Elections 2022Local NewsAustin Mayor Steve Adler Faces Complaints of Improper Use of City Staff, Resources for Political Advertising

The complaints were filed with the Texas Ethics Commission and forwarded to County Attorney Delia Garza.
January 5, 2023
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Just days before leaving office, outgoing Austin Mayor Steve Adler faces two Texas Ethics Commission (TEC) complaints alleging improper use of city staff and public funds to engage in political advertising.

On December 1, Adler took to the city’s broadcast to express his support for Zo Qadri, then a candidate for council District 9, and Jose Velasquez, then a candidate for council District 3, in their respective runoff elections. During the press conference, he also expressed his confidence in both Kirk Watson and Celia Israel to succeed him as mayor; Watson eventually won two weeks later and takes the helm in the coming days.

Councilwoman Mackenzie Kelly and former candidate Linda Guerrero — Qadri’s runoff opponent in District 9 — filed the respective complaints.

Mayor Adler has the same free-speech rights as any other member of the public and the same access/restrictions to city resources as other members of the public for political purposes,” the complaints read. “But city staff, equipment, and website are not available for political advertising, such as candidate endorsements, to the general public or anyone.”

During the same broadcast, Adler also criticized “petition hucksters” circulating a counter-petition to the proposition on May’s ballot that would bolster the powers of the Office of Police Oversight.

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Sec. 255.003 of the Texas Election Code states, “An officer or employee of a political subdivision may not knowingly spend or authorize the spending of public funds for political advertising.”

The same section also states that, “An officer or employee of a political subdivision may not spend or authorize the spending of public funds for a communication describing a measure if the communication contains information that … is sufficiently substantial and important as to be reasonably likely to influence a voter to vote for or against the measure.”

Another wrinkle to the broadcast is that city hall was being used as a polling location at the time. Electioneering within 100 feet of a polling location is also a violation of state law and a Class C misdemeanor — although that lies outside the TEC’s jurisdiction.

On good faith belief,” the complaints read, “Complainant assert that prior to his December 1, 2022 press conference Mayor Adler was warned by city legal counsel that Council members are not allowed to spend or authorize spending public funds for political advertising, and that prohibition includes using city equipment, [etc.].”

Violations of the provisions are a Class A misdemeanor. The TEC itself can only issue civil fines and reprimands, but may refer violations to district attorneys for criminal prosecution.

The complaints were also forwarded to Travis County Attorney Delia Garza, herself a former city councilmember, for criminal prosecution consideration.

It can take a cool minute — weeks or even months — for the TEC to review and rule on complaints.

Adler was term-limited this year and could not run for another stint as mayor of the state’s capital.

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Brad Johnson

Brad Johnson is a senior reporter for The Texan and an Ohio native who graduated from the University of Cincinnati in 2017. He is an avid sports fan who most enjoys watching his favorite teams continue their title drought throughout his cognizant lifetime. In his free time, you may find Brad quoting Monty Python productions and trying to calculate the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow.