City Hall

The Hangover After Last Night's Call For a Wet-Dry Local Option Election in November

Hard to say when Andy Siegel's going to file his lawsuit against the city of Dallas in which he will claim that the city council called an illegal local option election concerning the sale of beer and wine citywide. He told me last night it should be today; I've also heard tomorrow, depending upon when he gets some docs from City Hall. But, either way, Siegel's suing. (Update at 3:45 p.m.: Siegel just said, via e-mail, it is "likely" he will file suit tomorrow.)

Till then, some record-keeping and catching up after last night's wingding at 1500 Marilla.

On the other side is the memo City Secretary Deborah Watkins presented to council last night shortly before they approved the November 2 local option election. Frank Librio at City Hall was kind enough to provide it when I asked this afternoon.

I also spoke to Mayor Pro Tem Dwaine Caraway moments ago. He's still winded after last night's marathon monologue. But, he warns, "This gas is fixing to get turned up to high. That gas was on low yesterday." The next five months, he says, will make for "a hell of an election." He welcomes Siegel's involvement -- says he'll be his "biggest advocate" in the fight to keep Dallas wet-dry.

"And then there's John Wiley Price," says Caraway. "If we find ourselves on the same side, hell is gonna freeze over, and the temperature right now is 32 degrees. John wrote a letter asking for the count of every signature." But, no, Caraway says he has not yet spoken with the Dallas County commissioner.

But speaking about signatures, valid or otherwise, I also spoke this afternoon with Tim Reeves, who counted the ballots for Siegel. Our chat is on the other side as well.

Reeves is best known in political circles as a lobbyist and Democratic political consultant who, several years ago, sold his business to Fort Worth-based The Eppstein Group; he's based out of the Dallas office. Says here that he ran campaigns for former state Sen. David Cain and former Comptroller John Sharp. And he's been on both sides of the wet-dry local-option election machinery -- usually, on the vote-yes side. And, he tells Unfair Park, back in the late '90s he very briefly floated his name out there as a potential contender for Dallas County Democratic Party chair.

I asked him, to begin with:

What did Andy Siegel hire you to do with the petitions collected by Progress Dallas?

I was hired to do a complete validation check on the beer and wine petitions that were submitted. I don't know if you know anything about my background, but I've done a bunch of liquor elections myself, and in the course of doing my wet-dry elections, when I am doing the job we validate everything so we know we're in good shape when we turn them in. When the opposite side, or Mr. Siegel, approached me about doing the validation check, we got out there there to do that.

We obtained copies of the petitions from the city. We went through and checked all the signatures. We found that they had 108,837 signatures in total they turned in, in gross signatures, and we found 55,304 of those to be valid, and then there were another three categories. Another 5,357 that we believe are debatable one way or another in terms of their validity. There were 2,167 signatures on the petition supposedly from voters not in Dallas County, and that particular group I set aside -- I was only dealing with the Dallas County voter file. And then on top of that there were 463 that we just had down as illegible. You couldn't make anything out.

Having said that, if you take those three total -- the questionable, the out of county and the illegible -- and count every single one of those as being 100-percent valid and add that to the 55,304, they are still over 5,000 valid signatures short of the mark. [Clarification: The petitions to which Reeves refers above are ones they consider "questionable." The other 46,000-plus to which several Friends have referred in the comments are ones the opposition insists are not valid.]

OK, then. So how did Deborah Watkins wind up telling the council they were good to go?

That is the question of the day. I don't know the process that the city used. I don't know which ones they counted and why. Those are things I am interested in seeing the answers to. I would like for the city to, at some point, sooner rather than later, say, 'Here are the signatures we count as valid" to see if, in fact, they are. After our very thorough, detailed and long review, we couldn't get them.

When did Andy hire you?

I was hired right when the petitions were turned in. We were asked to do the validity review. So within, oh, three or four days of the petition being turned in [on May 20].

You normally work on the pro side, right?

This is the first time I've been hired to do this particular process, which is an independent petition validation. I've been hired in the past -- in fact, it was a Mesquite local-option election a few years ago -- where I was hired to oppose the beer and wine issue in Mesquite. There were business owners in Mesquite and surrounding towns opposed to the issue on the ballot, and I was hired to run that campaign. And it failed to pass.

Did Andy Siegel tell you for whom he was working? Who he's representing here?

That would be a question for Andy. That is not anything I've discussed with him.

Will you continue to work on the anti- side?

I talked to Andy earlier today on his plan about moving forward with a legal challenge. If he goes forward with that, and he made it clear to me he intended to do that, I expect I will have continued involvement. If this goes to court, I presume they'd want to bring me in to testify as an expert witness on what I did and my review process and say one way or another under oath why signatures are valid or not valid. Beyond that, nothing has been decided. I expect based upon what you and I both saw last night, on the council there are a lot of people who do not support this issue, and I expect they'll organize a campaign against it, but I am not involved in that at this point.

In your experience, is it common for council members to be so vocal against such a referendum?

Yes and no. In my experience, doing local-option issues, the local folks in some instances don't say a word about it because it's a citizen-driven petition, and they're the ones who put it on the ballot, and they're the ones who vote it up and down. A lot of time they'll have constituents on both sides of the issue, and they don't have to stake out a territory on it. They usually remain quiet and neutral.

In some instances, some are very vocal, and they should do it in their position as an individual and not a city representative. Going back to Mesquite not this last time, but two efforts before, where beer and wine got defeated the first time, the mayor and city council passed a resolution opposing it. I thought that was pretty remarkable. The Constitution prevents units of government from using taxpayer money for political purposes, and them taking a political position was bold and probably unconstitutional, but you know, nobody took them to court.

I assume Andy hired you because you're intimately familiar with how these elections go?

I presume he saw some value having me inside the tent as opposed to outside.Watkins Memo Beer Wine

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Robert Wilonsky
Contact: Robert Wilonsky