Could Kitchen recall vote make the May 7 ballot? Group argues yes


The group pushing for the recall of Austin City Council Member Ann Kitchen is arguing that the petition it submitted Friday came in early enough that a vote on Kitchen could occur as soon as the May 7 election.

“There is much gray area surrounding the Feb. 19 deadline,” said Tori Moreland, co-director of the Austin4All political action committee. “Our legal team is of the belief that, according to the letter of the law, our submission prior to the Feb. 19 (deadline) should trigger a May ballot should Council Member Kitchen choose not to resign.”

Texas Secretary of State spokeswoman Alicia Pierce disagrees, however, pointing to a portion of the Texas Election Code stipulating that such an election “shall be ordered not later than the 78th day before election day.”

That would make Feb. 19 — last Friday — the cutoff for the council to place an item on the May 7 ballot. But the city clerk has not yet counted or verified the box of petitions that Austin4All delivered just after 4 p.m. Friday.

The petitions called for a recall of Kitchen “because she has purposefully hurt businesses that employ citizens of Austin.” Among other things, the group has pointed to Kitchen’s leading role in the ongoing dispute with ride-hailing companies Uber and Lyft over whether drivers should undergo fingerprint-based background checks. As the result of a different petition drive, Austin voters will decide May 7 on what the rules for ride-hailing services should be.

Kitchen and her allies, including most of the City Council and an array of neighborhood representatives in her district, say Kitchen has done an excellent job in her year-plus on the council, and that recall elections are not a proper response to policy disagreements.

Moreland, in an email Monday, said the group had collected 7,000 signatures in Kitchen’s South Austin District 5 and turned in about 5,300 Friday, “all of which passed our internal verification process.”

City officials have indicated that the signatures of about 4,800 registered voters in Kitchen’s district would be needed to force a recall election.

Simply turning in the signatures, however, is several critical steps short of the official ordering of an election. Only the Austin City Council can take that action, and it would only do so after the Austin city clerk decided that the petition met the threshold and certified it. Beyond that, Kitchen would then have five days to decide whether to resign in response to the petition (Kitchen has made it clear that will not occur).

The clerk has 20 days under the City Charter to review the petition. So the matter might not be in the council’s hands until as late as March 15, just 53 days before the election.

Kitchen said city lawyers have told her the council had to call an election by Feb. 19 for it to happen May 7.

Buck Wood, a veteran Austin election law expert, said that appellate decisions offer some support for the idea that the deadlines in state law are “directory” in nature rather than hard and fast rules. A court could order the election to be held May 7 even if the council calls it well after Feb. 19, he said, as long as it can reasonably be carried out by election officials. However, Wood (who is not working for Austin4All) said the courts would also consider whether the group expeditiously collected and submitted its signatures.

Austin4All issued a Feb. 1 press release indicating it had enough signatures and was about to turn them in. However, another 18 days passed before the group brought them to the clerk.

“You have to have ‘clean hands,’ ” Wood said. “In this case, they clearly didn’t have clean hands. They held onto them until it was too late.”

And with just 75 days left until May 7, Wood said, Austin4All and its lawyers would have to get cracking or accept that a recall vote will occur in November.

Austin4All also submitted its initial campaign finance report Friday. The group reported $29,500 in cash donations but showed $44,100 in contributions still on hand, a $14,600 discrepancy.

The group listed no expenditures despite considerable evidence that it had paid petition canvassers at work for several weeks in January and February.

Austin4All gathered its donations from six people (none of them living in District 5, based on the addresses in the report), led by $20,000 from Trilogy Systems founder and President Joe Liemandt, who did not respond to an email seeking comment Monday.

Other contributors: Stacy Hock, a board member with the Texas Public Policy Foundation, $2,500; Anire Okpaku, a Cedar Park plastic surgeon, $2,500; John Papola, founder of an Austin video production firm, $1,000; Shannon and Don Tracy of Hutto, $1,000; and Dan Wyman, owner of the Summit nightclub in downtown Austin, $1,000.


Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Local

Deputies identify man found dead with child; his wounds were self-inflicted, officials say
Deputies identify man found dead with child; his wounds were self-inflicted, officials say

The Travis County sheriff’s office has identified the man who was found dead along with a young girl inside a southwestern Travis County home Monday, each apparently fatally shot. Yariv Kaplan, 42, was the man found dead, the sheriff’s office said. Officials said they are still working to confirm the child’s identity. Evidence...
Police: Man says he stole headstone from cemetery for Satanic worship
Police: Man says he stole headstone from cemetery for Satanic worship

An Austin man is accused of stealing a headstone from a Georgetown cemetery that he said was going to be used for an altar for Satanic worship, an affidavit said. Jeremiah Rhyne, 38, was charged with theft of grave property, a state jail felony punishable by up to two years in jail. Police found the headstone from 1884 leaning against a living room...
Abbott urges TEA to give Harvey-hit schools a reprieve from STAAR
Abbott urges TEA to give Harvey-hit schools a reprieve from STAAR

Gov. Greg Abbott is putting pressure on the Texas Education Agency to give students in school districts affected by Hurricane Harvey a reprieve from STAAR requirements. Students in the fifth and eighth grade must pass the math and reading STAAR to move on to the next grade. In a letter on Monday, Abbott asked TEA Commissioner Mike Morath to waive the...
TRAFFIC UPDATE: Southbound U.S. 183 near Payton Gin Rd. shut down after motorcycle crash, police say 
TRAFFIC UPDATE: Southbound U.S. 183 near Payton Gin Rd. shut down after motorcycle crash, police say 

4:10 p.m. update: Austin police have completely shut down the southbound lanes of U.S. 183 in North Austin after a motorcycle crash on Tuesday afternoon. Police said officers have closed the highway down at Payton Gin Road, and urged drivers to find alternate routes. Earlier: Medics say a man in his 50s was taken to Dell Seton Medical Center with critical...
Trump aide takes over as top federal prosecutor in Austin region
Trump aide takes over as top federal prosecutor in Austin region

A former member of President Donald Trump’s staff has been sworn in as the United States attorney for the Western District of Texas to prosecute federal crimes in the region that includes Austin. John F. Bash, who served as special assistant to Trump and associate White House counsel, took the oath Monday at the federal courthouse in San Antonio...
More Stories