How should taxpayers respond when staff from a city department are compelled to join an internal political machine?
What if that department provides critical, often life-saving services? Should the department and the political activity of its staff be exempt from public scrutiny?
A recent article regarding the influence of a big-donor Political Action Committee (PAC) on Leander elections avoided in-depth review of the Leander Firefighters for Responsible Government PAC (LFRG PAC).
LFRG has aligned itself behind a slate of three candidates for Leander City Council and is one of the largest contributors to the campaigns of Jeff Seiler, Laura Lantrip and Becki Ross. Journalists and observers (including LeanderLookout) are quick to investigate agendas of non-government-affiliated PACs and their donors, but few dare question potential influence-peddling by city staff. How will donors to LFRG expect their candidates to vote on department budget issues and benefits should they be elected? (That question has precedence)
LFRG’s campaign finance report shows 39 distinct small-amount donors, all listed as staff with the Leander Fire Department. Of the 39 donors, public records show only 9 are registered to vote and own property at addresses within the city limits of Leander.
The other 30 reside in either Austin, Bastrop, Cedar Park, Georgetown, Goldthwaite, Hewitt, Hutto, Jonestown, Killeen, Lago Vista, Leander ETJ, Liberty Hill, Pflugerville, Round Rock, San Marcos, Temple or Waco. Over 75% of LFRG PAC donors do not pay property taxes to the City of Leander. Their primary investment in Leander is their job, which most do well by the way. But they do not shoulder the burden of funding the city’s maintenance and operations or servicing Leander’s debt.
The other question for voters is how to respond when city staff utilize taxpayer resources (communications) to disseminate political information and promote candidates? Should voters support only those candidates who are willing to hold department heads and the city manager accountable for enforcing policy regarding the use of taxpayer resources for political purposes?
Whose interests take priority? Taxpayers who vote? Or at-will employees? It does not have to be an either/or decision. But it should be a decision that is made objectively, free from fear of staff-driven political machines, whose best-laid schemes often go awry…at long-term, taxpayer expense.
Copyright © 2019 Don Stroud