Council candidates debate at forum

Published 12:00 am Thursday, October 26, 2000

One of the most unusual questions asked at Wednesday night’s KSMQ forum for the Austin City Council candidates was directed at Arnold Lang, challenger for the at-large council seat.

Thursday, October 26, 2000

One of the most unusual questions asked at Wednesday night’s KSMQ forum for the Austin City Council candidates was directed at Arnold Lang, challenger for the at-large council seat.

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"If you’re elected, how will you feel working side by side with your brother (Third Ward council member Dick Lang), and what will happen if you disagree?" moderator Julie Tufte asked, repeating a question called in to the League of Women Voters volunteers manning the phones during the hourlong forum.

Lang handled the question with a combination of seriousness and humor.

"Like most brothers, we have our disagreements," he said. "We are also very independent thinkers. I would consider him, like any other council member, a valuable resource, and would respect his experience … Besides, if we disagreed, I would just call my mother and have her settle it."

Other than that, the questions asked by viewers mostly repeated themes that have been echoing through the Austin City Council Chambers most of 2000. Public safety, flooding, housing, tax increment financing – all seven candidates tackled the big issues and explained their differences.

Public safety brought forth some of the most lively debate, with challengers Wayne Goodnature (First Ward), Pete Christopherson (Second Ward) and Arnold Lang (at-large) raising alarm bells about the staffing levels in the Austin Fire Department, dispatch center and, to a lesser extent, the Police Department.

Christopherson, a part-time firefighter, advocated raising the number of full-time firefighters to 15, so a minimum of four firefighters will be available immediately to answer calls, rather than having to wait until more firefighters arrive when responding to structure fires.

Goodnature, a former Mower County sheriff, weighed in on the issue.

"I probably have more experience in the sector than anyone in this room," he said. "I think it’s outrageous that the Fire Department doesn’t leave the station immediately. Not just for rescues, also for accidents. We need enough firefighters not just to hook up, but to do their jobs."

"What’s outrageous is that this is even an issue," Arnold Lang said. "Personal safety and property should always be a priority, and it took a public outcry to bring this issue forward."

First Ward incumbent Neil Fedson, who is the chairman of the council’s fire committee, defended the council, pointing out that a strategic plan for the Fire Department recently had been adopted that would prevent any further cutting of the full-time staffing levels. He added that he would support the hiring of another dispatcher, stating that the staffers were working under almost "inhuman" conditions.

The incumbent council members, at-large council member Dick Chaffee chief among them, stressed experience and accomplishments on the council as reasons for voters to elect them.

Chaffee said more than once that he believed the council had been a "user-friendly council" over the past several years, and that he was proud of the job they had done.

"There are many projects still in the pot, with my knowledge and experience on the council, I believe we can get those finished," he said in his closing, after listing economic growth, affordable housing and a flood remedy as his priorities."

Each candidate was allowed a minute or two for a closing statement.

"I would like you to check me out and on Nov. 7, to check me in as your council member at-large," Arnold Lang said.

When Austin native Christopherson stressed his youth and the fresh perspective he could bring to the council, his opponent, Roger Boughton, replied tongue-in-cheek.

"Being not so young … elections are about setting priorities," he said, listing his qualities of common sense and being a team member.

Goodnature said he missed "mixing it up and disagreeing" and stressed his investment in and commitment to the community, while his opponent Fedson stressed that his wife of 50 years was a tremendous asset and promised that, if elected, he would get the answer to any questions people in his ward wanted answered.

League of Women Voters President Greta Kraushaar was happy with both the council and county board forums the non-partisan organization had sponsored with KSMQ-TV.

"I was very pleased with the quality and number of questions we received," she said.

From 8 to 9 tonight, local candidates for the state Legislature will discuss the issues during another call-in forum on KSMQ.