Voters in sprawling ACC district to choose Place 8 trustee


Austin-American Statesman: Voters in sprawling ACC district to choose Place 8 trustee


By Ralph K.M. Haurwitz 

Posted Nov 30, 2018 at 1:26 PMUpdated Nov 30, 2018 at 7:01 PM

Voters in parts of six Central Texas counties will decide in a runoff Dec. 11 whether Stephanie Gharakhanian or Sarah Mills wins the Place 8 seat on Austin Community College’s board of trustees.

Gharakhanian received 44.7 percent of the vote in the November general election, Mills got 35.4 percent, and Douglas Gibbins trailed with 19.9 percent. Because no candidate received more than half of the votes, the top two vote recipients advanced to the runoff. Early voting began Thursday in Travis County and concludes Dec. 7.

ACC trustees serve six-year terms for no pay and are charged with setting the property tax rate, approving the budget, establishing policies, and hiring and evaluating the school’s president. All nine trustees on ACC’s board are elected at-large by voters in the college’s vast taxing district, which consists of the city of Austin — including portions of the Eanes and Pflugerville school districts within the city — as well as the Austin, Del Valle, Elgin, Hays, Leander, Manor and Round Rock school districts.

Gharakhanian, 33, is a lawyer for the nonprofit Workers Defense Project. She lives in North Austin and is a former member of both the city’s construction advisory commission and of an ACC task force on construction standards. She has a bachelor’s degree in premedicine studies and international peace studies from the University of Notre Dame and a law degree from Northeastern University.

“We’re encouraging everyone who came out to vote in the general election to return to the polls and vote in the runoff,” Gharakhanian said. “I think voters should support me because I have a proven track record of translating progressive values into concrete policies.”

She cited a successful campaign to secure higher wages and safety training for construction workers on ACC projects that she pursued as part of her job, as well as her job-related service on the ACC task force that focused on implementing those standards. If elected, Gharakhanian said, she would strive to reduce tuition, expand on-campus child care, increase enrollment in early college high school programs and boost graduation rates.

Completion of a degree or certificate program benefits more than the student, she noted. “Many local businesses are relying on ACC to produce graduates who have the educational background and workforce training for the jobs that are in demand,” she said.

Mills, 49, is director of government relations and regulatory affairs for the Texas Association for Home Care and Hospice. Mills, who lives in North Austin, is a former chairwoman of the nonprofit Austin Tenants Council. She has a bachelor’s degree in liberal arts from Austin College and a master’s in rehabilitation counseling from the University of North Texas.

“Even though ACC is very affordable, it still is a barrier for some,” said Mills, who hopes to reduce tuition and increase financial aid so that more students can complete degrees and certificates. “I also want to look at how we can partner more with businesses and organizations moving into the area. I think we need to be open-minded and think about offering classes at the workplace.”

She said voters should support her because she has demonstrated a yearslong devotion to helping people, having served on the Austin Tenants Council for 10 years and as a vocational rehabilitation counselor working with people who have physical, mental, learning and other disabilities.

“This has been my life’s work, and I see how it all fits together,” Mills said. “You’ve got to have the education to move into a field that can give you earning potential so you can afford housing and transportation.”

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