Mayoral race draws three competitors in each city, no incumbent for Cedar Park election
Election season often holds the possibility of a changing of the guard. In Cedar Park and Leander, however, the city councils have stayed relatively unchanged for years, a trend that could change May 12 when voters head to the polls.
In Cedar Park, Mayor Bob Lemon has decided not to run for re-election—though he initially filed to run, he withdrew his application—after holding the position since 2003. Place 1 Councilman Matt Powell threw his hat in the Cedar Park mayoral race, along with former parks and recreation board member Wayne Ruark and former planning and zoning commissioner Eddie Hurst.
In Leander, Mayor John Cowman faces two opponents vying for his spot. One is Councilman Chris Fielder, and the other is developer Bob Hanson.
One of the top issues the Cedar Park candidates cite is ensuring the city is welcoming to businesses. As a councilman, Powell said he has been empowered to get involved with the city's economic development efforts.
"I think it can help build confidence for a CEO looking to move a business to Cedar Park to meet the mayor and to have the mayor tell them in no uncertain terms that we're open for business. I think it's stressful to move, personally. I can only imagine moving not only yourself and your family, but your business, and I think we can help give a lot of confidence to those folks that they're making the right move," Powell said.
Ruark and Hurst both cited a need to hire more local firms for city projects. Ruark said he would be willing to consider a bid that was 5 percent higher to have work done locally. He added the bids are just estimates, so it is likely that firms closer to home could find savings and come in at par.
"Where we can be legal within the state is we would provide emissions points on the matrix for how close the subconsultants are from the job site," Hurst said. "So if you're a local business, you're going to be closer to providing this work than someone in Round Rock. Therefore, your carbon footprint is going to be smaller than someone needing to come in their vehicles from Hutto to here if they were awarded the contract."
Ruark said he does not agree with the way the city has spent money, both its own and funding gleaned from other sources. He said he does not agree with the idea of spending 4B Community Development funds on gateway signs, and he also opposes the fact that RM 1431 has been worked on several times near its intersection with Toll 183A.
"When I questioned it previously, the answer I was given was that (the previous phase) was part of the stimulus package, and if we didn't use it then, it would go to someone else," Ruark said.
If Hurst gets elected, he said he would like for the city to purchase 10 shuttles and set up stops at shopping centers, the Austin Community College Cypress Creek campus and other local points of interest. He said he sees the shuttle paying for itself after one year.
Powell said he would like to revise Cedar Park's comprehensive plan to account for the changes the city has undergone since the plan was last updated more than a decade ago.
Cowman said his proudest accomplishment since he took office as Leander's mayor in 2003 was the opening of the Leander Public Library. He said he would like to continue to focus on quality-of-life issues in the city if he is re-elected.
"One of the things I want to work on is keeping taxes as low as possible, which is a quality-of-life issue. But I also want to create the balance of bringing things in like a community rec center so our youth and our seniors and active adults can stay in Leander instead of burning gas going to Round Rock or elsewhere," Cowman said.
The Leander City Council voted 5-2 on April 5 to send several allegations against Cowman, including misuse of city property and violations of open meetings acts and the city charter, to the city's ethics commission.
Cowman declined to comment on the matter.
Hanson said he wants to loosen zoning restrictions in the transit-oriented development—a swath of land dedicated to high-density development planned to go in around Leander's MetroRail Station at North US 183—and try to extend utilities along Ronald Reagan Boulevard. He also said he does not agree with the way the city has planned for future growth with utilities.
"For many years, the city plan has been based on projected 25 percent growth per year," Hanson said. "Since it has not been achieved, the small population of Leander is going to be required to pay for the commitments made to produce those increases in water and sewer. We had a large water bill increase in 2010. We will have another one that we're committed to in 2013, and the projected growth has not arrived."
Fielder said he was open to the idea of loosening zoning restrictions in the TOD, but he thought it would be important to work from a small core outward to ensure the overall vision for the project is not lost. Should Fielder be elected mayor, he said he would work on transparency and getting residents involved in city government to allow them to have more input on the city's future direction.
Fielder said he wants to create a mayor's advisory committee and a citizen's task force on economic development. He also said he wants to put the city's check register online. He said he understands Hanson's frustration with utilities, but he said the city cannot do that work without partners.
"Utilities come with development," Fielder said. "With every additional cent on the tax rate, you affect about 100 home sales."
Early voting begins April 30 and will run through May 8. The general election will be May 12. There are several other spots up for election in both cities. For complete coverage, check www.impactnews.com and the adjacent election guide.