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Reporter’s Notebook: We’re back

Tuesday, April 5, 2016 by Jo Clifton

Lyft approach riles some in Barton Hills… Last week, members of the Monument Group – a public relations firm representing the transportation networking company Lyft – began contacting neighborhood groups to see if they could bring Lyft’s case in support of Proposition 1 to a neighborhood meeting. Proposition 1 will be on the May 7 ballot, and it will determine whether Lyft- and Uber-supported TNC regulations will replace stricter regulations established by City Council. Monument Group’s Katie Avinger may have gotten a surprise when she heard back from Tom Nuckols, former president of the Barton Hills Neighborhood Association. Avinger had originally written that she would like the group to allow a Lyft driver and a frequent rider from the neighborhood to address BHNA. She started her message by saying, “I hope this finds you well.” Nuckols responded, “Katie, I hope this finds you well. You and your corporate Astroturf campaign can go to hell. Have a nice day.” This message was followed by a 🙂 On the neighborhood listserv, a couple of people reacted negatively to Nuckols’ response, and one pointed out that the current president of the organization is David Poisson, not Nuckols. However, Poisson did not react or respond to a request for comment from the Austin Monitor. One member of the neighborhood group wrote, “As an FYI, the firm below (Monument Group) is run by two veterans of George W. Bush campaigns and one with a background working for the John Cornyn and Mitt Romney campaigns.” Some other members of the neighborhood group indicated that they were siding with Nuckols. Scott Dunaway, Avinger’s boss, affirmed to the Monitor that members of his company had worked for Republican officials. However, he insisted that the current campaign is nonpartisan. Dunaway said his company is contacting all of the local neighborhood groups. “There’s a lot of education to be done. To have that conversation, we have to take it to the groups and let the drivers and the riders tell the story of what Proposition 1 is all about,” he said. Talking to neighborhood associations is “the best way to go about it,” he added. Nuckols told the Monitor, “I got so mad, immediately after I wrote that, I donated $500 to Our City, Our Safety, Our Choice,” one of the political action committees opposing Proposition 1. There will no doubt be continued debate about whether the TNC proposition is a partisan issue or not. However, the Travis County Democratic Party has passed two resolutions opposing the Uber- and Lyft-sponsored ordinance, and other Democratic groups are lining up in opposition. The Austin Environmental Democrats voted on Friday to oppose the proposition and to support Council Member Ann Kitchen. Although an effort to recall Kitchen failed last month, there could be another one to place the issue on the November ballot. While the TNCs deny any involvement in the recall effort, those behind the effort are right-wingers.

Ora Houston stands up for Don Zimmerman, if not his views… During a City Council meeting last Thursday, Council Member Ora Houston twice suggested that conservative Council Member Don Zimmerman was being treated unfairly by colleagues who sought to move to vote on issues despite Zimmerman’s requests to make additional comment. “I have been marginalized in this society for so long,” said Houston, Council’s only African-American, “and I’m just personally offended that we as a Council would try to marginalize people.” Soon afterward, Zimmerman invoked the theme of marginalization when decrying city funding for “allgo,” an Austin nonprofit that describes itself as serving “queer people of color.” Zimmerman suggested that funding such an organization amounted to discrimination against his overwhelmingly white, straight constituents. “If I have a District 6 constituent who is questioning or queer … who’s going to pass that judgment? Are they queer enough? Are they questioning enough? Then they have to be of color. How much color do they have to have? They have to be LGBTQ, and they have to be people of color to qualify for some of the $100,000 of entitlements. That’s called marginalizing people.” Asked what she thought of her colleague’s take on the theme of marginalization, Houston declined in a statement to the Austin Monitor to “respond to a colleague’s statements or intentions.” However, in an apparent reference to Zimmerman’s comments, she said that she had spoken with the executive director of “allgo” immediately after the meeting and “expressed my horror at the language and content used” to describe the group. Noting that those perceived as powerful are typically “male, highly educated, influential, wealthy and Anglo,” Houston said that the one constant throughout her years of working on issues of prejudice and bias has been “denial by individuals who are perceived as powerful.” She concluded: “It is my desire that the city of Austin will intentionally strive to be a city of civility, equity, unity, cooperation and inclusiveness, and sometimes we will disagree – respectfully.”

Heeeeeeeeere’s Monitor?… Not only are we back from our declared Opening Day holiday, tonight the Austin Monitor is holding a forum on transportation, and we would love it if you, dear reader, would join Monitor publisher Mike Kanin, state Sen. Kirk Watson and Council Member Ann Kitchen for what promises to be an enlightening conversation. Details on the event are here, and we encourage you to bring your best questions, have a beer or two, and join the conversation!

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