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Mystery surrounds Kitchen recall petition

Friday, January 22, 2016 by Audrey McGlinchy, KUT

As Mike Blizzard describes it, Wednesday morning began like any other. Then came a knock at his door.

“A lot of people come through the neighborhood trying to get you to replace your windows, and I thought that’s who it was,” said Blizzard. “But instead it was a canvasser with a petition to recall City Council Member Ann Kitchen.”

Recall Kitchen Petition Redacted

According to a photograph Blizzard captured of the petition (see image above; signatures have been redacted), a PAC called “Austin4All” is funding the campaign to oust Kitchen. The text above the call for signatures reads, “This petition is for the recall of Ann Kitchen, Austin City Council Member. The reason for her recall is that she has purposefully hurt businesses that employ citizens of Austin.”

The District 5 Council member said she is aware of the petition.

“Of course, and obviously it’s important that the citizens of Austin have the right to bring a recall,” she said. “I have heard that this is happening. Like you, I don’t know a lot about it.”

Austin4All has not filed anything with the Office of the City Clerk (or with the state) as Texas state law requires of any political group that accepts more than $500 in contributions. It’s not clear that the group has raised any money. Reached briefly on the phone, the person identified on the petition as the PAC’s treasurer, Rachel Kania, declined to comment, saying she was headed into a meeting. Subsequent emails and phone calls to her were not returned.

Kitchen sees the petition as part of the ongoing fight between transportation network companies Uber and Lyft and Council’s attempts to regulate them. Uber and Lyft have said they would leave if Council mandated fingerprint-based background checks. At its Dec. 17 meeting, Council approved a framework for requiring these checks, although it will not take a final vote on the item until Jan. 28. Blizzard’s account of the petitioner’s stance appears to be consistent with that context.

“He gave me a quick pitch that included (Kitchen) had received ‘kickbacks’ from taxi companies and that’s why she wanted to get rid of Uber and Lyft,” Blizzard said. (The Council member received $4,000 in campaign contributions from Lone Star Cab during her run for office.)

Kitchen defended her and her fellow Council members’ work on a policy toward transportation network companies – including a proposed ordinance, to be finalized at Council’s Jan. 28 meeting, that could over time mandate fingerprint-based background checks for Uber and Lyft drivers.

“My work has been about protecting safety and the safety of Austin residents,” Kitchen said. She explained how the previous City Council passed a temporary ordinance and in turn stated that the new Council members would re-evaluate the rules governing transportation network companies. “As the chair of the Mobility Committee, it’s fallen to me and my committee members to bring it forward.”

Kitchen said some residents told her that the recent recall petition showed up at their door alongside another one: the petition submitted to City Hall on Tuesday, paid for by Uber and Lyft. Uber and Lyft both denied involvement with the recall petition.

“Uber’s efforts and resources have been exclusively dedicated to gathering the 65,000 signatures to keep the original ridesharing rules,” wrote a spokesperson for Uber in an email.

Regardless of who is behind the recall petition, it would take roughly 6,000 valid signatures on a certified petition to initiate the recall process, which would require that either Kitchen resign or a recall election be held in her district. According to the city clerk’s website, petitioners would need to gather signatures from 10 percent of registered voters in the Council member’s district to trigger a recall election. As of Thursday, there were 59,624 registered voters in District 5.

Update: Lyft spokesperson Jed Buie told Monitor publisher Mike Kanin that, “Lyft and Uber are not behind this” as Kanin prepared for his weekly Friday morning chat on KUT.

Update 2: Audio from McGlinchy’s KUT story is embedded below:

Clarification: Blizzard worked as a consultant on Kitchen’s 2000 campaign for a seat in the Texas State Legislature.

This story was produced as part of our reporting partnership with KUT.

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