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Nothing Funny Happened on the Way to the Forum

Candidates rehash their positions at new round of forums

By Michael King, Fri., June 17, 2011

As early voting in the Place 3 City Council run-off blazed last week, there was time for a few more public forums between incumbent Randi Shade and challenger Kathie Tovo. On June 9, Time Warner news channel YNN held a council episode of Capital Tonight featuring the candidates, and the next evening, the Austin League of Women Voters held a Shade/Tovo forum at City Hall.

There was nothing dramatically new in the exchanges (which can be viewed online), though the LWV occasion drilled a little deeper into specific questions about the candidates' histories and positions. YNN newsman Paul Brown led with a question on public safety; Tovo insisted she does not wish to cut public safety directly but the city needs to plan better going forward as public safety costs demand an increasing proportion of the overall city budget. Shade noted that Tovo has said that current public safety spending is "unsustainable," and that that means "cutting people on the street" despite strong public support for such spending.

Questions followed on Water Treatment Plant No. 4, Formula One, and the historic preservation (tax rebate) program. The candidates' answers generally followed familiar ground. Tovo thinks the city could have waited on WTP4; Shade said she'd "rather be early than late." Tovo judged F1 as "not the right priority" for the city; Shade said "the devil is in the details," and while major events can help fund the city, we still don't know enough about this project's costs. Shade said the historic preservation program needs more objective criteria and abatement caps; Tovo emphasized the value of the program in raising a neighborhood's property values. (Additional questions, posted on the YNN website, addressed single-member districts and comprehensive planning.)

The LWV forum touched on several of the same subjects, with a somewhat more precise focus. Asked to describe "signature leadership" initiatives, Shade pointed to her work on the Waller Creek Tunnel Project, in particular her outreach to private sources to sustain the Waller Creek Conservancy, a strategy she said she has extended to other city parks. Tovo recounted her work for the Bouldin Creek Neighborhood Associa­tion, initiating tuition-based pre-K at Becker Elementary, now to be adopted as an AISD program at 22 elementaries. Other questions covered the specific value of public hearings in policy decisions, approaches to comprehensive planning, strategies for economic development, historic preservation, and traffic solutions.

The entire YNN forum is posted online at austin.ynn.com/content/austin_city_council; the LWV forum, televised on the city's Channel 6, is at www.cityofaustin.org/channel6. *$64,157 from Austin Fair Campaign Finance Fund

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