Primary Election Candidates: Austin City Council
Published 11:25 am Saturday, August 30, 2008
Austin City Council member at-large candidates must face off in the Sept. 9 primary election, and, to help voters better understand their choices, the Austin Daily Herald has created a questionnaire designed to cover some of important issues in the city of Austin this election.
The top two candidates from each primary will advance to the Nov. 4 General Election.
Candidates for the council member at-large seat include Janet Anderson, KAAL-TV producer; Jeff Austin, 1st Ward council member; George Brophy, former president of the Development Corporation of Austin; Mary Keenan, former Mower County commissioner; and Marvin Repinski, pastor and Riverland Community College professor.
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George G. Brophy
Background: Former executive director for the Development Corporation of Austin, a post he held for 20 years. Now an independent business development consultant and instructor at Cardinal Stritch University in Rochester.
Prior public office experience: I have not held a public elected office.
What special skills or experiences do you have to make an effective Austin City Council member? I have worked extensively with many public bodies, particularly with the City of Austin over a 30-year period with an emphasis in economic development and redevelopment planning/grant preparation. In that context I have developed industrial properties and helped to create many hundreds of jobs. I fully understand public finance and budgeting as well as the need for a working relationship among diverse interests to bring about effective results.
What is the top issue of this campaign? The top issue for me is to develop a clear vision and action plan for Austin’s future. We can and must provide our current residents with the best place possible in which to live and work. At the same time we need to produce an environment that is extraordinarily attractive to those who have a choice of whether to live here. Whether it’s in developing new companies and associated employment, retail revitalization, safety, opportunities for spouses, whatever, Austin has to be the most progressive place that we can make it.
Are you satisfied with the pace and results of flood mitigation efforts in the city? No, absolutely not. We have several major employers, among them Austin Packaging Company (more than 250 employees) that could be instantly wiped out with one more major flood. That company and perhaps others will at some point vote with their feet if we do not act more swiftly than has been the case over the past two years. We have to do more than wait for federal/state funds to protect North Main Street as an answer to our flood issues.
Are you satisfied with the Mower County Board’s solution to public safety and jail over-crowding issues? Generally the decision to locate downtown is sound, particularly as it will keep law enforcement facilities and county/city officers co-located. The cost for the replacement facility needs, however, to be capped, and if judicial offices and Human Services need to be housed in other than new and expensive facilities to minimize capital costs we need to demand that of policy members.
The future of the Robbins block is uncertain. Should it be saved? No, unless it is determined by county officials and their architects that there is a superior land area to support their intended development program. As for preservation for future retail expansion, there is no known or reasonable demand that makes this block and its current (deficient) buildings a particularly valuable resource. Further enhancement of Main Street and a redevelopment plan that ties the retail area south of Fourth Avenue North to the Spam Museum area would represent sound strategy for future retail land use.
Local finances: Are they being handled appropriately and in the best interests of the taxpayers? With the exception of compensation increases that are based on a percentage “for all” rather than merit based, public expenditures are well managed.
Final remarks? In the words of Rick Warren in his opening remarks of The Purpose Driven Life, “It’s not about you”. Pastor Warren’s words could be interpreted to mean that council members are themselves not so important. They are simply citizens who are privileged to serve our community for a very short time. I’m interested in an even better Austin than now exists. I’ll work toward that if you choose me to do so.
Background: Owner and insurance agent at Jeffrey Austin Agency of American Family Insurance.
Prior public office experience: Austin City Council, 1st Ward, 2006 to present; Austin Park and Rec Board, 2004-2006
What special skills or experiences do you have to make an effective mayor? I have the past two years of serving on the council, being a lifetime resident of Austin and 25 years as a businessman in Austin to provide me with the skill and experience that I feel make me an effective member of the council
What is the top issue of this campaign? I don’t know that there is one “glaring” issue that stands out. Having said that, however, I feel that the ongoing issue of flood mitigation and the Mower County Jail/Judicial Center are probably the top issues that the council is dealing with currently.
Are you satisfied with the pace and results of flood mitigation efforts in the city? We are seeing results, which was witnessed during the last event in June, and that is a great thing. As for how fast things are getting done: Unfortunately, we can only move projects along as we have the funds to pay for them. The citizens of Austin did their part by passing the local sales tax so that we would have a funding mechanism in place for our portion of funds needed, we just need to get other government entities to recognize the needs of Austin and come through with matching funds in as timely a manner as possible. I think that only if we were able to get these major projects done tomorrow would we be able to say that we are satisfied with the pace of the efforts to mitigate these events. Obviously, as long as the Cedar River, Turtle Creek and Dobbins Creek flow through the town we are going to have to deal with water events.
Are you satisfied with the Mower County Board’s solution to public safety and jail over-crowding issues? I am just glad that a decision was reached and this project is moving forward.
The future of the Robbins block is uncertain. Should it be saved? Yes, I believe it should be saved. I am not convinced that the county needs more than the two blocks the city is acquiring to do this project and as long as that block was not included as one of the two blocks needed from the beginning, I do not see why it is even in play now.
Local finances: Are they being handled properly and in the best interests of taxpayers? Between the council and the city department heads I think we have a very fiscally responsible budget to provide the services that the citizens need and want.
Final remarks? None.
Background: Producer for KAAL-TV.
Prior public office experience: I have not served in an elected position.
What special skills or experiences do you have to make an effective mayor? I gained extensive City of Austin experience through two appointed positions: 14 years as a member on the Austin City Planning Commission and the Austin Human Rights Commission since 2006. I am currently the co-chair. These positions have helped me develop a clear understanding of how city government works and a solid foundation to be a strong leader on the city council.
I am also a charter member of the Austin Area Commission for the Arts Board of Directors, a nonprofit organization that owns and operates the Historic Paramount Theatre in downtown Austin. I was actively involved throughout the successful restoration project. I am co-founder and serve on Board of Directors for Matchbox Children’s Theatre, on Board of Directors for the Austin Area Foundation and the Austin Convention and Visitors Bureau. This depth of work with nonprofit organizations has been important to developing strong communication, collaboration and networking skills. It has also given me many years of working within tight budgets and making best use of limited funds. These volunteer contributions also demonstrate my commitment to making Austin and even better place to live and work.
What is the top issue of this campaign? I do not see a single top issue. One of the challenges is that there are several key issues on a consistent basis and the council must able to deal with them simultaneously such as: growth in Austin including continued momentum with downtown revitalization, ongoing progress with flood mitigation, long-range planning for land use and environmentally responsible choices including focus on renewable energy as a source for conserving energy, controlling costs and a resource for jobs.
Are you satisfied with the pace and results of flood mitigation efforts in the city? I believe good progress is being made and I look forward to working with city staff and other partners to continue to move forward with this vital project.
Are you satisfied with the Mower County Board’s solution to public safety and jail over-crowding issues? No, while progress has been made, citizens I talk with are frustrated at the pace and obstacles to getting to the actual construction phase. I would focus on city and county working together more effectively to get this project completed.
The future of the Robbins block is uncertain. Should it be saved? I am open to exploring the option of a new use for the Robbins building depending on final geo-thermal test results and resolving parking needs. I need more information on pros and cons from both sides before taking a firm stand.
Local finances: Are they being handled properly and in the best interests of taxpayers? I do think that city staff and council are doing a good job with finances and are very committed to serving the best interests of taxpayers.
Final remarks? I take the responsibility of listening to ideas and concerns of citizens very seriously and am committed to an attitude of mutual respect for all citizens of Austin. I believe that it will benefit the people of Austin to have a more progressive, team approach on the city council. Strong collaboration and networking efforts plus being open to exploring new directions will be key elements of achieving goals, especially in this challenging economic environment.
Background: Retired elementary school teacher, and now a licensed real estate agent.
Prior public office experience: Mower County Commissioner, 5th District, 1983-1990
What special skills or experiences do you have to make an effective mayor? My experience with government programs and working in the parameters that we are allowed by the state government. I am a good listener and do in-depth research before making decisions.
What is the top issue of this campaign? Completing the jail and justice center in the timelines and contract agreements set between the city and county. To amicably complete the reconstruction of the existing law enforcement center.
Are you satisfied with the pace and results of flood mitigation efforts in the city? I believe we need to address neighborhoods quickly and not just concentrate on business areas.
Are you satisfied with the Mower County Board’s solution to public safety and jail over-crowding issues? The Department of Corrections decision to limit numbers of prisoners in the county jail has forced the boarding of prisoners in other counties. The transporting takes a huge toll on the effectivness of the sheriff’s department. No ordinary business could operate under these excessive expenses of time and energy that is lost in the process of transporting. We need a new jail and justice center and the decision to build downtown has been made. Now we must fulfill the contracts that have been signed.
The future of the Robbins block is uncertain. Should it be saved? With the placement of the jail and justice center in the proposed two blocks adjacent to the Robbins block, this would be an ideal space for convenient parking and hopefully a geothermal system.
Local finances: Are they being handled appropriately and in the best interests of the taxpayers? There is always room for improvement. Home owners are facing huge increases in general living expenses. We need to be sensitive to the citizens who are paying the bills and try very hard to reduce taxes or keep the levy increases to a minimum.
Final remarks? Austin is a wonderful city. We offer many things other cities of our size desire. It is the obligation of the city council to maintain a safe, secure and healthy place for our citizens to live. I would like to be part of the process in continuing and improving our community.
Background: Pastor at Fellowship United Methodist Church and professor at Riverland Community College.
Prior public office experience: Elected office of the DFL and Human Rights chair of various boards and commitees of statewide and local organizations, many of which interact with civil, community educational and cultural concerns.
What special skills or experiences do you have to make an effective mayor? Beginning with my church leadership position in 1964, I have been in supportive dialogue and attendance at meetings of the city, county and state level to voice my convictions based on my study and attendance at seminars.
What is the top issue of this campaign? Continued development of the downtown area with interaction with library support, jail-justice center development and financial initiatives working with Chamber and Hormel to sustain business expansion.
Are you satisfied with the pace and results of flood mitigation efforts in the city? Overall satisfaction. I have given suggestions and spoken to many residents, handled some complaints, but sense a citywide approval of the progress.
Are you satisfied with the Mower County Board’s solution to public safety and jail over-crowding issues? In attending many planning meetings of the board, discussion with Mr. Oscarson and the concerned public, my letters to the editor and newspaper columns have garnered responses of which I affirm. On additional need: As I have requested at a past county board meeting, to again firmly state the financially responsible use of tax dollars is to set legally a limit on what will be spent on the jail-justice center. No overrides!
The future of the Robbins block is uncertain. Should it be saved? I have spoken to persons “in authority” and city planning to make my convictions known: “Save the Robbins Block,” as my paid newspaper ads have stated.
Local finances: Are they being handled appropriately and in the best interests of the taxpayers? My stance in communities I have lived has been to place only necessary monies at “the top” and finance the basic needs — where the rubber hits the road with minimal frills and “toys.” We are heading to that understanding!
Final remarks? My pledge is to be visible in the community. By personal presence, be available for conversation in the arts — Symphony Orchestra and Artist Series, productions at the Paramount Theatre, athletic events, church programs — and to work for a more direct relationship with our schools, especially Riverland Community College, where I am a professor.