In “Under Those Sermon Subpoenas: ‘Disappeared’ Ballot Initiatives”, I explained that subpoenas issued to a number of Houston pastors in mid-October were part of a larger story with parallels to events here in Nebraska. The targeted pastors were part of a coalition of churches, pro-family Christian organizations, and groups which undertook a petition drive to temporarily stop enforcement of and to force a public vote on changes to Houston’s ordinances which provide special protections for “sexual orientation” and “gender identity”.
This story has many parallels to events in Lincoln, particularly, because the Lincoln City Council passed a very similar set of ordinance changes in May 2012. Both cities had successful petition drives according to their respective laws, but, in both Houston and Lincoln, city officials subverted those laws by not putting the contested ordinances on voters’ ballots. In Lincoln, the subversion has continued for two and a half years, without consequence or challenge1A Lincoln Journal Star article in July 2013 confirms no vote in site. ...continue. Some Houstonians decided to challenge the corruption by their officials, immediately after it occurred.
I’ve taken the time to research this issue and write about it, for three primary reasons:
- The pastoral subpoenas are important in the recent history of efforts to intimidate Christians, but they are just one part of an even larger intimidation campaign. The contested ordinances themselves are a growing problem around the country. Leftists are moving to thuggishly compel people of faith to engage in business and everyday activities which violate their beliefs, using the force of law. This must stop.
- The ongoing subversion of the law in Lincoln, Nebraska, by city officials should be pointed out at every opportunity because it can NOT be allowed to continue. Hopefully, news of Houstonians’ actions will inspire Lincolnites to do something.
The details of how Houston’s officials have conducted themselves is unfortunately emblematic of corruption in government that is far too prevalent – so it’s instructive. For instance, I’m reminded of Lincoln officials’ handling of the Occupy group in 2011-2012.
While the facts are in dispute regarding exactly what transpired after the coalition group properly submitted their petitions by the July 3, 2014 deadline, I believe I’ve done the due diligence necessary (see footnote2In addition to a very long list of news articles, many of which were local, I’ve also read notices distributed by coalition group members and their ...continue) to summarize accurately, so as to avoid some of the minutiae:
- According to Houston’s City Charter, the City Secretary is the only official empowered to review and verify petitions.
Houston’s charter required that the Secretary’s review be completed within 30 days, so the deadline was August 3, 2014.
The Secretary and her staff examined 19,177 of the submitted signatures, finding 17,826 valid, thereby including 600 more than the required 17,269 as “a margin of error” (meaning City Secretary review error).
The Secretary ceased her review because to continue would’ve been “a waste of manpower and resources when we had reached the number I understood was required by the Charter”.
The Secretary issued an official verification memo and sent it to the Mayor on August 1.
On August 4 – one day after the 30 day deadline – the Mayor held a press conference declaring the referendum a failure claiming that only 15,249 signatures were valid, with a vague reference to “irregularities and problems”. The ordinance would go into effect, there would be no revisit by the City Council, no public vote.
The City Secretary later admitted that in the 42 years she’s been in her position, no Mayor or City Attorney has ever gotten involved in her review and verification of petitions.
Any common sense person would be suspicious. Was this really the obvious subversion by an elected official it seemed? Some (very naive) people might say, no one would be that blatant or stupid…right? But, skeptics won’t be surprised to learn that my research of this subject confirmed that multiple officials IN TEXAS, in the past two years, have been both that blatant and that stupid3A reading of court documents filed by the coalition group reveals citations to multiple cases of local officials in Texas using various means to ...continue.
As a very important reminder for so many Nebraskans who seem perpetually naive about their own politicians: the Lincoln Mayor and Council have been that blatant FOR TWO YEARS PLUS. Notice I did not say they’ve been stupid.
Houston Mayor Annise Parker, whatever else she might be, is not stupid. While she certainly did subvert the lawful referendum process, with the help of the City Attorney, she’s been a bit more clever than some of her Texas colleagues. Up to a point. There’s been just enough cleverness in her maneuvering to provide the thinnest veneer of legitimacy – which can be just enough for incumbent officials with some powerful supporters and kid-glove press coverage4My reference to “kid-glove press coverage” is based on my reading of many local news articles, especially the Houston Chronicle, in researching ...continue.
What seems clear now is that the Mayor, with the City Attorney’s help, decided to ensure that the clock would run out on the deadline for the City Secretary’s review process so that the referendum could be declared a failure – BUT, the 30 day signature review period was used by the City Attorney to surreptitiously gather enough information to both cite vague grounds for the petition drive’s failure and provide the lead time to craft legal arguments to defend that action, later, should it be necessary.
Revelations over the weekend of October 185The revelations can be found by reading the deposition of City Secretary Anna Russell, taken by the coalition’s attorneys, including, importantly, ...continue prove how the strategy was carried out: Although the Secretary was aware some City Attorney staff members were examining petitions, she was apparently oblivious to the fact that the City Attorney was actually conducting his own independent and parallel review of the petition forms and signatures, using separate criteria about which he didn’t notify her until August 4 and even at that point, still, only in a vague way.
The City Attorney has been and is still attempting to take several different positions to justify the Mayor’s declaration and his own actions, which can’t ultimately be reconciled. He claims that…
- …There are deficiencies both in the Secretary’s examination and among the petitions and it’s signatures, thereby providing the basis for the Mayor’s declaration that the petition drive failed,
…He communicated with the Secretary during her review and provided advice, and
…His intervention into this petition drive is not unusual because it’s his job to advise the City Secretary (and other city employees) regarding legal matters.
These justifications are irreconcilable, because, although the City Attorney was aware of the deficiencies he claims exist while the review was taking place he didn’t advise the Secretary about them until after the deadline was up. He gave her no opportunity to correct her review, which undercuts his stated reasons for being involved at all.
As could’ve been predicted, the City Attorney, with subsequent assistance of a hired outside law firm, has since fleshed out a more explicit list of problems with the petitions and signatures, and, for “good measure”, an allegation of likely fraud by signature gatherers.
Even before the full extent of the City’s allegations were made public in court documents6The full list of allegations by the City were detailed in their required response to the coalition’s petition for writ of mandamus, which was filed ...continue, the City’s attorneys hit the pastors with the subpoenas.
In the next installment in this sordid tale, I’ll explain how such subpoenas could be issued, the numerous problems with them, legally, and what happened after the story exploded on to the national news scene.
Additional articles will be added as they are published.
Corrupt Legislation painting by Elihu Vedder, photograph taken by Carol M. Highsmith
Down the Aisle by Barry Haynes
Notes & References [ + ]
|1.||↑||A Lincoln Journal Star article in July 2013 confirms no vote in site. http://journalstar.com/news/local/govt-and-politics/no-vote-in-sight-for-lincoln-s-fairness-ordinance/article_ed49ee63-2964-58a6-8ff6-301e3cd48101.html See note about our policy on LJS links|
|2.||↑||In addition to a very long list of news articles, many of which were local, I’ve also read notices distributed by coalition group members and their attorneys, reports by the Pastors’ attorneys, City of Houston municipal code sections and press releases, numerous court documents, the City Secretary’s deposition, and the contested ordinance passed by the Houston City Council. The majority of these sources are linked somewhere within the article series.|
|3.||↑||A reading of court documents filed by the coalition group reveals citations to multiple cases of local officials in Texas using various means to willfully ignore referendum petition drives, several of which are dated in the past two years.|
|4.||↑||My reference to “kid-glove press coverage” is based on my reading of many local news articles, especially the Houston Chronicle, in researching both the history of the Mayor, the contested ordinance and the controversies and litigation which followed. Through all of this reading, I discovered a pattern by the Chronicle of omitting factual information about the ordinance and legal action that were “unhelpful” to the Mayor.|
|5.||↑||The revelations can be found by reading the deposition of City Secretary Anna Russell, taken by the coalition’s attorneys, including, importantly, the questions asked by the City of Houston’s attorney. A copy of that deposition was apparently leaked by the coalition’s attorneys to a popular independent Katy, Texas news website. Katy, population ~14,700, is immediately west of Houston.|
|6.||↑||The full list of allegations by the City were detailed in their required response to the coalition’s petition for writ of mandamus, which was filed with the Texas Supreme Court, October 20, 2014.|