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Kim, Shade continue argument over promises to union

Thursday, May 8, 2008 by Austin Monitor

The argument over whether Place 3 candidate Randi Shade had made any specific promise to boost public safety spending continued Wednesday, as Council Member Jennifer Kim’s campaign consultant, Elliott McFadden, unveiled what he called more evidence to support the claims made in a robo-call from the Kim campaign.


McFadden cited a news release on Shade’s own web site as proof that Shade had committed to boost public safety spending without regard for its consequences on the city’s overall budget. In that news release, the union groups endorsing Shade say that she “has called for an increase in resources devoted to fire protection in downtown Austin, and supports expanding the number of Austin patrol officers and EMS personnel.”


For McFadden, that constitutes a binding promise to the unions. “I think a reasonable person would expect that if a candidate says they’re going to do something, that’s a promise they’re going to do something,” he said.


But union leaders said on Wednesday there is a significant difference between an indication of support and a promise. “All the candidates were asked the same questions. We did not ask for any promises, nor were we offered any,” said Stephen Truesdell of the Austin Firefighters Association. “We do not ask for promises, nor do we accept them. What we ask from a candidate is that they be accessible, that they listen to our issues, and that they let us know where they stand. We feel like that hasn’t happened with the incumbent.”


McFadden also cited an editorial in the Austin American-Statesman as evidence of the promise, although that word does not appear in the original statement issued by Shade and the union groups. “In the context of a press release endorsing a candidate, I think it’s reasonable to think this is a promise. Not only does our campaign think it’s reasonable, but the editorial board of our daily newspaper took that to be what this meant.”


Since the unions had not requested a correction to that editorial, McFadden concluded, they must have agreed with it. However, Truesdell said that was definitely not the case. “An editorial is someone’s opinion,” he said. “But if you run a news story that has incorrect facts, I will certainly dispute it. But someone’s opinion…they’re entitled to it. I’ve disagreed with the Statesman’s editorial board many times, but I don’t necessarily respond every time.”


The union leaders indicated on Wednesday they were concerned that the dispute over the claims in the robo-call message had harmed their reputation and their relationship with Council Member Kim. “The community trusts police officers, firefighters, and paramedics to be there in an emergency, and they have to trust us absolutely,” said Truesdell. “And if our integrity is being called into question on these types of issues… how is it going to reflect on us when we’re out there trying do our job?” As for whether the unions will be able to mend fences with Kim if she is re-elected to Place 3, Truesdell said, “that’s yet to be seen.”


Also on Wednesday, Kim’s campaign consultant offered a fresh defense of the legality of the robo-call. Elliott McFadden told reporters he had consulted with an attorney at the Public Utility Commission about the call, and was told that there was “no problem”. However, Randi Shade’s consultant said he had also checked with that attorney at the PUC, who told him he had not received any such call. The attorney in question did not return a call to In Fact Daily seeking clarification.


Under the Commission’s regulations, an attorney would not officially make a determination of violation or compliance during a phone consultation. Under the “complaints and enforcement” section of the Public Utility Regulatory Act, it states that “the commission shall….investigate complaints relating to the use of an automated dial announcing device…and enforce this subchapter”. Union leaders said Wednesday they do plan to file a complaint with the PUC.

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