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Waco mayor calls on students to vote, pitch in

Oct. 27, 2000

Commissions, boards

can be first step for activists, politicians



Mayor Linda Ethridge has a solution for Baylor students' gripes about Waco: Get involved in local government.

Ethridge, who was elected mayor in May, urges students to take part in Waco government in any way possible.

'Everyone should register to vote,' Ethridge said, 'and vote not only in the big elections but exercise the privilege to vote on a local level.'

Dr. Gayle Avant, associate professor of political science, said the first step for Baylor participation in local government is voter registration.

'Baylor students meet the requirements to vote in this county,' Avant said. 'Baylor student voting would likely not have an impact on the outcome of national, state and county elections.

'If enough students voted, it could determine the outcome of the city council elections for the district and profoundly influence the outcome of the citywide mayoral election,' he said.

Ethridge said there is little participation by Baylor students, but she would like to see that change.

'Baylor is enormously important to Waco. I would like to see Baylor students feel more connected with the greater community,' she said. 'As Baylor has grown, there has been a dispersal of Baylor students into the Waco community.'

Ethridge suggests student should get involved in local neighborhood associations.

'These are good places to work through neighborhood problems,' Ethridge said. 'Baylor students can participate by joining neighborhood associations or other community organizations working on issues they care about.'

Another way for students to get involved is by joining city commissions and boards.

'The city has a number of boards and commissions, and I would like to see Baylor students serve on these and bring their perspective to the city,' Ethridge said. 'We want Baylor to be aware of city planning, and we want to be aware of Baylor plans.'

Ethridge stressed the importance of the Baylor point of view to Waco government.

'When we make decisions that affect the community, we really want to get the perspective of everyone, including Baylor students,' Ethridge said. 'We want to be a community where Baylor students feel comfortable in.'

Besides Baylor's interaction with the city, Ethridge has two other main focuses for the community for her term as mayor.

Ethridge said residents find that problems with the odor and taste of the city water are directly related to the dairy farms in nearby Erath County, where the lake's watershed is located.

Erath County is a large dairy county. The waste from the dairy cows is used as fertilizer on the area fields. When it rains, the rain causes a runoff into the river, putting phosphorus in the river. The phosphorus then causes algae blooms

and green scum to form and causes the odor and taste problems. The city is currently building coalitions with local leaders and surrounding communities to solve the problem.

'This is a very intense focus because the threat is real,' Ethridge said. 'It's going to take some time to turn this around.'

Ethridge also plans to focus on the economic development of the city.

'What we are trying to do as a city is ensure that the way we do economic developments matches today's economy, not the economy of 20 years ago,' Ethridge said. 'We are cooperating with the Technology Planning Group to examine how we can access opportunities in a technology driven economy.'

Ethridge said she has a general commitment to quality government and a concern with youth issues.

'The best thing you can do to help a young person is for their parents or guardians to have good economic opportunities,' Ethridge said. 'If the family leader has a job, the child will have a better life.'

Youth issues were the original reason Ethridge got involved in government. A registered and active voter since 1960, Ethridge graduated from the University of Tennessee with a bachelor's of science degree in education.

Her first experience with government came as a member of the Waco ISD School Board in 1984.

'The original motivation to run for office was to make the school district better not only for my children but for the others in the district,' Ethridge said. '1984 was a period of general reform for education. Our goal was to help all of the children in the district.'

As a member of the board, Ethridge helped publicize the slogan of the school board, 'We Believe All Children Can Learn.' The slogan remains today.

In 1993, Ethridge became a member of the Waco City Council. Her desire to run for mayor emerged out of years of experience on the council. Ethridge made the decision to run in the non-partisan race for mayor and was put into office in May 2000.

Any Baylor student wanting information and applications for local boards and commissions can find them on the first floor of city hall, 300 Austin Ave., or on the City of Waco Web site at