The battle over term limits in Arlington saw new drama Wednesday as the organizer of a campaign in favor of limiting council members’ terms made a public display at City Hall, accusing the council of wasting taxpayers’ money with the legal fight that surrounds his petition effort.
Zack Maxwell, who led the term-limit petition, filed a lawsuit in August challenging the city’s own term-limits proposition. A judge issued a restraining order against the city and the council dropped its proposal, but the legal fight continues as neither side has accepted a settlement.
Maxwell said 145 demands from attorneys hired by the city invade the privacy of Arlington residents and create an “unmanageable” amount of work for him. City Attorney Teris Solis argued the questions are typical of discovery in the lawsuit.
Supporters of a counter campaign against term limits, Vote No Extreme Term Limits, have said the ongoing legal battle with the city would end if Maxwell wanted it to, and the demands are necessary to understand how he obtained more than 11,000 signatures in favor of council term limits. The question is on the Nov. 6 ballot.
Proposition E would limit council members and the mayor to three two-year terms retroactively. If approved, the move would effectively oust five council members in the next two years.
The council in August briefly placed an alternative question on the ballot that would have expanded council terms from two years to three and allowed members to serve three consecutive terms. The proposition would not have counted past service, allowing all council members and the mayor to serve another nine years.
The city attorneys office and lawyers hired by the council, in filings made in September, requested Maxwell provide information regarding his campaign and its contact with Arlington residents.
Among the requests, attorneys want Maxwell to provide records of all contacts with residents, including email addresses and phone numbers, and records of correspondence between the campaign and residents that “disparage, defame or otherwise speak negatively about the City Council” or Mayor Jeff Williams. They also want Maxwell to admit he made negative comments about the City Council.
Maxwell unveiled the requests in the lobby of City Hall, joined by about 15 Arlington Term Limits supporters in an effort to draw attention to what he called “ludicrous demands.” Maxwell said the city was wasting money in an effort to undermine his campaign.
“I would argue that maybe all of these (demands) have nothing to do with the material fact of our original complaint,” he said. “This is oppositional research being paid for by taxpayers.”
The drama largely played out on the group’s Facebook page, where live video of Maxwell’s speech played. Less than a dozen residents gathered in the lobby at the time.
Among them were John Hibbs, an Arlington school board member who is volunteering with the counter campaign against Maxwell’s term limits petition. Hibbs said his work for the campaign is unrelated to his position on the school board.
Hibbs said they were necessary to determine what Maxwell and his volunteers told residents when they requested signatures for the ballot initiative.
“What you want to do is make sure that the petition was shown in a very fair and balanced manner,” he said. “You can question the city but are you taking action against an individual or the entire council?”
Solis, the city attorney, said the requests were a matter of discovery in the lawsuit and necessary for the city to defend the lawsuit. She couldn’t provide a cost estimate and said outside law firms Bickerstaff Degaldo & Acosta and Kelly Hart & Hallman haven’t billed the city for some services. The council didn’t allocate a specific amount to defend the lawsuit, she said.
“It’s so difficult to know what a lawsuit will cost,” she said.