Austin Needs Campaign Finance Reform Now

Austin’s city elections have a donation limit of $350.00 per person, or $700.00 per married couple. Some current candidates and elected officials have given loans to their campaigns far in excess of donation limits, and in the case of our current Mayor Leffingwell, there is an outstanding third – party loan to his campaign for $90,000.00 (ninety thousand dollars folks) from . . .(?).

Those loans are all unethical in my opinion   The Austin American Statesman seems enamored with money totals, but unconcerned about the sources and effect of local campaign capitalization. The same goes for the Austin Chronicle and perhaps some broadcast network media companies.  By declaring “front runners” based on bank accounts, they give a gift to the most crooked among us, the back room consultancy and industry lobbyists who steal the value of our citizenship while we watch professional sports.
There is an inherent conflict of interest when a media company pretends journalism while sizing up candidates as clients. Ideas and people matter. So far I haven’t seen much interest from local editors in the substance of candidate messages on the campaign trail.

When the campaign began, I declared little interest in funds – as I would run a clean interactive campaign. I refuse to accept donations from outside the city limits, or from any special interest group. As a city, we should be as smart as we promote ourselves to be, and lead the nation in true campaign finance reform; – end loans to campaigns so when the Mayor’s $90,000.00 third – party loan comes due, he has to actually solicit enough individual legal donations to pay it back in full before the loan becomes an illegal donation.

Think about the current real estate planning for Austin.  Over-development in central Austin with massive residential growth on the periphery has clogged our commuter highways.  The Mayor and all sitting City Council members push a plan to build Urban Rail as though that would take pressure off commuters, while it will do far worse – by stopping cross traffic every 5 – 7 minutes at every street intersection.  There is a serious transparency gap too.  The Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (CAMPO) and “Project Connect” are spending your tax dollars promoting the Urban Rail plan, with the President of Project Connect being a Vice President of HNTB, which will benefit from building the project so Austin’s Real Estate Barons can become exponentially wealthier at your expense.  This is the dirtiest Chicago – style political sham I have ever witnessed up close, and the local news organizations aren’t breathing a word about it.  They are part of the problem.

We The People need to demand better service from the 4th Estate and demand the City of Austin make those unethical campaign loans illegal.

Some folks are just the darling princesses of special interests.
In Austin though, the loan carriage never seems to see an hour when it turns into a pumpkin, does it?

If we don’t do our research and vote for real change, we will forever be stuck in traffic.

Randall Stephens
Candidate for Mayor of Austin

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Copyright © 2014 Randall Forrest Stephens

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AustinBlueDogBlog (herein referred to as; the Source) is a personal blog by Randall Forrest Stephens of Austin, Texas (herein referred to as the “Author”); and, not affiliated with any political organization.  Articles herein are the opinion of the Author, and intended for public use. Reprinting and online republishing is authorized by the Author provided the Source (AustinBlueDogBlog) is linked and/or cited.  Thank you for sharing my work!  Randall F. Stephens.  The Author may be contacted by phone (512) 796-6339 for comment.

University Hills Neighborhood Association asks great questions of 2014 Austin Mayoral Candidate Stephens

UHNA “We the People” Candidate Forum

Where?  Saturday, October 18, 2014, Dottie Jordan Recreation Center

(Please note:  I am currently scheduled to work until 2:30 pm Oct 18th  – Randall)


Pre-Forum Questions / Mayoral & District 1 Candidates

Single Family Residential Communities: From Northeast Austin to Southeast Austin, Single Family Residential Communities are under attack by commercial development entities, resulting in multi-generational families losing their properties to gentrification and ever increasing property taxes.

In support of the Single Family Residential Community (SFRC) concept, will you a) recognize the integrity of officially adopted neighborhood plans, b) initiate  additional legislation at both city and; (PROPOSE at ) state governmental levels in support of the SFRC, and c) commit to the following goals, listing what steps you would take to reach

1) Include, in the on-going Land Development Code rewrite directives the stipulation that changes to the neighborhood plans may only take place with the consent of the affected communities and their (if elected) Contact

  • YES

2) remove commercial uses such as (*dedicated) Short-Term Rentals from SFRC areas and prevent the encroachment of both Accessory Dwelling Units (2nd dwelling on a lot) and Micro Units (500 sq. ft or less apartments) into

  • YES
  • *I would favor owner-occupied STRs unless problems arise, complaints filed, etc.

3) initiate an ordinance, per state law, providing adequate health and safety standards for the mental, addictive, and age disabled citizens being warehoused (15 – 24 per location) in commercial sites in the SFRC without license, permit, professional management or 24/7 supervision,   – YES!

4) provide protection from unwanted up-fill requests by developers, set-back variance requests, and require developers to submit site plans with rezoning applications,

  • YES!

5) retain existing compatibility standards requiring buffers between residential and commercial development    – YES!

6) require the distribution of affordable housing to be consistent throughout all areas and within all (areas of Austin?)  – YES

7) fast-track infrastructure (roadway, water, and sewer) capacity in Northeast Austin residential areas , from repair of existing community streets to increased placement of sidewalks, and,   – YES!

8) initiate and support legislation requiring documentation of sale price information on all property sales?   -YES, particularly with commercial real estate in mind due to disparities.

Transportation: The purpose of the proposed ProjectConnect rail route appears to emphasize

redevelopment incentives rather than providing a solution for the transportation needs of all areas of Austin including the Northeast residential area. Additionally, financial backing for this project, at the matching fund level, appears to be less than secure, potentially placing Austin taxpayers at considerable financial risk.

Please visit my blog: http://austinbluedogblog.com/2014/09/24/inspire-austin-mobility-solutions-that-will-work-by-randall-stephens-candidate-for-mayor-of-austin/

1) What do you estimate to be the top transportation need for all areas of Austin, keeping in mind the daily influx of new citizens and their vehicles, as well as the lack of adequate funding for current transportation – Freeways blocked by traffic lights.  Replace those lights with bridges and turnabouts to keep traffic moving.  Initiate a bond election for May 2015 for initial funding to replace 20 intersections identified on my blog article Inspire Austin Mobility Solutions That Will Work

2) Which of these potential solutions for relieving traffic congestion do you believe would be beneficial for all citizens: staggered work hours, staggered work days, telecommuting, improved bus routes and bus connections, improvement of sidewalks and adding more sidewalks, closing IH 35 to through truck traffic and requiring such traffic to utilize the 130 or other toll roads?  – ALL of the above!   As for I-35, the CAMPO 2040 plan has a pdf document outlining unfunded projects, one of which would build ramps from I-35 to SH183 (Ed Bluestein Blvd.) which, along with planned Ed Bluestein upgrades would make that route a connector and bypass we could send through traffic on to SH71 and back to I-35.  We could rename it (Austin East 35/183 Loop) per ATX citizen input.

Code Enforcement: The ability of a residential community to maintain the appearance of a good location in which to live is hampered by the inability of code enforcement officers to assist residents in solving the many ordinance violations occurring on a daily basis. A major stumbling block is the requirement for Code Enforcement to be a reactive body rather than a proactive body.

1) What recommended changes to the city code would you propose that would empower Code Enforcement officers to actively locate and cite violators of city ordinances?

  • Empower Code Enforcement Officers to act upon their personal awareness, when in the course of duties they see a problem.

2) What measures would you propose to support the collections of fines associated with ordinance violations already on the books but which are not being collected?

  • As your next Mayor, I will seek further citizen input and require code enforcement management to provide a quarterly report on their organization’s performance on several points, including promotions and attrition, organizational & financial management, and status of outstanding unaddressed complaints.

3) What needs to be done to ensure that single family residents receive an equal share of Code Enforcement’s concern and assistance as that provided to problems involving apartments? – As your next Mayor, fair service to all segments of our community will become my mantra.  Reports will be required of all managers and discussed with city council during working sessions and those inviting public input.  This is part of what I call the “fourth dimension” of community services; making sure every minority in our community is receiving the service and attention they pay for and deserve as a result of COA decisions, purchases, and policies.

4) How would you monitor and enforce, in all areas of the city and specifically involving undocumented group homes, the recently adopted ordinance permitting only four unrelated individuals to reside in a location?

– We have to rely on public input. Complaints filed will be tracked and reported to the COA Mayor’s office after I am elected Mayor of Austin.

5) What would you do to assist a citizen trying to contact the Code Compliance department, all categories of employees, whose requests for assistance are ignored?

  • As your Mayor, I will direct the City Manager and all Department heads to provide a hotline and online complaint emailer from which City Council and Mayor get a notification.  Quarterly reports will have to have action items addressed or HR will be contacting the Department Manager.

Austin Police Department: The safety of individuals residing in a SFRC is dependent on adequate community policing by the APD. Lack of funding, over several years, has impacted the ability of the APD to maintain a workable level of community policing including providing a sufficient number of District Representatives, the primary conduit between SFRC and the APD.

1) What steps would you take, including funding, to ensure that the APD is able to maintain sufficient District Representatives (DR) throughout the city?

  • As your next Mayor, after getting a “turnover report” from the outgoing Mayor, and the first meeting with our new City Council, I will address EACH AND ALL department managers and the City Manager outlining our goals for public service, and request each provide a written statement of their needs in order to meet our objectives.  I will then ask the City Council to read those reports aloud with me in Council and convene a meeting to adjust budget requirements as needed; and, this includes APD and community policing programs, residential initiatives for APD officers to build community trust and interaction.  This may require specific incentives.  Ideas and input from the community will be sought and considered for action and a council vote.

2) Would you support sufficient funding for the APD so that DRs will not be removed from their community responsibilities throughout the city, to provide protection for other activities such as monitoring city hike and bike trails in limited areas of the city?

  • YES!

3) What is your opinion concerning the APD’s recommendation to initiate a separate booking facility, from the current facility maintained by Travis County, based on better use of police officers time who, under the present system, must spend hours waiting to complete the booking of arrested individuals, resulting in the extended loss of officers’ availability in their assigned areas?

  • I agree with the recommendation.

Parks, Recreation Centers, Libraries and Creeks: Austin is known for its many parks, recreation centers, libraries and creeks and the benefits to its citizens through constant use of these amenities. Austin government is also known for its record of placing consistently needed funding to maintain, much less increase, these resources in the “if there is anything left” category.

1) As a council member, what steps will you take to prioritize funding for city parks, recreation centers, and libraries, specifically for the Dottie Jordan Park and Recreation Center as well as the University Hills Branch Library where there is adjacent city land for expansion purposes?

  • I am in favor of these items as for priority funding, rather than leftover.   Steve Adler said; “We” … ought to buy the Lions Municipal Golf Course.  We had better ask all of Austin first; and fund our existing parks and libraries first.

2) If surplus funding is available, after completion of the annual budget authorizations, what efforts will you initiate to gain approval to commit these surplus funds to the consistently overlooked needs of city parks,

  • We should maintain a specific emergency fund.  However, if additional surplus funds are identified after funding parks and our city needs, we should rebate the surplus back to residential electric and water rate payers, and reduce the property tax rate commensurately.

3) What will you do to ensure that Little Walnut Creek, which flows through Dottie Jordan Park and other areas of the University Hills community, meet the requirements of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality’s recent order to the City of Austin to remove elements that degrade these creeks and present health (hazards?)

  • As your next Mayor I would direct our city staff to recommend improvements to comply with the State requirements and ask the City Council to fund the repairs in the shortest possible time frame.
  • Why has this not been the case already, Councilman Martinez and Mayor Pro-Tem Cole?  

4) What action will you initiate to prevent additional erosion and pollution in the Little Walnut Creek area resulting from new construction, residential or business, adjacent to the creek?

  • As part of Code Next, I would draft a compliance directive after asking for professional input and support to implement recommendations requested and approved by city engineers.

City Government: With the approval of the 10-1 council system, council members have an opportunity to better interact with their citizens. Additionally, various departments of the city may discover changes, within their responsibilities, will be needed to better accommodate the district concept.

1) As a district councilperson, in addition to your city hall office, what are your plans to have a district office where your constituents may expect to discuss particular concerns?

2) At the district office, what hours of operation would you expect to provide?

3) What types of constituent services would you plan to provide?

4) What would you do to ensure that adequate project data is provided to you, by city staff, prior to a decision

5) How will you engage district residents in planning, zoning, housing, budget, and capital improvement decisions, prior to approval, at the city staff level, of specifics involved in each of these items?

  • As your next Mayor I will make certain we entertain at least weekly public input from citizens.

6) Would you support revising the city charter so that the City Attorney reports to the Council rather than to the City Manager and, if not, what other solution would you propose to remedy the problem of the city’s legal department acting on its own and in opposition to the will of elected officials?

  • As your next Mayor I would require the City Legal Department to report to City Council quarterly, as with all departments.  I would direct the City HR department to inform all city employees we will act to re-train or replace managers and employees who fail to properly exercise their public duties at every level.

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Copyright © 2014 Randall Forrest Stephens

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AustinBlueDogBlog (herein referred to as; the Source) is a personal blog by Randall Forrest Stephens of Austin, Texas (herein referred to as the “Author”); and, not affiliated with any political organization.  Articles herein are the opinion of the Author, and intended for public use. Reprinting and online republishing is authorized by the Author provided the Source (AustinBlueDogBlog) is linked and/or cited.  Thank you for sharing my work!  Randall F. Stephens.  The Author may be contacted by phone (512) 796-6339 for comment.

Fighting Back Against Big Money Influence With A New Way To Campaign

Austin, Texas   10/08/2014

Representative government is difficult, but still the best system there is.  Some may say we have been sliding toward becoming an oligarchy for some time, perhaps since the Founders were laid to rest.

Checks and balances have been put in place, and worked around.  Foreign governments are toppled by agencies and agents without a public whimper nor a care by the people we put in office.   Weapons are sold at massive events around the globe, and the companies making a profit from war have plenty to spend on political action committees. Timber companies send checks to Political Action Committees and politicians as do oil and gas firms, tech firms, etc.   I am pro business, and pro development, but the people come first.

At home, a green goal of a net zero fossil fuels electric grid seems to be the excuse to close a city-owned natural gas power plant, but land developers are already surveying the lake property on which it sits for a new golf course and high end real estate development.  Any potential Decker Lake real estate deal isn’t even public, and yet surveyors have been seen there and the city still buys power from a coal fired plant in which it owns an interest.  Electric costs for local rate payers will go up exponentially as we make and sell less power.  Rate payers would be better served by Austin Energy operating at peak efficiency, or if we sold off the entire asset and allowed competition.

Similarly, an Urban Rail system is offered by a company whose Vice President sits as the President of the city’s Project Connect – an ad hoc organization spending tax dollars to sell a bond package that benefits his employer, HNTB. There is a transparency gap, and the current city officials know it. Real estate interests are solidly behind the Urban Rail plan which will create opportunities to develop real estate around the rail line.

Local oligarchs loan big money to local political campaigns.  Loans imply payback.  Big loans imply big payback.  In Austin, the city has set spending limits of $350.00 per individual and $700.00 per married couple.  A $90,000.00 third party loan was granted to the incorporated campaign of Mayor Leffingwell and has as yet not been paid back by legal donations.  At what point is a loan really an illegal donation?  Is there a time limit?  And at what point will the public wake up and support a candidate who will seek to change the law to prohibit campaign loans?  Perhaps the public waits for the “right candidate” while the current crop continues “business as usual”.  Politics is business.  But it doesn’t have to be that way.  We can and should put the creative talents of our city and state to good work in developing and defining a new way forward we can really believe in.

Let me begin to define and shed light on how we can work together for the great cause of our living American Revolution.  You are welcome to contribute and meet with me in Austin over coffee or perhaps at a conference.

My goal is to be elected to public service without taking a dime from outside my constituency, from any organization, special interest group, or company.  Why?  To prove it can be done, and set a new standard for politics where a candidate can once again stand up on a stump or interactive online soap box and get his or her points across.  The goal includes influencing people to urge their local newspapers to share the ideas of each registered candidate without declaring a front-runner based on funds solicited.  Examination, Investigation and Criticism by the Fourth Estate are paramount to preservation of any Free State.

I have always been a solid citizen and sought leadership roles from the Air Force, to the Airline, to founding my own companies and being a responsible employer here in Texas. I want to win this race not only for myself, but for a better system.  For me the Austin Mayoral campaign is almost as much a market test for (an as-yet unbranded) a new way to promote candidates, and learning experience.  Part testing the water personally, and part exploration of my cause to improve the campaign process and culture; first, by not taking in a lot of money and working with available media and forums.   The Statesman declares “front runners” as with many media outlets, based upon campaign finance reports.  I collected/donated a combined total of $750.00 so far and spent just under that amount.  My intent is to spend less than $1000.00 on the campaign and use internet resources; (adbirds political category), Youtube, this personal blog (AustinBlueDogBlog.com), and my current campaign website (www.StephensForAustinMayor.org).  I’m branding myself as; the Austin Blue Dog, as a fiscally conservative, socially liberal political moderate.

I need help getting the most out of my campaign, and would appreciate your thoughts, ideas and help if you can with specifics.  For one, I need someone who is willing to donate some creative time and video-graphic expertise to help me put up topic related videos on Youtube.  I can use those on adbirds and the campaign website. So can anyone!  We need to change the political culture of big money influence, and work with creative people who can make the ideas hit home with each demographic.

Think about this; – most media companies size up candidates by their campaign finance reports and declare some the “front runners” because they also consider the candidate a potential client. Candidates who will sell out to big money will stand out with glaring ads run during football season and graduations.  Let’s develop new tools to make that a “past practice”.  That’s one reason I created a political category on the adbirds site, so we can help others get around the big money assumptions of other media outlets.

One cannot serve two masters!  As stated in interview with the Austin Bulldog, if I am elected I will donate 100% of adbirds net profit to local charity while in office.  I will serve only the public if elected to public office.

This page may be edited.  Please come back soon for updates.

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Copyright © 2014 Randall Forrest Stephens

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AustinBlueDogBlog (herein referred to as; the Source) is a personal blog by Randall Forrest Stephens of Austin, Texas (herein referred to as the “Author”); and, not affiliated with any political organization.  Articles herein are the opinion of the Author, and intended for public use. Reprinting and online republishing is authorized by the Author provided the Source (AustinBlueDogBlog) is linked and/or cited.  Thank you for sharing my work!  Randall F. Stephens.  The Author may be contacted by phone (512) 796-6339 for comment.

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