City Hall Hustle: Razing Arizona
City Hall sends regrets to the Grand Canyon
I suppose so, even though the Copper State has received far more attention in the past few weeks than the arid outpost deserves, ever and especially since Gov. Jan Brewer approved the odious Senate Bill 1070, essentially legalizing racial profiling. For those readers living under rocks (or at least those rocks lacking an RSS feed), the bill makes it illegal for residents, legal and illegal, not to carry their immigration documentation and mandates that police determine the immigration status of anyone they have a "reasonable suspicion" might be in the country illegally.
Condemnation of the measure has been swift and widespread – notably, governors of Arizona's neighboring border states have condemned the measure, as has even Rick Perry (although temperately). Major League Baseball has called for the bill to be repealed or altered, as the state's a spring training hotbed for ballplayers, not to mention the Arizona Diamondbacks, currently targets of protests on the road. Convention cancellations, encouraged in part by Arizona Rep. Raul Grijalva's proposed boycott of his own state, have already resulted in a reported loss of $6 million.
Now it's the Austin City Council's turn. Last week, before it even materialized on the May 13 draft agenda, the city issued a press release announcing a plan, similar to proposals in other cities including Los Angeles and Washington, D.C., "terminating business and investment relationships" with Arizona. Mayor Pro Tem Mike Martinez, sponsoring the item with Bill Spelman and Lee Leffingwell, cited two reasons for the boycott. "First and foremost, we want to ensure that we are not exposing city employees to risk by sending them into an uncertain and potentially hostile environment in Arizona," Martinez stated in the release. "Second, we want to send a loud and clear message to the State of Arizona that our community stands in vehement opposition to racial discrimination in any form." Martinez also defended the announcement as having precedent in a council decision prohibiting contracts with firms employing sweatshop labor, saying it is "squarely within the Council's purview to determine with whom the city should or should not do business based on their practices."
Leffingwell stated, "While I'm normally reluctant to support the council formally weighing in on issues outside of our jurisdiction, Arizona's legislation potentially has a direct impact on our employees, and is generally so offensive that I believe it demands our attention," adding, "I'm supporting this resolution because I believe that we have a responsibility not only to protect our own employees, but also to speak out loudly against racial discrimination wherever it exists."
Most everyone else at the city has since chimed in. City Manager Marc Ott told City Hall press corps last week that the proposal reminded him of the divestment movement against apartheid-era South Africa in the 1980s. And over the weekend, Police Chief Art Acevedo took the editorial page of the Statesman to say the bill "killed community policing" and "essentially declared open season for criminals to target illegal immigrants" by making immigration – not crime prevention – priority No. 1, noting in the process that execrable Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio has seen "a marked increase in crime, especially violent crime" since initiating his anti-immigrant crusade.
But what will the item before council do? It's still a little early to tell. Ott said he was meeting with city executives "to see if there's any operational impacts" – issues raised by canceled contracts and the like – inherent in the proposal. So, in the short term, the most likely ramification is a travel ban. "What we're saying is not to go to Arizona on business, at least until further notice," says Spelman. ("We prepared the resolution [together]," he says, "but Mike sent the tweet [announcing it], so Mike is the lead sponsor.") Spelman continues: "We're asking about the business stuff – are we doing business with the state of Arizona, do we have any kind of financial relationship? And I frankly don't know, I don't think any of us on the second floor know. ... So Ott's going to have to look at that."
The travel ban sounds pretty absolute, encompassing "conferences, training, continuing education," says Spelman. "Other than things where you need to send somebody, like for extradition of a prisoner, or something like that – there's lots of opportunities for all that other stuff all over the country, and we don't really need to go to Arizona to do it."
He notes that mail to his office currently runs "mostly against" the proposal. "I think it's because there's no one who is organized in favor," he says. "But I'm not surprised by that – I'm certainly not worried about it," adding he imagines reaction to MLB's announcement "is running about the same way, and I think they're gonna stick by their guns too."
City Council's off this week, returning Thursday, May 13. For council updates, visit the Daily Hustle at austinchronicle.com/tdh.