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City attorney says Council Members’ endorsements OK

Thursday, May 8, 2008 by Austin Monitor

There is no prohibition in the Austin City Charter that would prevent one Council Member from endorsing another—as Council Member Mike Martinez has done for incumbent Lee Leffingwell—according to Austin’s City Attorney David Smith.


On Wednesday, Leffingwell’s opponent Jason Meeker, raised the question of whether Martinez’ appearance in a television spot for Leffingwell might be illegal. 


Meeker said, “This needs to be looked into to make sure this isn’t a violation of the City Charter. It may not be but there is language in the charter that seems like it prohibits elected officials, officials of the city, from participating in a campaign to this degree.”


He pointed to Article 12 Section 2 of the charter: “Any officer or employee of the city who by solicitation or otherwise shall exert his/her influence directly or indirectly to influence any other officer or employee of the city to favor any particular person or candidate for office in the city shall be guilty of a misdemeanor and upon conviction thereof shall forfeit his or her office or employment and be punished by a fine not exceeding two hundred dollars ($200.00).”


Meeker said, “This is the reason why you don’t see elected officials engaged in all different races right now because most people see the charter as preventing elected officials from using their influence to campaign for candidates for office, ask for donations or speak in derogatory fashion about an opponent.  Mike Martinez is a fine public official; he has an outstanding record. This needs to be looked into. I’ve had my share of people saying things in my race are not on the up and up…but I want to make sure things are done right and legally in Lee Leffingwell’s race too.”


Mark Nathan, Leffingwell’s campaign consultant, told In Fact Daily, “There is no issue.  I personally asked the City’s Integrity Officer whether there was any provision in the City Charter or any part of the City Code that would prevent Mike from appearing in Lee’s TV commercial, and the answer was no.”


Some former Council Members remember being told by previous members of the city’s Law Department that they could not endorse one another. Smith points out that it is still illegal for employees wearing uniforms to campaign for candidates while in uniform or on duty. But that does not apply to Council members, he said, adding that he too had talked to the City’s Integrity Officer, John Steiner, who agreed that the law did not prohibit non-uniformed employees and Council Members from exercising their First Amendment rights so long as no city resources or city employee time was involved.


Former Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman said in an email to In Fact Daily, “ I thought it was illegal for a sitting Council Member to publicly endorse/be publicly involved in a campaign for another Council candidate. No ? That’s what City Legal always held . . .”

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