Point Austin: Flying Air Kim
The council member, the memos, and the disappearing aide
Over my coffee Tuesday morning I learned that the hottest story in town according to those august authorities at Our Hometown Daily is the burgeoning scandal over Council Member Jennifer Kim's yearning for more convenient official access to the gate-side of Austin-Bergstrom International Airport. A gripping, top-of-the-fold Saturday exposé by Tony Plohetski was followed Tuesday by no less than three trailers: Plohetski's report that Kim and City Manager Toby Futrell have since agreed that the whole dustup was just a misunderstanding, despite city documentation to the contrary; John Kelso's rubber-chicken flogging of "Princess" Kim; and a stentorian editorial acknowledging that the entire matter is "of little consequence in the larger scheme of running the city of Austin" but certainly worth spending reams of paper, ink, and blog flame wars. (We've shamelessly joined the fun, of course; see our news blog at austinchronicle.com/chronic.)
Also on Tuesday, Kim announced and then abruptly cancelled a press conference scheduled "to comment on airport-security issues." Later she told me she had decided a better option would be a letter to the editor and then spent the afternoon giving face time to local TV. KVUE rewarded that effort by reporting Kim's question to a cop when she was given a traffic ticket last September: "Do you know who I am?"
Everybody certainly does now. Kim insists that the entire affair was a misunderstanding created "at the staff level," when an aide mistakenly told Assistant City Manager Rudy Garza that Kim wanted to "bypass security," and that request ended up in a memo that somehow found its way to Plohetski. "If someone read that," said Kim, "it was cause to be alarmed because it is not what I was asking for to bypass security. I can understand where that would be a story, but the problem is, that isn't the truth." Garza told me Wednesday that he indeed never talked to Kim directly, only her aide, but that "the request was clear she wanted to bypass security."
Like most rational human beings, I find most post-9/11 airport security more oppressive than effective, and I don't get reflexively outraged when elected officials get more reasonable access than I do they also cheerfully accept a whole lot more shit than I do. So I hesitated to join this public piling-on, until the online city politics newsletter In Fact Daily reported that Belinda Roberts the aide implicated by Kim in the "miscommunication" with Garza had submitted her resignation Monday. Said Kim, "I never asked for her resignation. ... I didn't see that coming." Roberts had served nine months, reportedly the longest tenure of the four aides who have serially endured Kim's 19 months in office. She told IFD, "It's just the time for me to move on."
Kim says she regrets her aide's departure and says she is not the "elitist" her detractors describe. "I'm really sorry if they have that impression of me, but that's not who I am. ... I take security very seriously, and I hope people will not judge me based on this one incident. I hope they'll judge me on my record."
What, gentle readers, have we learned from this curious, vicarious excursion into the shadowy back rooms of City Hall? First, that somebody over there was pissed enough at Kim either for this or other presumptions to tip Plohetski on the existence of those particular smoking memos. And secondly, the reiteration of an old but sacred political lesson: No matter what goes wrong, it's never the boss' fault.
Banging Pots and Pans
On matters of somewhat broader implication, I dutifully joined Saturday's peace march from City Hall to the Capitol and was glad to see 1,000 people or more stoutly expressing their continuing opposition to this illegal and immoral war and the U.S. occupation of Iraq. The emotional highlight, as we entered the grounds, was the enthusiastic welcome of a quinceañera group, all in celebratory white, interrupting their photo session to join the march in chants "What do we want? Peace now!" That was followed, in time-honored movement fashion, by the protest organizers earnestly driving the crowd away, via a stream of ideologically correct speeches describing in detail the arcane inner workings of imperialism. But we had done our small Austin part to keep the public pressure on, and meanwhile, in D.C., several hundred thousand of our fellows did the same. And at the White House, they were beating the drums to attack Iran.
We do what we can, in the spirit of our longtime champion Molly Ivins' most recent column, published just before she again fell deathly ill. "We are the people who run this country. We are the deciders. And every single day, every one of us needs to step outside and take some action to help stop this war. Raise hell. Make our troops know we're for them and trying to get them out of there. Hit the streets to protest Bush's proposed surge. ... We need people in the streets, banging pots and pans and demanding, 'Stop it, now!'"