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Complaints against Pritchard dismissed

Monday, December 13, 2021 by Elizabeth Pagano

The city’s Ethics Review Commission has dismissed complaints alleging Caleb Pritchard violated the city code.

“It’s complicated and confusing, but not wrong,” said Commissioner Donna Beth McCormick.

Zenobia Joseph filed a complaint alleging Pritchard ran afoul of city law by working for the Mobility for All political action committee while employed by Mayor Pro Tem Natasha Harper-Madison. Joseph also alleged that Pritchard had committed election fraud by working on a campaign in favor of 2020’s Proposition A. Her argument was, essentially, that the Project Connect campaign and Prop A ballot presented a fraudulent picture that stood in opposition to Pritchard’s reporting, which demonstrated a more thorough knowledge of the issue.

A motion to dismiss the charges passed in a vote of 6-1.

Commissioners who voted to dismiss the complaints reasoned that Pritchard was not a member of a body with discretionary authority, and therefore could not have violated statutes that did not apply to him. Commissioner Sidney Williams, who voted against the motion, argued that the appearance of impropriety was “all over this situation” and that though he was not technically a member of a voting body, Pritchard had influence over a voting member by virtue of his employment.

Pritchard, who remains a member of Harper-Madison’s staff and is a former reporter for the Austin Monitor, did not speak at the hearing and instead submitted a statement of fact to the commission that was read into the record. In that statement, he explained he worked for the PAC during a time he was not employed by Harper-Madison. He was hired by the office again on Dec. 7, nearly a month after voters approved Prop A, though he did collect a final check for his consulting work on Dec. 31.

As for the other complaint, Pritchard concluded, “I cannot fathom there would be any jurisdiction on any planet in any dimension on any timeline where it would be considered ethically unseemly for a transit advocate to advocate for transit (though I’ll concede that if there were, it would definitely be Texas).”

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