This is the first of four interviews with City Council District 7 candidate Ed English on his candidacy and the issues identified in the AustinDistrict7.org candidate scorecard. The interviews are organized as follows:
* Top Priorities, Experience, Community Involvement
* Livability, Affordability and Housing
* Transportation, Open Space and Infrastructure
* Public Safety, Small Business, and City Budget
Ed English is a retired sales and marketing professional who has lived in Milwood for 30 years. English served in the navy during the Vietnam era, mainly at Kingsville naval air station. He was active in Austinites for Geographic Representation (AGR), the group responsible for the 10-1 redistricting amendment passed in 2012. During the redistricting process he helped organize the Northwest Austin Coalition to advocate boundaries for northwest Austin. English says he is a centrist, unaffiliated with any party.
Why are you running for Council?
I’m running for City Council because I’ve lived here for a long time, and I’ve seen lots of changes, some good, some not so good. Being a big believer in the district system, I think it’s long past time to have district-based representation. I believe that given the length of time I’ve lived here, the various projects I’ve been involved in, I could be a good voice.
I’m a high level person who has experience with negotiating. I can get down in the weeds with details on things that come before the City Council – contracts, that’s a big deal. What are the pluses and minuses here, what is our return on investment.
I have excellent contacts throughout the district, who I think are very good representatives of their neighborhoods – I have a good working relationship with them. That’s going to be an important part of what the next Council person will need to have — some credibility as an honest voice for the district. We’re staying down the center, middle of the road. We’re open to input from anybody. We’re not playing partisan politics here.
One vote on Council isn’t going to get you anywhere. You have to be willing and able, and I believe have the experience, at working at the table with other people, who may or may not at times have the same interests and the same direction as you. If there’s a strength I want people to be aware of, it’s that I’ve done that – for years and years and years. I’ve built coalitions with people who many times came to the table with some extraordinarily different viewpoints. Like with AGR, or complex contract negotiations in the private sector.
What are your top three priorities?
One of the challenges, call it a disappointment, is that not nearly enough attention has been focused on the impact of Council actions on the cost of living, especially for families that have average income or below.
I also think that traffic is an issue that everybody faces. Every area of the city faces that issue at one level or another.
Another area we need to focus on is accountability and fiscal responsibility on the part of the city.
Anyone on City Council is going to face two tiers of issues. The top tier is citywide issues, things like transportation or affordability that affect all parts of the city. But the beauty of what you have now is a system where you can have a second tier of concerns, that should command a goodly portion of your time. Those are district-specific issues. Someone needs a sidewalk. Some of the old-established neighborhoods along the north end of N Lamar, Walnut Creek, Oak Ridge, they don’t have any storm sewers. You have the ability to address those kinds of issues like never before.
I think I have some ideas that are very workable, and that with citizen input to tweak them, the results would be beneficial for the city.
What experience do you bring? Can you think of a specific example of an initiative that you were influential on, to demonstrate how you would approach work on Council?
I did volunteer work with Red Cross during the Bastrop fires. I worked at the shelters out there while the fires were still in progress.
There were lots of people who wanted to help. But in the chaos, there wasn’t a lot of structure to the help. And I find it personally rewarding to look at a situation like that, where you have help, interested parties, who have the best intentions at heart, but who have no one there to organize it, to lead anything. The first day I got out there, it was pretty obvious that there were a lot of things that the citizens coming in needed help with. And there just wasn’t any structure to it. It was a lot of, “well, check with this person, go over there, it might be around the corner.” I don’t know, it’s just kind of a natural tendency of mine – I was in the military, I was a supervisor throughout various periods in my work, I ran a small business. Whenever I was out there, the first thing I did was, “Who’s here, what do you like to do, what are you best at, what area are you from – are you local, are you out of town, do you know the residents?” Just basically, you’ve got to kind of step up to the plate, and say, “There’s a need for someone here to sort of take charge.”
The next Council’s going to need some time to ramp up. There’s no question about that. You’re going to have a lot of new faces. And I would feel it incumbent on any of those who are more forward with taking a leadership role, to offer whatever assistance we can to other members, new members on the Council, as far as suggestions for where they might go for resources, what departments they might query for answers. We’re going to need to work together as a team. And that’s going to take someone who’s willing to step up and go the extra mile, and offer to help the new Council members come up to speed.
Tell me about your involvement in the North Austin community, what you’ve accomplished on the ground
My role has been more city-based. I was involved with AGR, involved with the mapping process that followed the actual passage of 10-1, helped found an organization, North West Austin Coalition, which needs some explanation because some people misunderstand what the whole point of that is. I haven’t been focused on anything that was North Austin specific, because my focus over the years has been much more broad-based than that. Some water-related issues, some taxing-related issues, some park-related issues. But they haven’t specifically been North Austin oriented.
Tell me more about North West Austin Coalition (NWAC) and how you were involved in it. As I understood it, NWAC was organized to influence the boundary of districts after 10-1 passed and the Independent Citizen Redistricting Commission (ICRC) began drawing up the 10-1 map. You presented detailed maps on preferred district boundary lines. What was NWAC trying to accomplish, and why was it important to you to go to that level of detail in terms of how NW Austin’s council districts were defined?
NWAC was nothing more, and was never intended to be anything more, than a collection of people from North Central – and I want to put an underline under that – and Northwest Austin, a collection of leaders, people who were engaged, with different levels of expertise and different interests to come together and share information. We don’t have bylaws, we don’t have dues, we don’t endorse, we don’t vote on things. It’s just an opportunity for people to interact with others who may have information which they can take back and use for their neighborhood or their part of town, for any purposes.
Having said that, with 10-1 coming down the pipeline, what we thought would be a very worthwhile venture was to collect input. Not just from Northwest Austin, but from all of North Austin, as to “Well what do you think this is about. Where would you like to see the lines.” We had many many meetings, well-attended. One I will always remember as being sort of the high point of attendance was at Marie Calendar’s, over at the Gateway shopping center. We reserved that big room in the back, and we had standing room only. And we had people from dozens of organizations, from all over town, of course mainly focused on North Central and Northwest. We said, “Hey, this is an idea we’re working on – what do you think?” We got input from many many many people, as to what their concerns were, what they thought about 10-1, where they thought the lines should be. And we, as wanting to give the commission a starting point, we said, “Here’s a map, that a lot of people said thought had some merit.” We had no agenda. It was based entirely upon input that we received.
Now, given my background with AGR, and my familiarity with the mapping process, I voluntarily assumed the responsibility of presenting that information to the commission. Some people want to make it something personal – it was never anything personal. I presented the information that I collected as a voice, and nothing more.
As a Council person, you want a person who is open minded, a good listener, who can fairly evaluate things based on collective input. And that’s what I did as a representative of North West Austin Coalition. It was a responsibility that I took on, and I took it seriously, and I’ll be the same way as a Council representative.
As a candidate who lives in the north part of the district, what do you bring to voters who live in other parts of the district?
Primarily a sensitivity to and openness to a variety of ideas, suggestions, criticisms, solutions. And I think that’s got to be a primary consideration in who you vote for – that you don’t have a neighborhood-specific focus. I mean, it’s 80,000 people. It’s 10 districts but it’s 80,000 people, they’re not 80,000 clones. And it covers a lot of geographic area.
The nature of your question almost sounds like the two are operating in two different worlds. Yes there are different priorities, only because here in the south, zoning, commercial encroachment, the focus down here, because you’re closer to the core city, is a little different than we have in the north.
I see a Council representative regardless of where they live as being tuned into those neighborhoods because they’re there, they’re talking to those people, they’re making the neighborhood association meetings. One of the things I’m real big on, I’m sure I’m not the only one to say this, is having an office in the district that people can visit.
We’re kind of all in this together. And it’s just a matter of making sure that you’re in touch with the various ends of the district, and understand their needs. I don’t know that anyone in the south can say that I’ve got this one characteristic or trait that’s going to be really attractive to the north and be a great benefit to them, or vice versa. I see us all in the same pot.