The man who organized Circle C Democrats loves to knock on doors and meet voters
Updated 10:10am Monday, July 14, 2014
It would have been impossible to pack more people or more energy into the side room of the Santa Rita Tex Mex Cantina on Slaughter Lane in southwest Austin when on June 24 Edward Scott “Ed” Scruggs launched his bid for the District 8 seat on the Austin City Council.
Being in the heart of the Circle C Ranch development in Southwest Austin, Scruggs, 49, started his talk by recalling that he and Steve Urban, who co-chairs Scruggs’ council campaign, led the charge to convert the homeowners association from developer control to homeowner control “and it was a tough job,” he said.
“We had a slate of five of us that ran, walking door to door and we managed to all come into the board at the same time and it’s never been the same since.”
Just as Circle C’s governance changed, so has the City of Austin’s. This election will put control in the hands of council members from 10 geographic districts in which they live.
Circle C Ranch was not part of the City of Austin until annexed December 18, 1997. Circle C is among most populous parts of District 8’s south end. The district stretches west nearly to the Village of Bee Cave and north to Lady Bird Lake and includes Barton Springs Pool. Yet all five candidates who have appointed campaign treasurers for the District 8 race live south and west of Loop 360 (Ben White Boulevard).
The candidate’s speech
“What’s about to happen in this election is truly historic. We’ve never been represented in this way before,” Scruggs said. “For the first time we’ll have true community based representation on the city council and finally all of our voices will be heard all across the city in every community. And if we do it right every neighborhood will have a voice as well. But with that opportunity comes responsibility because there is so much at stake in this election.”
Scruggs spoke with passion about the increasing burden of taxation that is forcing some to move out of Austin and pricing young people out of the market.
“On paper we are the envy of many,” Scruggs said. “Unemployment below 4 percent. Rental occupancy at 99 percent. One month supply of homes for sale. By all accounts we are living it up, enjoying the good times and rolling in the money. Let me tell you, by going door to door and talking with voters you would never know that.”
He told the story of a woman who lives in the Westcreek neighborhood, a manager in a local retail outlet who has a teenaged, bipolar son. She’s lived in her home for 18 years and is struggling to keep it despite “skyrocketing taxes.” “She knows she could make a profit selling her home but wonders, ‘Where would I go?’”
“I’m thinking also of a mom who couldn’t be here tonight from Circle C who received a recent property tax assessment and felt a mixture of shock followed by anger and then sadness as the homes on her street sold within days for much higher than the listing price. Her family was wondering how long they could hold out. ‘It’s just not fair,’ she said. ‘We shouldn’t be faced with a choice of paying up or cashing out.’
“I don’t know about you but my house is not an ATM or a 401(k). It’s a home. My wife and I moved here as an investment in our family so our kids could grow up in a safe environment and attend good schools. That’s being threatened, quite frankly, by property taxes that are simply out of control.”
“It’s becoming increasingly difficult, if not impossible for many young people and families with young children to stay in the city and become part of the community. We are literally taking the generation and pulling it out by the roots,” he said.
“No matter what part of town you’re in, if you have a decent job and you can’t pay your rent or stay in your home then the government is not only failing you, it’s ignoring you. Government is ignoring you when it plays pass the buck on funding public education. Government is ignoring you when it stands by and fails to challenge an appraisal system that favors commercial interests while forcing the homeowner to pick up the slack,” Scruggs said.
“This is why affordability and tax relief must be the top priorities of the new 10-1 council. We have no choice,” he said.
His solutions for affordability include financial controls such as zero-based budgeting, sunset review, and providing citizens in each district a role in setting budget priorities and, if city finances permit, a homestead exemption that would reduce the taxable value of an owner’s residence (something the city now grants only to homeowners age 65 or older).
“Above all else, I think a new councilmember in this situation is going to take courage to make some tough decisions,” Scruggs said. He said he is an advocate for mass transit, including light rail, but “with a heavy heart” said it’s difficult to justify the expense “on a transit plan that’s not even complete yet.”
He criticized the lack of relief for commuters in Southwest Austin.
“We need similar courage when it comes to dealing with all of our transportation planning. Courage to stop fighting the future and allow ride sharing services such as Lyft and Uber to operate fair and square within the rules.”
“Finally, we need the courage to oppose road projects that make the situation worse,” he said, and that includes State Highway 45 southwest. … “It’s a dumb idea.”
“We also must have the courage when it comes to protecting the environment and preserving our precious water resources. Believe it or not, there are people in our city government who look at Lake Travis being less than 40 percent full and they see very little to be worried about. I am not one of those people,” Scruggs said.
He called for redoubling water conservation efforts and capturing rainwater from downtown buildings. He said that by 2024, 60 percent of the city’s energy needs can be supplied by solar and wind power and Fayette Power Plant can be closed to “create clean air for everyone.”
Noting the fact that southwest Austin has had little representation in the last 40 years, he said, “We’ve always had people speaking for us … when they live somewhere else. … Those days are over,” he said.
Scruggs foresees a battle to win a council seat free of influence from outside the district.
“There are tremendous special interests aiming for this seat. Lots of money riding on them winning this seat. Let me tell you, this cannot be a race to decide what engineering firm has a seat on the council. It can’t be a race to decide what special ideology is going to have an influence or how can we get the legislature to overturn the bag ban, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. That’s what we don’t want.”
“I love knocking on doors,” he said in closing. “I pledge that I will walk until the shoes fall from my feet to guarantee that we have true neighborhood representation in District 8.”
The candidate’s introduction
Austin attorney Steve Urban said he met Scruggs more than a decade ago when they ran for the Circle C board. “It all started with block walking,” he said.
“If you drove down the roads you would see giant Republican banners sitting out on our community property, our pools. When you went to board meetings you couldn’t talk, you couldn’t speak. I remember board members telling me, ‘You’re not a director. This is a board of directors meeting,’” Urban said.
“(Scruggs) said, ‘If we’re going to (run for the board) we need to get out there, we need to shake people’s hands, we need to talk to them and we need to find out what they’re thinking. Surveys and polls are not enough. A handshake and a firm look in someone’s eye will tell you a lot more about what they need. You can’t represent these people if you’re not talking to them,’” Urban said.
Urban said that Scruggs was instrumental in getting bonds passed for new schools in the area. He said they manned phone banks and called people in Circle C to get them to vote, and picketed all day with signs. The result was turnout that exceeded 30 percent while participation was around 7 percent in most other precincts, he said.
He said that many of the amenities in Circle C came as a result of work by Scruggs, including a community center and pool, and a community park is planned.
“I guess the best thing I can say about Ed is he’s just a tremendously hard worker,” Urban said. “He has a passion like nobody has ever seen and he’s willing to roll his sleeves up and actually do the work and not delegate it to somebody else. He gets out there, he talks to people, he finds out what they want and tries to build the best solution for the community he can. I’m proud to call him my friend and I’ll be much more proud when I call him my voice on the City Council.”
Yvonne Massey Davis, senior director of public engagement with the nonprofit Organizing for Action Texas which works to enact a progressive agenda, who is retired from the Lower Colorado River Authority, where she handled Central Texas public affairs, said of Scruggs, “He probably didn’t know that I was quietly recruiting him to be our candidate for District 8.”
“Ed Scruggs has been out there. He’s been a voice for us when we didn’t have an elected official speaking out for us in Travis County or the City of Austin,” Davis said.
“Ed Scruggs is a listener. He listens quietly,” she said. “Ed Scruggs has been there fighting for us long before he ever even considered being a council member. He didn’t just come in here to be a member of Circle C so he could be elevated to a council member. Ed Scruggs is a man who cares about Southwest Austin.”
“If we want somebody who’s really going to get behind us regardless to race, gender, sexual orientation or religious beliefs, that man is Ed Scruggs,” Davis said. “If you care about Southwest Austin, if you care about the environment, if you care about water issues … the man for us is Ed Scruggs. We don’t need a newcomer who does not understand Southwest Austin.”
What attendees said about Scruggs
Kathi Miller said that Scruggs founded the Circle C Area Democrats in 2008 and she joined. She currently serves as the group’s secretary. Scruggs is listed as the party’s Precinct 304 chair.
“He would do a great job” as council member, Miller said of Scruggs. “He’s really immersed himself in all the issues, gathering facts, going to meetings, and getting well versed. He’s really been working at it.”
“He’s going to be a very fair and considerate council member,” said Darius Terrell, also a member of Circle C Area Democrats and who, like Scruggs, was a delegate to the 2012 Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina. “We roomed together,” he said.
“He is knowledgeable about the issues,” Terrell said. “He surprised me because he knew about things that I was oblivious to.”
“I know he’s committed to this campaign,” Terrell said. “He quit work and is working on the campaign full time.”
Other District 8 candidates
Rebecca Anne “Becky” Bray is a professional transportation engineer and transportation/land manager with Brown & Gay Engineers Inc. She is a board member on the executive committee of the Real Estate Council of Austin. She lives off Davis Lane in the Heights at Loma Vista. Her treasurer is Blanca Zamora-Garcia, broker and owner of Casa Blanca Realty.
Eliza May was an active volunteer in Austinites for Geographic Representation, the group that petitioned to get 10-1 on the ballot and got it passed. She is the director of mission services for Komen Austin, a nonprofit that raises money for breast cancer screening and related services. In 2006 she ran for City Council, getting 26.25 percent and placed a distant second to Mike Martinez, who won his first council race that year and is currently running for mayor. May lives off Southwest Parkway in Travis Country. Her treasurer is William “Bill” Oakey, a retired accountant who writes the Austin Affordability blog.
Darrell W. Pierce, like May, ran for City Council in 2006, getting 31.59 percent of the votes in losing to Sheryl Cole in her first council race. She is currently running for mayor. Pierce founded and owns the SNAP Management Group Inc., a company that provides change management solutions. He is a board member of the Austin Public Education Foundation, which works to support and enhance the work of the Austin Independent School District. Pierce lives off West William Cannon in Western Oaks. His treasurer is Aaron Demerson, director of employer initiatives for the Texas Workforce Commission.
Ellen Gale Troxclair is a Realtor with Keller Williams Realty Inc. where she focuses on southwest Austin. Her Facebook page indicates she had a well attended campaign kickoff June 27. She lives in the Village of Western Oaks. Her treasurer is Leslie Robnett, an attorney and government affairs associate with Gardere.
Election addresses long-standing disparities
The 10-1 system being implemented through this year’s election will address at least the geographic aspects of the problems with representation in the city’s election system, which were laid out in great detail in The Austin Bulldog’s groundbreaking analysis published August 4, 2011.
“Maps Prove a Select Few Govern Austin: Forty Years of Election History Expose Extent of Disparities,” mapped the residence address of every person elected mayor and council member in the elections of 1971—when a City Charter change took effect and permitted the first direct election of the mayor—through 2011.
That project includes interactive maps that showed the residence address of each City Council that resulted from the 26 elections held over those four decades. A pop-up box for each person elected provides a photograph, the place elected, the years included in their term, their residence address, voting tally, and historical footnotes, e.g., Jennifer Kim won in 2005. She was the first and only Asian American elected.
With respect to District 8, the most notable finding of the analysis is that only 19 of 100 City Council seats filled during that four-decade period were won by a candidate who lived south of the Colorado River. No mayoral candidate who lived in South Austin was elected during that period.
The mapping project has not been updated to show the results of the 2012 election, but the 2011 election map remains valid for 2012 because the mayor and three incumbent council members who ran that year were reelected without a runoff.
The last election in which a person who lived in South Austin was elected to the City Council was in 2005. Betty Dunkerley and Kim won that year. Their terms ended in 2008. Since then South Austin has had no representation on the City Council.
To access maps of the 10 council districts, click here.
To find out what City Council district you live in, click here and enter your address.