PLANO, Texas, April 26, 2021 /PRNewswire/ — Effie Saifi, the owner of Montessori Children’s House (MCH), and Planoites for Property Rights released a report today from Allied Data Service, a company that specializes in the validation of petition signatures, which confirms the total number of valid signatures on the petition is 5,244 – exceeding the 4,403 signatures required for this initiative petition under the Plano City Charter.
Allied Data Service has validated signatures on more than 300 petitions for 32 clients, including presidential candidates, across 34 states. Last year alone, the company validated more than five million signatures.
"We have a permanent archive of almost every signature collected for the current eminent domain petition in Plano and an accounting of all the signatures scanned. Of those submitted by MCH to undergo the multilevel screening process for verification, MCH has collected 8,240 raw signatures, of which 5,244 are valid," reports Michael Rhodes, founder and head of Allied Data Service.
The company has handled several petitions in Texas, including for Nandita Berry, then Secretary of State, who used Allied Data Service to save her office time and expense validating 90,000 signatures for the Green Party in 2014. Their work has been successfully used as evidence in court to defend qualification of ballot access against challengers and to disqualify opponents.
"Based on our experience over the last four years, we are disappointed, but not surprised the City of Plano would look for an excuse to question the validity of the signatures in our petition," said Effie Saifi. "That is exactly why we hired Allied Data Service to authenticate the names and signatures by comparing it to voter registration records and report the true numbers."
Jack Ternan, an attorney who presently represents Saifi and previously represented the citizens who submitted the petition against the Plano Tomorrow Plan, commented, "The City Charter does not give the city secretary, Lisa Henderson, or any other municipal official a role in counting or validating signatures on a petition. Ms. Henderson appears to have, once again, chosen to engage in unlawful conduct to disrupt the democratic process."
"Additionally, Ms. Henderson incorrectly stated what is required under Texas state law during a special session of the City Council. The statute requires a petition contain either (1) the birthday or (2) the voter registration number and county. Both are not required," said Mina Saifi, on record as an attorney for Edukid-MCH. "The only thing required to be in the handwriting of the signer is the signature itself."
This is not the first time the city secretary has abused her position in connection with citizen petitions. On July 22, 2020, the Fifth District Court of Appeals rejected the City Secretary’s excuses for refusing to present a referendum petition regarding the Plano Tomorrow Plan. In 2018, a court concluded that the city secretary had been using the incorrect legal charter when she approved a recall petition.
"Knowing the history of the City and how they do not adhere to their own charter under the law needs to end," said Mina Saifi. "This is not just about this eminent domain case. Having Plano citizens be limited to 90 seconds to speak, while the City can present ‘alternative’ facts for nearly 30 minutes – uninterrupted – is not equitable. The Mayor not allowing attendees to respond after their repeated one-way discussion is egregious. The ethical imbalance clearly exists. We are keeping a tally of the constitutional violations at hand – it’s about the fifth and first Amendments, among others."
During a special session on April 14, Mayor Harry LaRosiliere reported that 300 staff hours were spent on counting signatures and were not done counting. It was for that reason they called a second special session on April 20 to report the numbers. The City Charter did not allow for any such extension. During the second session, Henderson confirmed that she and her staff spent a total of 300 hours total.
"Lisa Henderson and Mayor Harry LaRosiliere do not give Plano residents enough credit to do math on the City’s reported staff time," said Lydia Ortega, PhD and candidate for mayor of Plano.
That is not the only one of the City of Plano’s facts that does not add up. During the April 20 meeting, the city attorney said the City of Plano had six eminent domain cases total.
"That is not true. A simple court docket search shows the number of cases of the City condemning property via eminent domain are at least one in 1965; at least two in the ’90s; and no less than 20 since 2013. That’s 23, not six," said Mina Saifi. "Robin Reeves, parks and recreation director who started this project, admitted the City’s taking from Mrs. Saifi is the one and only time the City chose to use eminent domain for a trail."
After the City’s report, if the MCH had an opportunity to respond, they would have clarified many facts.
- Fact: The new ordinance is to reform old legislation on condemnation. It’s about eminent domain reform; not about eliminating eminent domain entirely.
- Fact: While plans seemed to have existed for a bike trail in the vicinity of what became the school’s property in 1995, no master plan (from 1984 until the present litigation) showed any plans nor any intent by the City to pursue the particular easement that is at issue in the current litigation. The City departed from its prior plans to seek an unnecessarily wide easement that prevents the property owner’s development plans that had previously been approved by the city council. Although Saifi has cooperated beyond measure—and has proposed less intrusive routes which would still require giving up some of her property to the City—but the City has refused to do anything other than inflict the maximum damage possible.
- Fact: When the City’s own parks and recreation’s director Robin Reeves presented possible bike trail routes to the City Council on January 23, 2017, there were at least two options for locating the bike trail outside of where MCH had proposed to develop its property.
- Fact: The City is correct that it offered to withdraw the eminent domain case. However, the City fails to mention that Saifi accepted that offer. The City reneged because they learnt it had to pay the landowner’s fees if they withdrew the case. Consequently, the City made an offer to settle for $50,000. Saifi again accepted the City’s offer. However, the City did not withdraw the case or pay for attorneys’ fees.
- Fact: Saifi has not asked to be compensated for ten times the value of the land. The City of Plano has never offered to purchase the land. When the Saifi family asked if the City was interested in doing so, they said no. The City is using eminent domain to take an easement and is seeking to avoid paying for the harm caused to the property that the City is not taking or seeking to purchase.
- Fact: Saifi asked to attend the commissioners hearing. Her prior attorney, Brantley Saunders, provided times when he and his client were available, but the commissioners denied the request to schedule it on a day that worked for all parties. Instead, they met at Plano City Hall without representation from the landowner.
- Fact: Henderson was quoted in a Bisnow article on April 19, "The Council can enact the legislation that is attached, or they can call an election." She did not assert that the number of signatures were insufficient, nor that she or her staff were still counting signatures, one day before the meeting. Neither of the two outcomes Henderson mentioned in the article and required by the City charter—adopting the ordinance or calling an election—occurred.
- Fact: The City’s offer of $28,000 was solely to pay for one of the two easements sought in litigation against the MCH and Saifi. That is not "just compensation" according to the Constitution or the eminent domain laws. Just compensation consists of fair market value for portions of the land taken, plus all the damages to the rest of the property. The City has the ability to take everything, if it wants. Plano can take it all. At any time, they can offer fair market value for the whole 1.7 acres of property at stake. If it wants to, the City can try playing fair and engage in an arm’s length negotiation. Instead, the City has never offered a single penny for the harm caused to the remainder of the property from the bike trail, which will prevent development plans previously approved by the City and reduce the suitability of the property for its current use as a private school.
- Fact: Upon the Saifi’s handing in the petition signatures for the new ordinance, Henderson said she would provide a written report of the petition count. She did not provide a report prior to the meeting. Henderson still has not delivered the report to date.
"The City’s actions are abusive because people actually had to stand up to get the government’s attention," said Arif Panju, managing attorney at the Institute for Justice’s Texas office. "The Institute is monitoring what’s happening in Plano and finds it particularly notable that citizens themselves have decided to act as a bullwork for liberty. You have an opportunity to exercise your power in one of two ways: 1) violate rights or 2) secure them. We amended our constitution post-Kelo in 2017 to ensure that the worst abuses don’t continue; to protect against abuses like this. The government should do the right thing here, and we will continue to monitor the case."
Panju suggested finding alternative ways to deal with amenities constituents may want, and not at the expense of individual rights, which are strictly protected by the Texas Constitution and the U.S. Constitution.
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SOURCE Montessori Children’s House