Development, growth, green energy issues top Georgetown City Council District 7 candidate forum topics

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Georgetown City Council candidates for District 7 discussed term limits, the city’s green energy issues, growth and maintaining Georgetown’s charm during an April 8 candidate forum.

The forum was hosted by the Georgetown Neighborhood Alliance, an organization that looks to unite Georgetown neighbors to enhance the quality and character of the city’s community, at the Georgetown Parks and Recreation Administration Office.

The two candidates—incumbent Tommy Gonzalez and Jaquita Wilson—answered moderated and audience questions at the event. GNA coordinator Pam Mitchell was moderator.

Gonzalez, who is running for his fourth term, said his experience as both a banker and City Council member means he understands the finances of the job as well as the importance of establishing relationships to get things done. Wilson, who has a background in education and helping low-income families, said she will prioritize access to necessities, such as grocery stores and healthier food options, as well as improved transparency and communication.

Selected questions and answers edited for length and clarity are below.

Early voting begins April 22. Election day is May 4.

Most Americans believe in term limits. Would you vote for term limits, what term and why?

Wilson: I’d like to vote for term limits. I think nine years is more than enough time to accomplish what you need to accomplish at any level of government and specifically local government because we are more of a community, and you need to know the people that you support.

Gonzalez: During my first term, I actually brought to the diocese term limits—requesting term limits—but a very prominent council woman at the time told me that term limits for city council races are called elections. So would I consider them? Absolutely. But one distinction between term limits at the state and national level is that [city councilors]don’t leave our areas. We don’t leave our communities. So in staying a longer term, we don’t lose touch with our people because we eat here, live here, [and]do everything here.

Can you explain your interpretation of what transition zones—how close a commercial building can be next to a residential home—would mean?

Gonzalez: I think transition zones are important as you go into different communities, [such as]the type of businesses that should be allowed and that can transition into these areas. But it’s also very tough because I believe in the property rights of owners and what they want to do with their property. I want to give them the most freedom to do with their property what they can. That being said, there are definitely boundaries and limits.

Wilson: I’m going to be more strict about that. I feel like because Georgetown has been built as this very homely city—this beautiful square, the town you want to raise your kids in—you have to be super cautious of what we’re doing and how that affects communities. I thinks it’s incumbent upon us to make sure communities are thriving as well as being invested in.

What are some of the principles you would use in guiding the SE Inner Loop in development?

Gonzalez: I think you have to protect the frontage roads on Inner Loop. Just because of the shear traffic there, I would not recommend that being residential anymore. It’s just too much traffic, and it’s only going to grow there. So I think we have to buffer that belt and really protect the neighborhoods.. … [A commercial building] has to fit in the neighborhood, as in an amenity to the neighborhood, rather than just a random business.

Wilson: I agree with Tommy on this issue. I think we have to protect [SE] Inner Loop. I also think we really need to encourage businesses to be in those spaces. We have a corridor along Inner Loop that is both Georgetown Water and Georgetown Electric, and I think it would be the best use of the sales tax that can be provided from those places to have commercial property on said line. So I would not like to see any residential homes go in that space.

Who would you hold accountable for the energy contract when it runs over its budget?

Wilson: That’s hard because the council votes for that, so we’re accountable at this point. I think I’ve said multiple times one thing about being part of the millennial group is we don’t believe in long-term contracts for anything. We don’t do it for cell phones, we don’t do it for any type of bills we have, so for us it’s very weird to have a contract that large for that long, especially with technology growing at the rate that it is. … It’s really hard to say it’s all of the staff’s fault also because we get only so much information. So right now, I would say I really don’t know until I get more information.

Gonzalez: I think when you talk about accountability, you’re looking about wrongdoing. As someone who was there, who voted for the original contract, I would challenge anyone to look at the information I had in 2012 to make that decision and I would find it hard to believe that anyone would vote otherwise because it made sense at the time. Now, the person I would want to hold accountable really is ERCOT—(Electric Reliability Council of Texas)—because they gave us the information. … Energy markets are unpredictable and I think we should have had outside experts who specialize in energy contracts … that would have solved some of the short term issues we are having today.

How will you reset the balance between growth and maintaining Georgetown’s small village atmosphere?

Wilson: I hear what Tommy is saying. People buy property, and it’s their right to do what they want within the property, but it’s also our right to maintain the city to look and feel in unity with the way we move here to experience. So I would like to develop of some municipal codes that are very specific to maintaining the charm of Georgetown.

Gonzalez: I think we have to be careful when we start using the term “charm” because what it means to one person means something else to somebody else. I think the strength of Georgetown has been the diversity of housing, the mixing of the old bungalows, the brand new ranch-style homes to condos. I think to maintain Georgetown’s charm is [to have]a diversity of housing types that form communities. And those communities are what make Georgetown strong. It’s the people, not the buildings, that make Georgetown strong.

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Ali Linan
Ali Linan began covering Georgetown for Community Impact Newspaper in 2018. Her reporting focuses on education and Williamson County. Ali hails from El Paso and graduated from Syracuse University in 2017.
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