Candidate questionnaire: Greg Smith – City Council District 9

Candidate questionnaire: Greg Smith – City Council District 9

ATA issued a candidate questionnaire to all candidates running in the November 2022 general election. All questions were the same for Mayor, City Council, County Clerk and County Judge. Responses have not been edited. View all responses here.

Greg Smith – City Council District 9

As we head into the 4th year of Covid-19, what learnings have you taken from the pandemic and how will you apply those to your policies and community outreach moving forward?

We’ve learned that where there’s a will, our city (and country) can make pretty sweeping changes, and quickly. The pandemic taught me that when it comes to fixing Austin’s problems, we should be thinking bigger. It also taught me that having a trusted messenger holding office is critical to keeping the people and their elected leaders on the same page. Moving Austin forward is going to require compromise from competing interests—I’m the only candidate who can plausibly appear trustworthy to all of them.

How will you work with City leadership to provide a housing plan for unhoused residents?

As I answered above, it is amazing the impact that city leaders can have when there is a will. It is clear from the conversations that I have had with residents, business owners, civic leaders, and those at ground zero of our homeless efforts, that we don’t have a shortage of will. What our city is lacking is the leadership to bring the experts together, create a plan with measurable results, and then hold all involved accountable for achieving those results. We must partner with our non-profits that have proven models, The Other Ones Foundation, Community First, Foundation Communities, to name a few. We must provide them with city resources – land that is accessible to transit, water, trash service, public safety, and mental and social services – that will allow each person to be evaluated and an independent plan developed that provides them the services they need. We will make sure that every dollar that is being spent on addressing this crisis is working towards our measurable goals. We will not tolerate waste and we must not continue to miss the mark. As a final thought, during this crisis our city cannot support homelessness by choice. This crisis has put a significant strain on all of our city’s resources and until we are able to support those that want housing with the resources they need, we cannot continue to subsidize those that still choose to camp. We will enforce the camping ban throughout the city.

How will you work with City leadership to support marginalized communities in Austin?

Between the city leadership, non-profits, and our community leaders, Austin does a good job representing all parts of our community. There is no shortage of special interests and leaders that represent those communities. What we need to do better is helping those groups to organize so that their voices and issues are shared consistently and that each group knows what the other is doing, so that we may find opportunities to develop programs that can be shared throughout the city. We must be able to better utilize technology to communicate, organize, share solutions and track results in a manner that is accessible and transparent.

Homeowners and renters experienced enormous increases in Travis County Property Taxes in 2022. How will you address Austin’s ongoing housing shortage and displacement issues?

Obsession. We must be obsessed with achieving results. My initial focus will be on those things that the council can control – the entitlement and permitting process of delivering housing units. We will be obsessed with changing the culture of the Development Services Department, Austin Transportation, Austin Energy and every other department that touches a permit. We will focus on customer service and how we can get to “yes” rather than the obstructionist approach that currently exists and adds needless time and costs to getting a permit.

As our community continues to rely on virtual spaces, how should the City address the digital divide? What steps would you take to bridge that divide?

Virtual spaces are only as good as the technology that supports them. If there is even the perception that the technology infrastructure does not provide the service that is needed, users will hesitate and likely default back to analog. There are roles within city government that can be highly functional and efficient in a virtual environment, but there are also those that must be hands-on with customers. Regardless, the technology needed for our government to engage and communicate effectively with its residents must be accessible to all. Through partnerships with providers, the city can work to identify these technology deserts and support the extension of the infrastructure necessary to get residents connected wherever they live.

What are your thoughts on the City of Austin using cryptocurrency (AustinCoin)?

Blockchain is a potentially revolutionary technology, but sorting out the legitimate benefits of cryptocurrency from the hype is proving to be too much even for experts, and I am by no means an expert. I’m all for innovation, but a big part of my campaign has been demanding evidence-based and results-based approaches to policy making. I would need to see compelling evidence that crypto offers benefits to the people of Austin before throwing my support behind it. But once that evidence is available, we can’t let conventional wisdom stand in the way of progress.

How can the City better work with Austin’s tech community to bring innovative approaches to civic challenges?

I would ask the opposite question of the tech community. Having been a resident of Austin for more than 40 years, I believe there is more the tech community can do to support a city that has given it so much. I would start by encouraging them to vote. The amount of residents that I have spoken with that have moved to Austin because of tech is incredible, but what is startling is how few of them know which district they live in and who represents them. I recognize the rhythms of this community are different than our traditional, banking, real estate, law, etc, but for years city leaders have tried to bring tech to the table, only to be left waiting. The work of ATA is an incredible way to begin to engage, but there is so much more that can be done. As a council member, I will work to identify the leaders of this community and ask them again to be engaged. And as I expect of myself, I will also hold them accountable for their participation in the process that will identify and provide solutions for the questions that have been asked above.

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