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Shade’s email meant to defend Mayor

Tuesday, March 1, 2011 by Mark Richardson

This weekend’s news reports about comments made by Council Member Randi Shade in an email concerning environmentalist Robin Rather seemed to appear without the context in which they were made. While taken alone, Shade’s email seems to be an unprovoked attack, but in context, it is clear she was defending her friend and colleague Mayor Lee Leffingwell.  


In a story about numerous emails released as a result of public information requests, the Austin American Statesman notes that “Shade also wrote that well-known environmentalist Robin Rather is ‘crazy’ and ‘two-faced.’”


A closer examination of the comments shows that the email in which Shade used those terms was a response to a chain of email communications involving a number of people, including Rather, Shade, City Manager Marc Ott, Austin Chamber of Commerce President Mike Rollins, and Amy Everhart, a member of the Mayor’s staff who works on environmental issues.


According to documents examined by In Fact Daily, the April 2010 exchange began when Everhart sent an email to people involved in discussions about the Austin Energy Generation Plan explaining that Leffingwell would be offering an amendment to include an affordability matrix, a major concern of business interests. The Council approved the plan on April 22, Earth Day.


Later that day, Rather sent an email complaining that the Mayor “did in fact significantly undercut the plan as well as the …staff people and activists who have worked incredibly hard to bring Austin an innovative and affordable energy strategy.”


She also said the Council “got caught in a trap and did not have the finesse or the guts to get out of it quickly.”


Rather ended her email with a statement: “I am extremely sorry to see the lack of backbone in our mayor once again.”  The email was sent to Everhart, but apparently was sent to others on her mailing list. It also made its way to the Chamber’s Rollins.


Rollins forwarded Rather’s email to Ott and Assistant City manager Robert Goode as an “fyi.” The next day, April 23, Ott forwarded Rather’s note to Shade, with the comments: “Interesting…..  Your reaction?”


To which Shade replied: “I was surprised and disturbed to see Robin speak yesterday, but her email doesn’t surprise me a bit. She is crazy, two-faced and not someone who I listen to about any subject matter any more. I think she is my least favorite person in the wonderful world of city politics and she has zero credibility in my book.”


Shade then pointed out that Rather did seem to have a good relationship with Everhart, the Mayor’s policy aide.


She ended her note with another jab at Rather, saying she would prefer to see her be more politically active “with the County,” adding a smiley face at the end of the comment.


Shade told In Fact Daily via email early this morning: “Sometimes when public figures repeatedly criticize Council Members, the rhetoric gets a little heated. This is not the first time Robin and I have engaged in public exchanges that have included unkind characterizations of each other. I hope it will be the last. This email exchange happened last April. The irony is that in the fall Robin was actively engaged in the development of the plan’s affordability goal; she and I met together twice to discuss. We passed it a few weeks ago without controversy. 


In regard to her comments about Rather, and possibly some others contained in the released emails, Shade issued the following statement:


“I am embarrassed by some of the e-mails I have exchanged with my colleagues at City Hall, and I apologize to anyone I have offended. E-mail is a casual, short-hand form of communication that is common in today’s world. In my job as a City Council Member, however, my e-mail belongs to the public. I should have kept the banter to myself.”


As for Rather, she explained in an email to In Fact Daily Tuesday, “I am concerned that the sense of urgency about renewables got lost in this whole drama. That was the point of my email, but it was ignored by Shade, as she ignores most important environmental issues.”


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