Economic development, the city’s green energy issues and housing were key topics discussed at the Georgetown Chamber of Commerce candidate forum April 11.
Candidates for Georgetown City Council districts 3, 4 and 7 answered moderated and audience questions. The candidates for District 3 are incumbent John Hesser and his opponent Mike Triggs. The candidates for District 4 are incumbent Steve Fought and Joe Reedholm; the candidates for District 7 are incumbent Tommy Gonzalez and Jaquita Wilson.
The forum was moderated by Emily Sydnor, an assistant professor in political science at Southwestern University.
Selected questions and answers edited for length and clarity are below.
Early voting begins April 22 and runs through April 30. Election day is May 4.
City Council District 3: John Hesser (incumbent) and Mike Triggs
What’s the biggest concern that you have heard about from businesses, and how do you plan to address these concerns?
Hesser: The primary feedback I get from businesses is around planning and parking. It’s more on planning and the [unified development code], and I think we’ve taken action on the UDC. The other one is economic development. I think [businesses]would like to get more involved in that.
Triggs: The primary concern that I have heard is moving people and goods to [the same]location. This involves a better traffic situation, better planning [and]where we locate some of the new business to alleviate some of those problems.
How can Georgetown monitor the land use in the area to ensure housing meets the workforce that we have?
Triggs: I do think that is a problem. I think It’s sad that our police, firemen, health care workers can’t afford to live in the area. I’ve been involved in affordable housing. There are things you can do about that in aiding maybe helping with development costs to help keep those prices down.
Hesser: There are three workforce housing projects. I’m encouraging the staff to start to keep an inventory of the number of workforce housing projects that we have. There’s always some questions to answer, but the process is already forth going, and I have been aware and a part of it for some time.
What do you think the city of Georgetown role should be in economic development?
Hesser: I think we need to share it more than we do. I think we need to involve the business people. I think we need to be focused on small businesses. I like young, small companies that grow, and that’s the kind of opportunity I’m looking for because I’m concerned about the kids we graduate every year. I think we owe to our kids to make available jobs for after they graduate.
Triggs: First and foremost, I think the role of the city should be to increase employment at all levels, [and]make sure that we build on our tax base so that new business contribute to the taxes and supply jobs for the area so that people can live, work and play in the area. We should be looking for some larger businesses but not interfere with the style of life we have, so putting them in smart areas.
City Council District 4: Steve Fought (incumbent) and Joe Reedholm
Across the county, cities have passed ordinances requiring businesses to pay higher minimum wage or provide paid sick leave. What is your view on the city adopting similar ordinances?
Fought: I think the matter of minimum wage and sick leave is between the business and the employees. I think that belongs in the private sector. I think that what we can do as the city is to set an example to give our people a good wage where they can afford to live here and give them good benefits. We can also recruit the types of businesses that allow for higher wages, but I think fundamentally the salary-wage relationship is a matter for the private sector.
Reedholm: Any ordnance would be overturned at the state level. So if we attempted, we would soon find that we don’t have the authority. That being said, living wages are a need for people to live, and if we don’t pay living wages, if businesses don’t pay living wages, our communities pay them. We pay them in terms of health care costs and having to providing charity.
What is your vision for quality economic development?
Reedholm: That it should be organic. That it grows from people already here and reinvests the profits they make from running their businesses here. Absentee ownership of any businesses in town ought to be discouraged and if possible prevented through any kind of ordinance that we can get passed.
Fought: I believe the city has a strong positive role and has a right to do [economic development]. I have been on the economic development board of directors now for five years. When I first came on the board, the focus was manufacturing jobs. We are now focused on what we already have. We need to reward progress, reward performance but not reward promises.
The public input of the 2030 plan identifies the city as taking larger role in health and human services. Where does this fit as a priority to you?
Fought: I think adding medical to the Georgetown economic arena I obviously support. The average age in Sun City is 74, and we have an acute interest in health care. I’ve been working long and hard, like bring an inpatient hospice center, we’ll succeed in that over the next 18 months. I think we should also be looking at more affordable housing for seniors. Not just because of my constituents, but because I think it is the right thing to do.
Reedholm: Georgetown has a disproportionate share of elderly and the working poor, and both those groups require extra health and human services; however, I don’t think the city should be trying to go into business and actively develop the kinds of businesses that are best done by the private sector. If we try to do that, I think we will wind up making the same mistakes we made in the energy debacle.
City Council District 7: Tommy Gonzalez (incumbent) and Jaquita Wilson
Why do you want to serve on Georgetown City Council?
Wilson: There’s a variety of reasons. I’ve been in education my whole life, and you don’t become a teacher because of the pay. You become a teacher because you love to teach, you love your community and you’re doing that as a service to your community. This part is just the next step in how I can serve my community and be the best representative for the people in that district.
Gonzalez: At the end of the day, service is what drives me. I love working with people and talking with people. I like hearing their stories. At the end, when you get to live in such a wonderful place live Georgetown, you have to give back. You have to try to leave it a little bit better than how you got it, and that’s what drives me to serve.
What do you see as the biggest infrastructure gap facing Georgetown?
Gonzalez: Transportation. You can’t get away from transportation. People need to get around in the community. As fast as were going, it’s very hard to keep up. We have to be innovative, not only seeking different types of transportation methods and additional roads, but also looking at how we place our amenities throughout the community.
Wilson: Technology. I think right now we are dealing with a monopoly with Suddenlink, and that’s problematic. Technology is infrastructure. We keep saying we want better jobs, we keep saying we want corporations to come in and offer living wages, and they’re not going to do that with the type of technology we offer in this city. I think our focus now needs to be technology and how we make it easier and cheaper for all of our citizens.
How can the city ensure housing meets the needs of the workforce, particularly in affordable housing?
Gonzalez: I’ve looked at that issue again, and I think one of the things that can be done, and again the market drives a lot of the things here, but one of the things it can’t do is work with the community to find ways of cutting their cost down. Most people don’t realize that you can charge developers whatever you want, and they pass it down for the most part. But if you find ways to lessen the size of lots and the way people build their homes, you can break costs down.
Wilson: I go back to variety. I think affordable housing isn’t a cookie-cutter solution. [If] we start going smaller, that could be a really efficient way. We don’t have to build mansions. We could do tiny homes, duplexes; we could have a variety of homes that are affordable for teachers and firemen who can start there and move their way up.