Candidates make their cases for city seats

Published 10:32 am Friday, September 23, 2016

Coming Sunday: Read about the four candidates vying for thee Austin Public School Board seats.


With the Nov. 8 election less than a month and a half away, four candidates vying for two seats on the Austin City Council made their cases for why they deserve a chance to help lead the city.

Email newsletter signup

Ward 1 candidates Laura Helle and incumbent Michael Jordal and Ward 3 candidates Paul Fischer and incumbent Jeremy Carolan participated in a forum hosted by the Austin Area Chamber of Commerce and KAUS Radio Thursday at the Eagles Club.

Jordal is seeking his second term and spoke of growing up in Iowa and moving to Austin in 2004 to work as a graphic artist at what is now Old 218. He and his wife, Kate, have a 3-year-old son, Griffin, and he’s looking forward to keep serving.

“I would like to bring things forward into the future,” he said.

His opponent, Helle, previously served as director of the Hormel Historic Home and was Vision 2020’s director of vision creation. She said she looks forward to making Austin her home for many years, as it’s just the right size for her.

“I love Austin, that’s why I want to serve on the council,” she said.

Helle promised if elected she will listen, try to find common ground and take a proactive approach to find ideas and improving the community.

Carolan lives in Austin with his wife and four children; he owns a real estate brokerage company.

“I’m trying to do my part to see that Austin continues to be a great place for families to live and businesses to grow and thrive,” Carolan said.

Fischer, his challenger, lives in Austin with his two children and works for Alpha Media. He also serves on the Salvation Army public relations board, Vision 2020’s Business Friendly Environment committee, and he’s part of Leadership Austin.

Fischer said his experience, involvement and knowledge of the community makes him a good candidate, and he’s hoping he’ll be able to represent the citizens of Austin.

“I look forward to this opportunity to serve the city of Austin,” he said.

Ward 1candidates Laura Helle and incumbent Michael Jordal participate in a candidate forum at the Austin Eagles Club Thursday. Jason Schoonover/

Ward 1candidates Laura Helle and incumbent Michael Jordal participate in a candidate forum at the Austin Eagles Club Thursday. Jason Schoonover/

When asked about ways to improve the quality of life in Austin, Carolan said he’d be open to opportunities to improve the community through things like trails and waterways enhancements, but noted he wants to make sure to look into items that are important to his constituents.

When talking about quality of life, Fischer spoke about the importance of adequate housing and the need to attract businesses and families to the community.

Helle noted businesses need a high quality of life, but the city needs to see population growth and housing to make improvements with retail and business.

Jordal said that for Austin’s size, the community is competitive and already has a strong quality of life and things other communities don’t — like the Jay C. Hormel Nature Center, parks and more — but he said he’d be open to discussing more opportunities as they come up.

The candidates offered split views on the proposal to build the Austin Community Recreation Center, which was approved by the Austin City Council earlier this year before hitting snags with the YMCA’s board. Mayor Tom Stiehm later issued a statement saying the talks had reached an “apparent conclusion.”

Jordal, who voted against the rec center in June, said he doesn’t support the project, arguing it was supposed to be a partnership for a true community rec center with several partners, but it’s now just the city helping build a new Austin YMCA.

“What it feels like to me is the city propping up a YMCA, a private entity that should stand on its own,” he said.

Helle, who worked for Vision 2020 in the early stages of the project, said it showed her why more communities don’t bring multiple entities together for a facility with more amenities than it could afford on its own — that’s because coming to terms is really hard, she said.

“It’s really to get huge entities, which are governed by boards, to agree on the nitty gritty,” she said.

Still, she said she supports the project, though many details need to be worked out.

Carolan voted against project in June, but he said he’s not completely opposed to it, as long as it’s a community recreation center, but he said many people have told him it just feels like a larger YMCA so it may be better to keep it a private project.

Fischer supports the rec center, but he noted many details and financing still need to be worked out.

When asked about one amenity they’d add to Austin, Jordal, and avid gamer, said he’s like to see the community get a board game cafe.

Helle said the most needed amenity in Austin is housing, while Carolan would prefer bringing a form of a family-oriented business where families could take young children. Fischer would like to see business growth downtown and on 18th Avenue Northwest to attract more people.

After the council passed a maximum 9 percent levy increase earlier this week, the candidates were asked about continued increases to the levy.

Helle noted she’d not in favor of the raising the levy and said she’s talked to state representatives about the system disproportionately affected businesses, which is a statewide issue.

When the city needs more money, Helle said she’d prefer to use her skills as Riverland Community College’s director of grants and alumni relations to help the city seek grants.

“Always looking to the levy is note a good solution to out problem,” she said.

Carolan and Jordal noted the vast majority of the increase came through increases from wage increases.

Jordal noted he argued against adding some positions and would like to see some work contracted out if possible because of the high cost of city employees, while Carolan also said they’d like to look for cost savings possibilities like potentially using private entities.

Fischer also said he’d like to look for other sources of revenue besides taxes.

Mayor Tom Stiehm and Ward 2 Council member Steve King are also up for reelection, but both are running unopposed.