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Politics & Government

Mayor Eric Johnson: ‘It’s Unfortunate That Our Dirty Laundry Is Being Aired This Way’

Last week's City Council meeting was a banger.

Last week, we saw more dysfunction at City Hall. The proximate cause was a move to keep Mayor Eric Johnson from having as much power as he believes he’s entitled to have as the chair of the City Council’s ad hoc Legislative Committee. It’s a complicated deal. The Morning News covered it, if you’re interested in the details.

Here’s an oversimplified account of what’s going on: some council members don’t much care for the way Johnson runs things. They feel he doesn’t chat them up often enough, and he reshuffles committee assignments too frequently and without prior consultation. One of those council members who doesn’t enjoy the mayor’s modus operandi is Lee Kleinman. He was the chair of the Legislative Committee until Johnson removed him and installed himself.

That’s the background. Now I want to show you a 10-minute clip of Johnson upbraiding the Council last week before they took a vote on this whole “how much power should the mayor have as chair of the Legislative Committee?” thing. If you don’t have the 10 minutes to spare, here’s a transcription of the juiciest part:

“All this conversation does today is show the world just how disjointed things have become and just how unprofessional we are approaching our legislative agenda, because this smacks unfortunately of something that is rather personal, rather than professional in nature, because the reality is, the proposal is being brought by the former chair of the committee, who I removed, which was within my discretion to do, to change a rule that he operated under in his entire tenure, this very provision the former chair operated under his entire time as chair. And now that there is a new chair, who happens to be myself, this very same chair is proposing that we change that rule and for no good reason whatsoever. The reason there can be no good reason for it is because the reason it was put in in the first place is to give the city the flexibility to be able to respond to the exigencies that are presented on a regular basis during a legislative session. So all this effort to couch this as something other than what it is is just disingenuous, and it’s unfortunate. Because I think anyone watching this—and there are people watching this—I can assure you people in Austin are watching this. I know they are. They have told me. This is a disgrace and an embarrassment. They see what is going on here, which is an attempt to portray something that is clearly personal and clearly petty as something that is actually rooted in some sort of real issue. … It’s unfortunate that our dirty laundry is being aired this way.”

Now that you’ve digested those words and perhaps even watched the video below, I want to pose two questions for your consideration. Give them some thought.

Johnson’s platform, when he ran for mayor, was that he was going to bring civility back to City Hall. He has been mayor now for about 17 months. Question No. 1: do you feel that City Hall has seen a resurgence in civility during his tenure?

Let’s say that Johnson was 100 percent right about his assessment of Kleinman’s motives and conduct last week. Kleinman was being a jerk. He was causing a scene that was disgraceful and embarrassing. Question No. 2: as a parent, when your child is misbehaving in a restaurant and drawing attention from other diners, is it effective to stand there and publicly lecture your kid about how offensive his behavior is, or does it make more sense to pay your tab as quickly as possible and save that communication till after you’ve gotten into your car and have your kid’s undivided attention, in private?