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Council Again Questions Zimmerman Appointments

Callie Hernandez for KUT News
Callie Hernandez for KUT
District 6 council member Don Zimmerman again has drawn controversy with his commission appointees.

From the Austin Monitor:

Facebook posts did them in.

As City Council members nixed two of Council Member Don Zimmerman’s appointees — some citing comments made on social media pages — they debated Zimmerman’s judgment following what they said has been a string of controversial nominees to city boards and commissions.

Council Member Greg Casar said he felt the time that has been taken discussing Zimmerman’s appointees, and their various merits, could be better spent. “Our time on Council is very precious, and I don’t want to spend my time having these discussions,” he said. “There are people that could have diverse viewpoints that would not cause us to take so much of our time that we really need to dedicate to greater policy issues.”

Council denied Zimmerman’s nominee to the Public Safety Commission, Antonio Buehler, and his nominee to the Commission on Immigrant Affairs, Jaime Mendoza.

Council dismissed Buehler because he is not a resident of Austin. Buehler lives on unincorporated land in a part of town Zimmerman said is ringed by parts of Austin. Council could have waived this requirement, but the motion failed with a vote of 3-5. Council Members Ellen Troxclair, Casar and Zimmerman voted in favor of the waiver. Council Members Leslie Pool and Kathie Tovo abstained, while Council Member Sheri Gallo was absent.

Buehler told the Austin Monitor that denying him this appointment because of a residency waiver, and not his merits as a nominee, was an easy way out for members.

“The waiver’s pretty standard,” said Buehler, a local police accountability activist and founder of the nonprofit Peaceful Streets Project. “They give the waiver all the time. It’s pretty clear they used this waiver as an excuse not to take a stand.”

Some Council members said they were concerned not about Buehler’s criticism of the police, but the language he used to express it.

Kenneth Casaday, president of the Austin Police Association, spoke against Buehler’s nomination.

“In a week when police officers from across the state have come to Austin to remember over two dozen heroes who have made the ultimate sacrifice to keep Texas communities safe, this Council’s been asked to consider an appointment to the Public Safety Commission of a person who doesn’t even believe there should be a police department to protect the weakest among us,” he said.

Casaday showed a screenshot of Buehler’s Facebook page, where he referred to a cop as a “pig.” Casaday also played for Council members a video in which Buehler allegedly follows a car whose driver he believes is an undercover cop who had come to secretly watch a meeting of Buehler’s Peaceful Streets Project. Buehler did not deny these incidents when asked about them by Council members.

While Casaday was the only citizen who spoke in opposition to Buehler’s appointment, nearly a dozen people spoke in support of him. Though they touted his ability to organize and to listen to the stories of those who say Austin police officers have brutalized them, many added that they did not always agree with the language he used to express himself.

Mayor Steve Adler agreed. “My vote in this won’t be made with reference to bias in political views, because I think we need lots of different views on boards and commissions,” he said. “It goes to a sense of decorum and respect, and the ability for commissions to be able to function.”

Troxclair brought up these same concerns regarding Zimmerman’s nominees to the Commission on Immigrant Affairs. Mendoza’s nomination came after Zimmerman’s first failed; Rebecca Forest stepped down when Casar called for her to do so. Casar brought Council’s attention to comments Forest made at an anti-immigrant rally.

The discussion of Mendoza’s nomination started with accusations of racism, shouted by Mendoza from the audience seats. Council Member Pio Renteria had misspoke, calling Mendoza “Jamie” and assuming he was a woman.

“Don’t be racist,” Mendoza yelled.

Zimmerman jumped in. “I don’t know where the idea came that Mr. Mendoza was a woman. He’s not.”

Once they sorted out the nominee’s name, Council members expressed concern over Mendoza’s nomination because of a doctored photo he had reposted on Facebook. The photo shows First Lady Michelle Obama holding a sign that says her husband, President Barack Obama, is a “homo.”

Mendoza defended himself by emphasizing that it was a repost, not an original post he had written. “Not that I said, not that I wrote and not that I Photoshopped,” he said, arguing that the Austin Chronicle had also reposted this photo in a story about his nomination. “So if you want to deny me a voice on the city commission, then I hope you do the same to the Austin Chronicle and not deal with them, and not read their paper.”

Mendoza’s profile later revealed several more troubling posts, including calling the death of Annie’s List Executive Director Grace Garcia “karma” and rants against “black culture.”

Council Member Delia Garza, who abstained from voting on any of Zimmerman’s nominees, echoed Casar’s earlier comments about the judgment of District 6’s Council representation.

“With everything on our plates, I don’t have the time to go through every single appointment and research their Facebook posts,” said Garza. “And because of that, and because of what I believe to be questionable judgment, with all due respect to Council Member Zimmerman, I will continue to abstain from all his appointments.”

Garza also said she found Mendoza’s comments about President Obama offensive, to which he cried out, in Spanish, “You’re not Hispanic!”

Adler motioned to vote on the nearly three dozen other boards and commissions nominations. But he asked to hold voting on Mendoza and Mackenzie Kelly, Zimmerman’s nominee to the Commission for Women, who had been criticized for supporting Gamergate, a culture of online harassment of female video game journalists.

However, Adler’s motion failed to pass, with the mayor its sole “yea” vote. Council members therefore began voting on Zimmerman’s two controversial nominees. They appointed Kelly with an 8-0 vote, with Garza and Casar abstaining and Gallo absent.

Mendoza’s appointment, though, was neither swift nor successful. Troxclair seconded the motion to vote, but not before questioning Mendoza: “If you are confirmed in this position, would you approach it in a respectful manner and be able to have productive dialogue with other members of the commission?”

Mendoza stressed the makeup of his friends as demonstrative of his ability to get along with those unlike himself. “I’ve got friends, best friends, who don’t share my political views,” said Mendoza. “One of my best friends is gay, he’s married, he invited me to his wedding.”

But his response failed to sway Council. Mendoza’s appointment failed on a 2-4 vote. Pool, Garza, Casar and Renteria abstained, with Gallo absent.

Audrey McGlinchy is KUT's housing reporter. She focuses on affordable housing solutions, renters’ rights and the battles over zoning. Got a tip? Email her at Follow her on Twitter @AKMcGlinchy.