Georgetown City Council candidates discuss election issues at Tuesday’s candidate forum

By ADAM SCHRADER
Published in Community Impact Newspaper on April 27, 2017

Georgetown Neighborhood Alliance, a group that advocates for responsible development in town, sponsored a candidate forum Tuesday in the Red and Charline McCombs Campus Center at Southwestern University.

Here are select quotes from candidates responding to questions on particular issues:

MAYORAL CANDIDATES

OPENING STATEMENTS

SHERWIN KAHN

“After supporting Mayor [Dale] Ross three years ago, I think the town needs a new direction. We should move toward sustainable growth instead of reaching for attainable growth and get away from this sort of subtle new Jim Crow zoning that makes residents in south and east Georgetown sell their homes because they can’t afford the taxes or fees.”

DALE ROSS

“This time three years ago, I laid out a five-point plan. That plan included a focus on public safety and public health. We’re now one of the safest cities in Texas. Since then, we have added emergency medical services. We have the lowest tax rate in central Texas. Three tax credit housing projects were approved in one year, which is almost unheard of. We recently approved the largest bond in the city’s history. With that, we started the Southwest Bypass. We’ve also working with Round Rock, the state and the feds to expand FM 1460. We need to protect and guide this growth in a smart way.”

ON BALANCING SMART GROWTH WITH FINANCIAL GROWTH

DALE ROSS

“We have a unified development code that is predictable and reasonable. A good development code protects the city because otherwise you have developers that are complaining that it’s too stringent and preservationist complaining it’s too weak. Since we got a new city manager, it’s predictable. It’s working great.”

SHERWIN KAHN

“It’s not magic that we’re the fastest growing city of our size in the country. It’s because we issue a lot of building permits. The permits are granted but variances are just given away.”

ON INCREASING INCLUSION IN THE COMMUNITY

SHERWIN KAHN

“I would make myself available and try to listen to what everyone has to say. I have some specific ideas, like porch parties I used to have for myself where people would come and have a glass of wine and just talking to me.”

ON RETURNING PUBLIC COMMENTS TO START OF CITY COUNCIL MEETINGS

DALE ROSS

“That was a decision I made in the first year and that was a wise decision. The rules don’t allow council to interact with residents on items that aren’t on the agenda. Sometimes lawyers or architects are paid by their companies to be there to speak with council on items we need to vote on. If you have an issue, the first step is to speak with your council representative and have them discuss it and they may bring it as an action item before council to vote on. But council needs to get their work done, which is vote on the agenda items. If public comments are at the front, meetings go on longer.”

SHERWIN KAHN

“The voice of the people at council is important. We should let them speak before council without signing up a week in advance. I would lean towards moving it back to the beginning of the meeting.”

ON AFFORDABLE HOUSING

SHERWIN KAHN

“You can either pay a living wage as some communities have or you create affordable housing where people work so they can live and work in the community. If we don’t, we become a commuter community like so many other towns we’ve seen in Texas.”

DALE ROSS

“It’s not an accident that city of Georgetown got three affordable housing projects. We have twice as much affordable housing as cities our size in Texas. To be a truly inclusive community, we need people to live work and play here and that’s what I’ve worked for over the last three years.”

ON EXPANDING AND DIVERSIFYING CITY’S ECONOMY

SHERWIN KAHN

“The best things for small towns are soft industry, like high tech and tourism. We have an extraordinary chance to be the preeminent town in Texas even over Austin. We’ve got this beautiful Square. We should create a downtown entertainment district and expand liquor laws so people can enjoy the Square past 10 p.m.”

DALE ROSS

“We already have a robust economy here. Holt Caterpillar is coming and they’ll add $15 million to our economy. We’re seeing a multiplier effect where business travelers staying at the new Sheraton Georgetown Hotel and Conference Center are spending their money downtown. The amount of sales tax over the last three years has almost tripled. But we can’t neglect economic development because if we do then it will return to how it was in the ‘80s.”

ON OFFERING CITY-SPONSORED EVENTS FOR MINORITY GROUPS

DALE ROSS

“We need to work with leaders in those communities and see what they want sponsored by the city. But the city does sponsor several activities like the Red Poppy Festival and the Christmas Stroll. We’ll see if it’s a good fit and maybe we can help.”

SHERWIN KAHN

“Events like the Old South Civil War Soiree do not make people in the African American community feel like they belong in Georgetown. It does not make them want to go to downtown to do anything. People on the southeast side don’t think events like Red Poppy Festival speak to them. We decimated some of their neighborhoods already and we need to acknowledge these things and have events that seek inclusion.”

DISTRICT 2

Candidate Valerie Nicholson was present through video chat, as she’s currently traveling for business.

OPENING STATEMENTS

DAVID SRAY

“I’m an independent candidate. I don’t have any particular business ties that would benefit from me being on city council.”

VALERIE NICHOLSON

“I’m a fiscal conservative. I’m not interested in raising taxes. I’m interested in bringing in economic growth.”

ON INCREASING DISTRICT WALKABILITY

VALERIE NICHOLSON

“The sidewalk that is now finally going to happen between Leander Road and Wolf Ranch will be huge for getting folks to shopping and work. When I see people walking that right now, it makes me really nervous. An area I’ve heard needs to be addressed is Leander Road near where the schools are.”

DAVID SRAY

“When we have new developments, we should encourage infrastructure that will help everyone to get around. Leander Road isn’t ready for all the Southwest Bypass traffic. It’s going to be problematic. I hope we’ll be able to expand the road to four lanes all the way through and encourage the county to finish the rest of the Southwest Bypass to I-35.”

ON GOGEO BUS STOP LOCATION

DAVID SRAY

“You would like to place stops on public property, first and foremost. There may be areas where that’s difficult to achieve. It may be beneficial to businesses for buses to stop in front of their business. I trust that the city has done a lot of research to define where the bus stops should be, like where residents would congregate to board the bus.”

VALERIE NICHOLSON

“City staff has done their due diligence and I don’t want to question the work they’ve put in. City Council’s role is not to weigh in where the bus stops should go necessarily but let city staff do what they do best.”

ON CITY COUNCIL GRANTING VARIANCES TO CITY’S MASTER PLAN

VALERIE NICHOLSON

“I would absolutely rely on staff and their recommendations. Staff under leadership of City Manager David Morgan is doing a good job. You have to look at everything that’s presented to you from different sides. But I would have to look at specific situations to see if the proposal from the developer was so egregiously different from what the document said.”

DAVID SRAY

“Whenever there’s an exception request that comes in, we need to take our time and really evaluate it on city council. Input from city staff is obviously an important component but not the only one that should be considered. We are a high demand community. I don’t see why we have to rush any development. Let’s do what’s right for the city.”

DISTRICT 6

Candidate Lawrence Romero was invited but chose not to intend.

ON DIVERSITY

RACHAEL JONROWE

“Since becoming a City Council member, I’ve met people who live on the ridge, people who live in southeast Georgetown, people who hesitate getting involved because they feel like their voices aren’t heard. My place on council has evolved over the years so I can be their voices to the rest of council.”

ON RETURNING PUBLIC COMMENTS TO START OF CITY COUNCIL MEETINGS

RACHAEL JONROWE

“I voted to move public comment to the end of the meetings. It’s time to reevaluate that. I’ve noticed a significant downturn in the number of individuals who come to city council to speak about items not on the agenda. That was an unintended consequence. People also need to sign up a week ahead of time. We should open it up to everyone so people can come spontaneously speak about what’s important to them.”

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