Point Austin: Zimmerman's Hypocrisies
Before denouncing "subsidized" Austinites, CM should try a mirror
District 6 Council Member Don Zimmerman has embarrassed the City Council and Austin once again, with his sanctimonious lecture to citizens testifying to Council on the proposed city budget. Having told mostly Hispanic schoolchildren and their parents to aspire not to "live off others" – this following their testimony in support of afterschool programs – Zimmerman responded to subsequent criticism by describing the same citizens as "greedy and selfish."
That wasn't even the council member's first outburst during last Thursday's meeting. Earlier he had stomped out of an executive session discussing the transportation bond, sitting alone on the dais while loudly denouncing city attorneys for "lobbying" instead of giving objective legal advice. (Translation: Zimmerman didn't agree with the lawyers.) When the public meeting resumed, he continued berating the attorneys, accusing them of "deliberately misleading" the council, which elicited a rebuke from Mayor Steve Adler for impugning the motives of city staff.
Later in the evening, Zimmerman waxed theological. Replying to a clergy member who described the budget as a "moral document" – a commonplace truism that our spending priorities inevitably reflect our values – Zimmerman declared that only "the Bible is a moral document, and I believe the New Testament testifies to the only moral person, who would be Jesus Christ. The rest of us are not moral." You've got to hand it to the council member: Just as he is ready and willing to inform lawyers about the law, he doesn't hesitate to lecture a priest about Holy Writ.
Mr. Nice Guy
In the wake of the public firestorm that followed Zimmerman's condescending homily, he's been pouting even more than usual. At Wednesday's work session, he was baiting his colleagues to dare to accuse him of racism, and also this week he informed the Chronicle that he would no longer respond to any questions from our reporters – citing an entirely imaginary 2011 Chronicle request that he discontinue all communications with the paper. Since we have often reported on and interviewed Zimmerman over the years – especially during his 2014 election campaign – it's a mystery why he decided to invent a phony ban instead of simply saying, "I don't like your reporting, so I'm not going to talk to you." (He prefers the softball questions lobbed by Fox, KLBJ, and Time Warner.) Zimmerman never hesitates to aggressively criticize anyone he disagrees with, but when the criticism is directed at him, he throws a tantrum.
That's hardly his only hypocrisy. He dismisses schoolchildren supporting their schools as freeloaders, but when Council considers spending he likes – suburban highways, homestead exemptions, public safety – he doesn't accuse supporting witnesses of "living off others" or tell them to "do something useful." And he's been particularly attentive to the demands of suburbanites in currently unincorporated areas who wish to continue enjoying the benefits of Austin prosperity without having to share the costs with the rest of us.
Sharing the Burdens
That Zimmerman priority is revealing, since one of his proudest accomplishments (recounted in his re-election campaign website) is successfully suing the city to end its "double taxation" of Canyon Creek, the far northwest sprawl development where he lives – because in addition to city taxes and utility rates, the residents were also paying, as required under their contracts with the developer, for the original municipal utility district infrastructure. It was a lengthy, complicated legal dispute, but Zimmerman and his neighbors had no qualms about coming to Council and appealing to the city to lessen their burdens.
The result? You and I are helping pay for Canyon Creek's water rates for the next decade or so. (Unsurprisingly, Zimmerman also bitterly disdains any city restrictions on lawn-watering for conservation purposes.) There were no sanctimonious Council lectures to Canyon Creek residents for "living off others," though I do recall the suggestion that the city had a moral obligation to help these innocent victims of circumstance.
Canyon Creek, and much of Zimmerman's D6, would never have been built without massive taxpayer subsidies in the form of highways and other public infrastructure, not to mention the state's recklessly weak land-use practices that subsidize both sprawl development and environmental negligence. In November, voters will be asked to amplify those subsidies once again in the form of $101 million in bonds dedicated to "regional mobility" projects – largely expansions or upgrades of superhighways for which the state says it doesn't have the money. There's more to say on that score – those massive suburban highways generate much of the overwhelming "smart corridor" traffic that we'll also be trying to fix.
In that context, it's unseemly (to say the least) to accuse schoolchildren of "living off others," of being "selfish and greedy," while being the beneficiary of hundreds of millions of dollars in public subsidies to sustain expensive suburban lifestyles that otherwise wouldn't be possible. CM Zimmerman is currently Council's problem, but he represents a willfully distorted attitude toward government, public responsibility, and taxation that is only too common among his constituents – and plenty of the rest of us.