One council member has been slapped with a legal warning for defending his constituent in a high water bill case.
Austin City Council members were elected by the people for the people, or at least that's what City Councilman Don Zimmerman thought.
"Please keep in mind that city code section 2-7-62(D) prohibits city officials from representing, directly or indirectly, any other person in any action or proceeding against the interests of the city."
This is what Zimmerman received from the city of Austin legal department just shortly after attending an administrative hearing with his constituent. They were there to find out the truth behind his high water bills.
Instead, the focus shifted.
"In my opinion, there was a suggestion there, that by showing up with my constituent, I had run a foul of their code of conduct, which says I'm only supposed to do things in the best interest of the city," says Council Member Don Zimmerman, City of Austin, District 6.
Here's what happen at the administrative hearing, which took place in early December. Zimmerman and his constituent met with a mediator and a City of Austin representative. The District 6 council member says he noticed that questions
"The examiner did a pretty good job of asking questions of the water customer. Do you have a swimming pool? Any evidence of leaks? Any change in your irrigation? But very few questions for the city side. So I brought up the fact that probably the most important factor, when we're talking about accuracy, reliability of your meter reading is, who read your meter?" says Zimmerman.
It's something that the City of Austin's Legal Department didn't take too kindly to. We called them to find out about the situation.
They responded with:
"We won't be providing anyone for an interview. The Law Department regularly advises its client, the City of Austin and its component bodies such as the City Council, on a variety of legal issues. This legal advice is attorney-client privilege, and sometimes includes making clients aware of potential legal risks."
So was that actually enough grounds to charge Zimmerman with anything? We asked his attorney Jerad Najvar of Houston.
"There's nothing wrong with prodding the city government to ask the right questions and treat people fairly, that's what he did," says Jerad Najvar, Zimmerman's attorney.
He has seen this before, saying city legal departments try to interpret things to their advantage - whether it's fair or not.
"Basically, it's a way to intimidate, to coerce elected officials to represent the city bureaucracy rather than the citizens."
Najvar's advice to Zimmerman is to continue doing what he's been doing - representing his constituents in District six
"I got elected to office to do things in the best interest of my constituents because my constituents pay the taxes and they pay the salaries for everyone that works for the city," says Zimmerman.