Austin Councilwoman Insists City Badge Gives Free Access to Airport

They called it a series of miscommunications.

Austin City Council Member Jennifer Kim and City Manager Toby Futrell on Monday blamed an inaccurate 18-month-old memo and misunderstandings by city staff members for what has become a public debate about whether city leaders should be allowed to access secured areas of Austin-Bergstrom International Airport without a boarding pass.

Futrell and Kim said Kim was seeking to clarify a June 16, 2005, memo when she began asking this month whether her City Council badge would allow her into the restricted terminal area to meet official visitors. Almost everyone entering that area has to be a passenger.

However, Futrell said Monday that the statement "is absolutely an error."

"That sentence shouldn't have been in there," Futrell said.

Instead, city officials who have meetings or other business at the airport must register with security, go through screening and be escorted by an airport official.

When asked last week about her request for clarification, Kim said she thinks she should be able to access the restricted part of the terminal by showing her City Council badge. She said she was willing to go through screening - including sending her handbag through X-ray machines and walking through metal detectors. She said she thought it would be possible because "it's our airport."

City records indicated that Kim had also sought to access the restricted terminal by bypassing security.

A memo from the city manager's office that is used to summarize council members' concerns and questions said Kim "thought her VIP badge at our airport would allow her to get through security without going through screening. She has now been told that's not the case and is not happy."

Futrell said she isn't sure how the badge statement got into the June 2005 memo. The memo was written in 2003, and Futrell said it had not been updated. It was given to Kim in an orientation package soon after she was elected.

On Monday, Assistant City Manager Rudy Garza issued a corrected memo that said federal airport screeners "would not allow such access" with a council badge.

Futrell also said the memo that characterized Kim's request as an attempt to bypass security was based on what staffers thought Kim was asking and had been exaggerated.

The documents are created to make sure that council members' questions are answered, Futrell said, but may be based on loose information from aides or quick meetings with Futrell.

Futrell said Kim's inquiry was "conveyed through multiple hands."

"It really is not designed to be a formal or perfect or technically correct system," she said. "And we've left a council member really getting beat up in the public over it."

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