Today, the bi-partisan co-founders of nonprofit Save Austin Now, Austin residents Matt Mackowiak and Cleo Petricek, filed a lawsuit against the City of Austin alleging hundreds of signed petitions from Austin residents were inappropriately thrown out during the review of the petition to put reinstatement of the camping ban on the November 2020 ballot.
Over 148 days, Save Austin Now claims to have collected more than 24,500 signed petitions, which were turned in to the city on July 20. On August 5, just 12 days before the ballot language approval deadline for the November ballot, the City Clerk’s office said the petition effort fell short of the 20,000 required signatures by an estimated 900 signatures. Interestingly, the 25 percent sample that was analyzed by the city came up just 65 signed petitions short of 5,000.
Had it been certified by the city, placed on the ballot and passed by the voters, the ordinance would have reinstated the ban on homeless camping citywide, restored the sit/lie ordinance to downtown and extended it to the UT campus and surrounding area, and banned panhandling at night citywide from 7pm-7am.
The plaintiffs are basing their lawsuit on a large public information request received by the city, which shows several ways that the right to petition was inappropriately infringed by the City Clerk’s office.
“We are absolutely convinced that over 148 days, with more than 80 volunteers, we collected more than the required 20,000 signed petitions, in the middle of shelter-at-home during a global pandemic, and that the City of Austin, the City Clerk’s office, and the City Council colluded to prevent this ordinance from appearing on the November ballot,” said Save Austin Now co-founder Matt Mackowiak. “We are fighting for the rights of every Austinite that signed our petition. All we want is for this to appear on the ballot at the next opportunity, which would be May 2021. We believe as many as five justifications used to throw out signatures were inappropriate. The threshold for infringing on the right to petition your government should be very high. We will relentlessly fight this battle in the courts, and we believe we will prevail.”
“Our nearly 25,000 petition signers simply want their voices to be heard,” Save Austin Now co-founder Cleo Petricek. “As a lifelong Democrat who has sheltered homeless individuals in my home, this issue is personal to me. Every Austinite should demand a safe city. We know that Austin is less safe today than it was a year ago. We submitted more than enough signatures and we believe the courts will come to the same conclusion. The city of Austin is arrogant. They do not want to hear from residents. We demand the right to be heard and look forward to making our case.”