By Bill Oakey – November 9, 2017
A resolution at today’s City Council meeting seeks to identify sites, including City parkland, that could be used for a major league soccer stadium. We should hope they are aware that the City Charter requires a public vote before City parkland could be put to such a commercial use.
This topic came up a few years ago when two commercial golf courses were being seriously considered for Walter E. Long Metropolitan Park. A contract was prepared and the City still has a webpage describing that contract. But entering into that contract would have been a clear violation of the Charter, without a public vote. And there is a new golf course proposal in the latest Colony Park master planned community project.
Here is the section of the City Charter that applies:
Article II, Section 7
All powers and authority which are expressly or impliedly conferred on or possessed by the city shall be vested in and exercised by the council; provided, however, that the council shall have no power to, and shall not:
(A) Sell, convey, lease, mortgage, or otherwise alienate any land which is now, or shall hereafter be, dedicated for park purposes, unless:
(1) the qualified voters of the city shall authorize such act by adopting in a general or special election a proposition submitting the question and setting forth the terms and conditions under which such sale, conveyance, lease, mortgage, or other alienation is to be made
The 2015 golf course contract was described as a “license agreement.” Using that language is a lawyer-ly trick to try to get around the Charter. If the term “license agreement” was used to circumvent the prohibition against leases, surely it falls within “otherwise alienate” and would be clearly prohibited under both the letter and the intent of the Charter.
In November 2000, the City did hold a required election to decide whether to put a hotel and golf course at Walter E. Long Park. See the two articles below:
1. Austin Chronicle – March 24, 2000: https://www.austinchronicle.com/news/2000-03-24/76535/
2. 2000 Election Results, Austin Chronicle – November 10, 2000: https://www.austinchronicle.com/news/2000-11-10/79348/
The Charter Provision Dates Back to December 9, 1952
At 10:00 AM on that date, Mayor Bill Drake and the City Council held a meeting and voted to put Proposition 6 on the ballot. The parkland provision was included as Article II, Section 4. (a). In the election on January 31, 1953, it passed by a 61% margin (Click to enlarge picture).
The history archives show that there was plenty of lively debate throughout the city surrounding this round of charter amendments. It was a complete overhaul. Emma Long, Austin’s first female council member, was a major force behind the charter revisions. Today a huge precedent is at stake. A new 2018 Charter Review Commission is hard at work planning for an election next year. If you served on that commission, you might get stars in your eyes thinking of your contribution to the City. But what if your efforts got approved by the voters, only to be tossed aside by City officials in the future? We should respect our legacy and vigorously defend our Charter.
Quick Musical Note:
The number one song on the day of the 1953 election was “Don’t Let the Stars Get In Your Eyes” by Perry Como.