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Mayor Pro Tem Cole sees progress, resolution for critical issues in 2011

Wednesday, January 4, 2012 by Michael Kanin

Sheryl Cole began 2011 as a Council Member; she ended it as Mayor Pro Tem. In between, she saw the resolution of the festering law suit brought by shooting victim Nathaniel Sanders’ family, the passage of the Waller Creek project, work on affordable housing, and an election where she played a key role in the result.


However, Cole tells In Fact Daily that her most important work of the year came on the completion of a decades-old piece of infrastructure – the much-debated Water Treatment Plant 4 project. “That’s the biggest thing I think I did this year,” she says.


“We made a tremendous step – that I hope was not missed by the public — in coming together and asking for additional information on Water Treatment Plant 4,” she says.


Cole points to the unanimous decision from council to proceed with the project, after it received a detailed analysis of the costs that the city would be forced to bear if it halted construction on the plant. “We essentially came to a public statement of 7-0 that we will presently continue based on what we know now,” she continued. “That is government at its best: Simply doing what is right based on what you know at the time.”


The resolution of the Nathaniel Sanders case — a lawsuit brought against the City of Austin by the family of a young black man who was shot and killed by an Austin Police Officer — was not, Cole insists, “any type of indictment of our officer.”


“We simply treated it like we treat many other law suits where we decide the risk of trial is simply too high,” she continued. Still, its conclusion lifted a weight.


“It had many complexities over a two-and-a-half year period that were very difficult on council members, and most importantly the community,” Cole said. “The resolution allows us to move forward.”


Waller Creek represented another 2011 milestone for Cole. “One of the most important things for me was establishing the Waller Creek Conservancy,” she said. “(It’s) a true public-private partnership that does not exist anywhere else in the city of Austin.”


Cole also made note of the work the city had done on affordable housing. “We managed to actually start, and nearly complete, three complexes — one east, one north, and one central,” she said. Cole noted that she and Council Member Laura Morrison had worked “vigorously” to make the effort one that brought affordable housing to all corners of the city.


The passage of the Downtown Austin Plan was another key moment for Cole. “That’s been in the making for six years,” she said. “We came to a resolution on the density bonus, the historical provisions, and managed to highlight Waller Creek, the Seaholm District, capitol redevelopment, and the medical center.


“When we think about regional transportation,” she said in what seemed to be a glance forward to a potential 2012 urban rail bond initiative, “we have to make sure that we highlight the places that people would want to come in the central city like the ones I just named.”


Former Council Member Randi Shade played a key role in Cole’s Waller Creek efforts. Still, when it came time to chose-up sides in the 2011 Council election, Cole backed Shade’s eventual successor, former Planning Commissioner Kathie Tovo. “I think that Council Member Tovo is very hard working, very smart and very diligent,” she said “We don’t always agree, but sometimes it’s just a pleasure to disagree.”


Cole noted that her experience with Tovo dated back to the new council member’s work on schools. “Before I was on Council I was very involved in the school community,” she said. “Kathie had done some class-A work (there)…it was a long-standing positive relationship.”


Shade’s loss was largely pegged to a scandal that resulted from the release of reams of emails that showed the former Council Member at her occasional condescending worst. They played a role in Tovo’s campaign, and at City Hall, rumors floated that references Shade made to the Sanders case had angered Cole.

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