Category Archives: Uncategorized

Let’s Put Democracy Back Into Austin’s “Progressive” Organizations!

By Bill Oakey – July 2, 2015

As I write this, we are about to head into the Fourth of July weekend. Celebrations are definitely in order, as we are all very fortunate to live in the freest country on Earth. This is also a time when we can pause and reflect on what we can do to ensure that we practice the best principles of democracy in our civic activities. To fall short of those principles would be to succumb to certain human weaknesses that threaten the very democracy that we claim to support and embrace.

Our Progressive Organizations Need to Consider One Fundamental Reform

How many times have you been to a civic meeting in this town, where the membership was called upon to vote to endorse a candidate for office, or to take a position on a ballot proposition? And how many times did you come to that meeting, hoping to hear presentations from both opposing candidates or both viewpoints on that ballot proposition? In far too many cases, Austin political and environmental organizations who consider themselves “progressive,” will only present one side of an issue. Last November’s urban rail bond proposition is a perfect example. The “Old Guard” leadership of several organizations only saw fit to trumpet their viewpoint at the endorsement meetings. No spokesperson for any faction opposed to the rail bonds was given equal time to lay out their viewpoint in a formal presentation to the group.

My immediate reaction to this non-inclusive approach is to ponder a simple question. What were the anointed leaders who came to these meetings with their minds firmly set in their convictions afraid of? Were they afraid that giving both sides a fair chance to present their case would somehow harm their chances of winning the vote? Were they afraid that their version of the facts on the issue would not be strong enough to win over those who disagreed with them? I prefer to ask a different question. Why not offer equal respect to the members of both sides, and let the beauty and the power of the democratic process play out in a spirit of fair play? I welcome anyone who disagrees with that concept to share their comments at the end of this blog. Perhaps I am missing something here, and if so, I would sure like to know what that is.

With candidates for office, many of these same organizations use a variety of methods to steer endorsement votes to the hand-picked favorites of the insiders. Meetings can be stacked with brand new recruits who had their membership dues paid for them by supporters of the anointed candidates. Or else, the executive committee of the organization decides which candidate they want to endorse, without providing any speaking opportunities for opposing candidates in front of the whole membership. I would like to think that 2015 would be a good year to put that style of backroom dealing out to pasture. Let’s leave those shenanigans to the Old Guard political hacks of the past. For the rest of us, let’s confront the leaders of these organizations and insist that they revise their bylaws and put procedures in place that respect fairness and the basic principles of democracy.

And if those leaders would prefer to maintain the status quo, let’s vote them out and usher in a New Guard that will operate in the open without any fear whatsoever of what fairness and the democratic process might bring.

Why I Voted For Steve Adler, And Why You Should Too

By Bill Oakey – October 31, 2014

It is quite appropriate that the Halloween tricksters from a certain male opponent of Steve’s sent out two ghoulish mailers this week. We shouldn’t let them scare us, and it’s easy to tell that they are the ones who are spooked!

The special interests who are backing Steve’s opponents are unwilling to match his pledge of real tax relief for Austin homeowners. Instead, they conjured up a band of outside agitators from South Carolina to send out negative mailers to Austin voters. This represents an act of desperation, and it probably means that Steve’s positives messages are cutting into the hopes of any opponents who were hoping to beat him.

This is where those of you reading this come in. Make your plans to vote for Steve, if you haven’t already. You can vote at any polling location on Tuesday. Then you need to email, Facebook and tweet your friends and remind them to vote for Steve. If we keep the attention focused on these net few days, Austin can finally put the bad old days of business as usual at City Hall behind us.

Steve is a down to earth, hard working guy who is quite the opposite of the spooky character that the outsiders portray him to be. You should set a time to go by his campaign office at 301 Barton Springs Road. Volunteers will be needed right up until the polls close at 7:00 on Tuesday.

In the meantime, just keep in mind that solid, common sense principles like financial transparency, truth in taxation, and real affordability reforms instead of lip service and empty promises can be ours if we just get out the vote for Steve Adler.

Treat yourself to a grass roots victory in the mayor’s race this Halloween. Remind your friends that all of the tough problems that Austin faces today were brought about by the very people who are opposing Steve in this election. It is their “experience” that got us into this mess.

Oh, and there’s just one other thing. Wouldn’t it be fun to see that boyish grin on Steve’s face Tuesday night when he wins!

Steve Adler Supports City Homestead Exemption

By Bill Oakey – August 5, 2014

Voters who were still undecided in the mayor’s race can breathe a big sigh of relief.  The decision just got a whole lot easier with yesterday’s announcement.  Steve Adler is calling for the City to adopt a 20% residential homestead exemption on our property taxes.  No sooner did the words spring forth from his lips, than Mike Martinez and Sheryl Cole shrieked their resistance.

Of course the City cannot be more responsible in its budget.  Of course they can’t grant us the very same exemption that Travis County has offered for two decades!  What an outlandish and preposterous idea!  The financial rule of thumb at City Hall has been to spend as much money as possible as quickly as possible. And if there is a budget surplus in midyear, be the first out the door with ways to spend that too.

That’s precisely why Austin has an affordability problem.  If the local leadership does not set the right tone, every other group, public or private, will assume that we don’t have a problem.  But this time around, the citizens know better.  We have seen how affordability affects our own family budgets.  And we cringe at the thought of so many good people having to sell their homes and leave Austin.

What we need to do is tell Mike Martinez and Sheryl Cole that their time is up.  They each had eight years to steer the City onto an affordable path.  Instead they did the exact opposite.  Both major utilities are facing unending rate increases.  Taxes and fees at every level have spiraled out of control.  So, why should we expect anything more than business as usual from either incumbent candidate for mayor?

Here’s What Steve Adler Says About the Homestead Exemption

“Yesterday, as I officially filed for Mayor on the City of Austin ballot, I announced my support for a twenty percent property tax homestead exemption for Austin homeowners. I hope you’ll join my efforts in charting a new way forward, away from the same old policies that have left our city the most unaffordable in the state.”

“The time has come for tax relief for Austin homeowners. I propose phasing this in over four years in a revenue-neutral way, without cutting city services and without significantly impacting renters.”

“I would prefer this homestead exemption be a flat amount instead of a percentage, but state law does not provide that remedy. A twenty percent homestead exemption is the maximum allowed by Texas state law, and is one of the only tools we have for property tax relief now. As mayor, I will fight hard at the legislature for more fairness in our tax structure.”

But What About Those Loud Voices Criticizing Steve Adler on the Environment?

Out of hundreds of legal cases over a long career, Steve participated in a tiny number of cases that were not favorable to the environment.  It is a huge stretch to even think about comparing those to the untold number of harmful votes by both Mike Martinez and Sheryl Cole.  During eight years in office, they attended close to 400 City Council meetings.  In that time period, they voted against neighborhoods and the environment dozens upon dozens of times.

If you are happy with the status of development over the Edwards Aquifer, or the wasteful spending on Water Treatment Plant #4, or the steady erosion of neighborhood plans and protections, then feel free to vote for more of the same.  If you have not met with Steve or attended a forum to listen to his ideas, then keep an open mind about him.  You owe it to yourself to consider a fresh start to a badly broken and unaffordable system at City Hall.

The next time you pull out your wallet or purse, ask yourself if you are better off than you were a few years ago.

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Ask yourself if you can afford more of the same.  Or, if you would rather vote for a mayor like Steve Adler, who will listen to all of the people instead of just the special interests.

Support Laura Pressley For City Council District 4

By Bill Oakey – July 23, 2014

We would all like to find candidates who will hit the ground running as soon as they take office. But the voters in District 4 are lucky enough to have someone who is working hard for affordability even before the election!  I’m talking about Laura Pressley, and I’m pleased to offer her the endorsement of this blog.

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Here’s What Laura Has to Say About Affordability

“As a survivor of domestic violence and sexual assault and one that received support from various organizations to survive, I understand the need for social services in our community.  I have lived through not being able to pay for rent, food and only having $16 to my name at Christmas and not being able to buy my daughter any presents.  Those were incredibly scary times and we got through them with the help of many generous organizations and friends.”

“Today, a woman coming to Austin, in my same situation, most likely would not be able to make ends meet given the cost of living and affordability issues we have.  Many of the overwhelming affordability pressures that exist in Austin are directly due to the policies of our elected representatives at City Hall.  The massive corporate subsidies and tax breaks, the misplaced budgetary priorities, up-zoning that enables and drives gentrification, inefficiencies in key city departments, and the “we’re rich” spending culture that various Mayors, City Council Members and City Staff have with regard to parties, banquets, travel, etc. are like a thousand cuts tearing at our affordability.  These are some of the important policy changes that are needed at City Hall.”

“We need a course correction at the leadership and policy level of our City Council.  We need experience, leadership, and the courage to lead by example and hold the budget writers and departments accountable for waste and policies that drive higher utility rates, higher tax rates and more City debt.”

Here’s a Look at What Laura Has Already Done for Affordability

1. Stopping a $1.5 Million Water Utility Fee Waiver – The City Council was poised to give away $1.5 million in badly needed Water Utility revenue to U.T. for a medical school construction fee waiver.  After reading about it on this blog, Laura dug into the issue, contacted the media, and stood her ground in front of the City Council on June 12th.  Her success in stopping the fee waiver is nicely documented in this YouTube video.

2. Taking the Lead On Public Outreach Regarding the Urban Rail Bonds – When Laura joined an email discussion of the badly misplaced and hugely expensive urban rail bonds, she did a lot more than just listen and share her thoughts.  She organized an urban rail public forum for August 26th, which will feature several speakers focusing on various aspects of the issue.  The forum will be moderated by KVUE-TV.  More information will be posted on this blog as soon as it is available.

3. Helping to Reform the Public Input Process at City Hall – Like most of us, Laura is frustrated by the fact that big ticket consultant-driven plans like Imagine Austin, CodeNEXT, and Project Connect only pay lip service to public input.  There are no guidelines to require that the public suggestions and opinions be summarized, quantified, or incorporated into the new policies that are developed in the plans.  On this blog I proposed that the City adopt a Public Engagement Ordinance.  (You can read about it here).  Laura immediately took the proposal to the Austin Neighborhoods Council Executive Committee, so they could prepare a resolution.  Once again, she is hitting the ground running, without waiting until after the election.  District 4 voters should follow her lead and run to the polls during early voting this fall and vote for her.

Visit Laura Pressley’s Website And Facebook Page to Learn More

When you go to her website, you will see that affordability is right at the top of her list!  You can click here to make a donation to her campaign.  And go here to visit her Facebook page.  Make sure that you send this blog link to all of your friends and neighbors in District 4.

Kathie Tovo Is Hands Down Best Candidate In District 9!

By Bill Oakey – July 22, 2014

If you walk through District 9 and you happen upon someone sitting on the fence, help the person down off that uncomfortable perch, and over to Kathie’s side.  There is simply no comparison between the candidates. Kathie Tovo is far and away the best choice!

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The current City Council does not elicit much excitement these days, but Kathie stands out as the strongest voice for grassroots Austinites.  The special interests would love to see her defeated, but we are not going to let that happen!  While the other incumbants should be running away from their records, Kathie and her supporters have plenty of reasons to be proud of hers.  Here are just a few examples:

1. Increase to the Over-65 Homestead Exemption – Kathie and her staff did not back down in the face of initial resistance to this City Hall victory.  We won because she listened to the facts and fought to convince a majority of the Council to stand up for Austin seniors.

2. Not spending the $14 million budget surplus – While other Council members looked for ways to spend the surplus, Kathie applied her diligence to the issue and avoided any new spending.  The taxpayers scored another victory when her vote helped preserve the entire surplus.

3. A Resolution to End Costly Fee Waivers – Kathie sponsored a resolution to explore alternative funding for special event fee waivers for profitable event promoters.  The funds would come from ticket surcharges or the Hotel Occupancy Tax.  This reform would save taxpayers millions of dollars.

4. A Resolution to Consider a General Homestead Exemption – The City staff has been directed to evaluate the impact of setting up a general homestead exemption.  We are hopeful that this can happen, perhaps by phasing in the exemption over a few years.  Once again, Kathie is our champion for taking the first step in this important effort!

5. Standing Up for Neighborhoods Time After Time – Kathie understands the importance of preserving our neighborhoods and not letting them become gentrified or hobbled by inappropriate development that destroys their character.  Ask any neighborhood leader this: Who among the entire seven members of the City Council can you trust the most?  They’ll tell you it’s Kathie Tovo!

6. A Council Member and Staff That Listens to the People – As a veteran City Hall watchdog for over 30 years, I have never encountered a better working relationship with anyone on the City Council or their staff.  All of Kathie’s staff do a great job, but my special thanks go to one policy aide, Shannon Halley.  When you vote for Kathie in November, just know that you are getting not just one person, but a whole team who will do the research, listen to your concerns, and do what’s best for those of us who really care about Austin!

You can visit Kathie’s website here, and click here to make a donation.  And go here to visit her Facebook page.  Make sure that you send this blog link to all of your friends and neighbors in District 9.  When it comes to affordability, we just can’t afford to pass up the opportunity to keep Kathie Tovo.

See below for the award that Kathie earned from this blog earlier this year.  Click to enlarge it.

Tovo Award

Let’s All Get Behind Steve Adler For Mayor!

By Bill Oakey – July 2, 2014

As Austin transitions to a new 10-1 district system for electing City Council members, we face a unique opportunity to consider new leadership in the mayor’s race.  As someone who has worked hard to find solutions to Austin’s affordability issues, I am pleased to support Steve Adler to be our next mayor.

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I urge everyone who has not yet learned about Steve to check out his campaign website here.

For many, the decision on whom to support in the mayor’s race may not seem easy.  It was difficult for me as well initially.  But one thing became clear right away.  The two incumbents on the City Council who are running for mayor have one huge disadvantage.  Their voting records do not stand up to the challenges we face on affordability.  A fairly simple test can be applied when considering either one of the incumbents.  If they come to a public forum now and announce that they have found a solution to affordability, just ask yourself one question.  Why haven’t they done something about it already?  They have been on the Council for several years.

Now It Is Time For A Change.  Here’s Why Steve Adler Is Our Best Choice

Here are some of Steve’s positions on affordability:

1. Truth In Taxation and Transparency

Steve:  “There should full transparency when it comes to taxation and the
budget.  Austin taxpayers must be told where their money is going and how
much in taxes, both rate and amount, they are being asked to pay.  We must
better ensure truth in taxation and in the budget.”

Steve and I have discussed my proposal for a Taxpayer Impact Statement to be included in the budget.  The new reform will ensure that the City Council can no longer just say they are “holding the line on the tax rate,” when skyrocketing tax appraisals cause huge tax increases.  Steve is so firm on this issue that he has challenged me to help him make sure that the reform as adopted will be rock solid.

2. City Council Meeting Agenda Reform

Steve:  “Citizens have the right to a meaningful and accessible opportunity to be heard when the City Council is making decisions that affect their lives.  The current agenda process must be reformed so as avoid having citizens sit for too many hours before their item comes up for discussion and in too many cases is postponed without meaningful advance notice.”

This reform proposal began in 1986 and has now reached its 28th anniversary.  Let’s elect Steve so we can celebrate a true victory for the voices of the people at City Hall!

3. Property Tax Inequity Between Homeowners and Commercial Taxpayers

Steve:  “Our inequitable Texas tax system unduly burdens residential property owners and tenants.  Like so many of Austin¹s challenges, this is a problem we have experienced for years and have failed to make substantial progress. We must be far more proactive in working with the Mayors and City Councils in other towns and cities throughout the State to bring real reform to this unfair system and in pushing forward and supporting our City’s state delegation. We must increase residential property exemptions and do so in an equitable manner.”

Steve’s experience working in the Legislature will help us carry this battle across the finish line.

Why Do I Think Steve Adler Is The Best Person for the Job?

The guy is just so gosh-darned smart!  It’s not even fair that he’s that smart.  But he is and we need to tell everyone we know that he’s the one we need for mayor.  Email, Facebook and Tweet this blog posting.  Go to his website and sign up to be notified of his upcoming events.  Click on the DONATE button at the top of the screen.  Bring your neighbors and friends to his events and to the public forums in the mayor’s race.  In November, we can either go back to business as usual or join Steve in a New Way Forward.

SIA HeadshotA new way forward