Sheryl Cole

Photo Credit: Jenna VonHofe | Daily Texan Staff

With Election Day nearing, Sheryl Cole, mayor pro tem and mayoral candidate, encouraged students to research their local government candidates and vote at a talk in Welch Hall on Wednesday.

At the event, co-hosted by the Lambda Theta Phi fraternity and the Zeta Phi Beta sorority, Cole said she differs from her opponents in her efforts to get the community’s voice heard, especially in her work to connect with students.

“I care about involving the community and especially the student community in the process of making policy so that we can lift all our voices,” Cole said. “I’m happy to report I received The Daily Texan endorsement, and I believe that’s because my office did so much student outreach on issues that affect you guys, like occupancy limits.”

The mayoral race features eight candidates, including attorney Steve Adler and City Council member Mike Martinez.

Lambda Theta Phi President Mario Gonzalez said a fraternity brother and UT alumnus suggested hosting the event. Their organization does not endorse any candidates, Gonzalez said, but wants to educate students on local politics.

“Even though most students are here for four years, most students don’t get involved with politics,” Gonzalez said. “While we might not stay here for life, we’re still part of the Austin community.”

Occupancy limits, Cole said, are something that need to be moderated. According to Cole, the further a student lives away from campus, the more points they lose from their grade point average.

“I was the one who reached out to the students and said, ‘What do you think of it?’” Cole said. “I voted for occupancy limits, but I made sure it was in a narrow area of the city so that Riverside would not be impacted, and the supply wouldn’t go down and increase prices in a bigger area.”

Cole said she had the most moderate record of anyone in Austin City Council, something that would help her balance decision making as mayor.

“When you take your oath of office, you swear to do what is in the best interest of the city as a whole,” Cole said. “I try to come up with a win-win situation for both sides, and that doesn’t always make any particular side happy.”

Cole said one of her top priorities as mayor was affordability. According to Cole, a lack of affordability was pushing out the African-American population.

“I was one of the people that worked really hard with the African-American Quality of Life task force that studies economic issues and how it relates to the African-American community,” Cole said. “The population across the spectrum is chasing better schools and economic opportunities outside the city limits.”

One of the ways to combat the affordability problem is giving out economic incentives to companies, Cole said.

“We have metrics that we look at — the amount of jobs they will create, what impact will it have on school districts, charitable contributions,” Cole said. “We don’t give tax breaks that don’t ultimately result in a positive net return for the city.”

Zeta Phi Beta president Nikah Hatcher said, while she has already voted, she’s still trying to get the student population involved in the local election.

“I know she has experience in local government already, and, as far as the black community goes, she would be the first female black mayor of Austin, and I know some people want to hear what she’s about,” Hatcher said. “I’m not trying to persuade them, but, hopefully, they try to get educated.”

Early voting continues until Friday, and Election Day is Tuesday. 

Photo courtesy of Sheryl Cole for Austin

Editor’s Note: In the run-up to the November election for mayor, the Texan will be running Q-and-A’s with the candidates. Voting is open only to those registered to vote in Austin and registration continues through Oct. 6. Early voting starts Oct. 20 and ends Oct. 31. Election Day is Nov. 4. For more information on Cole’s views on transportation, see our Sept. 2 editorial.

The Daily Texan: Why are you running for mayor?

Sheryl Cole: I was first involved in public service when my oldest son registered for school. He’s actually my nephew. His mother was in a car accident. And so when I went to the school, and I was telling the teacher all my concerns, and she said, “Ms. Cole, we got it.” And that was a pivotal moment for me because it let me know that that is what government is supposed to do at every level, whether you’re talking about professional employees, the superintendent or the governing body. Then later on, after being involved in the Austin Urban League and Leadership Austin and many other civic organizations, Communities in Schools, I was a tri-chair of an AISD bond campaign. I went and visited the schools, and they were in horrible, horrible shape. I mean leaky roofs, overflowing toilets, rodents, really bad. I went back and talked to all my PTA moms and said, “We can’t have this.” The night those bonds actually passed at close to 60 percent — Austin’s bonds were not supposed to pass because it was a conservative time in Central Texas — I was hooked on the idea that I wanted to be a part of something that made a difference, a big difference, for the community. That’s how I got involved in politics. The reason I want to run for mayor in particular is because this is a historic election, and I have a record of bringing people together, and I would like an opportunity to continue to serve the city.

DT: Why do you think UT students should care about this election?

Cole: I am a former UT student. I went here for undergrad and majored in accounting, I got my CPA, then I also went back to law school. UT is the crown jewel educational institution of our city, and I can only say that because I’m a graduate. We have other major universities that are very important, and I don’t want to underplay that. They really are important and do a good job. But the number of students that are here and the impact that they could potentially have on the election is enormous, so I think that they should care. There are so many issues like affordability and transportation, even water, that affect the student population that I think really deserves to be engaged on those issues.

DT: What are your priorities as a mayoral candidate? What would be the first thing you want to get done as mayor?

Cole: The first thing I’d want to get done and address as mayor would be to make sure that as we move from a seven member council elected at large to 10 single member districts with at least nine new council members, just making everybody collaborate and come together on a new set of priorities for that council. Another thing that I’d really like to see happen also has to do with the new composition of council. That is, helping the new council members take care of the issues facing their district while at the same time keeping the needs of the entire city on the radar. One of those needs is the University of Texas and the issues that face it, such as the medical school. That’ll only be in one particular council member’s district, but it will have an impact throughout the city. The other thing would probably be transportation. We really have a challenge now with transportation, and we really must have a multi-modal system that includes roads, rail, pedestrians and bicycles. 

DT: How do you feel about the current proposed urban rail plan?

Cole: The current proposed rail plan, I believe, was data-driven and proposes a route for this initial phase going from Hancock to Grove. I think the second phase should include the airport and certainly Lamar and Guadalupe. There was a lot of debate about those two routes. Rail has typically been a divisive issue in Austin, and I don’t think it has to be. That is the kind of leadership I’d like to bring to the city, where we have collaboration and really appreciate the rationale behind these decisions. Some of that is just because we haven’t really engaged all the stakeholders, and we haven’t spent the time to explain the thought process behind those decisions.

Steve Adler and Todd Phelps chat after a mayoral debate on campus Wednesday evening. Adler and Phelps were among five mayoral candidates who participated in the debate.

Photo Credit: Ethan Oblak | Daily Texan Staff

Five of Austin’s mayoral candidates answered questions about public transportation Wednesday at a debate held on campus. 

Candidates Todd Phelps, Mike Martinez, Randall Stevens, Sheryl Cole and Steve Adler are running in the first election held under the new 10-ONE system, a plan approved by voters in 2012. The system will expand the city council from seven to 10 members to represent 10 individual geographic districts encompassing the city, in addition to the mayor, which will be voted on in a citywide election.

Mike Martinez, current council member and chair of the Capital Metro Board of Directors, said he would support Proposition 1 as mayor. Proposition 1, as it appears on the ballot, is a proposal for a $600 million rail bond to install an urban rail line in the city from East Riverside to ACC-Highland, passing through the UT campus. The money cannot be used unless the Federal Transit Administration matches funding, and the city garners another $400 million for additional road projects.

“Public transportation is a key component of affordability and helping the middle class in our community,” Martinez said. “I believe there is not a perfect solution for congestion, but we have to start somewhere.”

Todd Phelps disagreed with Martinez’s reasoning and said if the proposition passed it would only benefit a small percentage of the population.

“Even if they can ‘Criss-Angel-mind-freak’ it to the voters, it doesn’t matter if you get 40,000 riders,” Phelps said. “We’re pushing out four times that [amount of] Austinites of all cultures because they can’t afford to live here any longer. As someone who grew up here, I understand the soul of Austin — and that’s the people.”

Sheryl Cole, mayor pro tem and mayoral candidate,  said the proposal is expensive, but stressed that it would address problems throughout Austin.

“I fully recognize that Austinites are concerned about affordability, but there are also concerns about traffic, so we have to give them an option of how to deal with that,” Cole said. “The ballot proposal contemplates $600 million for rail and $400 million for roads. Roads are imperative to present a comprehensive package, and that is why it was important to put something before the voters that would help with congestion.”

During urban rail’s planning, some citizens and students advocated putting the line along Guadalupe Street and Lamar Boulevard. According to Cole, Guadalupe and Lamar were not suggested as rail corridors because a citizen’s committee did not recommend it.

Cameron Lagrone, a public affairs graduate student who attended the debate, said she understood the traffic system more after moving from Northwest Austin to the campus area. 

“I’ve lived in Austin for about a year and a half,” Lagrone said. “I heard there were a lot of candidates for mayor, and it was nice to see it narrowed down and get to know what they’re about. I just wanted to figure out what they were all into.”

Maggie Moore, a community and regional planning graduate student, said she thought some candidates provided more valuable responses than others. 

“The focus on transportation was really great,” Moore said. “Proposition 1 — I’m totally for. I’m a planning student, so the idea that they’re voting on right now is super exciting because it’s just the first part of a big plan. … I was glad to see which candidates were against it because they’re not in a field I would go for.”

The debate will be aired on KLRU at 8 p.m. Thursday and simulcast on KUT.

Austin City Council may choose to vote on banning so-called “stealth dorms” at its meeting Thursday, even though a study assessing the impact of the ban on housing affordability concluded that there was not sufficient time to determine the potential effects of the ban.

The study, which was released Monday, was conducted in six weeks, although Sheryl Cole, city councilwoman and mayor pro tem, originally proposed that an eight-week period be allowed. The council ultimately voted in favor of Councilman Chris Riley’s amendment to shorten the analysis period to six weeks, which passed 6-1.

In February, Austin City Council made an initial vote to pass the city code amendment, which would lower the number of unrelated adults who can live together in a house or duplex from six individuals to four. The amendment would only apply to residential complexes built in the future.

The amendment must be voted on two additional times before it is passed, with the second vote scheduled for Thursday, though Cole, speaking at a Student Government meeting Tuesday, said there is a possibility the council will take both the second and final votes necessary Thursday.

The economic study was conducted by the Austin Board of Realtors, who worked with Civic Analytics LLC, a research and consulting firm.

Civic Analytics founder Brian Kelsey, who was the principal researcher of the analysis, said in the report he thinks a more in-depth analysis is necessary if City Council members want to know the impact the ban would have on housing affordability.

Kelsey said he does not know how long a more in-depth analysis would take but thinks it would be beneficial to make any significant conclusions.

“You really need a housing economist to weigh in on this, or at least somebody much more familiar than I am with housing economics,” Kelsey said. “If more time leads to a more thoughtful analysis and results in a more data-driven evaluation of the proposed policy, then I’m all for it.”

According to Kelsey, the report reflects a city-wide issue rather than one that pertains only to University students. Kelsey said the city requested data from UT that could not be produced in the six weeks allotted for the report.

“It’s a preliminary analysis that was done in a span of about 72 hours after waiting nearly four weeks to collect as much data as we could,” Kelsey said. “My hope is that it presents a new way of analyzing the issue and that it can undergo some peer review and further refinement if anybody is interested in additional study.”

Lorre Weidlich, Hyde Park Neighborhood Association steering committee co-president, said she does not think the progress of the amendment will be affected by the report’s findings.

“[The researcher] drew some correlations, but, aside from that, he couldn’t draw any causations,” Weidlich said. “I don’t think the city council members will find this report any more useful than I did. I doubt that [they’ll request more time].”

According to Weidlich, the association cannot afford to wait much longer for the amendment to pass because historic houses would be torn down by developers and replaced with large duplexes.

“This ordinance is only for two years,” Weidlich said. “Take that two years and do a good analysis during that period, and then revisit the question.”

When the council originally debated and passed the first vote, councilman Bill Spelman — the only council member who voted against the ordinance — said he felt the data was necessary in order to make an informed decision.

“We’re flying blind,” said Spelman, who also serves as a professor in the LBJ School of Public Affairs. “We’re talking about a potentially enormous change in land usage in the city without any analysis, with only qualitative affordability assessments.”

The full report can be found below.

Students should make sure to exercise their hefty political potential by voting in city elections, as early voting begins today. All of the incumbents — Mayor Lee Leffingwell and city council members Mike Martinez, Bill Spelman and Sheryl Cole — should be re-elected.

As mayor, Leffingwell has successfully guided Austin through three years of tremendous growth during a devastating global recession. In the past year, Austin’s unemployment rate has stayed below 6 percent, lower than both the state and national average.

Leffingwell supported many measures over the past three years that have benefited students. From supporting alternative transportation methods to defending an incentives deal that will bring high-tech behemoth Apple Inc. to the city, Leffingwell has proven himself as the right leader for a vibrant, dynamic Austin.

As a council member in place 2, Mike Martinez has shown dedication to non-traditional members of the Austin community. Earlier in the semester, Martinez was a strong voice in support of moving municipal elections from May to November, which would benefit students by allowing them more access to vote without the impediments of final exams and summer break. Moreover, as an enrolled student in a UT undergraduate program, Martinez has strong ties to the University community.

As a council member in place 5, Bill Spelman — a UT public affairs professor — has proven an impressive ability to distill complex city policy and is unquestionably the most qualified candidate in his race.

Although Spelman has shown questionable judgment in his opposition to moving municipal elections to November, he has been a defender of Austin’s women and poor. One of his main opponents, Dominic “Dom” Chavez — spokesman for the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board — seems firmly opposed to any progressive change on the council. The other, Tina Cannon, does not have sufficient experience to take on the more intricate city issues.

As a council member in place 6, Sheryl Cole has been a “watchdog for city finances,” as described by the Austin American-Statesman. Though sometimes her commitment to being a “watchdog” can be counterproductive, her support of the Waller Creek’s redevelopment will further Austin’s reputation as an eco-friendly, active city. She has also shown strong leadership on the Austin Energy issue, which would affect the electric rates of UT students who rent apartments.

Voter turnout for municipal elections is consistently in the single digits citywide, and for UT students that figure is probably even lower. Actions on the city council affect all students, and the voice of UT students is often lost in the crowd during policy debates because of low turnout. When walking to class this week, students should reverse that trend by exercising their political right to vote and making the UT community a formidable local force.