AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin City Council Member Ann Kitchen is responding to a petition seeking to remove her from her seat on the dais. On Monday morning, Kitchen and her supporters gathered at a South Austin coffee shop to challenge the group calling for her removal.
According to Kitchen’s supporters, the group Austin4All PAC is “engaged in a well-funded effort to misrepresent the facts and lure District 5 voters into signing recall petitions.” Kitchen says she’s been the focus of attack ads because of her support for fingerprinting checks for rideshare drivers. Kitchen maintains it’s a matter of public safety, while companies like Uber and Lyft say it threatens their business model. During the news conference, Kitchen said it’s important to figure out who is behind this “secretive” action.
“Of course people have the right to petition but they should do so in a way that’s straightforward and not secretive,” Kitchen said, describing the effort as “deceptive and a threat to the 10-1 system.”
According to the a news release from Austin4All, the group is directed by Rachel Kania and Tori Moreland. Rachel Kania is a Senior Field and Tech Strategist for Rand Paul, and founder of Uproot Strategies, which provides management to political campaigns. Tori Moreland is a political consultant for CFB Strategies.
Tom “Smitty” Smith lives in District 5, and has serious concerns that a petition to recall Kitchen could set a dangerous precedent, saying everyone needs to be closely watching what happens next.
“They’re gonna come after your city council person too. And that’s why this is an important fight, not just for the people in District 5, but for the citizens of Austin,” Smith told KXAN, saying elected officials should not have to fear recall efforts while making tough, controversial decisions that come with the territory.
Others feel the complete opposite.
“Council members should always be concerned with losing their jobs when they abuse their power,” Texans For Accountable Government Executive Director Justin Arman told KXAN, saying he hopes the effort sends a clear message to the rest of Council and the mayor.
“Austin4All is not designed to work against Austin City Council – although we’re not hesitant to hold bad actors accountable for bad leadership, such as in the case of Council member Ann Kitchen who has lead the charge in intensifying regulations against ridesharing companies like Uber and Lyft,” Moreland explained in the release.
Smith said what bothers him most is “that when somebody tries to do their job and protect the citizens of Austin, they’re attacked by outsiders. Who are coming in and funding a campaign of disinformation and are afraid to disclose who they really are and who’s funding them.”
Austin4All says it has collected enough signatures from registered voters to recall Kitchen from office. The group says it will submit signatures to the city clerk for review, but that has not happened yet.
“We already have more than enough internally-verified signatures to initiate the recall process, but are still reviewing additional signatures above the minimum required amount,” Moreland told KXAN.
“As far as I’m concerned, this recall effort is a win regardless of what happens at the ballot box, because thousands of concerned residents in Kitchen’s district have expressed their disapproval,” Arman said, saying she’s been shown the power of grassroots activism.
“The quick success of our petition speaks volumes to the sentiment of Councilmember Kitchen’s constituents. Voters are demanding responsiveness from their local leaders and are prepared to remove representatives who do not represent them. Our donors of progressive, local leaders support it, District 5 residents support it, and certainly every business owner we’ve spoken with is excited about this effort to have a voice at City Hall,” Moreland told KXAN. “But Austin4All is about more than just ridesharing; we’re interested in taking political action whenever necessary to bring pro-growth, pro-innovation and pro-technology leaders and policies to Austin.”
Once Austin4All submits signatures to the city clerk’s office, the clerk will have 20 days to verify the signatures. Approximately 4,800 are needed, 10 percent of District 5’s registered voters. If the petition is valid, the city says Kitchen would then have five days to resign. If she does not, it would trigger a May election. Right now Austin does not have a May election, but clearly that could change. Keep in mind, there is a tight timeline. February 19 is the last day to call an election.
The city accepts PAC paperwork filings required by the state. At this time, it has not received anything from Austin4All. The group says its 100 percent in compliance and “filings will be current as they are legally required to be.” The Texas Ethics Commission told us as of now, it also has no record of Austin4All in its database.
Here’s how other groups, including TNC supporters, are weighing in:
“The Ridesharing Works coalition does not support the effort to recall Council Member Kitchen. While we disagree with Council Member Kitchen’s effort to impose mandatory fingerprinting and other unnecessary regulations on rideshare drivers, we do not support the recall effort.”
“Lyft is not associated with any activity that supports recalling council members. We are focused exclusively on keeping ridesharing in Austin,” Lyft spokesperson Chelsea Wilson said.
KXAN has not yet heard back from Uber.