Scott Ball / Rivard Report
Attorneys with the Texas Civil Rights Project (TCRP) are contemplating legal action against the City Clerk’s office for withholding the results of the signature verification process for a petition to get a paid sick leave ordinance on the ballot in San Antonio's next municipal election.
Beth Stevens, TCRP's lead counsel and voting rights director, said the Clerk’s office withholding petition results is one of several “kinks in the process" stemming from ambiguity in the City Charter.
The petition signatures were originally submitted on May 24.
Citing instructions set out in the Charter, City Attorney Andy Segovia told the Rivard Report in a statement Thursday that petitioners will learn the results of the signature count at the next regularly scheduled City Council meeting on Aug. 2, when the information is presented for certification.
“The fact that we have already had the City Clerk not abide by the original 20-day calendar deadline, then they themselves [gave] a business-day deadline of last Friday, and now we are sitting in the week they are expected to finish, and they are unwilling to tell the public of the result until more than a month from now – that is concerning to us,” Stevens said.
TCRP maintains that the Charter language in no way states that petitioners cannot know signature verification results in advance of City Council certification.
“We feel strongly that we have over the number of signatures needed to qualify,” Stevens said. “But it is concerning that they would not be upfront with those facts.”
Communication between TCRP attorneys and the City Clerk’s office has been sparse, according to Stevens. She told the Rivard Report that her most recent email correspondence with City officials left her unable to “tell for sure if they were going to give any update” on the signature count.
“That’s obviously not tenable for our clients, and we will have to consider our options to get that information,” she said.
The Fourth Court of Appeals denied a June 16 request from the TCRP to order the City Clerk’s Office to count and verify the signatures by June 18. In its filing, attorneys for the TCRP had argued the verification process should be completed in 20 calendar days under the language in the City Charter, and that delaying the results put its ability to get the item on the November ballot in jeopardy.
City officials maintained the Clerk's office had until June 22 – 20 business days following the receipt of the 144,000 petition signatures submitted by Working Texans for Paid Sick Time – to complete the verification process.
Not disclosing the results of the signature verification until Aug. 2 puts the petition at risk of not appearing on the November ballot, Stevens said, because City Council has up to 60 days to place the item on the slate, which would put the initiative well beyond Aug. 20, the last day to place items on the next ballot.
In an email June 22, Segovia said that the Clerk’s office “[anticipated] completion [of the signature count] by next week,” but “will not provide any comment or report on the verification process until after the review is completed and certified to City Council.”
If petitioners have enough signatures to qualify to put a paid sick leave ordinance on the ballot, it would make little difference to know the results in advance, but if the petition did not qualify, TCRP attorneys could consider that information to determine the next steps, Stevens said.
“If they are not going to tell us anything until Aug. 2, we have to consider both legal action and any sort of citizen action that folks in San Antonio might try to take,” Stevens said.