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Saturday, March 02, 2024

Headshots of Travis Austin, Jay Brower and Sara Redford. Collage creation courtesy of Lauren Aguila.

Dane County Board holds hearing to fill vacant campus-area seat

Three candidates spoke at Union South Thursday about their qualifications and priorities if appointed to the Dane County Board of Supervisors.

Three candidates for the Dane County Board of Supervisors’ recently vacated District 13 seat spoke Thursday at Union South for a public hearing on their qualifications and priorities. 

Candidates Travis Austin, Jay Brower and Sara Redford answered prompts from Board Chair Patrick Miles about their priorities for the District 13 seat, which encompasses much of the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus and campus-area housing around the Kohl Center and Camp Randall Stadium. 

Miles will appoint one of the three candidates on Sept. 21 to fill the seat vacated by former Supervisor Olivia Xistris-Songpanya, who resigned from the board in August.

The three candidates responded to questions of their qualifications and experience in local politics, their priorities if appointed to the board and their future intentions to run for office. Each candidate highlighted housing and criminal justice as pressing issues facing the campus area and the greater Madison community. 

Austin graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison this year with a bachelor's degree in political science as well as undergraduate certificates in public policy and environmental studies. Austin has also served as a supervisor for the rural Town of Berry, located in Dane County, since April 2022.

Austin said he gained valuable experience dealing with issues related to  budgeting, zoning and land use on the local level as a supervisor. 

The most pressing issue facing District 13 is infrastructure, Austin said. He stated that dealing with shortfalls in funding for infrastructure in the Town of Berry opened his eyes to the broader problem, and he hopes to put more funding toward managing water quality and maintaining roads. 

Austin also highlighted criminal justice reform and preventing crime in the local community as key areas of focus.

“I hope that I will be able to bring a new perspective to the county board and that I can jump right in,” Austin said.

Brower has lived in the district for three years and was a professor at Western Connecticut State University for over a decade prior to his work in Madison. Through working as a service organizer representing healthcare workers in Madison, Brower said he worked with many students and recent graduates as they moved into the medical field while working as a service organizer representing healthcare workers in Madison.

Brower named housing as his number one area of focus if elected to the board and listed criminal justice reform as another key focus. 

“[There are] opportunities to address residents who are experiencing mental health crises through mechanisms other than jail and policing,” Brower said. “Police should not be in the role of acting as social workers.” 

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Brower said directing people experiencing mental health crises toward professional mental health treatment would be more effective than policing and jail time. 

Brower also stated his intention to reach out to the student population to provide meaningful ways of participating in local government processes if elected. 

Sara Redford, a UW-Madison alum and a vice president with WPS Health Solutions, has lived in Madison for over 20 years and is currently a student with the UW-Extension Horticulture Department studying to become a Master Gardener.

Redford named affordable and available housing as the most pressing issue in the area as well as food insecurity and public safety.

“Making sure that the decisions that are made at the county level work not just for the student population in District 13, but also for the families and the seniors that live here is very important,” Redford said. “But affordable housing is where it starts.”

Before redistricting in 2022, the area that is now District 13 was split between three districts, none of which were historically held by students, according to Miles. However, since District 13’s new borders encompass much of UW-Madison’s campus, more students or recent graduates may run for the seat in the near future, he said.

Miles told The Daily Cardinal the board benefits from greater representation of younger people, who he said help bring challenging issues to the forefront.

“In my opinion, the greatest value in having young voices on the board is their willingness to think outside the box and push us outside our comfort zone,” Miles said in an email. “The status quo tends to be what's comfortable to most. To address challenging issues — like racial disparities in the justice system — and be innovative means we need to be uncomfortable.”

If appointed, each candidate intends to run again for the District 13 seat in April 2024. 

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