10-1, Take Two
Five City Council incumbents up for re-election this November
Don Zimmerman: Unapologetic
Conflict has been the overwhelming theme of District 6 Council Member Don Zimmerman's term. The software engineer and anti-taxation activist earned a reputation early on as a time-waster on the dais and a fire-starter off of it. His interrogations of city staff over procedure, costs, and perceived cover-ups are by now routine. And he's vindicated skeptics who wondered before the election whether his penchant for lawsuits would carry over into his term.
Zimmerman rose to prominence in part by helping the Canyon Creek municipal utility district sue the city and Travis County for "double taxation," and he had a reputation for solving his problems in court long before he defeated Jimmy Flannigan in the D6 run-off. During his campaign, Zimmerman sued local investigative reporting website the Austin Bulldog for defamation after it published publicly available court documents related to his custody dispute with his ex-wife (see "Zimmerman's Latest Lawsuit," Dec. 12, 2014).
The documents included medical records detailing physical and mental abuse allegations made by Zimmerman's daughter Marina – who was 12 years old at the time – including the claim that Zimmerman pushed her into a microwave, resulting in a sore neck, and told her she had internal demons that needed to be "expelled." (See "Candidate Lost Custody Over Abuse," the Austin Bulldog, Oct. 9, 2014.)
The Bulldog ultimately won that suit, and judgment was awarded in January of last year, but the Bulldog had to put liens on some rental properties Zimmerman owns in Houston to finally collect on that debt. (Zimmerman was forced to pay sanctions after a judge determined that the suit was a "strategic lawsuit against public participation," or a SLAPP suit, designed to shut the press up.) More than a year later, the council member still owes nearly $2,500 in attorney's fees. That hasn't stopped Zimmerman from challenging the city's campaign laws with yet another suit, or helping another MUD – this time in the far-Northwest Austin suburb River Place – fight its annexation by the city of Austin, and acting as treasurer of RiverPlace Disannexation PAC.
Even after all the obstruction and antics, Zimmerman told the Chronicle he has "very good working relationship[s]" with "many" of the other CMs, and that they work together "when we are able."
Despite that claim, however, Zimmerman's combative personality has raised eyebrows even among those he counts as friends. Last April, his nomination of Peaceful Streets activist Antonio Buehler to the Public Safety Commission fell flat, and his Immigrant Affairs nominee Rebecca Forest – who's widely known for advocating a ban on Islam and other inflammatory comments – was forced to withdraw as well. Off the dais, Zimmerman was roundly criticized for equating gay marriage with pedophilia in a Facebook rant last year ("Zimmerman Not Celebrating Marriage Equality," July, 3, 2015).
In addition to lawsuits and controversial nominations, Zimmerman has also shown a penchant for investigations, last year visiting Nacogdoches to investigate the value of the city's $2.3 billion contract with the East Texas biomass plant there. He continues to oppose the contract, telling the Chronicle that it's the most wasteful of all the programs the city spends money on: "We spend over $50 million a year for a plant that is rarely operational." He most recently has made a renewed effort on his campaign promise to oust City Manager Marc Ott, criticizing his handling of disciplining APD Chief Art Acevedo. (One could argue, however, that Zimmerman's actions have had the unintended effect of softening the majority of Council's ire toward Ott.)
Flannigan has been the first challenger to announce. After losing the seat by a slim margin two years ago, Flannigan has stayed active in the district, hosting an ongoing series of town hall afterparties to correct "the council member's own misinformation," and leading a corridor study of Anderson Mill Road.
"It's been pretty clear that Don's attempts at political grandstanding have failed at achieving any results for District 6 or the city of Austin," Flannigan said. "District 6 is ready for real leadership focused on commonsense solutions, which is why I'm running and what I'll bring to the district this November."