A group fighting a proposed $1 billion retractable-roof stadium for the Texas Rangers has filed a complaint with the Texas Ethics Commission, accusing the city and a pro-stadium political action committee of misleading potential voters in a November election on public financing of the project.
On Tuesday, the City Council approved the ballot measure for the Nov. 8 election, seeking voter approval to finance up to half of the project’s construction costs using several tax sources now paying on the city’s remaining $175 million share of the AT&T Stadium construction debt.
The filing by Kelly Canon, a member of the Citizens for a Better Arlington political action committee, alleges the city violated state election law by not specifying on the ballot the amount of bonds the city seeks — $500 million is the figure officials have stated publicly.
The filings also accuse the city and the Vote Yes! Keep the Rangers PAC of running afoul of state prohibitions against false and misleading campaign statements and materials by claiming that the stadium project would require no new taxes and that the Rangers might leave Arlington if it doesn’t get the stadium. The complaint notes that the Rangers’ lease extends through the 2023 season.
The election would determine if the city could extend and redirect part of its half-cent sales tax, 2 percent hotel-motel tax and 5 percent car-rental tax to start paying for the new stadium.
The election will determine whether the city gets voter approval to extend and redirect part of its half-cent sales tax, 2 percent hotel-motel tax and 5 percent car-rental tax to start paying for the new stadium.
Also on the ballot are two other taxes — a 10 percent tax on tickets and $3 tax on parking — which the city has offered to levy on behalf of the Rangers, allowing the ballclub to collect the taxes, which are basically user fees, and to use the funds to finance part of its construction costs.
In her ethics filings, Canon argues that extending taxes that were set to expire amounts to “new taxes.” She calls the ticket and parking fees “inarguably new” taxes.
The city says the ballot meets state requirements. Mayor Jeff Williams and PAC members have dismissed the allegations as frivolous.
In a statement, Vote Yes! said the Rangers “have energized Arlington for more than four decades” and belittled Canon’s committee, saying a small turnout for its recent campaign kickoff “proves that voters do not believe their misleading rhetoric.”
Canon, who has made her documents available to the media, said she mailed the packet with postage assuring the commission would receive it by 10 a.m. Monday. On Thursday, she emailed to the Star-Telegram photo copies of postage documents indicating it had arrived at the commission’s Austin address on time and that someone there had signed for it.
However, the Ethics Commission can’t publicly acknowledge whether it has received complaint filings unless both sides file waivers, Ian Steusloff, the agency’s general counsel and public information coordinator, said Tuesday.
Whether a governmental body can or cannot put a certain item on the ballot is not a determination that the commission can make.
Ian Steusloff, general counsel and public information coordinator for Texas Ethics Commisson
And he said that although the commission can require responses from the target of a complaint and ultimately could assess a fine, the commission has no authority over ballots.
“Whether a governmental body can or cannot put a certain item on the ballot is not a determination that the commission can make,” Steusloff said.
Canon said she wasn’t expecting to change the ballot. But she’s pushing for a ruling that statutes were violated.
“We could go forward to filing an injunction, but we’re not trying to stop the election,” Canon said. “What we’re trying to do is stop the deception.”
City Attorney Teris Solis said the city hasn’t been notified of a complaint but defended the ballot language.
“It was sent and reviewed and approved by the attorney general’s office,” Solis said.
In a statement, the city said it wouldn’t comment on the campaign materials included with Canon’s filings because they weren’t issued by the city.