A District 6 Candidate Runoff Forum featuring Austin City Council candidates Don Zimmerman and Jimmy Flannigan took place a couple of weeks ago in Four Points. The candidates hashed out the issues in anticipation of gaining more votes for the runoff election.
Early voting started last week and Dec. 16 is voting day for runoffs.
Election results in November showed that Zimmerman received 24.21 percent of the vote and Flannigan received 24.05 percent.
About 35 people attended the forum on Nov. 18 which was held at Austin Baptist Church and sponsored by the Four Points Chamber of Commerce.
“It went great. It covered a lot of issues relevant in Four Points and beyond,” said Brian Thompto, Steiner Ranch Neighborhood Association chairman.
The SRNA Facebook page has a link to the video of the forum including the questions asked by local residents at: www.facebook.com/Steiner.Ranch.Neighborhood.Association
Questions were submitted beforehand via email and during the event to a panel which included Scott Crosby, head of the River Place HOA, and Tiffany Speaks, Four Points business owner including Trails at 620 and Moviehouse & Eatery.
Paul O’Brien moderated the event. He is a Steiner Ranch resident, chief marketing officer of MicroVentures and author of the Steiner Ranch Post.
The issues at the recent forum revolved around traffic, transportation, utilities and development.
Flannigan, 36, owns Site Street, an online Internet marketing business and he is a longtime resident of Anderson Mill.
One of Flannigan’s core issues is traffic and he wants to bring multiple solutions for relief.
“District 6 has the worst traffic and longest commutes,” he said. He added that this district’s property crime is the worst in the City of Austin.
Flannigan also wants utility reform and restructuring especially in water.
“We are paying more to Austin Energy for water than property taxes. Austin Water needs restructuring,” Flannigan said.
Zimmerman, 54, is a consultant and founder of ZimWin Communications and he has lived in District 6 for the past 15 years.
Zimmerman also sees transportation gridlock as a problem.
“Transportation is a problem and it’s an outrage,” Zimmerman said.
He wants to see residents of District 6 represented above endangered species.
“When the Barton Springs salamander, golden-cheeked warbler (and others) buy land and pay taxes, they should be represented,” Zimmerman said.
Another area of focus for Zimmerman is wildfire risk. Austin has a lot of green space and preserves, he wants to bring more attention to fire mitigation plans.
“Firefighters are frustrated… plans haven’t been implemented,” he said.
Flannigan is looking at a holistic solution for traffic issues including signal timing, challenging bus routes, creating intersection improvements and for those who work, he wants driving alternatives such as flextime and telecommuting and creating better partnerships with the business community in these areas.
Zimmerman, on the other hand, cited the proposed bypass connector road between RM 620 and RM 2222 as a good, short-term fix.
“We have more projects than money,” he said. He hopes to find funding and leverage that with the Texas Department of Transportation to build the important road improvement projects.
“The road system is a system. We’ve not had proper system planning for decades. I’m very eager to get started on that,” Zimmerman said.
“Rail is a great way to move aggregates and shipping containers, it is terrible for moving people. It does not make sense. It is too expensive and moves too few people. We need to turn our attention to roads,” Zimmerman said.
Flannigan suggests improving and maximizing bus solution including rapid bus solutions, bigger buses and longer routes.
“Until we have the density to support rail, which may never happen, we need to improve bus service,” Flannigan said.
“Pretending that there won’t be growth, that is how we go there in the first place,” Flannigan said.
Flannigan suggests managing growth by having connective corridors and more land-use planning with infrastructures.
“We’ve had people try to work (on development but the) city comes along and puts up obstructions,” said Zimmerman, who cites the Balcones Canyonlands Conservation Plan as an example. He cares about the BCCP, he said, but also he has concerns about it because it seems to be a roadblock and, in cases, used by the city in projects.
Flannigan considers the BCCP very serious and hopes to find a solution by allowing development and working with the BCCP.
Flannigan stressed the importance of being able to work together with other city council district representatives to get things done.
“We (District 6) cannot do it alone. We are going to need five votes to get things done,” he added.
Zimmerman said building inspections need reform and he proposes an easier process which includes an online system for permitting.
“Delays (in the current process) add thousands of dollars to the home costs, for example,” he said.
Flannigan agrees the system needs fixing. The city currently has a vicious unending review, approval and rejection process.
“City staff adversaries and technology solutions will help. City staff has so much power. (We need to) break up how the process works,” Flannigan said.
Both candidates believe that Austin Energy should be broken up.
“Break up Austin Energy and start with competitive choice,” Zimmerman said.
Flannigan said, “Austin Energy is the largest asset owned by the taxpayers. We need to relinquish shareholders.”
“A single council member can do nothing on their own — traffic solutions, rework utility rates — without working with people across town,” Flannigan said.
He plans to work hard at building relationships with other council members to get things done. “The decisions we make in the next six to 12 months set the tone forever.”
Zimmerman said that District 6 needs to assert lawful rights.
In 2002, after learning that his Canyon Creek Municipal Utility District had been annexed and ignored by Austin in regards to an illegal tax situation, he campaigned to be elected to the MUD board and to challenge the taxes.
“If we don’t stand up for our rights under the law, we’ll get nothing,” Zimmerman said. “When we filed a suit, we noticed after we won, we got a lot of respect.”
This is the first Austin City Council election with geographic representation which was established with redistricting. Prior to this year, the council was made up of six at-large members and a mayor and now it has 10 members, each representing one district, plus a mayor.
Four Points now has representation in District 6, which sprawls from Brushy Creek near Round Rock and Cedar Park in the north, southward through Anderson Mill and the surrounding commercial areas, all the way down a corridor to Bee Caves Road (RM 2244), according to the City Council maps. It includes all or portions of River Place, Grandview Hills, Comanche Trail, homes in Steiner Ranch within 100 feet of Lake Austin, and older areas outside and nearby Steiner Ranch including south of Selma Hughes Park Road.