Anne Raymond

Convention Center Hotel Referendum, Not Your Same Ol' Petition Drive

As we mentioned yesterday, Crow Holdings and its political action committee, Citizens Against a Taxpayer Owned Hotel, are announcing this morning plans to call for a referendum that would prevent the city from becoming hoteliers. Anne Raymond, who handles Crow Holdings’ hotel investments, will be joined by Vance Miller, a real estate veteran and treasurer of CATOH.

The two will reveal the big news in front of media and a small faction of invited guests at The Warwick Melrose Hotel, and among the interesting details is the process they’ve selected to get the item on the May 2009 ballot. Instead of proposing to change a city ordinance, like TrinityVote did last year, CATOH is endorsing an amendment to the city charter prohibiting the city from owning, financing and constructing a hotel.

Amending the charter substantially reduces the number of required signatures. A potential referendum to change a city ordinance would require valid signatures from 10 percent of registered Dallas voters, or approximately 53,590 people. But amending the city charter only requires 20,000 signatures or five percent of registered voters (whichever is less), according to Texas Local Government Code.

City Secretary Deborah Watkins confirms that such a measure, which is what was proposed during the strong mayor election in 2005, will require 20,000 signatures, and, like the Trinity River toll road referendum, signatures can be gathered for a 60-day period, with Watkins getting another 30 days to verify the signatures. Charter amendments can only occur every two years, according to Article 11, Section 5 of the Texas Constitution.

Crow Holdings has not solicited a politician to be the face of the petition drive, instead pinning its hopes on the power of its argument against the city owning a hotel. Council members Angela Hunt and Mitchell Rasansky have voiced support of allowing taxpayers to vote on the hotel project; however, both will cheer on CATOH from the sidelines rather than take on an active role in the campaign.

Much like the Trinity River toll road referendum, the ballot language will likely be the first to be scrutinized. Crow Holdings has taken careful steps in the wording, including caveats to assure that such an amendment to the charter wouldn’t prevent the city from doing things that it is already doing, such as owning the Grand Hyatt DFW.

Mayor Leppert refused to talk about the project for our April cover story, claiming he wanted to wait “until things have firmed up and we know which direction the city is heading.” However, I recently spoke with his chief of staff, Chris Heinbaugh, who said the mayor might be ready to talk now that the project is almost finalized. Let’s hope today’s events don’t change his mind. --Sam Merten

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