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New PAC starts to fight strong-mayor plan

Wednesday, March 10, 2021 by Jo Clifton

It’s that time of year, Austin voters. The redbud trees have come out, signaling spring. Also coming out in time to remind us that we have choices to make in the May election are people paid to knock on our doors. So don’t be surprised when a block walker from Restore Leadership ATX knocks on your door to tell you that Proposition F “threatens the progress Austin made when we changed to the 10-1 district system which gave representation to all parts of Austin.”

The group sponsoring Restore Leadership ATX opposes Prop F, the citizen-sponsored initiative to change Austin’s current city manager-Council form of government to a strong-mayor system. The group that collected enough signatures to put Prop F and four others on the May 1 ballot will no doubt be campaigning any day now.

Ellen Wood is listed as campaign treasurer for Restore Leadership ATX and she also donated $10,000 to the PAC, according to the flyer the Austin Monitor received opposing Prop F. Wood, president and CEO of Virtual CFO, told the Monitor via email, “We think the consolidation of power in one person is regressive. It appears we are aligned with Austinites all across the city, including AFSCME, business leaders and members of the City Council, in opposition to Proposition F.”

Mike Levy, a civic activist and former publisher of Texas Monthly, contributed $25,000 to the PAC. He said he had heard that people “across the political spectrum say they’re against it because they’re afraid (Council Member) Greg Casar would be the first strong mayor.”

Asked to comment on that, Wood said, “Our PAC is very concerned about the idea of anyone becoming a strong mayor. It is hard to understand how diluting the voices of the 10-1 City Council and giving veto power to one person is ‘progressive.’ Words like that are being used deliberately in an effort to obscure the reality and avoid a discussion on the merits (or lack) of what this change would mean.”

Other major contributors to the PAC include Cumby Development, which donated $50,000; David Roche of Endeavor, who gave $20,000; and former publisher Chris Harte, who donated $10,000.

Bryan Cumby, the founder of Cumby Development, said late Tuesday, “I think it is one of the most important issues that has come before voters in a very long time. I’ve been in and out of the local political scene over the past 30 years or so and I don’t think this is a move that Austin should be making.”

Cumby added that adopting the strong-mayor form of government would negate the city’s recent move to the 10-1 system of representation. The city can have a strong mayor without overturning the current system, he said, pointing to former mayor (and former state senator) Kirk Watson as a good example.

East Austin activist Frances Acuña is the campaign treasurer for another political action committee, Austinites for Democracy Dollars. Acuña filed paperwork for the specific purpose committee on Feb. 28, appointing herself to the job. The PAC intends to support Proposition H, colloquially known as Democracy Dollars.

The ballot language for Prop H asks: “Shall the City Charter be amended to adopt a public campaign finance program, which requires the city clerk to provide up to two $25 vouchers to every registered voter who may contribute them to candidates for city office who meet the program requirements?”

Those who favor this proposition say it would give citizens of less affluent districts a chance to participate financially in their district elections. The idea behind this proposition is that people who live in more affluent Council districts are able to give money both to candidates within their home districts and in other districts. An argument against this proposition is that candidates should raise their own money and not depend on city dollars.

Finally, there is a new filing from a group called the Protect and Serve PAC. Charles Gantt of Beverly, Massachusetts, is listed as the treasurer at an address for Bulldog Compliance. Bulldog Compliance is a division of Redcap Curve Solutions, which states that it provides “comprehensive treasury, budgeting, and FEC (Federal Election Commission) compliance services for political action committees and other fundraising-driven organizations.”

Photo made available through a Creative Commons license.

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