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Neighborhoods Council endorses mostly challengers for May election

Friday, March 30, 2012 by Kimberly Reeves

The mood at the Austin Neighborhoods Council candidate forum was distinctly anti-incumbent on Wednesday night as the group did not endorse incumbents Lee Leffingwell, Mike Martinez and Bill Spelman.


The only sitting Council member to get a nod from the group was Mayor Pro Tem Sheryl Cole, who faces one lesser-known white opponent in her bid for another term. Voting was behind closed doors, and the rationale is not expected to be posted until Friday on the ANC website, at the earliest.


The marquee race, of course, was the mayor facing off against Brigid Shea and Clay DeFoe at the end of the evening. After some sharp exchanges at the RECA forum on Tuesday, the two did not appear hesitant to go after each other on issues such as transportation funding and the Apple incentive plan.


Shea even went so far as to acknowledge she had significant disagreements with the performance of City Manager Marc Ott, whom she said sometimes made decisions that did not reflect the values of the city. She called the comprehensive planning process a “missed opportunity,” an opinion that appeared to be shared by most of the audience. She also said the recent Austin Energy rate-setting case exposed “a profound lack of leadership” in the city.


“The proposal brought back was very lopsided,” Shea said.


Asked the same question about Ott’s performance, Leffingwell said he had worked well with the city manager. His performance was an issue that should be discussed with him in a private setting and not with a general audience.


“I won’t comment on personnel matters in a forum,” Leffingwell said. “That’s just in bad taste.”


DeFoe, who has sparred on more than a couple of occasions with Leffingwell during City Council meetings, said he would shift Council meetings to Saturday to get more input from the public. He, like most of the candidates, also supported the call for single-member districts and said an independent citizen panel should be formed in order to draw fair boundaries.


The ANC endorsement went to Shea.


Cole arrived late to the forum, so she and Shaun Ireland did not answer questions at the same time. Ireland criticized the city for failing to pay enough attention to infrastructure such as roads. Cole defended her record of approving tax abatements to major employers, saying the only ones approved were those that provided a significant benefit to the city.


Martinez faced off with Laura Pressley, well known for her fight to end fluoridation of the city’s water. Martinez defended the rate setting process for Austin Energy, saying city leaders continued to ask questions. He also defended his role as chair of the Capital Metro board, saying he had lost the endorsement of Cap Metro’s bus drivers because he had made choices that were best for the city, despite his pro-labor background.


Martinez was the president of the firefighters union before his run for Council. He said he would push a new proposal that would require all first responders to live within the city limits to build city ownership.


Martinez, who was asked to defend his record on a number of fronts, said the first place he would cut in the budget would be the Economic Growth and Redevelopment Services Office.


“That department should pay for itself,” Martinez said.


Pressley stressed she would bring new insight to Council as both a key manager in a high tech companies and as a member of the board for local non-profit organizations. She said there were holes in the Apple incentive proposal that did not force the company to hire from within Austin or guarantee a living wage.


The ANC nod went to Pressley.


No endorsement was made in Place 5, currently held by Bill Spelman, despite his opening remarks about being a city leader who would respect neighborhoods as the city grew. Four of Spelman’s challengers were at Wednesday night’s forum, the strongest challengers being Dominic Chavez and Tina Cannon.


Of the other candidates, John Duffy had strong Occupy Austin leanings and a preference for making city decisions by assembly. John Rubine lost his clout with the audience when he admitted he had not voted in the last city election. He did stress that Council needed to take ownership of its mistakes, rather than foisting decisions off on consultants and commissions.


Cannon, a former emergency medical technician, agreed that ambulance staffing could be restructured without losing quality. She also suggested, having lived in southwest and east Austin, that the city had paid more attention to services and infrastructure on the west side of the city.


Chavez, the most polished of Spelman’s challengers, suggested a collaboration with K-12 and higher education to strengthen the city’s workforce, rather than using tax abatements to draw business. Tax abatements should be limited strategic investments in companies that reshape the city’s economy, he said.


Spelman, like most of the candidates, did support single-member districts, but he expressed doubts about the 10-1 plan.


“This proposal has gone down six times before,” Spelman said. “We need to make sure that this one is a strong proposal.”


Surveys and video of the forum will be posted at ANC is a non-profit corporation, according to the same site.

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