Texas Supreme Court declines to hear election lawsuit
After the Texas Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal from opponents of additional Friendswood sales taxes approved in 2016, an attorney for the city is pleased the matter is finally over.
However, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit claimed the case led to needed changes in city policies.
In May 2016, city residents voted 1,274-1,135 to add 1/8 of 1 cent per dollar to the city’s sales tax rate to fund improvements to the city’s downtown district and another 3/8 of a cent for street improvements. But the election results were challenged by eight residents who sued the city, former Mayor Kevin Holland, City Council member Carl Gustafson and Mike Foreman, who was then on the council and now is the mayor.
The plaintiffs believed election rules were violated, claiming that the city failed to inform voters that enacting a sales-and-use tax for economic development required creating an economic development corporation. They also said that the city failed to include a Harris County precinct in pre-election ordinances.
“This result is good for the people of Friendswood,” Bill Helfand, the attorney who represented the city for the lawsuit, said after the Texas Supreme Court declined to hear the plaintiff’s appeal last month. “It’s good because the people elected this (additional sales tax to fund) economic development program years ago, and unfortunately, some people, who were in the minority of the vote, didn’t like it and tried to upset that.
“Unfortunately, this ended up costing a great deal of money because of a small group of people who kept appealing decisions made by judges, judges who, numerous times, indicated the lawsuit had no basis in the first place,” Helfand said.
But one of the plaintiffs, Robert Bertrand, believes the lawsuit served the greater good.
“The election contest was the right thing to do and served a valiant purpose in promoting better awareness among the public and city,” Bertrand said in a released statement. “It helped promote better procedures by the city and a city that is paying closer attention to how elections are conducted.
“Since the contest was filed, the city has 1) implemented new procedures for noticing elections; 2) the city secretary has indicated the city intends to outsource elections to the county; 3) others have filed complaints with the Secretary of State regarding a subsequent election; and, 4) more attention has been placed by the public on educating those on who can vote in Friendswood elections from Harris County,” Bertrand wrote.
The state comptroller’s office began collecting the additional sales tax for the city on Jan. 1, 2017.
State District Judge Elizabeth Ray had dismissed the lawsuit in November 2016, but the plaintiffs appealed, and the case eventually made it to the Texas Supreme Court, which ultimately denied the petition for review in late January.