San Marcos Mercury | Local News from San Marcos and Hays County, Texas

September 15th, 2010
Updated: Ethics Commission did not comment on anti-ACC lawsuit’s merit, official says

UPDATED 5:33 a.m. SEPT. 15: A Texas Ethics Commission official says one of its attorneys did not “assess the validity of any claims” when speaking with a reporter about a San Marcos group’s allegations that Mayor Susan Narvaiz and council member Kim Porterfield misused city resources in support of a ballot measure to join the Austin Community College taxing district.

As Narvaiz and Porterfield were making the case last week that Citizens for Responsible Education’s lawsuit was a substance-less publicity stunt, a story published on San Marcos Local News on Friday cited ethics commission lawyer Natalie Abelaja as saying the group had a potentially compelling case.

Within hours of the story’s posting, Tim Sorrells, the Ethics Commission’s deputy general counsel, sent an e-mail to that site’s associate editor, Andy Sevilla, that read in part: “We saw your article. I spoke with the attorney and all she did was quote the law. She did not comment on any lawsuit or assess the validity of any claims. We never comment on or speculate about pending litigation. Your article made it appear that she did and we would like for you to clarify that she did not.”

Said Sevilla, “We made an error in an indirect quotation suggesting that the Ethics Commission attorney made a stronger statement than she actually did. We have corrected it and noted the correction on the report.”

UPDATED 10:22 a.m. SEPT. 7: San Marcos attorney Charles Soechting, recently retained by Narvaiz and Porterfield, responded to the lawsuit Monday evening with characteristic restraint:

“It’s nothing more than a lame attempt to sway an election. There is no legal merit to any of it, period,” said Soechting, who said he would be joined as co-counsel by prominent election law attorney Buck Wood. “The conduct they are complaining of happened months ago but they’re just now getting around to filing the lawsuit. It’s clear that this lawsuit was intended merely as an election ploy and that’s not what courtrooms are for.”

The largest area of allegations lodged by Citizens Advocating Responsible Education deals with use of conference and meeting space space in the San Marcos Public Library and Activity Center, and use of those city-owned facilities to collect petition signatures to put the ACC annexation measure on the ballot.

“The library and activity center are used by many groups for many reasons. That’s just not a problem,” Soechting said.

Austin Community College administrators did use a City Hall conference room to prepare for a presentation to the San Marcos City Council, Soechting said, which he said was a proper use ofthe facility. That was on March 2, when the council — on a motion from Porterfield and a second from member John Thomaides — approved a resolution supporting San Marcos CISD’s annexation into the college’s taxing district. The original story follows.

by BRAD ROLLINS

A group that opposes San Marcos CISD’s annexation into the Austin Community College District has asked a state district judge to prohibit Mayor Susan Narvaiz and council member Kim Porterfield from using city of San Marcos resources to promote the effort.

Citizens Advocating Responsible Education, represented by longtime ACC annexation foes Andrew Gary and Billy McNabb, filed a petition for an injunction on Friday in 274th District Judge Gary Steel’s court. The filing alleges that Narvaiz and Porterfield, who is a co-chair of the San Marcos ACCess advocacy group, used city facilities and personnel in support of the measure.

Narvaiz said she thinks it is telling that the suit is directed at only two council members when the San Marcos City Council unanimously passed a resolution in support of putting the ACC annexation measure on the ballot.

“It is very clearly a political move without legal substance. I’m not concerned about it because I haven’t done anything wrong,” the mayor said. “I realize this is something that a lot of people are passionate about I just think it’s in the voters’ hands and we ought to leave it to them to decide.”

Porterfield could not be reached today for comment.

In their filing, Citizens Advocating Responsible Education say Narvaiz and Porterfield used their city e-mail accounts to communicate with ACC officials and used meeting space in the San Marcos Public Library and City Hall for planning sessions and presentations. The suit also faults them for use of the San Marcos city manager, city attorney and other employees to draft the resolution.

Along with a full ballot of federal, state, county and city offices, voters will decide Nov. 2 whether to join the community college’s taxing district. Voters in Hays CISD, Bastrop ISD, Elgin ISD and McDade ISD are also considering annexation measures.

If it passes, property owners who live in affected school districts will pay the college district’s tax of 9.46 cents per $100 i property value. Residents could then attend ACC for the in-district tuition rate of $42 per hour instead of the out-of-district rate of $150 per hour. ACC has bought land in San Marcos and Kyle for future campuses if those communities approve annexation.

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» Petition for Injunctive Relief against Narvaiz, Porterfield [pdf]

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9 thoughts on “Updated: Ethics Commission did not comment on anti-ACC lawsuit’s merit, official says

  1. It is interesting that this story portrays Buck Wood as a “prominent elections” attorney, but fails to mention that his firm collects property taxes.

    I hope the voters keep their “eye on the ball” this election cycle.

  2. Re. Mr. Young, and the point is that Mr. Wood is an election lawyer with few equals. What does collecting property taxes have to do with this story. Do you think that his firm will be collecting ACC taxes? Maybe they already do. Do you know something that you want to share?

  3. “It’s nothing more than a lame attempt to sway an election.”

    Soechting should know—having filed SLAP suits and engaged in other dirty political tricks himself.

    Just another case of the pot calling the kettle black.

  4. “I think if you’re going to be a Democrat you ought to act like a Democrat, you ought to vote like a Democrat, you ought to be a Democrat. That’s not asking too much of a Democrat.” Charles Soechting

  5. Do I detect a note of sour grapes in Mr. O’Dell’s comment? In how many lawsuits has Chucky prevailed? And how many lawsuits has Soechting won by comparison?

    But really, does this even matter?

    The real question is: Why hasn’t Mr. O’Dell conducted his infamous research on this so-called “unincorporated non-profit” that filed this lawsuit? Is this failure to do so because he is, in reality, a pawn to special-interest groups? Or is he just against the formation of an ACC district in San Marcos, a town in which he doesn’t even live?

  6. That part of town has always had their hand in local politics. They are pushing their candidates for mayor and council so they can control the city they do not live in. I bet everyone up there has a water softener.

  7. I notice it took about a day for ACC to start buying advertising on the mercury after you started printing critical articles. can’t say im surprised at all.

  8. I find it interesting that the dissenters to bringing ACC to the San Marcos community are using a backdoor tactic to exert pressure. As a supporter of the ACC investment, I am sorry to say that the drama the “lawsuit” generated caused me to shy away from standing up for my beliefs. Wrong on my part…

    This community will benefit from the educational opportunity that ACC will provide to our citizens. Education creates growth and educational institutions create jobs. Students need to eat, buy supplies, fill their gas tanks, etc. The campus will need to be maintained by faculty, administration, clerical, landscape, and custodial personnel. Where will ACC find these workers? Right here, in our community.

    Yes, our taxes will increase. Sometimes you need to invest to create growth. Our citizens will absolutely benefit from an affordable education in our community!

    Join me in being heard. Our positive voices are critical at this time.

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