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Zimmerman takes his turn criticizing nominations

Friday, May 15, 2015 by Audrey McGlinchy, KUT

City Council Member Don Zimmerman on Thursday doled out criticism usually targeted at his own nominations to boards and commissions, opposing an appointment to the Municipal Civil Service Commission and igniting a conversation about the merits of objectivity when it comes to considering people for volunteer positions.

About an hour before Council convened, Zimmerman posted a message to the Council message board saying he could not support the nomination of Michael Murphy because the attorney had defended union members in labor disputes. In his post, Zimmerman cited Council’s discussion and eventual denial of his appointee, police accountability activist Antonio Buehler, to the Public Safety Commission last week.

While Council members officially denied Buehler a seat on the commission because they voted against a residency waiver (Buehler lives in an unincorporated area outside Austin), they also worried about his tone on issues between local residents and the police — citing an instance when he called an officer a “pig” on his Facebook page.

“I think that Mr. Buehler is an important voice in this community,” said Mayor Steve Adler at last week’s Council meeting. However, Adler eventually conceded that he did not think Buehler could conduct himself in a way appropriate for a commissioner.

Zimmerman said that in opposing Murphy’s nomination at this week’s meeting, he was merely applying the same logic Council members used when objecting to Buehler’s nomination last week, saying they were afraid Buehler would not be able to see an issue from both sides.

“(They’re) right, (Buehler’s) not objective,” Zimmerman told the Austin Monitor. “I was appointing him for a certain point of view. They said, ‘Oh no, we can only have objective people.’ If objectivity is your criteria, then you need to appoint objective people.”

On these grounds, Zimmerman opposed Murphy’s appointment. He said that with Murphy’s work history, the proposed commissioner would be unable to see things from a nonunion side. “To me it’s the same as a defense attorney,” he said. “It’s not reasonable for a defense attorney to be objective and see things through the prosecutor’s eyes. It’s the job of that person to be biased. ”

Council Member Greg Casar defended Murphy’s nomination. “He has been an attorney on the labor side, but in the private sector with electrical workers, and so I do not see any conflict of interest in his ruling on cases that have to do with municipal employees,” Casar said.

But before Council could move ahead with a motion, Council Member Ellen Troxclair said she thought the goal was not to build a commission full of objective members, but of commissioners able to speak from divergent points of view — circling back to the comment Adler made in defense of appointing Buehler last week.

According to Council members, there are two commissioners already serving on the Municipal Civil Service Commission who have experience defending labor unions.

“In the future, just to ensure that we do maintain a broad perspective on the commission, we can look at having more specific requirements for the different positions,” Troxclair said. “I know in some of the other boards and commissions we specifically say, ‘We need an engineer’ or ‘We need a landscape architect,’ based on a specific charge that that commission has before them.”

Council eventually approved Murphy’s appointment, with a vote of 8-1-2. Zimmerman opposed, while Council Members Ora Houston and Troxclair abstained.


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