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Runoff candidates each tout their experience in Place 3 forum

Tuesday, June 14, 2011 by Elizabeth Pagano

Both candidates in the runoff for the Place 3 seat on Austin City Council took pains to make the differences between apparent in a forum Friday night. Both incumbent Randi Shade and challenger Kathie Tovo highlighted examples of times when they acted as a leader on one of their “signature” issues. The election is Saturday. Those who wish to vote early have until the end of today to do so.


The candidates faced off in a forum at City Hall Friday night, hosted by the League of Women Voters. Only a few dozen people attended but it was also broadcast live on Channel 6.


Shade chose, thematically, her work on increasing public-private partnerships while serving on City Council. She specifically referenced planned redevelopment of Waller Creek which has engaged the philanthropic community with the formation of the Waller Creek Conservancy.


“I’ve also been able to do the same thing throughout the Parks Department and also in Health and Human Services,” said Shade. “We are actually making a really strong case right now for doing more things with nonprofits who are better suited to run the programs that help people than probably the city’s internal departments are.”


Tovo cited her work with AISD as head of the Bouldin Creek Neighborhood Association. She spearheaded a campaign to implement tuition-based pre-k at Becker Elementary, after a proposal to close the school was announced. Next year, AISD will expand the program to 22 schools. Tovo said that the program will attract more families to the central city and produce additional revenue for the schools.


Though none of the questions directly addressed either Water Treatment Plant 4 or the possible city sponsorship of Formula One racing, the candidates managed to find ways to work the topics into their answers.


When asked about the Comprehensive Plan, and how the candidates would work with neighborhoods to achieve density, Shade cited WTP4 as an example of good comprehensive planning that looks at Austin from “10,000 feet up, not just neighborhood by neighborhood.”


“When you talk about it neighborhood by neighborhood, it becomes a lot more challenging,” said Shade. “Too often at City Council, we’re making decisions, one neighbor against another neighbor on a particular zoning case. Some days I feel like we’re on the board of a homeowners association, rather than on a governing body, which is really our more awesome responsibility at this point in time.”


Tovo emphasized her work on the comprehensive plan, specifically her involvement with adding additional elements to the plan, including education, creative arts, and historic preservation.


Tovo was quick to talk about Formula One when asked about how she would help recruit businesses to Austin.


“We may have a question in a bit about F1, but I’ll just say..,. It’s a very good example of how when we are trying to attract or are considering using public subsidies we need to be very sure that that is the right priority. And I would say that most of the discussion that we’ve heard lately about F1 suggest that that’s not necessarily a good use of our public money,” said Tovo.


Tovo also stressed that public money should be used to incentivize companies that pay living wages, create long-term (not temporary) jobs, and meet sustainability goals.


Shade took a different tack, emphasizing her great business background, and the importance of the city’s educational institutions and job training programs in order to maintain a large talent pool, and be successful.


“I think it’s important for us to, as we are thinking about job creation, consider the entire spectrum, from people who are difficult to employ to the people who most people out there perceive as very easy to employ,” said Shade. “We’ve seen ups and downs, and we know that the broader the community is, to be able to support entrepreneurs, so when a company may have an experience in unexpected downsizing, like we saw a few years ago, because our economy is diverse, people were able to be employed, sometimes as independent contractors, and then get back into different kinds of positions.”

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