. Action may be taken to ask the voters of Austin for a seventh time if they want to elect city council members with some district representation instead of soley at-large districts, as is currently the case. (There are six at-large city council members plus the mayor, who serves as a glorified member right now.)

At this point, every council member and almost all the politicos claim that they favor change. Two factions have formed, however, in what has turned into an intense battle for what kind of change we want. The current iteration of this decades-long battle began when City Council formed a Charter Review Commission, whose inability to come to a clear consensus on a single proposal has invited the competing proposals up for a vote tonight.

Follow the debate as it occurs below, and continue reading below the fold to see who the key players are along with the basic outlines of arguments being made for the competing proposals.

There's More... :: (1 Comments, 573 words in story)

2012 Austin City Council Elections Results, Plus Other Elections

by: Katherine Haenschen

Sat May 12, 2012 at 06:30 PM CDT

It's the May general election date, which means a host of municipal, ISD, bond, MUD, and other local non-partisan elections are on the ballot across the state tonight.

Here in Austin we've got four City Council races on the ballot: Mayor, Place 2, Place 5, and Place 6. Only the municipals are on the ballot since the AISD and ACC boards voted to move their elections to November to save costs and enjoy higher turnout. The Austin City Council voted against such a move. (Leffingwell and Martinez voted to move the elections; Spelman and Cole voted to keep it the same. We'll see how that works out tonight.)

Polls are open until 7:00 p.m. tonight in Austin. Just after 7:00 p.m. the Early Voting and mail ballot numbers will be released and we'll update the chart below. We'll then begin updating as the E-Day results come in throughout the night, noting our time of update so you can keep track.

Don't forget, primary early voting begins Monday!

Morning-After Analysis:

* Huge thanks to Karl-Thomas Musselman who updated the GoogleDoc above throughout the night. This was totally a team effort in terms of data analysis. We look forward to doing this again for the primary! (KH)

* All incumbents win. The similar percentages for Lee, Mike, and Bill suggest that while there's still frustration and some anti-incumbent angst in the electorate, it wasn't strong or deep enough this year to knock any of them out. (KH)

* In out-of-Austin news, Galveston Mayor Joe Jaworski is in a run-off against a retired businessman. (KH)

Update 9:34 p.m.

* We've decided to call Place 5 and Place 2 for the incumbent. Spelman is only increasing his margin and Dr. Flouride Laura Pressley is not doing much better either. (KH)

* As we wait for the 4th and potentially final update, several big boxes are still out, including Tarrytown, Cherrywoods / Wilshire Woods, Barton Hills, Hyde Park. and Travis Heights. Tarrytown should go big for Lee. Most of the others went for Lee narrowly in the Early Vote. It's hard to see how Shea guts it out given that boxes that went HUGE for Kathie Tovo last year over Randi Shade aren't going big for Shea tonight, if at all. (KH)

Update 9:05 p.m.

* With this latest update, Leffingwell pulls back into the lead in the E-Day vote! This update includes some of the Northwest Hills boxes that factor heavily in Austin Council elections. (KH)

* Meanwhile, Martinez, Spelman and Cole are only increasing their margins. Bad news for people who want to take flouride out of the water or vote all minorities off the City Council! (KH)


Update 8:44 p.m.

* The first E-Day boxes to come in slightly favor Shea, but they're predominantly African-American precincts, where she was expected to do better. This also includes the UT Campus box with a whopping .29% turnout. Yes, that's point-two-nine percent. 14 students voted today. Precinct 277, aka West Campus, had a total turnout of 1%. Expect it to get lower in the primary since they'll all be home. (KT)

* It's neck and neck to be Council Member in Lakeway! Related: no one cares. (KH)

* Precinct 275, southern Hyde Park, only narrowly went for Shea on E-Day. That was a box that went huge for Tovo, so it's hard to see how Shea's E-Day margins can overcome Lee's Early Vote lead. (KH)


7:51 p.m. Update:

* It would appear that in the Early Vote, a core of about 10K voters voted for all of the incumbents and are keeping them afloat. It is likely the same 10K voters (with some variation) that is voting for all four. Sheryl Cole has the highest percentage, as she did 3 years ago. (KT)

* In Williamson County, Laura Pressley is leading Mike Martinez 58%-42% in Early Voting. Only 400 votes cast, however. Also, another reason not to move to Williamson County. Heck, that's a reason to boycott the IKEA. (KH)


On the Ballot Elsewhere:

    Dallas County: Elections in Addison, Balch Springs, Carrollton, Mesquite and other municipalities; various ISD trustee elections; etc.
    Hays County: Kyle, Wimberley, Dripping Springs municipal elections; various ISD's.
    Fredericksburg: Mayor Tom Musselman is up for re-election.
    Travis County: Lakeway council members and propositions, Manor council elections, Rollingwood council and bond elections, Webberville mayoral and commissioner elections, etc.
    Houston Area: Spring Branch and Katy board members; Spring Branch and Katy ISD elections; Brazosport ISD bond (that's southern Brazoria Co. if you're curious); Sugar Land City Council; Fort Bend ISD; etc.
    Galveston Co.: Mayor Joe Jaworski up for re-election.

Meanwhile, the Justice Department is monitoring elections in Irving today, where they are electing council members and school board trustees. DOJ is there to ensure compliance with the Voting Rights Act.

Any predictions? Any other elections you're watching? Tell us in the comments!

Discuss :: (2 Comments)

Austin Environmental Democrats Endorse Mayor Lee Leffingwell, And All Other Council Incumbents

by: Adam Schwitters

Fri May 11, 2012 at 01:00 PM CDT

In the run up to tomorrow’s Austin city council elections, the Austin Environmental Democrats (AED) announced their endorsements for Mayor Leffingwell and all of the other incumbents this week.

AED is a local chapter of the Texas Environmental Democrats (TED) which was almost pushed out of the State Democratic Executive Committee (SDEC) recently.  SDEC members thought that TED did not represent a population demographic (the way Non-Urban/Ag Caucus or the Texas Young Democrats do).  Thankfully, the vote to expel TED was unsuccessful, and there will continue to be a voice for environmental, as well as social, justice within the SDEC.  AED is holding its endorsement forum for primary candidates on Monday.  If you want to vote, the deadline for paying membership dues is today.  You can pay dues here.

In Austin’s council election, AED is backing Leffingwell, Mike Martinez, Bill Spelman, and Sheryl Cole, because, as Ted Siff, President of AED, said, they “believe that Austin has an enviable environmental record,” and “re-electing the current Mayor and Council incumbents is the best way to continue Austin’s environmental leadership.”

The endorsement sites several examples of Austin’s environmental leadership:

To be clear, there are a couple lingering issues with clean power in Austin.  For one, the council’s pledge to shutter the Fayette plant is just a pledge, and has not come to a vote, nor has a timetable for closing Fayette been formulated.  Also, Austin Energy’s voluntary green power program, GreenChoice, has some of the highest rates for energy of any utility program in the state.  If Austin is to maintain its environmental leadership, while also maintaining a diverse population, these rates are unsustainable.

Siff and AED, however, believe that the city under the current council has a “strong environmental record to merit the Clean Energy title today, and it will also forever be an aspirational brand that should motivate us to continue to year after year to further green our city.”

Discuss :: (1 Comments)

Tina Cannon Doubles Down Against Austin's Landmark CPC Ordinance

by: Katherine Haenschen

Wed May 02, 2012 at 04:30 PM CDT

Bad news for Tina Cannon: Texans for Lawsuit Refom doesn't tend to play in Austin City Council elections.  

Tina Cannon, a challenger in Place 5, continues to say troubling things about her opposition to Austin's landmark Crisis Pregnancy Center ordinance. The ordinance, which passed unanimously, requires CPC's to disclose if there are no licensed medical professionals on site. As we previously reported, Cannon attacked Spelman for his work to pass the ordinance at the RECA luncheon, under a guise of opposing lawsuits that "cost taxpayer money."

In response to our post, Cannon reiterated her opposition to the CPC ordinance on her website:

I think the CPC ordinance is a mistake for two reasons. The constitutionality issue I've already discussed above. In addition, I find it "curious" that the Professor feels that women are ignorant on the subject of choice. He actually believes that women don't know what to expect (and not expect) when they walk into a faith based pregnancy center vs. a Planned Parenthood. Really??? Assuming that we don't know the difference is insulting to all women, regardless of their socio-economic or ethnic background.

Eeek! Ok. Let's rebut this.

  • The new ordinance was written to stand up in court. It was crafted in light of recent court cases, specifically to address the legal issues raised by the Catholic Diocese and the CPC's. It was written to stand up in court.

  • The excellent lawyers representing the City are working pro bono, so no taxpayer dollars are being "wasted" standing up for our pro-choice values. Thank you, excellent female attorneys fighting for the rights of women of Austin!

  • Unfortunately, Cannon is wrong about CPC's. Many women don't know the difference between CPC's and true medical facilities, because the CPC's spend millions on advertising in order to appear more "medical." They deliberately draw in pregnant women only to fail to inform them of all of their choices, and intimidate them into not seeking an abortion.

  • CPC's provide women with medically incorrect information to scare them into not choosing to terminate a pregnancy. On NARAL's website, they write: "Despite a wealth of reputable research that prove otherwise, CPCs continue to claim that abortion causes an increased risk for breast cancer, affects future fertility, and causes long-term psychological effects. The majority of CPCs are also against the use of hormonal birth control, strongly encourage abstinence until marriage, and, in some cases, provide misinformation about the safety and reliability of birth control."

  • This ordinance can provide a model for other cities and communities looking to inform women about what CPC's are up to, and prevent them from intimidating and misleading women.

Anyone who is as pro-choice as Cannon claims she is should examine the facts about CPC's and the terrible tricks they pull on pregnant women before opposing this ordinance.

In the Austin American-Statesman, Cannon reiterated her opposition to the CPC ordinance and the payday lending ordinance, which regulates these unscrupulous lenders. Payday lenders charge brutally high interest rates -- some as high as 300%! -- and trap low-income Austinites further into a cycle of debt and poverty from which they often cannot escape. Cannon said,

"It assumes the woman who walks into a Catholic organization won't understand the church's positions ... and that people who use payday lenders don't understand what they're doing," Cannon said. "He's legislating from the dais instead of paying attention to his basic job."

I wish Cannon were right, and that all women knew the truth about CPC's. The fact is, many don't. Many don't even realize that places such as the "Austin Pregnancy Resource Center" and the "South Austin Pregnancy Resource Center" are actually ideological agents hell-bent on exercising an anti-woman, anti-choice agenda. As for the payday lenders, they're unscrupulous enterprises that prey on our vulnerable and needy populations, and many people indeed do not know what they're getting into when they walk in the door.  

Folks, if you support the CPC ordinance or the payday lending ordinance, please let your friends know about this before they vote.

Discuss :: (2 Comments)

Austin City Council: Endorsements and Early Voting Locations!

by: Katherine Haenschen

Mon Apr 30, 2012 at 09:30 AM CDT

Polls are now open for the 2012 Austin City Council elections! Early voting runs from April 30 to May 8.

Wrapping up endorsement season, Austin's print publications weighted in, endorsing as follows:

Austin Chronicle:
Mayor: Lee Leffingwell and Brigid Shea
Place 2: Mike Martinez
Place 5: Bill Spelman
Place 6: Sheryl Cole
Read them here.
Austin American-Statesman
Mayor: Lee Leffingwell
Place 2: Mike Martinez
Place 5: Bill Spelman
Place 6: Sheryl Cole
Read them here and here.
The Daily Texan
Mayor: Lee Leffingwell
Place 2: Mike Martinez
Place 5: Bill Spelman
Place 6: Sheryl Cole
Read them here.

Before you vote, catch up on Burnt Orange Report's coverage of the 2012 Austin City Council elections:

  • For a recap of the labor, public safety, and Democratic club endorsements, my colleague Karl-Thomas Musselman has done the work of compiling them here, here, here, and here.

  • Catch up on the controversy surrounding Brigid Shea's bid on a 2002 Water Treatment Plant 4 contract, and information that she may have been acting as a lobbyist without registering as one. Read those stories here and here.

  • Want to see the BOR PAC / CAAAD poll on the Mayor's race? Find that here. How about our BOR reader poll? Find out who won that here.

  • Want to read the candidates' answers to the 2012 Democratic multi-club questionnaire? (Seriously worth a read before you vote, if you haven't already made up your mind, and even if you have, for the sheer entertainment value.) Find those here.

Want to vote? Great! Early Voting locations are listed below the jump.

There's More... :: (3 Comments, 48 words in story)

Austin City Council Place 5: No Endorsement

by: Burnt Orange Report

Mon Apr 23, 2012 at 02:30 PM CDT

Burnt Orange Report does not issue an endorsement in Place 5. While incumbent Bill Spelman is undeniably the most qualified of the seven candidates, his opposition to moving our municipal elections from May to November is a deal-breaker in terms of our encouraging Austin voters to support him.

On the whole Spelman has been good on urbanism, women's issues, social justice issues, and environmental issues, and has not been an impediment to the progress of our city. However, on the basic, fundamental questions of "Did you lower barriers to participation or keep them in place? Did you exercise leadership to fundamentally address the structural problems with Austin's low-turnout, special-interest-dominated electorate, or keep it the same?" the answer is unfortunately no.

None of Spelman's challengers are worthy of our endorsement, either. Dominic Chavez campaigned against the 2010 transportation bond, and has been active in Republican and conservative politics. Tina Cannon has been an enthusiastic campaigner and has legitimate Democratic bonafides, but her attack on Spelman for the crisis pregnancy center and payday lending ordinances did not sit well with our staff. Anarchist and Occupier John Duffy seems largely opposed to the concept of elected government (and as a result is arguably the best "protest vote" on the ballot this year). The other three candidates are remarkable only in that they all decided to waste $500 on the filing fee to put their name on the ballot.

Endorsements are made based on a weighted consensus of the staff, which guides the type and tone of endorsement. Members of the Burnt Orange Report staff employed by campaigns abstain from voting on those races.
Discuss :: (2 Comments)

Austin City Council Elections: Wasting Taxpayer Money or Standing Up for Our Values?

by: Katherine Haenschen

Sun Apr 22, 2012 at 06:30 PM CDT

One of the more interesting exchanges I've heard on the campaign trail occurred at the RECA forum, during which candidates each ask one opponent a question. It's usually a potential "Gotcha!" question, with the hopes of tricking an opponent into saying something game-changing. For instance, this year Mayor Leffingwell asked Brigid Shea about her city contracts, which in turn resulted in this fine piece of "journalism" and became a major story in local print and TV news.  

However, to my mind, the most interesting question was the one posed by Tina Cannon to Bill Spelman.

Cannon asked if the incumbent was being a good steward of the City's money since he'd embroiled our municipality in three unnecessary, avoidable, and expensive lawsuits during his term. In her question, she cited the Open Meetings Act email-gate, the Crisis Pregnancy Center ordinance, and the Payday Lending ordinance.

Now, first off, the Open Meetings issue is vastly different from the two ordinances, which are being challenged over their progressive political results. In reference to those ordinances, Spelman responded that they are in keeping with our community values -- this is liberal / progressive Austin, so yes, that's true -- and that "the right thing to do is always the right thing to do."

The payday lending ordinance relies on various land use requirements to prevent the unscrupulous lenders from setting up shop in most of East Austin and around the UT area. It goes further than the laws passed by the Legislature, to further reign in the predatory lending practices most establishments use. These businesses prey on the poor and desperate, charging steep interest rates and trapping low-income Austinites further in an endless cycle of debt. The CPC ordinance requires signage notifying women that there are no licensed medical professionals on premises, and hopefully make women recognize that the centers are not really healthcare operations so much as agents of ideological intimidation. Should Austin's ordinance stand up in Federal Court -- it was deliberately crafted to do so -- we will provide a model for other progressive cities to do the same. Plus, the attorneys defending the City in the CPC lawsuit are doing so pro bono, and should the City prevail in the payday lending ordinance, I believe "Loser Pays" would force the trade association that represents these establishments to pay us.

It was curious to see Cannon, the lone female in the race, essentially attacking Spelman for the CPC ordinance, which enjoys broad support from Austin's pro-choice community. It's also something I hadn't seen discussed in much depth elsewhere. While I can see how a question about "unnecessary lawsuits" might go over well with the pro-business crowd at RECA, Spelman's strong and emphatic response ended up drawing applause. I'm inclined to think that most of the voters here in Austin would agree with him as well -- our city council has the right to pass progressive ordinances reflecting our values, and if that makes some conservative special interests unhappy, then indeed, let them sue us.  

Discuss :: (1 Comments)

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