Austin Mayor Steve Adler slapped with misusing government resources ethics complaint on his way out of office

Austin Mayor Steve Adler was hit with an ethics complaint this week related to political advertising as he prepares to leave his position after eight years in office. 

Councilmember Mackenzie Kelly alleged in a complaint filed with the Texas Ethics Commission that Mayor Adler used ‘City of Austin resources’ on Dec. 1, 2022, to ‘record and advertise a press conference’ in which he endorsed candidates for the Austin City Council election runoff. 

That press conference aired on ATXN, the City of Austin’s government access channel, and was produced by city staff, according to the complaint. 

‘There can be no doubt that Mayor Adler intended this press conference to influence the outcome of the election,’ the complaint states. ‘Using City resources to do so was criminal behavior.’

During that press conference, Adler said he intends to vote in District 6 for Zohaib ‘Zo’ Qadri, who would go on to win the runoff on Dec. 13. 

‘I’m voting for Zo because I think he is smart, he is knowledgeable, and he is focused on the issues that I think are most important right now, and that’s housing costs and equity,’ Adler said during the press conference on Dec. 1. 

The complaint also alleges that Adler endorsed Jose Velasquez for District 3, denounced a petition drive related to police oversight, and spent about 45% of the press conference on his ‘dual endorsement of Kirk Watson and Celia Israel for Mayor.’ 

Mayor Adler’s office did not respond to a request for comment on Thursday.  

Bill Aleshire, an attorney and former Travis County Judge, is representing Kelly and former District 9 candidate Linda Guerrero. 

He wrote in an email to Travis County Attorney Delia Garza that ‘no public official, Democrat or Republican, friend or foe, should be able to use public resources to endorse or oppose political candidates.’ 

‘If Mayor Adler’s example were to become precedent, government officials who have privileged access to TV staff, equipment, and websites could use those public resources for ‘political advertising’ to endorse or oppose political candidates in violation of laws intended to prevent such misuse of public resources,’ Aleshire wrote in the email. 

A spokesperson for Garza said she was not available to immediately comment on Thursday. 

Adler’s plans after he leaves office are unclear, but he was appointed to a two-year term at the CISA Cybersecurity Advisory Committee in December 2021. 

Adler was caught on camera falling asleep at the funeral of Austin Police Officer Anthony ‘Tony’ Martin in October 2022, for which he received barrages of criticism. Adler’s relationship with APD has been difficult ever since he and then-City Councilmember Greg Casar led the city’s slashing of its budget by about one-third, in August 2020. 

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