Ald. Emma Mitts of the 37th Ward said she is sorry. Sorry for offending her Latino constituents in a memo from her office that some deemed racist. Sorry for not reading the letter before signing it. And she’s sorry that she wasn’t better prepared to deal with the attacks from critics.
Ald. Mitts would like to put this controversy behind her and move on, even though she knows deep down that some in Austin, and beyond, won’t let her.
“I think it just got out of hand,” said Mitts of the memo controversy. Though she carries herself with an almost eternal cheerfulness and optimism, it was no doubt tested in the last month.
It started with a simple enough issue: garbage. Too much of it, quite frankly, for Mitts, who sought to have two-day trash pickups by the city for the 2300 block of North Lockwood.
A letter sent from Mitt’s office to the Department of Streets and Sanitation riled fellow Latino alderman and constituents after it was leaked to the media.
“Due to the enormous amount of Latinos that reside in District 37, including many families living in the same home, the amount of trash and rodents have increased immensely,” read the Aug. 12-dated letter.
Mitts said staff wrote the letter and that she signed it without reading it. But the damage was done. She’s since tried to mend a few fences with her Latino constituents in the northern portion of the 37th Ward. Mitts, though, said those outside of her ward stoked much of the criticism.
“I’ll keep reaching out to them,” she said. “We had a good working relationship. I think somewhere, we had some outsiders who came in, and I had to do my homework. If they were bold enough to give their names to reporters, then I checked them out to see where they lived. Come to find out they didn’t live in my community, even though they were asking for me to resign.”
The excessive trash in the neighborhoods, however, remains a concern, she said.
“No matter how upset we get with the wording of the letter, and how I explained it?”and I apologized?”there’s still the problem,” she insists. “In terms of the garbage, maybe, and not in every instance, there are more members living in households. It doesn’t matter what race you are. It could be in the black neighborhood. But when you have an excess of garbage, what’s the reason for it?”
Some of her fellow aldermen, such as Ald. Ricardo Munoz of the 22nd Ward, asked her to apologize. Mitts had numerous community meetings to explain the letter and apologize for its content. She wished the situation could have been handled differently.
“I think it would have been appropriate if they had called me and said, ‘Alderman, this wording that you have here is insulting, it’s demeaning and you shouldn’t use it,’ not just go to the press,” she said. “I thought it was distasteful. It’s not the way I would conduct business or confront someone if I had a problem.”