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District 10 candidates ponder changes at City Hall

Thursday, October 9, 2014 by Gene Davis

City Council District 10 candidates talked transportation, water conservation and incentives during Monday night’s Ballot Boxing forum hosted by the Austin Monitor, KUT News, Austin Chronicle, KXAN and Univision.

But some of the most interesting comments from the eight candidates vying to represent Austin’s wealthiest district came in response to the night’s most colorful question: “If you were king or queen for a day, and you could unilaterally repeal any existing city ordinance, which city ordinance would you select and why?”

Jason Meeker, who has served on the City of Austin’s Zoning and Platting Commission since 2011, said he would eliminate the short-term rental ordinance that allows people to legally rent out their home. He said while he thinks short-term rentals are OK during large events such as Austin City Limits, it should not be permitted the rest of the year.

“I think (short-term rentals) are wrong on all kinds of levels,” he said. “It undermines the neighborhood; it’s beyond rude to your neighbors.”

Matt Lamon, a chief of staff for Rep. J.M. Lozano, R-Kingsville, said he would eliminate the bag ban that Council passed in 2012. He said that although he and other people he knew used reusable bags before the ban, Council should not enforce such behavior.

“I don’t see why we need to make that choice for everybody,” he said.

Civil engineer Bill Worsham said he would eliminate current restrictions on water sprinkle usage and the ban on using cellphones while driving.

“These are symptoms of a problem that we have in this town, which is that we think we need to be our neighbor’s keeper,” he said.

Tina Cannon, an entrepreneur and former business auditor, said she would use the magic wand to eliminate Water Treatment Plant 4.

“We need to cut our losses on Water Treatment Plant 4; it’s costing us millions of dollars ongoing each year,” she said. “It is 20 percent of your water bill every time you get your water bill.”

Margie Burciaga, who described herself as “your tax cut lady,” said she would undo the resolution by Council Member Chris Riley that instructs Austin Energy to greatly increase its renewable resources.

“It is going to cost us thousands of thousands of dollars and hit all of our pockets,” she said. “It’s not because I’m not pro-renewable energy, but it’s because I think it needs to be phased in and done appropriately.”

Attorney and businessman Robert Thomas agreed with Burciaga and said he would undo the resolution.

“It was (passed) in the eleventh hour after they told everyone to go home,” he said. “There was no opportunity for public input; that is not accountable, transparent, accountable government.”

Sheri Gallo, a real estate agent, said she would eliminate the source of income ordinance that Council passed on first reading Oct. 2. She said while the proposed ordinance, which seeks to protect renters who pay with housing vouchers, sounds nice on the surface, it would negatively impact property owners and landlords in their ability to choose what type of renter they want to have.

“It’s the issue of too much government putting their nose in the free market and people’s operations of their businesses,” she said.

Mandy Dealey, who has served on six city boards and commissions, said she would repeal the Planned Unit Development ordinance that waives zoning requirements for a large tract of land. She said Council has granted a number of waivers to allow a PUD on a piece of property as small as a lot.

“It has been badly abused; it’s a flawed ordinance,” Dealey said.

Following the magic wand question, the candidates shared their thoughts on whether they would keep or look to fire City Manager Marc Ott.

Lamon said a new form of government needs a new city manager.

Worsham called for an “orderly transition” and said Ott should take some of the heat for allowing a culture among city departments where “we civilians aren’t worthy of respect.”

Cannon said Council should set up measurable, achievable goals for Ott to meet in one budget cycle. Council could then decide whether to keep or fire Ott based on whether he meets those goals, she said.

Burciaga agreed that there should be measurable, achievable goals placed on all city employees, including Ott. However, she added that Council should give Ott a quarter, not a full year, to meet the goals.

Thomas said he realized there was “a real problem” with Ott when he saw him roll his eyes at a question from a Council member during a budget discussion.

Gallo said it’s critical that Council and Ott be partners and communicate. She said Council should go into the new year with a very clear level of expectations and give Ott a chance to meet those expectations.

Dealey echoed Gallo’s comments and said hiring a new city manager shouldn’t be an immediate priority of the new Council.

For his part, Meeker said Ott should have 100 days to justify his job “or he’s gone.”

Early voting in the election begins Oct. 20, and the general election is Nov. 4.

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