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Kim, consultant, return blast at public safety unions

Tuesday, May 6, 2008 by Austin Monitor

Leaders of the unions representing Austin’s police, firefighters, and EMS workers on Monday blasted an automated phone call placed to voters by the Jennifer Kim campaign. The “robo-call” claims Randi Shade, who is challenging Kim for Place 3 on the Council, has promised to “increase funding for management positions without having seen a budget,” and accuses Shade of “trying to break the bank”. The person recording the message identifies herself only as “your neighbor Lisa” and does not make any mention of being affiliated with the Jennifer Kim re-election campaign.

 

When asked by In Fact Daily on Monday about the unions’ charges, Kim said the information in the call was accurate and that the police had “traded” her for Place 4 candidate Cid Galindo in order to appear united in their endorsements.

 

“(APA President) George Vanderhule gave me every understanding,” that she would have the police endorsement, Kim said. “But they wanted to make sure they had a slate,” for all the public safety candidates . . . “It’s about their contract. I’ve been supportive of all their issues,” she said, referring to the fact that the police are currently in the meet-and-confer process with management. Firefighters and EMS unions will be bargaining with the city over the summer so that all the contracts can be entered at the same time.

 

Noting that the material in the call made to voters came from an editorial in Austin American Statesman, she added, “They (the police and the Shade campaign) had an opportunity to deny what the Statesman wrote back in January and they didn’t.” Both Shade and Place 4 candidate Cid Galindo told In Fact Daily before this incident that they did not make specific promises to the unions.

 

Who’s calling, please?

 

While representatives of the Austin Police Association say Kim had initially denied responsibility for the calls, her campaign consultant Elliott McFadden confirmed on Monday that the calls had been placed on behalf of the Kim campaign. Vanderhule told reporters gathered at City Hall Monday afternoon he believed the anonymous nature of the calls violated state and city campaign laws. “Saying ‘I’m your neighbor, Lisa’ doesn’t qualify as stating who the call is from. It’s giving misleading information…because it’s leading you to believe it’s one of your neighbors instead of a campaign call,” he said. “It’s my belief that this does violate campaign laws and it’s one of the things we are considering filing.”

 

Vanderhule, who was joined in a news conference by representatives of the Austin Firefighters Association and the Austin-Travis County EMS Employees Association, said he personally received the call Friday night and was astounded at the message. The call’s claim that “Randi Shade has made budget promises that could mean cuts in city services and higher taxes for you” is simply not true, he said.

 

“Imagine my surprise as the President of the Police Association to learn that we had cut some sort of deal with Randi Shade,” he said. “I was in the meetings with all of the candidates. It didn’t happen. That was never said. And so I personally found it offensive and on behalf of my membership I find it offensive.” While Vanderhule said he recognizes that political campaigns can sometimes use strong language to make their points, he said, “This is an outright lie. She needs to run on her record.”

 

Kim campaign consultant Elliott McFadden

said the call was based on information printed in the Austin newspaper. “I think it’s outrageous that these people that we trust are calling our Council Member a liar,” he said. “We were simply repeating the information that was published in the Austin American Statesman about Ms. Shade and to call us liars is outrageous.”

 

In the paper’s editorial section on January 23, a piece attributed to “The Editorial Board” claims that “Cid Galindo and Randi Shade…promised in writing to increase public safety staffing without knowing the rest of the city’s needs.” However, in a news article printed that same day regarding the endorsement announcements by the public safety unions, reporter Kate Alexander wrote that “the candidates said they made no promises to the unions about contract demands.” The Statesman did report that “Shade and Galindo …committed in written statements to increase public safety staffing.”

 

McFadden told In Fact Daily that if the Shade campaign felt that either the editorial or the news article in the Statesman were incorrect, “they probably should have asked for a correction. I thought it was a pretty damning, even if it wasn’t true.” He said he would have been screaming at the newspaper if it had made such a false claim about his candidate.

 

In Fact Daily reported in its January 23rd edition that “union officials said that the candidates they are supporting had provided a written guarantee that they would make public safety issues a priority.”

 

Vanderhule reiterated on Monday that those discussions did not include detailed commitments. “We told all the candidates that we feel like public safety has been under-staffed. There are staffing ratios that are recommended and Austin has not followed those, particularly where police are concerned, and that’s a concern,” he said. “Each candidate said that if elected, they would look into that. And that’s the extent of any promise that any candidate made.”

 

In the case of the Austin Police Association, the union is seeking an increase in the number of police officers on the force. Instead of a goal of 2.0 officers per 1,000 population, Vanderhule said, the latest research indicates a more appropriate ratio is 2.5 officers per 1,000. He told In Fact Daily that both Shade, who had been endorsed by the union, and Kim had both promised to look at that issue.

 

But Kim told In Fact Daily that was “not true, I didn’t promise that. He brought up ‘would you be supportive’ (of the 2.5) and I said ‘given our financial situation, I don’t think that’s a good idea’.”

 

The union groups are all endorsing Lee Leffingwell in Place 1, Shade and Galindo. With early voting wrapping up today and the election coming up this Saturday, the union groups have taken to the airwaves to remind voters of those endorsements. They each have one ad for Cid Galindo running on KLBJ-AM. Vanderhule told In Fact Daily that each of the unions had paid more than $500 for the spots supporting Galindo. He said they decided to support the Place 4 candidate based on polling that showed his race was the closest. Each of the unions also paid for mail ads in support of Shade, Galindo and Leffingwell as well as signs.

 

Legal questions

 

As for whether the Kim campaign’s anonymous robo-calls attacking Shade violated state or city election laws, McFadden disagreed with Vanderhule’s assessment. “They fully comply with all election code. The Texas election code and city election code do not require a disclaimer on automated calls. There is a question on whether there’s a small technical violation of the guidelines of the Texas Public Utility Commission, and if there’s a problem we’ll take care of that,” he said. “These calls were made to people who got a mail piece from us with the same language,” McFadden explained. “We were not trying to be deceptive in any way.  Obviously, any future calls we make…we’ll make sure we are clearer on who the call is coming from.”

Section 55.127 of the state’s Public Utility Regulator Act requires that automated calls include the identity of the “person, company, or organization making the call” and “the telephone number from which the call is made” within the first 30 seconds of the recorded message. The audio from the Jennifer Kim call is 29 seconds long. Possible administrative penalties for violating the code (http://puc.state.tx.us/rules/statutes/pura07.pdf) include revocation of the state permit for the automated dialer and a $1,000 fine. The code also sets the penalty for someone knowingly operating an automated dialer in violation as a Class ‘A’ misdemeanor.

 

Voters in Austin are likely accustomed to receiving robo-calls, which were used extensively during the March party primaries. While the calls traditionally begin with the full name of the politician or organization making the call, experts at one Austin law firm say that is not a legal requirement. Section 225.001 of the Texas Election Code (http://tlo2.tlc.state.tx.us/statutes/el.toc.htm ) requires that political advertising include the person or committee responsible for the ad and states that no advertising may be “published, distributed, or broadcast” without that disclosure. But in a newsletter published earlier this year (http://www.lockelord.com/publications/ ), attorneys Jim Davis and Gardner Pate with Locke Lord Bissell & Liddell LLP write that “by definition, an automated telephone call is not political advertising, so it does not require any disclaimer by the group paying for it.”

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