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Thursday, February 18, 2016 by Caleb Pritchard
Updated: Austin4All kicks off its ongoing petition drive
Two weeks after it announced it had gathered enough signatures to force the recall of City Council Member Ann Kitchen, 12 days after a prominent local lawyer filed an ethics complaint against it and nine days after it formally filed key campaign paperwork, the mysterious political action committee known as Austin4All held its official launch party on Wednesday evening.
Adding to its already enigmatic aura, organizers took one small liberty with their otherwise ecumenical message of inclusiveness by turning away an Austin Monitor reporter from the South Austin bar patio where around 50 Austin4All supporters had gathered for the event.
“This is a celebration of our donors tonight,” Austin4All Co-Director Rachel Kania politely explained.
However, the casual proceedings were still accessible to public viewing from a second-floor deck overlooking the mostly young crowd taking advantage of a warm February evening.
Spotted in that crowd were conservative consultant Matt Mackowiak, former mayoral candidate Randall Stephens, and Joe Basel, an infamous conservative activist who is tied to a nonprofit corporation that also goes by the name Austin4All. Notably, the nonprofit’s Facebook page – which was last updated two years ago – lists the same gmail address used by Kania and Moreland. Neither Basel nor Kania nor Tori Moreland – the Austin4All PAC’s other co-director – has answered questions about the relationship between the corporation and the committee.
Before the Monitor reporter was asked to leave, Basel tersely explained that he was there simply to support the PAC’s efforts.
Also among the crowd was Council Member Don Zimmerman. The Northwest Austin conservative raised eyebrows earlier this month when both he and fellow Council Member Ellen Troxclair declined to join the rest of their colleagues in a show of support for Kitchen in front of City Hall.
At the time, Zimmerman told the Monitor that he was remaining neutral in Austin4All’s alleged recall challenge of Kitchen.
When reached by phone on Wednesday evening, Zimmerman confirmed that he was still at the PAC’s event but said he could not speak at the moment. He promised to return the phone call later in the night, but in a subsequent text message, he indicated that he wouldn’t be able to comment until Thursday morning.
Update:As promised, Zimmerman contacted the Monitor on Thursday morning and commented on Austin4All. Acknowledging that the group “has obviously chosen to fly under radar,” Zimmerman said: “Based on what little I know about this group, they impress me as a football team who refuses to talk to the press pre-game, only saying we want to do all of our talking out on the field. And that would mean they’re gonna show up at the ballot box, they’re gonna do their petitions. They’re just not interested in talking about what they’re doing; they’re just going to do it. That seems to be kind of who these people are.”
Zimmerman also maintained that he is still neutral in the effort to recall Kitchen. “My philosophy on this is, each (Council member) answers only to the voters in their district,” Zimmerman said. “It’s none of my business who in District 5 supports or opposes.”
For their part, Kania and Moreland delivered short remarks to the crowd around 6 p.m. They told their audience that Austin4All is ushering in “a new era of accountability in Austin.”
Kania pointed to the successful petition submitted by the Ridesharing Works for Austin PAC that has triggered a May election challenging regulations passed late last year governing transportation networking companies – notably Uber and Lyft. Kitchen was the chief shepherd of those regulations.
“Over 65,000 Austinites stood up and said, ‘We do not want regulations on our ride-sharing services,’” Kania told Wednesday’s crowd. “What does City Hall do? They completely ignore it. Now they want us to tell them again in May on the ballot. But this time, it’s going to be a very costly election. So we do not stand for this. It’s just not acceptable.”
Austin4All itself avoided adding to the cost of that May election by missing the deadline to turn in its own petition to recall Kitchen. State law mandates that the May ballot must be set by Feb. 19, a date far too imminent for the group to turn in its signatures, have them verified and then wait out the required five days for Kitchen to decide whether to resign or challenge the recall.
The deadline to make the November ballot is in August, but state law mandates a shelf life of 180 days on petition drives from start to finish. If Austin4All began its efforts in January, that means it would have until June to deliver its signatures.
Neither Kania nor Moreland mentioned the missed deadline to the crowd on Wednesday night. However, they claimed Austin4All had gathered over 7,000 signatures in the effort and promised to turn them in soon, although they once again did not specify exactly when.
Further muddying the waters was an email that went out on Wednesday afternoon by Texans for Accountable Government, a group that Austin4All tapped to get the word out about its signature drive.
The email sent by TAG’s Executive Director Justin Arman read: “Austin4All asked if TAG members would be available for pay and volunteer opportunities starting today and running through next week. They need help verifying the signatures collected for the recall petition. They want these signatures to be triple-verified before submitting them to the Clerk’s office.”
Arman added that volunteers will be paid $10 an hour.
In their Feb. 1 press release that claimed Austin4All’s petition had enough signatures to trigger the recall, Kania and Moreland had already declared that “signatures have been internally verified and will be submitted to the city clerk.”
In the meantime, Kania promised the crowd that the PAC would branch out beyond the challenge against Kitchen, whom the former Rand Paul presidential campaign staffer referred to as among the “most out-of-touch, elitist, corporate-funded politicians.”
“In the coming months, we’ll be embedding ourselves in local economic and regulatory issues,” Kania declared. “For example just last night, Mayor Steve Adler made very clear that new technologies like Airbnb will be soon under attack, and we will have to fight to have our voices heard in upcoming discussions about transportation and affordability. Austin4All can and will be that voice.”
Middle photo shows Austin City Council Member Don Zimmerman, far left, at Austin4All PAC’s official launch party at Red’s Porch in South Austin on Wednesday night
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