Council Member Don Zimmerman Sues to Void Ride-Hailing Election

Jun 17, 2016

District 6 Austin City Council Member Don Zimmerman has filed a lawsuit against Mayor Steve Adler that seeks to quash the result of Austin's ride-hailing election on May 7, arguing the Austin City Council misled voters and that the "swiss-cheese" framework of regulations is unenforceable.

The proposition, which failed by a 12 percentage point margin, was triggered by a petition from Ridesharing Works for Austin, a political action committee funded with $9 million in cash and in-kind contributions from ride-hailing giants Uber and Lyft.

The companies suspended services in Austin after the election.

In the lawsuit, Zimmerman also alleges the Council "cherry-picked" provisions to put on the ballot, failing to mention the potential cost to taxpayers.

Here's what the ballot language said:

Shall the City Code be amended to repeal City Ordinance No. 20151217-075 relating to Transportation Network Companies; and replace with an ordinance that would repeal and prohibit required fingerprinting, repeal the requirement to identify the vehicle with a distinctive emblem, repeal the prohibition against loading and unloading passengers in a travel lane, and require other regulations for Transportation Network Companies?

And here's Zimmerman's testimony from the council's February meeting where they discussed the language:

"So to me, the problem with this language is it construes the negative things of what you’re losing—you’re losing a perceived fingerprinting benefit for safety. You’re repealing or losing the potential trade dress or a mark that identifies the vehicle. There’s a repeal. In other words, this is cast as all of the negatives that are going to happen if you vote in favor of the ordinance. So…I disagree with the way this is couched because this is—it’s written to say you are going to lose this, lose this, lose this. You gain nothing. You don’t even get a 1% fee."

Jerad Najvar, the attorney who filed the suit, says the disconnect lies in the city's requirement of fingerprint-based background, arguing the law doesn't explicitly require them. 

"[T]heir law doesn't require any kind of background check for at least half of Uber drivers in August of 2016," he told KUT. "And even when the thing is fully implemented, you're still not guaranteed to have a driver who's been subjected to any kind of background check, even fingerprints.”

Mayor Adler told KUT that he hasn't yet read the lawsuit, but that he's not concerned with the allegations – specifically, the claims that the ballot language was misleading.

"My understanding is that our ballot language is fine," he said. 

And, this isn't the first time the ballot language of Proposition 1 has been the subject of legal dispute. In March, an Austin resident filed a suit requesting that the Texas Supreme Court force the city to rewrite the ballot language. The state's high court denied the writ, filed by Austinite Samantha Phelps, without comment. 

You can view the entire lawsuit below: 

This post will be updated as more information becomes available.

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