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.