The May 15 ballot is an unusual one in that it will include several area-specific election issues that will not all affect citywide or countywide matters. The
Chronicle recommends the following votes on contested issues and candidates and in any case urges all our readers to vote on May 15 or during the early-voting period. For election details, see Two Schools of Thought.
ACC Board, Place 4: Jeffrey Richard
Both Richard and his opponent, Thomas Krueger, have extensive experience in public institutions and public service, and both have specific community college experience as teachers and administrators that would serve them well in addressing the myriad challenges facing ACC in a time of burgeoning enrollments and diminishing resources. Either would bring a fresh perspective to a board that is sorely in need of it, and which finds itself in an accreditation crisis that is partly of its own creation. On balance, we find that Richard's history of educational and political involvement and his particular experience in producing academic performance reviews including the comptroller's ACC performance review that was instrumental in moving the college in the right direction make him uniquely qualified to join the board at this time. We also found his personal dynamism and his conviction that trustees need to reach out for support beyond the college community to be particularly necessary to the board at this time.
ACC Board, Place 6: Guadalupe Sosa
This race has an abundance of riches all four candidates have much to offer, are genuinely engaged in the issues facing higher education, and as a group suggest that ACC is attracting citizens who understand the school's growing importance to the Central Texas community and who want to help meet that challenge. On the issues resolving the accreditation crisis, expanding the tax base by adding to the service area, building community and school district connections, and improving working conditions (including health benefits) for all faculty and employees the candidates mostly agree. On qualifications alone, we would probably call it a draw between Rodney Ahart and Guadalupe Sosa. The difference between them primarily seems to be in their experience of direct involvement in the ACC community, and on that score Sosa stands out. As a retired state employee, Sosa has taken on ACC as her particular cause, and as chair of the South Austin Campus Advisory Committee, she has fought successfully for the establishment of that campus. Sosa has continued to work with and monitor the board in all its actions, and shows a detailed knowledge of what the college needs and how it should best accommodate its diverse service community.
AISD Board, Position 8: Doyle Valdez
Only one of the three AISD board races is contested, which may indicate either a popular consensus on the board's direction or a worrisome reluctance to take on the difficulties of setting policy and especially budgets for an increasingly urbanized school district working in the shadow of a too-often-indifferent state government. We'll presume the former, for now, and recommend a vote for incumbent President Valdez against perennial candidate Jennifer Gale, whose earnestness is exceeded only by her inexperience. We're glad the board and district have moved beyond the administrative chaos that characterized it only a few years ago, and Valdez certainly deserves considerable credit for that transition. We would hope, however, that he and the board would more often look beyond the immediate crises and the administration's instinct for one-size-fits-all answers, and look for ways to make district policy more dynamic and adaptable to the rapid demographic and financial changes in the school community.
City of Austin Proposition 1: Collective Bargaining for Firefighters: YES
Austin firefighters are asking voters to grant them collective bargaining rights in labor contract negotiations with the city. We believe voters should approve this request. It should make the negotiating process take less time (under a 60-day deadline) and would thus require each side to bring only focused, practical, and realistic goals and proposals to the bargaining table. The current meet-and-confer process (which both firefighters and police now use) has fewer strictly defined procedural parameters than those imposed by collective bargaining, and the negotiations themselves are conducted in private, out of public oversight. Aside from the occasional "joint communication," the public is not allowed to know how city leaders and union officials reach important decisions then funded by taxpayers. The collective bargaining process itself would impose no new fiscal responsibility on the city, but would provide a window into the way government actually works. Despite the predictable warnings of "too-powerful unions," it's hard to imagine a realistic scenario where granting collective bargaining rights to Austin's firefighters would result in a radical shift in power rendering the city prostrate before the negotiating rights of the firefighters. Indeed, with the public watching it seems far less likely that would happen moreover, approval would give to city firefighters rights that millions of workers elsewhere take for granted.
Travis Co.: Creation of a Countywide Hospital District: YES
At a time when anti-tax sentiment is running strong, it's heartening to know that even the fiscal ultraconservatives recognize that Travis Co.'s frazzled safety net is no longer somebody else's problem. Austin's business community, typically a tax-skittish lot, has done the math and joined dozens of other professional and special-interest groups in a bipartisan push to win passage of a proposed hospital district on May 15. Add the Chronicle
's name to the long list of backers. Travis Co. is the only major metropolitan area in Texas without a hospital district. It's beyond us why anyone would want to continue on this track when our health care system is saddled with 250,000 uninsured Central Texans, overcrowded emergency rooms frequently on diversion, a regional trauma center in need of an upgrade, and virtually no psychiatric emergency facility. These shortcomings affect all of us. If voters approve, Brackenridge, Women's, and Children's hospitals and the city-county health clinics would transfer to a new governing entity, and a uniform tax rate would be created, thus putting an end to a lopsided method of funding public health care. City residents currently pay about 6 cents more per $100 valuation than what county residents pay for the same services. Narrowing the tax gap would add another $6 million to the health care budget. According to new data provided by city consultants, city of Austin residents would actually see a slight drop in property taxes, while county residents would pay about $92 a year more. Beyond that, the consultants say the district could operate for at least five years without increased property taxes. The bottom line is that city and county residents would pay the same amount to ensure equal access to a healthier health care network.