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Two public safety unions endorse Leffingwell for Mayor

Wednesday, January 28, 2009 by Austin Monitor

Two of the three unions representing City of Austin public safety employees on Tuesday endorsed City Council Member Lee Leffingwell for Mayor. The Austin Police Association and Austin Firefighters Association are backing Leffingwell over Council Member Brewster McCracken and Carole Keeton Strayhorn, the two other major candidates who have declared for the seat.

 

Leffingwell said he was honored to have the support of the men and women devoted to keeping Austin safe. “Most folks know that public safety services here in Austin are excellent. But I know that we must always be working to make them better. We can’t afford anything less than the best,” he said. “We’ve got to continue to work to find a balance between insuring the best possible public safety and maintaining fiscal discipline.”

 

The union representatives said there was no one single issue that dominated their decision. Rather, it was Leffingwell’s tract record on dealing with their groups during his four years in office.

 

“Council Member Leffingwell has demonstrated keen understanding and commitment to issues of public safety here in our community,” said Austin Police Association President Wayne Vincent. “His character, leadership, and integrity was very instrumental in surmounting a monumental task of bringing all of Austin’s police entities under one umbrella. Council Member Leffingwell’s commitment to the men and women behind the badge goes beyond rhetoric. We have found him to be absolutely accessible, with an understanding of our issues particularly in the area of maintaining adequate resources so we can perform our duties.”

 

Accessibility was also a key issue for the firefighters’ union in making its endorsement. “We appreciate the fact that Lee is always willing to listen to our issues and that he values public safety as much as our citizens do,” said Austin Firefighters Association President Stephen Truesdell.

 

The Austin Travis-County EMS Employees association did not take part in the endorsement announcement. Last year, all three associations made unified endorsements in the City Council races.

 

This year, the police and firefighter representatives said they did not have a formal interview process for the candidates before making their selection. “I think it’s very important for our associations to stand with the folks who have stood with us,” said Truesdell. “What’s most important is that we have someone willing to listen and discuss issues.” With three experienced candidates in the race, Truesdell said, “we feel like we need someone who we already know and know is capable of being Mayor. These are not unknown folks.”

 

Vincent agreed that “the candidates in the race, we know… we did not have a formal process simply because we know the candidates. There was no reason to have a formal type of forum.”

 

Both union representatives said Leffingwell had not taken any position on preserving raises for public safety employees in order to win the endorsement.   “There was no discussion about salaries or any type of voluntary pay cut has even come up at this point,” said Vincent. Since firefighters do not currently have a contract, Truesdell said, “there are no pay raises we could be asked to give up. We’re working under the same pay raises that we ended with under the last contract.”

 

Leffingwell said that the fact that some city employees are not receiving planned market rate pay adjustments this year should not be seen as an indicator that the city would ask other parts of the workforce to forego planned raises. “There is not a wage freeze in place,” he said. When asked directly if he thought that public safety employees should voluntarily forego pay raises to help keep the city’s budget in balance, he replied “not at this time. I think we’ve got to look and see what the menu (of cost reductions) is.” The Council will review those suggestions from the City Manager and department heads next month.

 

McCracken issued a statement following the unions’ endorsement on Tuesday indicating he would continue to work with the groups if he wins the election in May. “While the public safety unions and I have disagreed on budget issues, I deeply value their members’ commitment to our community,” he said. “As Austin’s mayor, I pledge that I will remain independent in tackling our city’s budget challenges, and I will be fair to Austinites and all city employees.”

 

Public safety advocate and former Texas Monthly publisher Mike Levy is also considering whether to join the Mayor’s race.

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