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Leslie Pool: Governing not for the faint of heart

Wednesday, January 6, 2021 by Jo Clifton

The year 2020 has been a stressful year for almost everyone. For those considering running for a seat on City Council at some point in time, District 7 Council Member Leslie Pool has some advice. As she told the Austin Monitor, “Municipal governance in the 21st century is not for the faint of heart.”

While she is proud of how Austin has risen to the challenges presented by Covid-19, she sees 2021 as a year in which “restoring equilibrium to our community … is going to be job number one.”

She added, “We seem to be managing things. City service delivery continues. We have a lot of improvements to infrastructure. We’re caring for people with health problems or vulnerabilities, and we even had the Zilker tree-lighting event. A lot of people look forward to that, so despite the burden of Covid-19, the city of Austin has managed to shoulder the burden and plow on through. I really want to focus on the fact that Austin is doing better, health-wise and virus spread-wise, than most other American cities, specifically better than other cities in Texas.”

Pool noted that Austinites have responded better than many to the call to wear protective face masks.

But Austin is facing another problem: dwindling numbers of police officers and no cadet class on the calendar. At a recent meeting, Pool joined Mayor Steve Adler in calling for a new cadet class this spring. However, she says she is very concerned about the fact that City Manager Spencer Cronk has not produced a rewritten curriculum as Council requested.

“It’s important we rewrite that curriculum and get it finalized,” she said. “At this point I think we’ll be fortunate if we can start recruiting sometime this summer” for a class to start in the fall. According to Pool, Council will have to identify where the funding for the academy will come from, because the money cut from the police budget was transferred to other needs. Pool estimated that three cadet classes would cost $10 million, so one such class would cost about $3 million. She said recruiting would be about 10 percent, or $300,000.

On a more optimistic note, Pool noted that she and some of her colleagues sponsored the Shop the Block! program, which was envisioned to assist businesses seeing less foot traffic because of the pandemic. The program allows businesses to use the sidewalks in front of their stores to display their wares, and has been particularly popular downtown, she noted.

Within District 7, which includes the 78757 and 78758 ZIP codes in West Central Austin, Pool said she is looking forward to the impact of Project Connect, which city voters approved on Nov. 3. The bus and rail line project will bring needed transportation alternatives to the district and Pool intends to get more involved. According to Mayor Adler’s post on the City Council Message Board, Pool will join the Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority Board of Directors, replacing Mayor Pro Tem Delia Garza, who will start her new job as Travis County Attorney in January.

Pool is looking forward to joining the Capital Metro board, especially since much of the first phase of Project Connect is in her district. She is anticipating working on getting new stations at McKalla Place, home of the new Austin FC stadium, and the Broadmoor campus adjacent to the Domain.

Pool is also looking forward to the transformation of 6909 Ryan Drive, a 5-acre tract next to Capital Metro’s Crestview Station that has been an Austin Energy pole yard. Crestview neighbors have looked at the property for years, wishing it could be transformed into a park, Pool said, adding that the city has also anticipated putting housing in that location. The city released a request for proposals on Aug. 25 and is still in the process of reviewing and evaluating those proposals.

She said, “It will be a new center of activity once it’s completed.”

Last but certainly not least on her list of projects for the new year, she said, “I’ll be focusing on the Fiscal Year 22 budget.”

That could be especially challenging with the recent news that the new federal coronavirus relief bill does not include funding for states and local governments.

This story has been changed since publication to correct the District 7 ZIP codes referenced.

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