The Only Person Who Counts When It Comes to Counting Wet-Dry Petitions Is City Secretary

I see here that Andy Siegel, an attorney at Shackelford, Melton & McKinley, is claiming that Progress Dallas has come up 5,555 signatures short of getting the dry parts of Dallas soaking wet in beer and wine. To which Progress Dallas, headed by Kroger's Gary Huddleston says, "What the what?" Because, you see, City Secretary Deborah Watkins hasn't even finished counting and verifying the signatures -- she tells Unfair Park she expects to have that done by tomorrow, in time for the council to call for an election if indeed Progress Dallas has the signatures. Which it claims it has.

Indeed, when asked for comment, Sarah Dodd, the former KTVT'er handling press for the group, said via e-mail, "Progress Dallas is confident that more than enough valid signatures have been gathered to call a Local Option Election for the City of Dallas in November." Dodd didn't know about Siegel's press release till I asked her if it was, in fact, correct.

Siegel, whose bio says he's represented liquor companies and wholesale beer distributors in the past, says in his press release issued today that something called The Election Group independently verified the petitions turned in by Progress Dallas on May 20 and found they were short the necessary signatures to trigger an election. I tried calling the number provided on the press release; it's a fax. I've also left messages for Siegel.

Watkins tells Unfair Park that shortly after they were turned in last month, "a citizen requested the petitions" -- they are, after all, public record. But she was unaware of the press release till I called her moments ago, and she won't comment upon its contents: "I cannot respond to that press release at all. And I wouldn't."

Watkins says she doesn't know  when tomorrow she'll have the verification completed. Given the council's mammoth agenda, she says she'll wait and see "when I need to be ready for them. When they say, 'Have your report ready,' I will."

But she does dispel one other thing found in Steve Thompson's item: It's highly unlikely council member Steve Salazar can get the council to delay a vote on calling for the special election, which he's threatening to do. State law is not on his side: Texas Election Code Section 501.032 is pretty clear, says Watkins: A governmental entity has 30 days after a petition is filed to call an election, should the signatures prove valid.

Watkins says the council can't delay the vote -- "not unless they know something I don't."

Says Dodd's release, "Progress Dallas is excited about moving forward and allowing Dallas voters to decide this important issue."

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