Colored drawing by Anthony Jensen

Friday, April 8, 2011

Better Austin Today's City Council Endorsements

The only broad community political action committee in Austin, of which I'm a member, makes its picks in the May, 2011 election and calls on even its endorsees to step up their game:

Community Coalition's Where it's AT!

As an organization comprised of neighborhood, local and small business, environmental, social equity and other community leaders, Better Austin Today (BAT)’s vision for Austin’s future encompasses a wide range of issues. Thus, winning our endorsement requires candidates to go beyond appealing to a single constituency or limited area of City policy. Instead, our broad coalition of interests ensures that anyone we endorse is the “best all-around” candidate in the race who will bring a comprehensive view to office and act with the big picture in mind and a commitment to open, inclusive government. Endorsements require a challenging 60 percent vote of this diverse board (a full list of members is on our website).

The public safety unions came out before the filing deadline with their endorsements, meeting with none of the challengers, and the developer dollars started rolling in for incumbents before 2011 even began. BAT members, meanwhile, have been attending candidate forums and meeting one on one or in groups with the candidates over the last two months, taking time to give consideration to all the candidates responses in many different venues and from a variety of questionnaires.

The Buck Doesn't Stop at the Endorsement

BAT is a group representative of all the interest of all the citizens of Austin. Although there are a great many pressing issues and problems that the council has and must continue to address, one of, if not the most, pressing issue the that amount of funding that has been dedicated to improving the quality of life of the most under-served and under-resourced community (a mere $700,000 on the African-American Quality of Life Initiative in its 5-year span while millions are thrown to non-local developers).

"We, as a community, have acknowledged the need for improving the quality of life for African-Americans and Latinos, yet, the actions of the City have not reflected the urgency necessary to make the vital changes necessary to turn a declining situation around. We hope that our endorsement is not mistaken as a tacit approval of this lack of urgency." - Richard Franklin, BAT board member

BAT intends to be ever more vigilant with regards to the improvement of the quality of life for all residents of Austin and we will hold all elected officials accountable.


Better Austin Today endorses Kathie Tovo for Place 3 and Laura Morrison for Place 4; no consensus was reached for Place 1.

Kathie Tovo - a strong advocate for open, inclusive and accountable government: Ms. Tovo's academic background, steady demeanor and extensive experience in a variety of public policy matters in the past 19 years she's lived here is exactly what Austin needs to bring balance to the dais. From social services to education to neighborhoods to the arts to the environment and planning, her broad swath of public service provides her much-needed context to serve our diverse population at a critical time as we grapple with an out-of-control budget where the special interests gain and the under-served lose. Her intellect is matched by her creativity when faced with difficult problems. Her forthrightness in addressing the critical issues and her integrity as an inclusive mediator of interests demonstrates her commitment to the entire community.

PLACE 3 CHALLENGERS: We feel it's important to make special note of the other challengers to the incumbent in this race. Max Nofziger has brought special attention in his candidacy to the extraordinary rise in the City's expenditures since his last time in office, when he voted on our first budget that surpassed $1 billion. Since his tenure, we've well surpassed $2 billion and are poised in one of the next few budget cycles to hit $3 billion - which he explains as an unsustainable frenzy of spending. He points out that Councilmember Shade is the biggest spender we've ever had on Council. See his explanation here. While there are some criticisms of Nofziger's tenure in office, a trait most agree on was his responsiveness as a Councilmember--one of the main characteristics BAT seeks in candidates. Kris Bailey is running primarily on a police accountability platform, which also resonates with BAT, especially in terms of setting budget priorities and implementing practices such as focusing on investigating/clearing public safety matters involving victims versus arresting increasing numbers of people for victimless crimes. We'd like to see Ms. Tovo more emphatically adopt some of these messages the other challengers bring to the table - many of which she's already aligned with; and while she's shown no indication otherwise, seek to match if not surpass Nofziger's reputation for responsiveness.

Laura Morrison - a proven leader on important community issues: Councilmember Morrison is far and away the best choice for Place 4. Morrison is BAT's only Councilmember to have achieved a perfect "A" on our scorecards published in the Austin Chronicle over the past 3 years. What we noted in her first run, her "keen intellect, deep respect for differing opinions, and a willingness to fight tenaciously for policies that protect Austin’s environment and neighborhoods" indeed proved to be the right formula for moving Austin forward. She has demonstrated a deep dedication to smart economic policy while giving social equity issues due process. Morrison has proved she has the right combination of vision, integrity and know-how for the job and Austin deserves no less an attentive public servant.

With Ms. Tovo in Place 3, along with our previous endorsement in Place 5 (Bill Spelman) and Morrison retaining her seat in Place 4, we hope that the tenor of our Council will change dramatically, that these three good examples can gain more courage for leadership; inspiring others to improve their performance or exposing those who resist an open, accountable, fiscally responsible government.


We now turn our efforts to raising money and recruiting volunteers to help Tovo and Morrison win election. If you believe it is time for a change at City Hall, we invite you to join us as we work to get Austin back on track. Better Austin Today is excited about this opportunity to re-establish balance at City Hall and to reclaim local government for the public interest.

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