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Precinct 1 Commissioner candidates answer questions
Three newcomers challenge incumbent Democratic CommissionerBy Andy Rhodes Voters in the Democratic primary for Travis County Precinct 1 Commissioner will have a diverse group of candidates and issues to consider on March 9. Three challengers have tossed their hats into the ring against incumbent Ron Davis. Citing a need for increased representation, the newcomers are venturing into territory that includes hot-button issues related to the environment and economic development. The winner of the primary will be the Precinct 1 Commissioner beginning in 2005 since no Republican has filed for this traditionally Democratic seat. For the following, each candidate answered seven questions related to their background and opinions about issues facing Precinct 1 residents. Answers have been condensed and edited in the interest of brevity. Here are their responses: Ron Davis Briefly describe your personal background. I am a native Austinite, from a longtime East Austin family of ministers and teachers. I am married with three grown children. I earned a bachelor’s degree in political science from Huston-Tillotson College in 1968, and a master’s degree from Southwest Texas State University in 1983. Why are you running for the position? I am running to serve the voters of Precinct 1 and the people of Travis County. What are your qualifications for the job? I have served as Travis County Commissioner for Precinct 1 since 1998. Prior to being elected, I led a successful effort to close a gasoline tank farm in an East Austin neighborhood, being a longtime ally of the Save Our Springs movement and leading an effort to keep Austin Community College in East Austin. What are the most important issues facing residents in Precinct 1? • County finances: keeping our top bond rating, saving money whenever possible and assuring the social safety net is adequately funded. • Keeping Precinct 1 from being the dumping ground that it has too often been in the past and assuring that it gets its fair share of resources, infrastructure and amenities. • Transportation that addresses the needs of the people. • Efficient operation of the court system. • Protection of the environment in all of Travis County. How do you plan to address citizens’ concerns about the Waste Management Inc. landfill and other potential waste collection facilities? I believe the official position of Travis County should be to phase out the WMI and BFI landfills and to support the creation of newer, state-of-the art facilities away from residences and businesses. I have advocated and pushed for a regional approach involving Travis and adjacent counties to determine what facilities are needed and where they are wanted. What is the most important issue related to economic development in Travis County and Precinct 1? Infrastructure is a problem in Precinct 1. We will need to develop east-west thoroughfares tying Howard Lane and Cameron Road into SH 130. I have also recently started appointing members to a Precinct 1 Economic Development Task Force, so we can turn our attention to attracting employers and economic development. How will you address concerns about maintaining programs and staff in the county’s budget with reduced funds resulting from declining commercial property values? We have requested all departments to come in five percent below their requested budgets so we know what each department can best cut. Also, I will not gratuitously cut taxes; I will plow savings back into essential programs and I will look for new savings. While identifying new savings is easier to say than to accomplish, my track record on this as as follows: During my five years on the court, I have identified, proposed and won approval of three initiatives that will save millions of dollars a year: • Self funding of employee health insurance as opposed to purchasing from an insurance company • Video magistration, which is handling routine arraignements over a videoconference link instead of transporting prisoners back and forth between the downtown Justice Center and the Del Valle Correctional Facility. (This also decreases the risk of escape or harm to the general public) • A county-wide policy on purchasing and replacing computer equipment. Celia Israel Briefly describe your personal background. I was raised in El Paso and moved to Austin in 1982 to attend the University of Texas. I am the founder and owner of Mission Resources, a legislative and community relations consulting firm. Why are you running for the position? I went to a Commissioners Court meeting in 2002 to support my neighbors on the landfill issue, and it seemed our commissioner was not being outspoken or active on the dais. For years I’d been preaching to younger women and minorities about how important it is to get involved in politics, so I decided to take some of my own advice. What are your qualifications for the job? • Austin Independent School District – Community Safety Task Force, co-chair. • City of Austin – Police Monitor Citizen Review Panel. • Capital Area Food Bank – board member since 2002; served on Strategic Planning Committee. • Austin Women’s Political Caucus – served as president from 1996-2001. What are the most important issues facing residents in Precinct 1? I would say anything involving growth and economic development. SH 130 is coming, and it’s going to dramatically change our landscape. I’d like to see 130 have a positive change by bringing living wage jobs and environmentally friendly developments. How do you plan to address citizens’ concerns about the Waste Management Inc. landfill and other potential waste collection facilities? The residents, myself included, who live near the landfill, have become aware that Travis County does not have as much legal environmental muscle as the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality or the City of Austin. It makes sense to me to work with these regulatory agencies and build on our relationships across political boundaries by being a leader in these discussions. What is the most important issue regarding economic development in Travis County and Precinct 1? The potential redevelopment of Robert Mueller Airport is a significant economic opportunity. At no other time in our county’s history have we had 700 acres of blank canvas in a downtown urban area to turn into something viable and meaningful. How will you address concerns about maintaining programs and staff in the county’s budget with reduced funds resulting from declining commercial property values? I would not give tax incentives to retail developments. I’d work cooperatively with area municipalities to recognize federal funding opportunities. The President of the United States is familiar with Central Texas, so we should be drawing down more federal funds. Arthur Sampson Briefly describe your personal background. I was born and raised in Austin; I am the second youngest of 11 children. I graduated from Stephen F. Austin High School, attended Austin Community College and have been employed with the City of Austin in construction management for the past 23 years. I am also a certified peace officer and have operated a small construction business renovating affordable housing in East Austin. Why are you running for the position? I believe the Precinct 1 office has not been accessible and responsive to the needs of the residents. I want to change that perception of the commissioner’s office. I want to ensure the interest of the residents of Precinct 1 is represented during the growth and development of Travis County. What are your qualifications for the job? I have 23 years of experience in construction management with the City of Austin, where I’ve managed multi-million dollar projects and ensured successful completion within approved budgets. In this capacity I had to use skills to resolve conflicts between the city, contractors and residents. In addition, my experience as a certified peace officer and small business owner has prepared me for the challenges that I will face as county commissioner. What are the most important issues facing residents in Precinct 1? • Ensure the county has a balanced budget. • Improve public safety. • Improve the suburban county roads. • Balance development with the environment. How do you plan to address citizens’ concerns about the Waste Management Inc. landfill and other potential waste collection facilities? I will bring the community and Waste Management together to address the relocation of the landfill. I am committed to work with Waste Management and the community on suitable location for potential collection facilities. What is the most important issue regarding economic development in Travis County and Precinct 1? I will work with the local chambers of commerce and residents of Travis County to identify diverse industries and businesses to locate in Precinct 1. I will also work to identify suitable locations for any industries and businesses interested in locating to the area. How will you address concerns about maintaining programs and staff in the county’s budget with reduced funds resulting from declining commercial property values? I am committed to eliminating wasteful spending, eliminating service duplication and identify ways to reduce expenditures without eliminating positions. Kathy Bedford Smith Briefly describe your personal background. I graduated from Manor High School in 1988 and I earned a bachelor’s degree at the former Southwest Texas State University in August 1992. I obtained a master’s degree in Criminal Justice in 1998. I am currently employed as a judicial service manager for the Travis County Juvenile Probation Department. I supervise, implement and manage the Travis County Juvenile Drug Court. Why are you running in the Democratic primary for Travis County Precinct 1 Commissioner? I am determined to make a difference in the lives of the constituents of Precinct 1. I am a very hardworking and dedicated individual. I would be responsive to the needs of the community if elected. What are your qualifications for the job? I have managerial, grant writing, presentation, research, analytical, network, collaboration, financial, budget, policy development, public service and social service experience. I have worked in the judicial system and community for more than 12 years. What are the most important issues facing residents in Precinct 1? • Landfill and waste management. • Rising property tax rates. • Reduced number of social service programs. How do you plan to address citizens’ concerns about the Waste Management Inc. landfill and other potential waste collection facilities? I would provide updates on the county’s status regarding these issues and open lines of communication in an effort to facilitate an effective dialogue. I’d work with environmentalists to compile reports to measure the effectiveness of programs currently in place, and provide this information periodically or as requested by constituents. What is the most important issue regarding economic development in Travis County and Precinct 1? In two words, job creation. Businesses are leaving Travis County and Precinct 1 due to lack of incentives. County and city officials, in conjunction with the City of Austin and chambers of commerce, should work toward creating more incentives for businesses. More businesses typically means more jobs, and this benefits citizens everywhere by reducing the unemployment rate, which can have a negative effect on unemployment funds. How will you address concerns about maintaining programs and staff in the county’s budget with reduced funds resulting from declining commercial property values? Maintaining programs and staff is definitely a challenge. I would review and track expenditure reports of costly services. A study could be completed to determine efficiency. However, we should locate federal resources to raise revenues. Having good grant writers in key areas ensures the survival of most programs and staff that are facing budgetary cuts or constraints. . Board says no boat races without scientific study Race idea not dead, but not demanding Council attention According to a resolution approved by the Environmental Board last week, the City Council should prohibit boat races on Town Lake, unless and until scientific evidence shows such races would not harm the ecosystem along the shoreline and would not have a detrimental impact on water quality. The decision came after a report from the Watershed Protection and Development Review Department on the scarcity of scientific studies directly relating to the overall environmental impact of boat racing. “We did find a 1999 U.S. Department of the Interior environmental assessment,” said Eric Kaufman of the Spill Response Team. But that study only covered one river in Oregon where boat racing was allowed. “You’ve got wave action, and you’ve got the possibility of fuel or oil spills,” he said. The conclusion of the study, relayed by Kaufman, was that fuel spills were not a significant risk due to the safety precautions taken by the racing teams. “There’s so much of a concern in terms of fire and the safety of the people in the boats that they’re over-engineered to prevent fuel spills,” he said. Board Chair Lee Leffingwell, while conceding that the risk of fuel or oil spills was minimal, argued against any increase in the overall level of risk. “Even though the danger from toxic spills is not as great as one might think, it’s certainly greater than it is now if we have race boats there,” he said. “Town Lake is the source of a large part of Austin’s drinking water. We don’t want to have to worry about spending money to clean up spills to protect our drinking water, when all we have to do is just ban the racing of boats on Town Lake to do the same thing.” Other board members were more concerned with the effect the waves generated by the high-speed boats would have on the lake. The study cited by Kaufman, however, did not cover that factor. “Anytime that you have wave action you have an erosion issue, potentially,” Kaufman said. “As to what that actual impact would be . . . a study hasn’t been done . . . it would be very, very hard to say.” Board Member Tim Jones said he felt comfortable applying his own observations and common sense to determine the effect of waves generated by high-speed boats. “Town Lake is a constant-level lake . . . the result of that is we have vegetation on the edge of that lake that is established habitat for all kinds of creatures,” he said. “If we get really strong wave action . . . whether we get erosion of the bank or not, there’s still going to be a lot of wave action on wildlife areas. They’re going to be seriously disrupted.” Board Member Karen Ascot, who urged the board to consider the results of other studies on wave action and apply them to Town Lake, joined him in objecting. “Just because we don’t have a study in hand doesn’t mean that is hasn’t been studied,” she said. “I’m quite certain that there are studies all over the world . . . that demonstrate the effects of wave action.” The board unanimously voted support a resolution urging the Council to consider the evidence regarding the noise pollution, water pollution and wave action that could come with boat racing before granting a permit for racing on Town Lake. The promoter who originally suggested staging boat races on the lake has since withdrawn his request for a city permit to race on Town Lake, but is still pursuing an alternate site for a boat race this summer ( http://rivercityfiesta.com/). State of the City . . . Mayor Will Wynn will deliver a State of the City speech to the League of Women Voters Wednesday night at the Austin Woman’s Club, 708 San Antonio. Arnold Garcia, Jr., Editorial Page Editor of the Austin American-Statesman has been asked to introduce Wynn. Emails flew between the two last fall concerning Temple Inland’s proposal to add to its building, which of course sits atop the Edwards Aquifer. Just last week Temple Inland announced that is would not be pursuing the matter after all. There’s no word yet on how the company will address its need for additional space, but some will be watching to see if Garcia displays his dry wit or sticks to a conventional script. Thanks to an alert reader who pointed out this interesting juxtaposition. For more information, contact Karen Haschke, 345-8159, firstname.lastname@example.org or Carolyn Baker, 249-7012, email@example.com. . . Today’s meetings . . . Representatives of the City of Austin and Travis County and downtown development interests are having a stakeholder meeting to hear about the economic impact of a tunnel for Waller Creek. The group will gather at 1:30pm at City Hall. Capital Metro’s Board of Directors has scheduled a meeting for 4pm at their headquarters on East 5th Street. At 3:30pm, the board’s finance committee will get an update on the transit agency’s internal audit. The Historic Landmark Commission will meet at 7pm . . . Trial by questionnaire . . . Each campaign season in Austin, City Council candidates and those running for Democratic nominations to various Travis County posts must go through the ordeal of answering numerous questionnaires put forth by a myriad of neighborhood and political organizations. Many of the groups’ questions overlap, most of the groups want their questionnaires filled out individually and all want the questions answered and returned in time for perusal before the group has its endorsement meeting. This year is no exception. However, the 3-pages of instructions for answering questions for the Capital Area Progressive Democrats (Cap Ds) puts it in a class by itself. Here is a short portion: “There are 3 pages of instructions and one page of questions. The questions must be answered in the order presented on the questionnaire. When the questionnaire is returned, the question must be repeated following by the answer. The word ‘answer’ must be capitalized in its entirety, i.e., ‘ANSWER’ and is the only word to be capitalized in its entirety. (See Item 2.) . . . No text may be bolded, underlined, capitalized, otherwise typographically emphasized other than the candidate’s name as stated below . . . No questionnaires printed in color will be accepted. Exceptions: (a) The candidate’s name and position sought must be on the first line in bold only. At the bottom of the page half inch from the bottom the position must be first followed by the candidate’s name, justified to the right. Both are to be in bold. See the bottom of each of the instruction sheets and questionnaire. (b) Only capitalization as required by Standard English rules of grammar will be permitted . . .”
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