The city of Austin just may have to end up fighting Ken Paxton in court over the Planning Commission.
Natasha Harper-Madison said today that she plans to appoint Patrick Howard, executive director of Travis County Housing Authority, to the commission.
Somebody who works professionally in housing policy is exactly the kind of person we want on the Planning Commission. But our city charter says that two-thirds of the Planning Commission members must be “lay members who are not connected with real estate and land development.” And our indicted attorney general, who is currently suing the city over the Planning Commission membership, is of the opinion that the following do not qualify as lay members: a retired real estate agent, a guy who works for Habitat for Humanity, or a land use attorney for Travis County.
So my guess is that Paxton will not be any more generous in his interpretation of Howard’s work.
Harper-Madison’s pick makes it much harder for Council to get down below the 1/3 limit and avoid a legal battle with Paxton. I previously suggested that they could below the limit if they got the AG (or a court) to agree that Patricia Seeger, the retired realtor, does not count as an industry insider and if Paige Ellis replaces Jim Schissler (who was appointed by her predecessor, Ellen Troxclair) with somebody with no real estate links.
However, an aide to Ellis tells me that Ellis has not decided yet whether she will stick with Schissler, who supported Ellis’ campaign.
Harper-Madison was pretty adamant about nominating Howard, who she noted would be the only black member of the commission.
There are probably other members of Council who would be happy to fight Paxton in court on the matter. It’s an opportunity not just to stick it to Paxton, but to Fred Lewis & Bill Aleshire, the anti-development gadflies who took the case to Paxton. After the whupping that those two and the rest of the neighborhood establishment took in the November election (Prop J, Prop K, Laura Morrison, Susana Almanza), there are likely a few Council members who are not interested in negotiating with them.
Even Adler, whose instinct is to compromise, may relish the opportunity to take on the two groups that have tried to screw him over: state Republicans & local neighborhood preservationists.
I’m not a legal expert, but my guess is that there are a range of ways to interpret the charter provision. Indeed, urbanists have eagerly pointed out that any homeowner is “connected with real estate and land development.” There may even be some judges who rule that the provision is too vague to enforce.
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