Laura Helle — Austin City Council

Published 1:01 pm Sunday, November 6, 2016

Four candidates are in the home stretch for two seats on the Austin City Council. In the 1st Ward, incumbent Michael Jordal is seeking to hold off challenger Laura Helle. In the 3rd Ward, incumbent Jeremy Carolan is looking to hold off challenger Paul Fischer. Mayor Tom Stiehm and 2nd Ward Council member Steve King are also up for re-election, but both are unopposed.

Laura Helle, 40, is director of grants and alumni relations at Riverland Community College and is the former director of vision creation for Vision 2020. She is married to teacher Matt Stobaugh and has an 8-year-old daughter.

Q: Why did you decide to run/rerun for Austin City Council?

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A: I love Austin. I’m running for City Council because I believe in our community and I want to help make it better. Austin has seen many positive changes since I moved here in 2001 — growth at the Hormel Institute, redevelopment at Oak Park Mall, flood mitigation projects. I want to see our city continue to grow and change in ways that include all our residents.



Q: Tell us about your past experience.

A: Since moving to Austin in 2001, I have been involved with a number of community organizations and I have a big network of contacts throughout the community. As a volunteer, I have been involved with the Mower County Historical Society, Ladies Floral Club, Friends of the Library, Austin Area Commission for the Arts, Austin Convention and Visitors Bureau, Community Education, Chamber of Commerce Education Committee and Apex Austin Diversity Council. I have served as a Planning and Zoning Commissioner for the City of Austin since 2012.

I have a background in graphic design and writing. My work history includes Iowa Public Television, Litho Printing and Graphics, Hormel Historic Home and Vision 2020. I also own my own small business, Laura Helle Consulting LLC, which is a writing service. I currently work at Riverland Community College in grant writing and alumni relations.

I understand for-profit business, nonprofit organizations and government which will give me insight and creativity to address the community’s challenges and opportunities.

Q: What do you believe will make you a good board member?

A: Traits that will make me a good member of the City Council include passion for the city, capacity to understand a variety of complicated issues and the ability to build consensus. I am skilled in participating in respectful dialog and I have the courage to ask tough questions, in a respectful way, for the benefit of the community. I also have professional expertise in grant writing with a personal track record of over $15 million in grants secured for a variety of organizations over the last 10 years. This expertise could make a big difference for the city budget.

Q: Describe how you would approach and consider issues on the council?

A: I hope to bring a more proactive approach to the city. We have a strong staff and a lot of assets as a community that can be leveraged for better results if elected officials actively pursue a vision to improve the community in ways that serve ALL residents. Our leaders also need to listen to many points of view and build consensus rather than dividing the community. I want to listen and learn about issues from all sides and then take a course of action that is best for the whole community without exceptions for special interest groups.

Q: Describe your approach to discussing and weighing budget, funding and spending issues as they come up.

A: I respect how difficult it is to make fair, wise decisions with the city budget. I know there is pressure on the budget with expenses continuing to rise. I would like to see the city address that pressure with creativity. For example, I think the city could leverage state and federal grants to a greater extent. I would also like to see the city evaluate outsourcing and/or cooperating with Mower County on some functions. Because of a formula imposed by the state on local property taxes, small business owners are paying a disproportionate amount of tax compared to home owners. I would not be comfortable raising the city levy with the current business tax burden in place. Business needs to pay their fair share of taxes but when the tax burden becomes unfair, the city is stifling its own economic growth.

Q: What things do you think can be done to improve the city?

A: Housing is the number one priority. We have huge needs for low income, market rate, multi-family and single family housing. The current lack of housing causes families that work in Austin to live — and pay taxes — in other communities. I want to explore ways for the Housing and Redevelopment Authority to build new housing and encourage private investment in housing.

The Housing and Redevelopment Authority is currently the landlord in Austin with the most units of rental housing. I would like to see the HRA sell the two market rate buildings it owns and use the proceeds to build low income housing.

Q: What other issues would like to see addressed by the board and why?

A: The City of Austin has been engaged in equity and inclusion for decades and these efforts should continue.

If elected, I will take responsibility to reach out to all communities — including the diversity of race/ethnicity, income, education — and advocate for the concerns of all residents. I will leverage my personal network to communicate with those communities and work to bring more diversity to the 15 city commissions. For example, as a former member of the Apex Austin Diversity Council, I have a variety of contacts in our racially/ethnically diverse communities.

I am impressed with the Austin Public School’s success coach model that is building connections with diverse communities. I would like to see the city explore the model and adopt appropriate elements into their operations.

Q: What are some of your favorite hobbies?

A: I like reading, yoga, baking and making artwork.

Q: What would we find you doing on a typical Friday night?

A: Spending time with my family: sometimes taking a bike ride, sometimes taking in a show at the Paramount, sometimes Top Noodle take-out and watching television at home.