Choosing your City Council member is a big deal. This is the person who will represent you in City Hall for the next four years. They’ll make policies that will influence the city’s transportation infrastructure, affordability, environment, and your own neighborhood. That’s why it’s important to pay attention to who is actually running and what their plans are for Austin.
But, following along with local City Council races can be hard. They often don’t receive a lot of news coverage and it can be difficult to learn anything more about a candidate than what his or her yard sign looks like.
We’re trying to change that.
Here at the Austin EcoNetwork, we are taking our Civics 101 series to the next level this election season. (For those who aren’t familiar, Civics 101 is designed to teach Austinites how their local government works and to empower a new generation of citizens to get involved.) Throughout the month of October we will be publishing voter guides focusing on each of the five City Council districts that are currently up for election.
Today’s post focuses on District 6, which is located in northwest Austin. (If you don’t know which City Council district you live in, you can look it up here).
The two candidates who are running for the District 6 City Council seat are:
- Don Zimmerman
- Jimmy Flannigan
Below you will find additional information about each of the candidates, as well as a podcast interview with Jimmy Flannigan. The interview was produced in partnership with Shades of Green radio show on KOOP 91.7 FM. (Don Zimmerman did not return our requests for an interview. Details about his positions have been supplemented with information from the League of Women Voters, a nonpartisan political organization that encourages the informed and active participation of citizens in government).
- Current City Council Member
- Former Software Engineer
- Currently serves as Chair of the Public Safety Committee; Vice Chair of the Public Utilities Committee; Member of the Mobility Committee; Member of the Open Space, Environment, and Sustainability Committee; Member of the Austin Energy Utility Oversight Committee
- Campaign Website
Why he’s running
“I’m smart enough to know that my constituents really don’t have a voice in the downtown government,” Zimmerman said during the LWV Candidate Forum. “The problem I face for the most part is a lot of misinformation by the city bureaucracy, instances where the city is violating the law aggressively.”
- Believes that there is a political agenda, promoted by city staff, to use traffic congestion to change peoples’ behaviors and encourage them to live in downtown high rises. “They’re using traffic congestion for social engineering,” Zimmerman during the LWV Candidate Forum.
- If reelected, Zimmerman wants to spend the next four years focusing on getting road expansions completed in west Austin. “My opponent will be strongly opposed to that, because in fact, he’s going to represent insects and salamanders,” Zimmerman said. “I’m going to represent voters and commuters.” (The insects and salamanders comment is in reference to the Federal Endangered Species Act, which has blocked/prevented some road projects in Austin from being built over concerns that they might harm the endangered golden-cheeked warbler and the Barton Springs salamander).
As a Council Member, he abstained from the vote to put Prop 1 on the ballot – because he wanted ballot language that would explain to voters exactly what the cost of the bond was (for the individual taxpayer), as well as language that would expressly limit the tax increase (for the individual taxpayer).
“…It’s [Prop 1] not bad for District 6, it’s pretty good for District 10 and Loop 360, but overall, I don’t think it’s a good deal for the city at large.” – Don Zimmerman, during the LWV Candidate Forum
- Blames climate change propaganda from city staff for high Austin Energy rates
“The sun warms the earth, not carbon dioxide. You don’t have to be as smart as a 5th grader to understand that if that sun were instantly to turn off, this entire planet would turn into an ice ball and everybody would be dead. It’s the power of the sun that dominates our climate. Carbon dioxide might have a small role, but it’s the sun.” – Don Zimmerman, during the LWV Candidate Forum
Zero Waste Goals
- Wants to privatize trash and recycling pickup in the City of Austin – says that we would get better service. (Right now trash/recycling/compost pickup for single family households are all managed by the city’s Austin Resource Recovery department. Multifamily homes are required to contract with a private waste hauler.)
- “I think the zero waste goals are utopian,” Zimmerman said during the LWV Candidate Forum. “They’re unaffordable and they’re unsustainable.”
Imagine Austin/ CodeNEXT
- …”It [Imagine Austin] reminds me of Europe,” Zimmerman said.
- “My vision is liberty.” – Some people like an urban lifestyle and some people like a suburban lifestyle, Zimmerman explained at the LWV Candidate Forum.
- Does not support centralized urban planning at all, believes that it takes away peoples’ right to choose how they want to live
“Do you want more centralized planning and control and bureaucrats and lobbyists or do you want choices and liberty?” – Don Zimmerman, during the LWV Candidate Forum
- Small business owner
- Co-founder of the Northwest Austin Coalition
- Endorsed by the Austin Environmental Democrats, Austin Sierra Club, Bike Austin, Clean Water Action
- Campaign Website
Why he’s running
- “He’s [Don Zimmerman] very good at being angry about things, but he’s very bad at proposing and executing solutions. And that’s why ultimately I’m running for council.”
- (Flannigan and Zimmerman actually ran against each other for the District 6 City Council seat in 2014 as well. Zimmerman won that election by less than 200 votes). Despite the loss, Flannigan says that, “I didn’t stop working for the district after that election.” In his AEN/Shades of Green interview, Flannigan said that after the election he continued to work with the Northwest Austin Coalition, holding town hall meetings, and kicking off the first ever citizen-led corridor study for Anderson Mill Road (which led to its inclusion in the $720 million mobility bond/ Prop 1)
- “I have stayed focus on working with my community, working with District 6, educating people on the reality of the problems that we have at City Hall,” Flannigan said. “… And so I find that the most important thing is to make sure that folks in District 6 are educated and engaged.”
“I think that’s what we’re seeing right now – is that District 6 is being ignored on every issue…because the leadership that we have is insufficient and I want to see District 6 leading. I think we have a role to play, where we haven’t been a part of those old school Austin fights, we don’t have communities that are invested in a certain solution… My district is willing to listen, it’s willing to learn, and it’s willing to advocate for the right thing for the whole city, and the right thing for District 6.” – Jimmy Flannigan, in his AEN/Shades of Green Interview
Prop 1 – $720 million transportation bond
How he’s voting – supports Prop 1, will be voting for Prop 1
Flannigan said that he’s happy to see many District 6 roads in the bond ( including Parmer Lane and Four Points – 2222/620 Intersection). “These are roads that we all know need to be fixed. These are corridors that we all know need to be upgraded. That’s why I have been unequivocal in my support of the bond.”
“…Because almost every project in there is something that the community has been holding public meetings about, the neighborhoods have been involved, the business community has been involved. And this wasn’t something that just was invented out of the mayor’s mind. This is something that has been after many years of work…” – Jimmy Flannigan, explaining why he supports Prop 1, during his AEN/Shades of Green Interview
- In his AEN/Shades of Green Interview, Flannigan explained that although District 6 is often ignored in public transportation conversations, “for public transportation in District 6, we’re the one’s who are riding a train.” – That train is Cap Metro’s MetroRail/Red Line, which as Flannigan explained, is completely full during rush hour. District 6 residents board the train at the Lakeline and Howard stations and sometimes are turned away. That train is now being expanded, which Flannigan supports.
- “So when you talk about public transportation, District 6 will ride it, if you give it to us,” Flannigan said. “And that’s what’s exciting.”
- “And I don’t think that anybody would claim that the Red Line is the world’s most perfect train, but even an imperfect train is maxing out its ridership from my suburban district, and I think that’s a symbol,” Flannigan said.
- According to Flannigan, even local buses can be supported by District 6 residents. He said that there is only one local bus that runs through District 6 (the Anderson Mill neighborhood). At first, he said that many Anderson Mill residents were opposed to the idea..”but the moment that bus started running, they want more.”
- “I want to lead on CodeNEXT.”
- Wants to make sure that the project is done in a timely, fiscally-responsible fashion. In the end, he wants to see Austin with a land development code that people actually understand.
“…Part of the challenge that District 6 feels is when central Austin can’t get housing built, that housing gets built in Cedar Park and that’s my backyard. And those Cedar Park residents, they’re perfectly nice people, but they’re driving on Anderson Mill Road, but they’re not paying city taxes that are going to have to go to fix Anderson Mill Road. So District 6 understands what happens when we don’t build housing for people who want to live in Austin…” – Jimmy Flannigan, in his AEN/Shades of Green Interview
- Supports continuing conservation efforts, including permanent once-a-week watering
- Believes that the water utility’s business model is fundamentally flawed – says that we can’t keep expecting Austin Water to turn a profit while simultaneously asking it to sell less of its product. “That’s a situation to fail.”
- Also points to the fact that our city’s basic water infrastructure still needs to be maintained, even if we’re selling less water.
- “I think we need to be having that community conversation about what type of business model makes sense to deliver water in drought areas, like Austin.” – thinks there are other cities and models we can look to
- Says that a main concern of District 6 residents is that their water bills continue to go up, despite the fact that they are conserving and using less water. This is one of the main reasons why Flannigan wants to see Austin Water’s business model improved. He says that the utility shouldn’t have to raise its rates because people are actually conserving and using less water.
“It’s very easy for other parts of town to forget when the lake was empty, but District 6 remembers. We have to live with it… and we feel it when that lake empties out. And it’s not just for recreation, it’s all of the businesses that are on that lake that employ people that work in District 6. So it is a huge resource to the community and we have to do everything necessary to protect it.” – Jimmy Flannigan, in his AEN/Shades of Green Intervew
- Supports continued public ownership of the utility… “I think people forget to mention that it keeps our property taxes down,” Flannigan said in his AEN/Shades of Green interview.
- “My opponent likes to talk about privatization as if it’s some panacea to solve all our problems… If you want to see your property taxes go up by 20 percent, then you send your utility profits to billionaires in other cities.” (Because Austin Energy and Austin Water are a publicly-owned utilities, they give their profits back to the city, which helps to fund about 16 percent of the city’s General Fund. This money is then spent on police, fire, EMS, parks, libraries, etc.)
- Thinks there are opportunities for a bit better utility management and the need for some additional expertise
- “I believe in science.”
“I don’t think anybody thinks one city alone is going to solve climate change, but it doesn’t mean that Austin can’t be a symbol of how you can have better policies, and think differently about your infrastructure, and move your city forward in a way that other cities can emulate.” – Jimmy Flannigan, in his AEN/Shades of Green Interview