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Plenty of PACs for November bond election

Friday, September 14, 2018 by Jo Clifton

District 2 Council Member Delia Garza wants to make sure that when Austin voters go to the polls to vote on the city’s $925 million bond package on Nov. 6, they understand how important it is to support Proposition E, which would provide funding for a new neighborhood and health care facility in Dove Springs.

Assisting Garza in the effort is Jesús Garza (no relation), who served as Austin’s city manager from 1994 to 2002 and after that as CEO of Seton Healthcare until his retirement last year. Council Member Garza asked the former manager to be the treasurer for Yes on Prop E, the new political action committee formed specifically to advocate for the Dove Springs center.

Council Member Garza told the Austin Monitor, “My experience with bonds is there’s often a big effort to pass all of them, and I was concerned about this one being the one standalone health and human services facility for a very specific part of town.”

She said she thought that this proposition needed a little extra publicity because “everyone’s hearing about a very, very large bond package, and some people might think they can’t vote for all of them.”

But Dove Springs needs this particular proposition, which is the smallest of the city’s bond requests at $16 million, she said, noting that it is the highest priority of the city’s Health and Human Services Department.

She said while South Austin and Montopolis both have their own neighborhood centers that serve the health needs of people living in their area, Dove Springs does not. The health department is forced to use part of the recreation center to serve people with health care needs, she noted.

The Council member said the 78744 ZIP code has a high concentration of Latinos and people living in poverty without access to health care. The new center will provide a safety net, which will include a WIC (women, infants and children) clinic for those who qualify, vaccinations for children and senior citizens and other preventive health services and – of particular interest to Garza – an affordable high-quality child care facility, she said.

She said she is working with “a grassroots coalition of folks who care about this community. We know many Austinites may not know where Dove Springs is or may never ever be in Dove Springs. … But it’s important that as we grow as a city, we help our most vulnerable,” which is “in line with our progressive values as Austinites. We support things not for ourselves but because we know it will help people that need the help.”

At the other end of the spectrum of items on the November ballot is the controversial Proposition K, which would require the city to do an audit of every department. Michael Searle, a former aide to Council Member Ellen Troxclair, lists himself as the treasurer for Yes on Prop K, as well as the person appointing the treasurer. Searle did not return phone calls requesting comments. The proposition has received negative publicity about its right-wing origins.

One political action committee opposing Prop K is called Austin Citizens for Truthful Petitions. Janis Pinnelli is its treasurer. Her husband, Joe Pinnelli, referred us to political consultant David Butts for commentary.

Butts said Thursday, “We’re going to tear into Prop K and point to how it was funded and point to its connections to the Koch brothers and the Texas Public Policy Foundation, which are anti-Austin – and they want to act like you could walk right up to Prop K and pet it and it wouldn’t bite you, but we think differently. We think it’s the prelude of an increasing assault against the city’s control of its own affairs.

“And we point to several states where (the American Legislative Exchange Council) have instituted these audits,” including Louisiana and Kansas. Butts said those audits “resulted in serious damage to state government. … We see this as a Trojan horse,” which is portrayed as an effort to do good but ultimately could cause great harm to the city, Butts said.

There are also at least two less-controversial political action committees working on the November ballot propositions. They are the Austin Together PAC, which supports all of the bonds, and Austinites for Affordability, which specifically supports Proposition A, a measure to provide $250 million for affordable housing.

Ted Siff, George Cofer, Diane Land and Brandi Clark Burton are among those working on the Austin Together PAC and Joseph Martinez is listed as the treasurer for Austinites for Affordability.

Siff described Austin Together PAC as “a group of supporters of all seven bond propositions,” including the Central Labor Council and the Travis County Democratic Party. He said the bonds are important “to invest in and protect the Austin we have today,” including parks and libraries, cultural centers, and repairing our roads and other infrastructure. “It’s in large part a repair and maintenance bond, with some substantial additions, including buying open space,” which would help mitigate flood risk, he said.

Fred Lewis is also the treasurer of the political action committee to support the proposition related to voting on any new Land Development Code. He reported personally spending $2,500 on yard signs for that effort last month.

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