Mayoral candidates face issues

Published 7:00 am Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Mayor Tom Steihm and challenger Marian Clennon square off Monday night a debate sponsored by the Austin Daily Herald and KSMQ Public Televison. - Eric Johnson/

Mayor Tom Stiehm defended his record as Austin mayor and pushed job growth while council member Marian Clennon promoted more transparency in government at Monday night’s mayoral debate sponsored by the Austin Daily Herald and KSMQ-TV.

Illegal immigration, job growth, changes to the city charter and Local Government Aid (LGA) were among the topics discussed at the debate.

Mayor Tom Stiehm responds to a question at Monday night's debate sponsored by the Austin Daily Herald and KSMQ. - Eric Johnson/

“We’ve met every single LGA cut so far without raising taxes,” Stiehm said in response to a question about the city budget. “If we continue to get large cuts in LGA, we’ll have to cut some major services or raise some taxes. We’re doing what needs to be done.”

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Clennon said more can be done to save the city money, though. She proposed cuts to the city attorney’s office as well as increasing homeowners’ property taxes overall instead of assessing taxes for property repairs.

“People are frustrated with government,” Stiehm said. “We need to redefine the way we do business as a government. The good old days are gone.”

“We need to focus on working with other people outside of Austin, too,” Clennon said.

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Clennon especially stressed working with groups outside of Austin while discussing job growth in the city.

“We need to work with Albert Lea, Owatonna, even across the border in Iowa,” Clennon said. “(We are) working together to find out what kind of jobs people are looking for.”

She explained that if someone gets a job in a neighboring town, they will inevitably spend money in Austin, which would benefit the city even if the job is not located here.

Stiehm responded that 80 percent of local job growth occurs in businesses that are already located in the city.

“You have to promote the businesses you have already,” he said. “We owe it to the businesses.”

“Sure, we do need to promote the businesses in Austin,” Clennon replied. “But we need to expand and bring in new. We need to promote to bring people in from the outside.”

Mayoral challenger Marian Clennon at Monday nights debate sponsored by the Austin Daily Herald and KSMQ. - Eric Johnson/

Clennon also said she wants to encourage diversity in Austin.

“We need to work with promoting what is good about our mixture,” Clennon said. “(Illegal immigration) is a federal issue. There’s not a lot the city can do about it. We need to promote our differences.”

Stiehm agreed that immigration is not something easily handled on the local level.

“I think we need to keep pressure on the federal government,” Stiehm said. “We need a resolution and the federal government is the only thing that can resolve it.”

Stiehm also said its important to remember that immigrants who live in Austin are trying to build better lives for themselves.

“Blame the government,” he said. “Don’t blame the people that are trying to better themselves here.”

Clennon and Stiehm also talked about their thoughts regarding proposed changes to the city charter that will be on the ballot Nov. 2.

The candidates were asked if they support the proposal to lengthen the mayor’s term limits from two years to four years and if they think the mayor should have tie-breaking power.

Clennon said she is opposed to both the lengthening of term limits and allowing tie-breaking power.

“We have a charter to stay unique from the rest of the state and I feel it should be kept that way,” Clennon said. “If a mayor is doing a good job it shouldn’t be a problem to re-elect every two years.”

Clennon also said she views the more frequent chance to campaign as an opportunity to reconnect with voters.

Stiehm, on the other hand, said he is in favor of longer term limits and the ability to break council deadlocks.

“A lot of issues last longer than two years,” he said. “They need more continuity. I would like to see a four-year term.”

“When you tie and walk away, nobody is satisfied with that and the mayor can put an end to that (with tie-breaking power),” Stiehm added.

The candidates also touched on the topic of wind energy and whether it has a place in Austin.

Stiehm said he thinks the city should work towards finding more options for wind energy as technology becomes more advanced, but right now he isn’t sure if wind turbines in residential areas is a good idea.

“I would like to see businesses promote wind energy but I don’t think we’re ready for it,” Stiehm said. “It’s changing technology. We’ll come up with a new ordinance and I think wind energy is a part of that.”

Clennon agreed that as technology becomes more advanced the city will need to tweak the wind energy ordinance and also seek ways to be more energy efficient.

“We should encourage any kind of new energy sources,” Clennon said. “We also need to encourage solar power.”

Stiehm and Clennon agreed that energy efficiency should be something for which the city strives, especially due to recent budget constraints.

“There are a lot of different things the city can do, and we need to explore them,” Stiehm said.