Texas Attorney General sues for removal of 8 Austin Planning Commission members

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Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is calling for the immediate removal of eight members of the Austin Planning Commission who he said violated the city’s charter by being connected to land use or real estate.

City charter holds that no more than one-third of the 15-seat, council-appointed Planning Commission can be “directly or indirectly” connected to land use or real estate.

The suit, filed Monday against eight planning commissioners, demands their removal for “unlawfully” holding office. They include James Shieh (appointed by Mayor Steve Adler); Karen McGraw (Council Member Kathie Tovo), Trinity White (Council Member Ora Houston), Fayez Kazi (Council Member Delia Garza), James Schissler (Council Member Ellen Troxclair), Patricia Seeger (Council Member Alison Alter), Greg Anderson (Council Member Jimmy Flannigan) and Tom Knuckols (Council Member Ann Kitchen).

The suit follows multiple complaints sent to city leaders and the county attorney, district attorney and attorney general by a local group of lawyers—Bill Aleshire, Fred Lewis, Mike Herbert and Bill Bunch—alleging the unlawful makeup of the Planning Commission.

A letter sent by Aleshire and Lewis states Mayor Adler and City Council have known about the commission’s make-up since November 2015.

The warnings were largely ignored until a May 10 meeting when a narrow majority of City Council members said there was no way to remove the current commissioners and directed the city manager to draft a procedure for the future.

Mayor Steve Adler did not immediately respond to calls for comment.

Council Member Leslie Pool, who has been publicly advocating for changes to Planning Commission membership, said City Council should have acted and acted much sooner.

“That has been my hope for quite a while,” Pool said.

Aleshire said Paxton agreed to take up the issue after City Council did not correct the charter violation at the May 10 meeting.

“It’s ironic that we have to rely on Paxton to enforce the city charter,” Aleshire said.

The Planning Commission was the lone commission legally required by City Charter to submit recommendations to City Council on CodeNEXT—the city’s ongoing and controversial rewrite of its land development code. The commission submitted the recommendations at the end of May.

Lewis said the city knew about the violation and should have fixed it before getting deep into CodeNEXT.

“This undermines all their work,” Lewis said.


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Christopher Neely
Christopher Neely is Community Impact's Austin City Hall reporter. A New Jersey native, Christopher moved to Austin in 2016 following two years of community reporting along the Jersey Shore. His bylines have appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Baltimore Sun and USA Today. He is a graduate of the University of Maryland's Philip Merrill College of Journalism.
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