Austin sued over ballot language for CodeNEXT petition question

CodNEXT was Austin's overhaul of its land-development code.

CodNEXT was Austin's overhaul of its land-development code.

Although City Council voted to kill CodeNEXT earlier this month, the 5-year, $8.5 million project to rewrite the city’s land development has reared its head in the form of another lawsuit.

This time, the lawsuit involves the upcoming November election and has been filed with the Texas Supreme Court.

At the same Aug. 9 meeting that saw the demise of CodeNEXT, City Council also approved the language for a ballot question related to comprehensive rewrites of the land use code. The question will ask voters in November whether they support requiring a waiting period and a voter approval before any land use code rewrite goes into effect.

The ballot question is in response to a petition, signed by more than 31,000 Austinites earlier this year, which called for City Council to adopt an ordinance instituting the aforementioned requirements. Known colloquially as the “CodeNEXT petition,” the effort was initially rejected by City Council, however, a judge ruled that the question should be placed in front of voters in November.

The language council adopted for the November ballot excluded the term “CodeNEXT” and added that the waiting period could be “up to three years.” Local attorney Bill Aleshire has filed a lawsuit on behalf of Allan McMurty, asserting the language should reflect the language on the petition, which included a reference to CodeNEXT and excluded the length of the waiting period.

The lawsuit challenges Austin City Council’s discretionary power over ballot language of a citizen-initiated ordinance and cites a section of the Austin City Charter that reads, “The ballot used in voting upon an initiated or referred ordinance shall state the caption of the ordinance.”

Aleshire said council’s move aimed to “discourage interest and support in the proposition.”

“First, [Austin Mayor Steve Adler and City Council] refused to respect the voters’ right to have their proposition placed on the ballot at all,” Aleshire said. “A court ordered them to follow the charter. We’ve now asked the Supreme Court to order the council to follow the charter and fix the unlawful ballot language the council adopted.”

However, the city maintains City Council’s manipulation of the language was legal.

“The ballot language conforms to the legal requirements and represents the key features of the proposed process for handling comprehensive revisions of the City’s land development code,” said Andy Tate, spokesperson for the City of Austin. “We look forward to the Supreme Court review.”

Aleshire said the decision on the suit would need to come quickly as the county has until Sept. 7 to adjust ballot language before it begins the process of sending out absentee ballots.


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