PAC sues city of Austin over ballot language for convention center referendum

The question of an expansion of the Austin Convention Center has been debated for years.

The question of an expansion of the Austin Convention Center has been debated for years.

Nelson Linder, president of the local NAACP chapter, sued the city of Austin on Aug. 12 over ballot language regarding Proposition B, which will allow voters to determine the fate of a $1.2 billion expansion of the convention center downtown and to adjust the formula that governs how the city’s hotel tax revenue is allocated.

Linder submitted an emergency filing to the Texas Supreme Court following an Austin City Council vote in the early hours of Aug. 9. The court has not yet decided whether to hear the case.

“The filing was on behalf of more than 30,000 Austin residents who successfully petitioned the Austin City Council to require a vote on the $1.2 billion expansion of the convention center and to repurpose public funds from the convention business to promote cultural and heritage tourism including live music, transportation and local business,” according to an Aug. 13 news release issued by Unconventional Austin, a political action committee that opposes the convention center expansion.

The filing is concerned with the city’s ballot language, which it describes as “false and misleading” for stating the city must pay for the cost of an election regarding the convention center expansion and for failing to inform voters that the funds in question would be redirected from the convention center to other programs.

Council members voted to call a referendum and place Proposition B—along with another proposition regarding the city’s ability to give away public land for sports and entertainment voters—on the Nov. 5 ballot. Their decision was forced by a pair of citizen petitions.

In May, the City Council voted to explore a potential expansion of the convention center.

In response, Unconventional Austin formed and hired canvassers to collect signatures in support of forcing such a referendum. The PAC submitted its petition to the city clerk on July 12, having collected more than 30,000 signatures.

A petition needs only 20,000 signatures to become validated. Once validated, City Council has the option to adopt to ordinance as written in the petition.

If a majority of council members opposes the petition’s intent, however, the city has until Aug. 19 to call an election and put the question to a public vote.

City Council’s last scheduled meeting before the deadline was Aug. 8; the meeting ran late into the following morning.