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Place 3 candidates continue to spar

Monday, April 11, 2011 by Michael Kanin

After two weeks of forums, the candidates for the Place 3 seat on the Austin City Council have certainly honed their campaign rhetoric, a fact on display at the League of Women Voters debate last Friday.


The candidates – incumbent Randi Shade, former Planning Commission Member Kathie Tovo, former Council Member Max Nofziger, and insurance adjuster Kris Bailey – discussed a broad range of familiar topics, stretching from the coming of urban rail to a potential change in the city charter to require single member districts for the City Council.


Shade was non-committal on the issue of single member districts. “There is no easy answer to this question,” she said. “I’ll say first that Austinites need to vote on this issue … It’s definitely something that people are talking about again and I welcome the conversation, but frankly I have more questions than answers about whether or not that is a good solution for this community.”


The rest of her opponents took a harder stand. “I believe it is time for Austin to move toward a system that includes single member districts as well as at-large seats,” said Tovo.


Nofziger and Bailey agreed.


The league also dove into the heart of former Planning Commission Member Tovo’s bailiwick with a question about the city’s still-in-process Comprehensive Plan. “I think there have been some challenges and we have heard from the community that they wanted to see some different scenarios tested (and) they wanted to see some additional data,” Tovo said.


“I’m really pleased to say that the really creative efforts of the staff and the consultants have begun to use participation among the underrepresented groups, and that’s really critical,” she added. “I feel very optimistic.”


Nofziger said that the plan is problematic because “it presupposes that we want light rail.” Nofziger has personally opposed all rail plans put before voters since 2000.


“First of all, we can’t afford it. Second of all, it is ineffective in reducing traffic congestion and improving air quality,” he said.


Shade said that she wants the plan to focus on creating and maintaining clean, safe neighborhoods. She also criticized the plan for its lack of focus on health and human service issues.


After roughly 45 minutes of discussion, the candidates each offered a summation.


Bailey, who has spent much of his campaign arguing for the city to tone down its enforcement of anti-marijuana laws, stayed away from that subject, focusing instead on his support for a small city government that deals mainly with public safety issues.


Nofziger ventured into the county attorney’s investigation of City Council emails and possible open meetings violations. “If you’re concerned about the email scandal and the widening investigation into possible open meetings violations, you should vote for me,” he said.


Tovo again danced around the issue. “We need a City Council member who listens and respects the citizens of Austin,” she said.


Shade repeated her central campaign theme. “My priorities when I got to the Council were core city services; clean, safe, neighborhoods; and really making sure that my office was responsive to all citizens – regardless of whether or not they were newcomers or longtime City Hall activists,” she said. “I have had a great open-door policy. I have a great track record for responsiveness and for really taking a common sense approach for our long-term planning as well as for the short-term issues that are right in front of us.”

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