In head-to-head race for Austin City Council District 7 seat, candidates outline approach to small-business help, housing, public safety

Community Impact Newspaper asked the two Austin City Council District 7 candidates the same five questions, which cover topics from coronavirus recovery to housing and small-business assistance, and limited their answers to 75 words. The candidates' responses are printed verbatim. Election Day is Nov. 3. Early voting begins Oct. 13 and closes Oct. 30.



Austin City Council District 7










Leslie Pool



Occupation: Austin City Council Member


Years lived in Austin: 40






Small businesses have suffered significantly since the city first issued a stay-home order in March. Countless local names have had to permanently shut their doors. As a City Council member, one of 10, what would be your plan to ensure more local businesses do not suffer the same fate?



LP: The City responded to COVID-19 with a fast pivot from a high-touch interactive service delivery model to an essential worker-virtual-remote-delivery model. At Council direction, staff created programs to distribute relief to small business community and rebuild our economy with our iconic culture intact. I co-sponsored a spending framework for the many relief programs with particular attention to areas of disproportionate impact. There’s still much to do; we are not yet done.



As the city switches into recovery mode, how do you ensure the safety of those who have continued to go to work and those who will be returning to work?



LP: Austin’s local small business community is enduring the combined challenges of keeping their doors open and keeping their employees and customers safe. I created the Shop the Block initiative to boost the recovery effort and let our small shops, restaurants, and bars expand their operations outside to serve more customers safely. The program is doing well, it’s growing, and I hope to see the pilot continued into 2021 and beyond.



In August, City Council unanimously supported a significant reduction to the Austin police budget with a commitment to reimagining public safety. As a City Council member, what will you bring to the ongoing debate over how to reimagine public safety?



LP: I bring the strength of my collaborations with social justice groups (AJC and Just Liberty), my past experience as a civilian working for a law enforcement agency (Travis County Constable 5), and significant expertise in training programs and human resources policy development (TxDOT) to reimagining public safety. My goal is to reestablish a culture of police as public safety guardians, not warriors or enforcers.



The economic impact of the pandemic continues to grow, with many people still out of work. Without waiting for federal and state aid, how would you lead what is expected to be a long and difficult recovery for the district? Be specific.



LP: The Council was able to restrain spending to the 3.5% revenue cap for FY21 in large part because of the $270mm we got in federal relief. Our financial policies and fiscal stewardship helped, too, as did the property tax revenues we got for 2019. FY22 will be a difficult year, budget-wise, and so I urged maintaining our reserves and shepherding spending with caution. Our world will be different when we emerge from COVID.



Austin has endured a growing housing affordability challenge, attributed to housing stock that has not kept up with demand. How do you approach the issue of housing, and how do you plan to address Austin's need for more housing?



LP: I absolutely support the State Legislature liberalizing land regulation laws to the benefit of Texas municipalities. At my request, Rep Gina Hinojosa filed a bill (HB3050) in the 86th Legislature to overturn the prohibition on inclusionary zoning. City Resolution 20190328-041. Refiling this bill is part of the City’s Legislative Agenda for the 87th Legislature. The ridiculous that the State of Texas should restrict the City of Austin through punitive legislation and preemption.









Morgan Witt



Occupation: bilingual education advisor


Years lived in Austin: 32






Small businesses have suffered significantly since the city first issued a stay-home order in March. Countless local names have had to permanently shut their doors. As a City Council member, one of 10, what would be your plan to ensure more local businesses do not suffer the same fate?



MW: I’d invest in relief funds for small businesses’ payroll and overhead costs, and identify a qualified grand administrator to ensure our music and entertainment venues get their fair share. This includes diverting some of the Hotel Occupancy Tax specifically to music and art venues and an ongoing eviction moratorium that’s extended to small businesses. I’d develop a mentorship program pairing small businesses with experts to help adapt their business model to the current climate.



As the city switches into recovery mode, how do you ensure the safety of those who have continued to go to work and those who will be returning to work?



MW: Safe recovery requires a multi-pronged approach. I’d make data-informed decisions for returning to work based on decline in new cases, positive test/transmission rates. I’d partner with local businesses and organizations to 1) encourage working from home, and 2) continue to provide PPE and testing for those who must work, as well as incorporate contract tracing and isolation. I’d also help schools and businesses update ventilation and air conditioning systems to protect essential workers.



In August, City Council unanimously supported a significant reduction to the Austin police budget with a commitment to reimagining public safety. As a City Council member, what will you bring to the ongoing debate over how to reimagine public safety?



MW: Throughout my career I’ve proven my dedication to serving diverse communities, and a strong commitment to fighting for equity and social justice in all issues facing Austin—not just the conversation around policing and public safety. The APD budget is a good start, but we have a long way to go. Equity should be the foundation and focus of all conversations around housing, transportation, the environment, and even reprioritizing the budget.



The economic impact of the pandemic continues to grow, with many people still out of work. Without waiting for federal and state aid, how would you lead what is expected to be a long and difficult recovery for the district? Be specific.



MW: We have to make housing more affordable. Addressing our affordability and transportation problems will make Austin more livable for all of us and stimulate the economy and generate new jobs—not just to plan and build new infrastructure, but to run the businesses those workers visit. I’d develop workforce training and development programs so our workforce is prepared coming out of the pandemic, and partner with local colleges to provide job training opportunities.



Austin has endured a growing housing affordability challenge, attributed to housing stock that has not kept up with demand. How do you approach the issue of housing, and how do you plan to address Austin's need for more housing?



MW: I’ll work to ease land zoning restrictions and streamline the permitting process to increase housing options and make building housing more accessible for all Austinites—including in neighborhoods currently unattainable to many. I’d strengthen renter advocacy programs, ensure equal representation in city planning decisions, and invest in Affordable Housing in all of Austin. This includes anti-displacement funds and programs for vulnerable communities, and permanent supportive housing for people experiencing homelessness.


By Christopher Neely
Christopher Neely is Community Impact's Austin City Hall reporter. A New Jersey native, Christopher moved to Austin in 2016 following years of community reporting along the Jersey Shore. His bylines have appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Baltimore Sun, USA Today and several other local outlets along the east coast.


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