Wednesday, November 21, 2018

District 8 candidates make final forum pitches

October 20, 2014  

Panelists were Gary Keith (Associate Professor of Political Science at University of the Incarnate Word) and Jack Floyd (Adjunct Professor of Government at Austin Community College).

by Ann Fowler

The five candidates for the District 8 spot on the Austin City Council gathered on Oct. 7 at Shepherd of the Hills Presbyterian Church (SHPC) for the final candidates forum before the Nov. 4 election.

Becky Bray, Eliza May, Darrell Pierce, Ed Scruggs and Ellen Troxclair were on hand to field questions from audience members and from panelists Gary Keith (Associate Professor of Political Science at University of the Incarnate Word) and Jack Floyd (Adjunct Professor of Government at Austin Community College). The forum moderator was attorney Linda Icenhauer-Ramirez.

Stefan Haag, an SHPC member, was one of the organizers of the event. He estimated that 150 community members attended. He said, “The principal motivation was to provide a venue so that residents of southwest Austin could learn about the candidates and the issues.”

District 8 represents much of Southwest Austin, from Zilker Park and Bee Caves to Oak Hill. Five individuals are running for the District 8 seat on the Austin City Council.

The Candidates

   Becky Bray, 44, a fourth-generation Austinite and a professional transportation engineer and transportation/land planner, lives in the Heights at Loma Vista. She graduated from Stephen F. Austin High School and Texas A&M University, with undergraduate and graduate degrees in civil engineering.

She currently serves on the Board of Directors and the Executive Committee for the Real Estate Council of Austin (RECA). Bray is familiar with transportation challenges, having served on the transportation committees for both the Chamber of Commerce and RECA.

   Eliza May, 60, is the director of mission services, Austin Affiliate of the Susan G. foundation. She lives in Travis Country.

May’s main issues include traffic, taxes, water and unmanaged growth. She was an original supporter of the Save our Springs Alliance to protect Barton Springs and the Edwards Aquifer ecosystem

May is the former director of the Texas Federal Services Commission and the former President and CEO of the Greater Austin Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

   Darrell Pierce, 49, president/CEO of a process improvement and change management consulting firm, lives in Western Oaks. He graduated from Crockett High School and St. Edwards University.

Pierce currently serves on the Mayor’s Transportation Working Group. He previously served on the city’s Planning Commission and on the Board of Directors for the Austin Chamber.

He supports quality education and has volunteered his time to the Austin Public Education Foundation and the AISD Boundary/Facility Task Force.

   Ed Scruggs, 49, a clinical research associate, has lived in Austin for 23 years—13 of those years in southwest Austin. He currently lives in Circle C.

His children attend Kiker Elementary and Gorzyki Middle schools.

Scruggs is a neighborhood advocate and former Circle C Homeowner Association director.

   Ellen Troxclair, 29, is a realtor and chief of staff to state Rep. Jason Isaac, R-Dripping Springs. She lives in the Villages at Western Oaks.

She is a UT graduate and is particularly concerned with issues including property taxes, transportation, the cost of living, public safety and responsible spending.

Candidates Forum

Panelist Questions

Jack McCoy: Would you support capping assessed evaluations on residential property to reduce overall tax burdens in the city?

May: Suggested that the five taxing agencies coordinate ballot measures so citizens are not forced to choose one over the other. “We are becoming a city that is unsustainable in its taxes.” She said she would entertain a discussion on freezing taxes for those 65 and older.

Pierce: There has been an exodus of low to medium-income families from the school district. This also has an impact on the city of Austin, the County, ACC, and the Health Care District—the other taxing entities. He agrees with ballot collaboration. He also suggests phasing in a homestead exemption. He does not support the road-rail bond package. He said of the $400 million, only $8 million is set aside for southwest Austin.

Scruggs: The different taxing entities should get together to coordinate what goes on the ballot. He is voting against the rail bond. “The overall plan doesn’t include us—it’s an incomplete plan.” He said state law may restrict what is possible as far as capping taxes, but would favor a 20 percent phased-in homestead exemption.

Troxclair: Is open to any option that will slow “the incredible cost of living increases here.” The only way for us to really get a handle on this is to refocus priorities on basic city services. The light rail bond is not a traffic solution because it would serve less than one-half of one percent of the region’s daily trips.

Bray: All five taxing entities should get together—Austin should take the lead. “We need to talk collectively, not independently.” I do support a phased-in homestead exemption—with a cap. Supports a freeze for those 65 and older. She does not support proposition 1.

   Gary Keith: As a new councilmember, how will you get up to speed on new policy issues and how do you plan to engage in and improve the process of governance?

Pierce: Within the first 90 days, each councilmember should spend a day or two visiting each of the other districts to see the culture and the environment of each district. Develop strategic principals or guidelines on how to govern. Since we are one city, no district’s wants should be met at the expense of another district’s needs. Develop common ground to address common issues in order to get common goals that will lead to common results.

Scruggs: Went out to visit with each candidate to develop relationships with each. He does the same with Councilmembers. Would change city management to help improve communication. Recommends a strong council-committee system where 4, 5, 6 members come together, hear testimony, debate issues and then send issues up through a committee system to help streamline the process.

Troxclair: Has no current relationships with council members. Throughout her career as a chief of staff, she has built relationships. She believes in accountability and bringing a voice to constituents. She suggests online system for constituents to voice opinions on important topics.

Bray: Plans to hit the ground running if elected. Has held roundtable conversations about education, transportation, the budget, transparency. The biggest issues in the first six months include the Campo 2045 plan, Project Next and the budgeting process. She has met with most of the individuals running for districts and for mayor, trying to form collaborations “so as soon as winners are declared we can have conversations.” She is committed to have an in-district office so constituents don’t need to drive downtown.

May: Has worked with many of those currently running for district office. She has also worked with city leadership, the city manager and his assistants. She does not support the rail bond. She recently held a town hall meeting about the 10-1 rail project in case the bond fails. She suggests external audit to review all expenditures to identify any duplication.

Floyd: Is the Council-Manager form of government sufficient?

Scruggs: The city manager is responsible for day-to-day operations. It would take a charter amendment to change. First issue: does the city manager continue or do we decide to make a change. He has heard many complaints about the current city manager and the way things are run. “We need to hire a manager that reflects our values.”

Troxclair: Significant improvements can be made in the current city manager form of government. The city manager operates independently, and may not always listen to city staff. Voters are the ultimate bosses, then elected officials, then staff. The city council is accountable to voters.

Bray: Has worked with current city manager and has utmost respect for him. The city council sets the policy, the city manager carries them out. She feels he is stymied by a ruling by the Travis County attorney regarding the Texas Open Meetings Act that has curtailed conversations between council members.

May: District 8 citizens are the bosses. They pay the bills and will hold the district rep accountable. Before we passed 10-1, a charter amendment for a strong Mayoral form of government was suggested but did not happen. “I think we have a really good city manager.” She feels personnel issues have affected internal communication.

Pierce: “We should always be open to best practices.” One may have been better based on the size of the city. There may be a point in time when the structure should change, but the system may not be as broken as the people in the system. The city manager may not be getting clear directives.

Keith: Imagine Austin involves long-range planning. What long-term planning for this district and for the city would you suggest, including environmental protection issues.

Troxclair: That’s a huge issue in southwest Austin. We have unique environmental features, such as the Aquifer. “Some ordinances have gone above and beyond to make sure that our natural resources are protected. The things we have in place right now have also stifled development.” She added, “The idea we’ve had for the past couple of decades—if you don’t build it, they won’t come—is not working. They’re coming, they’re coming in droves.” Responsible planning is needed. She looks forward to the Code Next process, streamlining development codes, revisiting some environmental restrictions to ensure a more balanced approach moving forward.

Bray: Through the Code Next process, we can refine the development process to make it a level playing field for everybody. With respect to the environmental controls, technology today is far superior to the technology in place when they built Brodie and when they built Mopac at 45. Water quality features are better today. The environmental controls in Imagine Austin have stymied development in southwest Austin. Nothing has happened in terms of an Oak Hill Town Center—where residents could live, work and play and where a transit hub would exist. This forces residents to commute to jobs downtown. “We as a council have to continue to push those [ideas] forward.”

May: The conversations about Code Next are different for those who live downtown than they are for those who live in District 8. The central core is concerned about density. That’s not necessarily the concern in this area. “Our conversation is how do you develop over the environmentally zoned area in light of the SOS.” We should look into the possibility of a Town Center, and the viability of small businesses there. What we want to look like is up to us as neighbors and neighborhoods. Our issues and challenges are very different than those that face the people downtown. We have to have a collaborative effort that addresses both the environment and development.

Pierce: He fully embraces and understands the natural resources in this District. “They are our greatest jewels.” Development and environmental protections do not need to work in competition or be polar opposites. He points to increased activity in the Southwest Parkway corridor. Developers that don’t get the buy-in of neighbors often have trouble being successful. “I always tell developers, if you want to be successful, be a responsible neighbor.”

Scruggs: “We live in a very unique part of the city— the most beautiful part of the city as far as I’m concerned.” He said development isn’t stymied, proven by increased activity on Southwest Parkway. We need to continue to develop, but we can develop under the existing ordinance with advanced technology—we can do it right. Code Next determines what’s going to happen in your neighborhood years from now. “When they want to build a duplex across the street from you, are they going to be able to do that? How big is that development going to be? It may not seem pertinent now, but it will be soon. Density is coming this way. We have to be prepared on the community level.”

Audience Question: What is the top priority that you can accomplish biggest positive impact?

Troxclair: We need more accountability and constituent engagement. Suggests setting up an online system to let the District representative know what you feel. Also suggests restructuring council meetings so citizens know when to show up so they won’t have to be there until 2 a.m.

Bray: Roads need to be built: 45, finishing the ‘Y’ at Oak Hill, expedition of the south Mopac project. Along the same theme is transit. “We’ve got to get transit out here. We’ve got to get [Capital Metro executive director] Linda [Watson] and the other folks from Capital Metro down here to understand: We are not being served. We’ve got to get a park and ride. …Our transportation needs have got to be met and we’ve got to be listened to.”

May: I believe we can accomplish a homestead exemption for all our citizens.We need to change the business practices, including an independent external audit to find additional dollars for other projects.

Pierce: Phasing in a homestead exemption could be accomplished.Evaluate the budget to find the best way to evaluate any initiative and get consensus. It’s important to have district offices for constituent convenience.

Scruggs: “Don’t pay for transportation projects that will make transportation worse, which is what I’m convinced the 45 connection will do on Mopac.Austin has a structural deficit when it comes to governing and constituent services under the old system. It’s going to take a lot to break that. Having district offices is a start.Change how we run meetings using a committee system. “Our system of governing is failing us.”

For further information

Becky Bray

Website: www.brayfor8.com

Facebook: www.facebook.com/brayfor8

Eliza May

Website: www.elizamayforaustin.com

Twitter: @ElizaMayDist8

Facebook: www.facebook.com/Elizamayforaustin

Darrell Pierce

Website: www.darrellpierce.com

Facebook: Darrell Pierce for Austin City Council Dist. 8

Ed Scruggs

Website: www.edscruggsfordistrict8.org

Twitter: @Ed4Austin8

Facebook: www.facebook.com/Edscruggs4Austin8

Ellen Troxclair

Website: www.ellenforaustin.com

Twitter: @EllenforAustin

Facebook: www.facebook.com/ellentroxclair

 

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