This is the first of four interviews with City Council District 7 candidate Jimmy Paver 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
Jimmy Paver was born and raised in District 7. Over the last 10 years he has worked as a campaign manager and district office manager for US Congressman Lloyd Doggett, served State Representative Mark Strama as legislative aide during the 2009 session, and is a graduate of the LBJ School of Public Affairs.
Why are you running for City Council?
At City Council we need good, well-rounded, pragmatic people who can protect the interests of various groups across an entire district. They’ll need to also work on a comprehensive way to redistribute dollars to the entire city, and work on things in a more complex political system that will not only benefit your district but the entire infrastructure of Austin.
I’ve spent over 10 years in public policy and leadership at the state and federal level. I’m a life-long Austin resident who believes in public service and the benefit of what it can do for people and the city.
One of the things too often we do in Austin is we look at only what the city can do, and fail to consider that there’s multiple entities that are going to affect how we are going to grow. I can reach out to regional partners, which is what I think Austin is going to need in the coming years. I have existing relationships out there that I think will be a benefit.
So I want to provide a voice for this area, having been here my entire life, and be in public service. It’s what I do, it’s what I’ve been trained in, and I think I can be effective at it.
What are your top 3 issues?
Fiscal responsibility. Going in and finding a new form and function for the Council to look at the budgetary needs that we have, and distribute them in a way that actually provides services. We continue to see a ballooning budget without a corresponding increase in services. Money that is spent should be equitable based on need, not just for the loudest voice. Somebody who can evaluate real need, do some proactive planning, is going to be useful in terms of looking at that budget.
I’ve been trained in policy and budgets and public finance. Fiscal responsibility requires a change in the way that we look at the budget. Currently City Council looks at 3 or 4% of what the budget actually is when the City Manager brings it. They play around with the property tax, a few other things, but as far as a line item review of what the City Manager is doing, it doesn’t happen, certainly not in session, not in public. There are certain parts of the budget that are just signed off on. As elected leaders, you should take a more critical look at what’s happening, and demand more of a performance evaluation for dollars that are spent year over year.
Some of that analysis happens before the public session. Are you saying it needs to happen more transparently?
That’s exactly what I’m saying.
Constituent services. Government should always be responsive. When you serve a district of 80,000 people, you should receive a response whether you’re calling about a pothole or a policy position. Nobody in my office would ever be turned away. It’s one of the most important things that officials do.
The other priorities would be transportation and affordability. You need a policy position that’s rational and balanced. The district-wide needs are different from the citywide needs. I am very concerned about the affordability question. The rate of growth, the pushing out of families that I have known and grown up with, especially in middle-income neighborhoods like in our district.
Tell me about a past experience shaping policy or making a decision that illustrates how you would serve on Council.
I served as legislative director to State Representative Mark Strama. We did a lot of work on renewable energy. It was his primary focus. That year he was chair of the economic technology committee, so we had a lot of committee work in that vein – some work force stuff, some childcare, and quite a few local issues – police pensions. We would take policy ideas, determine their viability, have a bill drafted, submit it, and work the process to get it to the floor. It taught me how to get things done legislatively. Moving them through is a very complex thing.
We had an idea about how to promote residential solar. It was a program that worked in California, where you tied the upfront cost of a solar array with Austin Energy’s rebate. But the upfront costs were tied to people’s property taxes. So it would just be something that went into escrow as people were earning back the utility benefit from having the solar array. The net cost to the homeowner would have been just $5,000-$6,000 for having the array, that would have normally cost $25,000-$30,000. And they could get the benefit of using it immediately. You get them off the grid. You’re sponsoring adoption. We got the bill to committee, and it didn’t pass out of committee. But in a subsequent session, they were able to pass a form of it.
Drafting the legislation, getting it moving, getting the idea out there is part of what you have to do. You have to present an idea, and you’re not going to get buy-in immediately, especially in a partisan legislature. But if it’s a good idea, cost-neutral, and a benefit to just have on the books, even if it’s not going to fly off the shelves, you can succeed. Just about everything failed that session. That was when Perry was vetoing everything under the sun.
Tell me about your involvement in North Austin, what you’ve accomplished on the ground
I work in a small business that is within the district, I’ve lived here my entire life both in Crestview and Allandale. I’ve been involved in public service and public policy at levels of complexity that will help me service the district. Operationally in every capacity I have serviced my time, and what I can provide to the district is a real understanding of what’s happened over a span of time that nobody else has …
Tell me about that – tell me what you’ve seen
I’ve seen Austin go from a town of 300,000 people to 1.1 million. I’ve seen barren areas in the northern end of the district, like The Domain, things develop in a way that diminished the quality of life in certain areas. Frankly, in this town where I grew up, neighborhoods really didn’t want for much. We were happy, we could ride bikes to Northwest Park or across Far West. What I see now is a constricting of people to enjoy that quality of life as I did when I was a kid.
It’s jobs that are bringing people here. But for the people who are already here – I’m in that boat. I want to help them. I want to continue to protect the things that they care about, and have their families here, as do I.
As a candidate who lives in the south part of the district, what do you bring to voters who live in other parts of the district?
I bring a philosophical approach that service does not mean just my neighborhood. It means I’m going to be in every neighborhood, talking to every person about every interest or need or concern that they have, whether I can do something about it or not.
I will not defer to the southern end of the district on a given issue, nor will I over-service those people. I have no interest in just being a south-of-183 representative. I think that there is a lot of diversity in the district, there’s an opportunity to reach out to the Hispanic community, the Vietnamese and Korean population, new residents at the Domain. I would like to be the point at which all the tributaries meet, and take it from there, ingest it, and do the best thing for the district in general.
We can’t be extreme about what we’re going to do – we can’t be polarizing. We need to bring solutions based on coalition-building, based on smart policy thinking. We can’t be an ideologue about things, but serve as many needs as one can with limited resources.