The Chronicle "editorial board" is a motley and moveable feast, but this year is essentially comprised of the news staff and editors, editor Louis Black, and publisher Nick Barbaro. We endorse only in contested races, and not by vote but by conversational consensus although occasionally (as this year) we'll issue split or qualified decisions for various reasons, trusting our readers to hear us out and then to find their own way. And whatever we decide, the writers and editors are entirely free to go right on agreeing, ignoring, or disputing whatever "the board" came up with. That's why we like working here.
Mayor: Will Wynn
City Council, Place 2: Mike Martinez
City Council, Place 5: Brewster McCracken
City Council, Place 6: Sheryl Cole
City Charter Prop. 1: NO (with a dissent)
City Charter Prop. 2: NO (with a dissent)
City Charter Prop. 3: YES
City Charter Prop. 4: YES
City Charter Prop. 5: YES
City Charter Prop. 6: YES
City Charter Prop. 7: YES
AISD Board, District 7: Robert Schneider
AISD Board, Position 8 (At Large): Ed Leo
AISD Board, Position 9 (At Large): Karen Dulaney Smith
ACC Board, Place 8: Rodney Ahart
ACC Board, Place 9: Allen Kaplan
Mayor: Will Wynn Partly for structural reasons, this year's mayoral campaign has steadily become a minor coronation. Incumbent Wynn faces no persuasive opposition, is genuinely popular citywide, and has embraced his job with enthusiasm and energy an impression amply confirmed by his performance during the hurricane emergencies last year. Even his challenger, Mayor Pro Tem Danny Thomas, declares that he is not running "against Wynn" but "against the status quo at City Hall," as a voice for an uneven collection of groups that say they're left out of effective public discussion. On the other hand, Wynn has been an engaged and effective mayor, has been at the center of major public initiatives like Envision Central Texas, the Mueller redevelopment, and the current work on affordable housing, and he deserves credit for leading the city through the economic downturn to much better times. We want to see what he can do with three years of unencumbered attention, when he should: 1) carry out the council promises of openness and transparency delivered in the debate over the charter amendments; 2) challenge city staff (top to bottom) to actually engage the whole council and the public instead of always being dragged by force to the public debate; and 3) somehow balance the economic push for downtown residential development with the growing need for affordable housing. Mayor Wynn has earned another term.
We applaud May's distinguished record of public service, especially at the Capitol, and expect that her role in city politics will grow. And we like Wes Benedict's persistence not only in running for office, but in holding the council's feet to the fire on the hypocrisies of the campaign finance ordinance but his reflexive Libertarian mantra of "lower taxes, smaller government" does virtually nothing to address most of the real, complex matters facing city government.
By that admittedly lopsided contrast, McCracken suddenly seems like a dynamo of practical energy, an official fountain of knowledge, and a dogged implementer of effective city policies. He's done undeniably excellent work on city planning, transportation-oriented development, design standards, and amidst all the hysteria, the toll-road battle, despite his opponents' determination to hang TxDOT unfairly around his neck. He's also initiated good work on new technologies, public safety budgeting, even issues of equity like the fight over birth control prescriptions or his sponsorship of the domestic partner charter amendment. His virtues and vices run too closely together he charged off half-cocked over the Midtown Live loan controversy, made the argument over the Prop. 1&2 ballot language more personal than necessary, and we expect we'll be blasting his property tax cap wild hair before too long. But considering the ingrained passivity of several of his colleagues, if McCracken didn't light fireworks now and then, the whole dais might be in the dark.
Proposition 1: NO The so-called "Open Government Amendment."
Most of us are strongly, several adamantly, opposed to the so-called "open government" Prop. 1 on several grounds, most broadly because it was conceived, written, promoted, and balloted entirely in direct contradiction to the "open government" principles it supposedly celebrates, by a handful of activists bitter over a half-dozen lost battles (some still raging) they want to reverse by fiat. The process was not public or democratic (we routinely oppose state constitutional amendments on similar grounds), there was no opportunity to perfect the propositions once any signatures were collected (via generic slogans), and for such a complex proposal, it is literally impossible for voters to have any real certainty what the question actually is. There are also a host of more specific objections: 1) The cost is unknown, but could be many millions; 2) the actual requirements for online posting of public information are unclear and contradictory; 3) honest citizens expecting privacy in at least some communications with city officials (e.g. whistleblowers or city employees) would hesitate if they know they will be instantly publicized; 4) ending all private communications concerning economic incentives is in fact a mandate to end the incentives, and should be honestly presented as such; 5) rewriting the police officers' contract and conditions of work by fiat, without any discussion with those directly affected, amounts to union-busting; 6) the shotgun attempt to install direct-democracy-by-computer is both naïve and casually disdainful of representative government. Not least, we shouldn't have to provide exhaustive arguments about an extremely complex proposition that voters will have to intuit instantly, without access to detailed explanation. What is good in Prop. 1 has mostly to do with making planning information more immediately accessible, and the city was already moving in that direction before the petitions were drafted. We strongly urge our readers to vote NO on Prop. 1.
Our objections to Prop. 2 are not as far-reaching the proposition is shorter and less complex but just as firm (and the general Prop. 1 objections to the undemocratic process remain equally valid). In general, the amendment is first an attempt to write the purist SOS theory of "grandfathering" into the city charter, which might be defensible if that theory didn't regularly get poured out at the courthouse and didn't set the city on a collision course with the Legislature, which would just love to return to the Austin-bashing of the Nineties. Setting aside the potential legal expense, those provisions are mostly rhetorical, but many of the nuts-and-bolts provisions (only suggested in the ballot language) are even worse: 1) attempting to restrict all infrastructure improvements in the watershed, even those necessary for environmental protection; 2) attempting to ban "any and all" incentive programs in a huge land area that includes many long-established neighborhoods; 3) trying to make certain that any company that ever did or does anything that SOS doesn't approve gets punished financially, in perpetuity; 4) trying to impose broad policy decisions on toll roads only tangentially related to Barton Springs, that may make it harder to stop the roads, in a frankly cynical attempt to enlist support from the toll warriors; 5) rashly inviting lawsuits from property owners whose legal rights would be subject to veto because of other owners in the title chain. There's more, but that should be quite enough yet another objection to dropping this bushel-basket in front of even attentive voters and expecting them instantly to sort out the potential consequences.
This is a clean-up provision responding to a recent change in state law that moved the uniform election date to the second Saturday in May and made the timing difficult for Austin city elections, especially if there are run-offs terms currently begin on June 15, and there could well be a June 17 run-off in at least one of this year's council races. The amendment would fix the base date in the charter but also allow flexibility by ordinance in the future, should the state calendar change again.
Although we're not all of one mind on the principle of term limits, we're agreed that two terms (i.e., six years) on the Council barely gives a member time to learn the system and initiate programs before he is either out on his ear or else spending too much time and money chasing petition signatures. One campaign-buzz proposal would leave the two-term limit while lengthening the terms to four years but that option is not on this ballot. Especially since the measure does not affect current incumbents, we strongly endorse expanding the limit to three terms.
This amendment would refine (and index to inflation) the campaign contribution limits imposed by the voters in 1997. Contribution limits would be raised to $300 per person (from the current $100), overall limits would also be raised (from $15,000 to $30,000, $20,000 for a run-off), and the regulations governing "in-city" contributions would be simplified by using ZIP codes rather than the literal city boundary, which can be confusing. Campaign finance reformists are waiting for the council at the moment spinning its wheels to act on limiting PAC funding before they'll endorse this proposition. But the current limits are both onerous and irrational, in and of themselves. While we definitely need to address the PAC problem, there's no reason that can't be done as part of a separate effort.
The ballot language is not particularly helpful, but Prop. 6 is fundamentally a matter of equity it would allow city employees to buy insurance coverage for an additional household member, conventionally described as a "domestic partner" but with similar application to other members of a household (indeed, for example, unmarried heterosexual partners). But since the political opposition is likely to be expressed as opposition to "gay couples," let's address it head on: The current law discriminates against gays and lesbians, and as such needs to be overturned. If Austin voters wish to stand by their opposition to such discrimination, as expressed in the ground-breaking local vote against the state's gay-bashing Prop. 2 last fall, we should come out in large numbers for Prop. 6.
The municipal court handles parking and traffic violations, violations of city ordinances, and other misdemeanor offenses. An appointed judge has barely begun her term before she must begin the reapplication process, which is why most municipal courts in Texas use four-year terms. The downside is that four years is a long time to endure a bad judge but on balance, we think the change merits approval.
District 1: Cheryl Bradley (incumbent), unopposed
District 4: Vincent Torres, unopposed
District 6: Lori Moya, unopposed
District 7: Robert Schneider When we endorsed Schneider four years ago, it was partly on his merits but also because his opponent was a devotedly single-minded privatizer. Undeniably qualified, Schneider began his trusteeship primarily as an advocate for southwest neighborhoods and district expansion, but he has grown into one of the most able and knowledgeable members overall, with a broad reach of attention to most of the district's programs. He is also among the trustees most insistent on holding administrators accountable and refusing to roll over if he's not satisfied with current or proposed policies. Challenger Mel Fuller clearly has experience with teaching and school systems, but he has much less direct knowledge than Schneider of the Austin district and would have a much higher learning curve. We thank Schneider for four years of dedicated service, his willingness to re-enlist, and we enthusiastically endorse him for re-election.
Place 7: Barbara Mink (incumbent), unopposed
Place 8: Rodney Ahart The choice between Rodney Ahart and James McGuffee boils down not to strength of qualifications, but rather to the kind of experience most needed on the ACC board. McGuffee, a computer science professor at St. Edwards University whom the Chronicle endorsed when he ran in 2000, has demonstrated an admirable commitment to ACC in annexation campaigns and in developing the new South Austin campus. He also brings to the table a solid nuts-and-bolts understanding of higher education issues. Ahart, on the other hand, seems more comfortable working broadly on policy and outreach. A lobbyist for the American Cancer Society and former legislative aide, Ahart acquired a high profile running the campaign to pass Austin's smoking ordinance, developing contacts and skills that will serve him well in his stated goal of raising the college's profile and polishing an image tarnished after several years of snafu and scandal. At a time when ACC's greatest challenge is finding the resources to serve a growing and increasingly majority-minority student body, we were convinced that Ahart's particular skills and experience will better enable him to woo Austin's neighbors into the ACC taxing district and to recruit the business community to fill a larger role in the funding puzzle. We hope McGuffee gives it yet another go but this year in Place 8 our endorsement goes to Ahart.
Polls are open Mon.-Sat. 7am-7pm, Sunday noon-6pm at all locations, except malls and mobile voting.
Fiesta Mart, 3909 N. I-35
Flawn Academic Center (Undergraduate Library) Lobby, West Mall, UT campus
Austin City Hall, 301 W. Second
ACC Rio Grande Campus, Student Lounge, 1212 Rio Grande
Northeast Health Center, 7112 Ed Bluestein (Springdale Shopping Center)
ACC Eastview Campus, Student Commons, 3401 Webberville
Northcross Mall, 2525 W. Anderson (Mon.-Sat., 9am-8pm; Sun., noon-6pm)
Highland Mall, 6001 Airport (Mon.-Sat., 9am-8pm; Sun., noon-6pm)
County Tax Office Pflugerville, 15822 Foothill Farms Loop (just off Pecan Street), Pflugerville
Northwest Rural Community Center, 18649 FM 1431, Suite 6A
HEB, 7301 FM 620 N. @ RR 2222*
HEB, 2400 S. Congress @ Oltorf*
Albertsons, 5510 S. I-35 @ Stassney
Randalls, 9911 Brodie Lane
ACC Pinnacle Campus, Student Commons, 7748 Hwy. 290 W.
Randalls, 3300 Bee Caves Rd.
* Temporary building in parking lot
Monday, May 1Manor Elementary School, 600 E. Parsons, Manor, 10am-7pm
Lago Vista ISD Admin. Bldg., 8039 Bar K Ranch Rd., 10am-6pm
Englewood Estates, 2603 Jones, 4-6pm
Heatherwilde Assisted Living, 401 S. Heatherwilde, Pflugerville, 4-6pm
Summit at Westlake Hills, 1034 Liberty Park, 8-10am
Westminster Manor, 4100 Jackson, 8-10am
Stephen F. Austin Bldg., 1700 Congress, 8am-6pm
Parsons House, 1130 Camino La Costa, noon-2pm
Heritage Park Nursing Center, 2806 Real, noon-2pm
LBJ Building, 111 E. 17th, 8am-6pm
Sam Houston Building, 201 E. 14th, 8am-6pm
Decker Elementary School, 8500 Decker Lane, 8am-7pm
Travis Co. Courthouse, 1000 Guadalupe, 9am-5pm
Montopolis Recreation Ctr., 1200 Montopolis, 4-6pm
AIDS Services of Austin, 7215 Cameron, 8-10am
Travis Building, 1701 Congress, 8am-6pm
Bluebonnet Elementary, 11316 Farmhaven, 8am-7pm
Travis Co. Courthouse, 1000 Guadalupe, 9am-5pm
St. Edward's University, 3001 S. Congress, noon-2pm
Rollingwood Municipal Building, 403 Nixon, 7am-7pm
Lago Vista ISD Admin. Bldg., 8039 Bar K Ranch Rd., 7am-7pm
Manor High Sch., 12700 Gregg Manor Rd., 8am-7pm
South Rural Community Center, 3518 FM 973 S., Del Valle, 9am-5pm
Del Valle ISD Administration Building, 5301 Ross Road, Del Valle, 4-6pm
Rollingwood Municipal Bldg, 403 Nixon Dr., 7am-7pm
Bee Cave Elementary, 14300 Hamilton Pool, 7am-7pm
Services for the Deaf, 2201 Post, 8-10am
Travis Co. Courthouse, 1000 Guadalupe, 9am-5pm
Huston-Tillotson University, 900 Chicon, noon-2pm
Copyright © 2023 Austin Chronicle Corporation. All rights reserved.