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Forum draws candidates out on some nonstandard issues
Monday, March 23, 2009 by Austin Monitor
Better Austin Today (BATPAC) promised a candidate forum that would be a People’s Forum for
Most of the candidates did show up for the event although Carole Keeton Strayhorn was a no-show. Her campaign signs, on the other hand, have begun pop up all around town. And Jose Quintero, a last-minute challenger to incumbent Mike Martinez, also was absent from the Sunday event, held at the Unitarian Universalist Church.
With this forum one among many, candidates attempted to play to their strengths. For instance, when posed a question about unregistered sub-par group home facilities, mayoral candidate David Buttross noted that exact issue was one he wanted with the ownership of a nursing care facility. Asked about what needed to be done to improve Austin, mayoral candidate Brewster McCracken noted it was jobs, which led to his major platform plank of drawing clean energy industry to
City web site
And Lee Leffingwell, the third of four mayoral candidates present at the meeting, noted that the overhaul of the city website was launched at his initiative, after a proposition failed to make government more transparent. A website consultant’s contract is on this week’s Council agenda, to the tune of $704,000.
The question posed about the website was whether the city should spend that money, given the difficult financial times. Most candidates were supportive – noting that much of the money came from a various sources — with the exception of one-time-Council-member-turned-candidate Bill Spelman.
Spelman, a professor in the
That drew rare applause from the audience. Spelman built on a response from future colleague
Candidates Chris Riley and Perla Cavazos are both vying to fill Lee Leffingwell’s Council seat, and both have served on the Planning Commission. The two were asked whether CURE zoning should be put up for city discussion, possibly including input on whether such a high floor-to-area ratio was necessary.
Both had to say they were generally supportive of CURE, which applies only to the Central Business District. Cavazos said she was not completely opposed to it, knowing that density was being traded for community benefits. But she could tell the audience that when the CURE zoning came too close to residential neighborhoods – such as in the case of Ranch 616 on
Riley, who spent a long stint on Planning Commission, including terms as chair, is a well-known supporter of a denser central city. Riley said the benefit of the denser zoning downtown is compact living. He, too, mentioned the community benefits that developers offer in exchange for higher density. Riley said any allowance for additional density should come from a “carefully crafted program.”
And candidates did not always avoid controversy. Asked about the billboard ordinance,
McCracken said he, Spelman, Cole and
The panel did have one heckler, who was less than happy with the decision to relocate the city’s animal shelter to a site in
McCracken also noted that the property – also in the flood plain – also put animals in an uncomfortable position of being cold and wet when it rained, and that fireworks from downtown events often distracted and scared pets. Both Leffingwell and Cole noted that the
Asked specifically about whether Council members should recuse themselves from various votes, McCracken said this was a question a particular community activist had put to him at several forums. He noted that he was the member of a church that had an expansion administratively approved by the City Manager. At the time, he had no determined conflict of interest because he did not make money off the deal.
McCracken also added that this was the same person who said Barack Obama, John McCain and the United Nations were conspiring on a new world order. McCracken added that, as far he knew, Obama and McCain did not agree on much.
In responses to other questions, Leffingwell put environmental protection as his top priority, protecting both the fragile aquifer on the west and Blackland Prairies on the east.
Josiah Ingalls, the fourth candidate for mayor present at the forum, told the small audience he was in favor of regulating both the location of billboards and the speech on those billboards.
Candidates filled out the BAT questions. Those questionnaires can be found here at http://www.betteraustintoday.org .
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