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Monday, July 20, 2009

Taxpayers Fight City Hall & Win in a Travis County Court

Taxpayers Fight City Hall and Win

Aa Travis County District Judge ruled against Friendswood city officials and in favor of five citizens who fought City Hall to support their city charter. The landmark decision sets a precedent.

“This is a huge victory for Texas taxpayers,” said Peggy Venable, Texas Director of Americans for Prosperity Foundation, “as this case has ramifications across the state.”

Ms. Venable added: “The Friendswood Five are heroes of the taxpayer. They challenged City Hall, endured multiple attempts to have their voices silenced, and set an example for oppressed taxpayers everywhere. Today, the 53rd District Judge agreed with the taxpayers and AFPF that citizens possess an inherent right established in the Texas Constitution for local voters to have the ability to limit their local governments above what state law. I congratulate the Friendswood Five for their hard work and bravery.”

This ruling comes as a result of a lawsuit filed by the City of Friendswood against its own residents, asking a state court to allow the city to issue debt in spite of provisions outlined in the Friendswood City Charter that bar any debt that isn’t approved by the voters. Americans for Prosperity Foundation–Texas (AFPF-TX) filed an amicus brief in this case supporting the position of the Friendswood Five. AFPF-TX stated to the court that the people of Friendswood “have declined to grant such flexibility in funding for government acquisitions and expenditures to their elected officials without their express approval in a bond election. The court must heed that exercise of sovereign power.”

On Tuesday, July 14th, more than a dozen Friendswood residents attended a hearing on the case to protest the city’s actions. Five of the residents – Janis Lowe, Deborah Winters Chaney, Mel Austin, Kathy Rogers and Leslie Rocque – hired an attorney to represent the interests of the Friendswood voters. Dubbing themselves the “Friendswood Five,” they presented the case that 1997 a voter-approved city charter is the highest authority under which a city operates, according to the Texas Constitution.

Judge Scott H. Jenkins, 53rd Judicial District Civil Court , agreed. In his final judgment he ruled in favor of the citizens.

“A true democracy has elected officials working for their constituents. Our Friendswood City Council has a different view of their authority,” said Mel Austin, former member of the city council and one of the Friendswood Five. “The issues facing us were simply our rights as taxpayers and our responsibility to police our government. Without citizen oversight, governments abuse their authority, ignoring their responsibility to serve the citizens they represent.”

Friendswood Mayor David Smith and attorneys representing the City of Friendswood argued last week that state law actually prevents people from being able to limit their local government when it comes to issuing debt. A bond attorney testified on behalf of the city of Friendswood that other cities in Texas – including Houston – have gone against their city charters to issue debt.

“’Because other cities do it’ is not a good enough argument for violating a city charter,” said Venable. “We hope that city leaders across the state take notice that they work for the taxpayers and are required to follow their city charter.”

Americans for Prosperity Foundation (AFPF) is a nationwide organization of citizen leaders committed to advancing every individual’s right to economic freedom and opportunity. AFPF believes reducing the size and scope of government is the best safeguard to ensuring individual productivity and prosperity for all Americans. AFPF educates and engages citizens in support of restraining state and federal government growth, and returning government to its constitutional limits.

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