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Leslie Pool, Morgan Witt face off in District 7 Council race

Monday, October 12, 2020 by Daniel Salazar

In the least crowded field of the five Council elections this fall, Leslie Pool, the incumbent, is facing only one challenger, newcomer Morgan Witt, to represent North Austin’s District 7 on Austin City Council.

Pool is one of the original members of the city’s first 10-1 Council and has won elections in 2014 and 2016.

Pool said she’s most proud of her efforts on citywide issues, pointing to her work on creating a chief resilience officer position earlier this year.

“I can see that effort having cascading influences and importance for our city residents in the years to come,” she said.
Pool said she’s also worked to make sure District 7’s amenities are properly maintained, pointing to her efforts for repairs to Northwest District Park.

“Those civic assets, like libraries, pools, trails (and) parks in the city, have always been a focal point for me because they’re sort of unsung,” she said. “A big part of my work has been to continue to add money to the Parks and Rec Department budget.”

Pool has also been working to ensure a rail station is added at McKalla Place, the site of the new Austin FC Major League Soccer stadium. In 2018, Pool led opposition on the dais to the proposed soccer stadium deal put forth by Precourt Sports Ventures, which was trying to relocate the Columbus Crew SC from Ohio.

“I was never against soccer or the team,” Pool said. “I didn’t like the way the contract was being brought to the City Council and I also didn’t feel good or right about stealing a team or taking a team from another city.”

Pool said her work on ensuring a McKalla Place station shows she can be pragmatic after bitter debates on the dais.

“I know I didn’t win in the fight on the contract – I think we left some stuff on the table,” she said. “But that’s what we have and now my job as the District 7 Council member is to make sure that this is the best darn stadium.”

Pool said she’s threaded a needle on controversial public safety votes, such as the ordinance changes last summer on public camping. “On homelessness, I supported the decriminalization, but I urged that we make sure that we have our resources and our safety net lined up.”

More recently, she was part of the pushback on the dais to the Land Development Code revision effort.

“I will always resist having massive policy changes thrust down the throats of the electorate – that isn’t right,” Pool said. “When you tell owners of property that they no longer have a say in how the city is going to change the land use or the zoning of their property … you can’t do that. This is Texas, where property rights are paramount.”

Morgan Witt, who is a bilingual education adviser at a tech company, said she’s tried to make a difference through community advocacy and education. But the onset of the coronavirus pandemic and this summer’s Black Lives Matter movement changed her views on running for office.

Additionally, without the pandemic, Witt said she’d be traveling for work and likely wouldn’t have had an opportunity to campaign for office.

“Everything that the pandemic exposed really showed to me that … we’ve been facing these issues for a really long time,” Witt said. “We’ve had so many opportunities to make this city more livable, to make this city more equitable, to make it more affordable. But time and again, we’re not moving the needle.”

Witt said the city needs to improve the way it gathers input from the community.

“We see that the loudest voices get the most attention, but our most vulnerable communities who are often heavily impacted by decisions don’t get a say at all,” she said. “We’re not being proactive in the way we respond to problems.”

In a KUT and Austin Monitor forum last month, Pool and Witt both expressed support for Proposition A as well as controversial city votes the last two summers to ease restrictions on public camping and to pivot public safety funding away from the Austin Police Department.

But Witt said land use is one of the biggest policy differences between her and Pool.

“She’s pretty strongly pro-single family zoning,” Witt said. “She has said that she wants to protect individuals’ property rights and protect neighborhood character … which, to me, is not progressive at all.”

“If we don’t address the way that we’re sprawling, it doesn’t matter how many parks we build,” Witt added. “It doesn’t matter how many bike lanes we have. We’re really not addressing climate change.”

Witt said the city needs to be more equitable about where affordable housing is encouraged and where transit investments are placed, adding she wants more transit service in the Tech Ridge and Harris Ridge areas of District 7.

“I want to make sure that every decision we make is equitable and thoughtful and focused on progressive and systemic change,” she said.

Witt is passionate about preserving Austin’s live music scene. She said the city’s efforts to help musicians and venues during the pandemic demonstrates how city “leadership is reactive and scrambling for Band-Aid fixes.”

“We are the music capital of the world,” she said. “We should be the gold standard for how you support your music industry.”

Witt said an ongoing, dedicated music preservation fund would be one of her top priorities if elected.

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