Public Leadership In Four Dimensions by Randall Stephens

During the early days after filing for the 2014 mayoral election, a number of organizations contacted me, along with others running for office.  To be sure, every special interest group in town has a point to make, and hoped to educate the next generation of civic leaders.  It was one of the best experiences of my adult life and the time was well invested.

In marketing there is an old adage that “perception is reality”.  At a presentation by Undoing Racism Austin I learned about history from the perspectives of long time East side residents, mostly of African American and Latino descent. 

Later in the campaign process, I attended forums in various quadrants of Austin with a greater demographic mix in some, and less in others.  We are all affected by a rising cost of living, and in varying ways.  We all suffer from poorly planned and underfunded improvements to our transportation system.  We all appreciate clean air and water.  We all feel underrepresented at City Hall.  “We” being the taxpaying citizens of Austin.

There is another Class of person always seeking and often receiving representation at City Hall, the lobbyist.  Consultants run PACs, pay lobbyists, and invest in political campaigns of people needing the job.  Not everyone seeking a job in politics needs it, but many a gilded lilly has been promoted and elected, and sometimes influenced or duped into supporting expensive projects with little if any payback for the taxpayers.  

  • Example A:  Austin taxpayers are paying for a $Billion+ biomass energy plant in East Texas that is seldom used.  Members of the City Council running for office voted for it.
  • Example B:   In 2014 we are being sold an Urban Rail system under a complete farce perpetrated by Project Connect, whose current President is also a VP of HNTB, the sole contractor for the Austin Urban Rail Project.  Highway funds under the bond are for rail infrastructure, not highways improvements for traffic flow or commuters.

Public Service is a calling for some, and a profession for those elected.  In business and life, we learn to take a three dimensional look at every major decision or purchase.  We have to look for every possible consequence of our decision to invest time and money.  

In Public Leadership, we have to take a closer look.  We have to represent every minority group, every neighborhood, and every constituent in the community.  

  • Example A:  How will an event impact the neighborhoods around it?  How will annual events impact the long term quality of life for the citizens living around the venue?  How will the benefits of the event impact the total community?  And where might we locate the event in the future, if there are negative effects to long term quality of life for residents living near the event today?   
  • Example B:  How might an Urban Farm be regulated?  How might events hosted by a business like an Urban Farm to supplement income affect the residents nearby?  And if the quality of life has been degraded, was the business in compliance with zoning?
  • Example C:  During a forum in Tarrytown, some candidates for District 10 spoke up stating they want the City of Austin to buy Lions Municipal Golf Course.  A couple of candidates stated;  “MUNY was the first place African Americans were allowed to play golf in Texas’; and, Austin (taxpayers) could ‘create a historic district to (promote the idea of) support buying MUNY”.

With the 4th Dimension in mind;  – perceptions and value for all citizens;

  • If the residents near Lions Municipal Golf Course desire the City of Austin to pay The University of Texas (no doubt top-dollar) acquire and operate the Lions Municipal Golf Course we have to keep everyone in mind.  If Tarrytown residents want to invoke African American Heritage to get this done, – the next City Council ought to establish an offer and set up a Charitable Trust funding the long term acquisition, maintenance, and operations as well as scholarships, AISD Jr. and Sr. High School Golf Curriculum for East and SE Austin schools,  clubs and mentoring programs, and perhaps some Junior Achievement programs to help latchkey kids understand how to make it to Tarrytown as property owners in adult life.  Only then should the measure to purchase an operate Lions Municipal Golf Course be offered for a vote of the public.
  • If Zilker and East Austin residents are to be properly represented, all aspects of event promotions and venues need to be considered from a quality of life and public safety perspective.  I know if Cedar Park started holding music venues in the park behind my NE Austin house, or if the Avery Ranch Golf Club kept noise levels up late at night, we would have some long debates at City Halls of either city, possibly resulting in tortish activities.  And I am very, very risk averse regarding legal activities.  If we can’t avoid the courthouse, we don’t need to be in public service.  

Thankfully, my wife and I have very friendly neighbors.
The best example of Public Leadership is to provide measured, balanced, taxpayer-friendly leadership for all citizens.  That is my goal, should I become an elected public servant.

Randall Stephens

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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!

The Author may be contacted by phone for comment. (512) 796-5339

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.

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