Office of Cable and Regulatory Affairs
We admire those who remain enthused about their work as it grows ever more
thankless. The merry wonks at OCRA have, in the last year, negotiated a
fractious franchise renewal with Austin CableVision; midwifed the city-wide
broadband network project from a pie-eyed grandstand play to a fairly sensible
franchise with CSW; dived headfirst into Doing Something about access
television; and embarked on another, equally messy franchise renewal with
Southwestern Bell. All this as the Feds, via the Telecommunications Act of
1996, dumped a load of new responsibilities on the localities, i.e., us. You'd
have gone crazy; they appear unscathed.
Statesman on Slusher
"Daryl Slusher is right." There couldn't be sweeter words to new city
councilmember Daryl Slusher's ears -- but especially so if they come from his
old nemesis, the Austin American-Statesman. The daily, long a pincushion
for Slusher's journalistic jabs, seems now to have quite a fondness for Slusher
in his new position, and is saying so right and left. They appreciate his "open
government" initiatives in editorials, and can't resist running his picture
next to positive stories about his tough tactics on the dais. Hmm... what's
next for the dragon-slayer?
UT Law School Professor Sam Issacharoff
Issacharoff's defense of UT's affirmative action admissions program, after
losing the Hopwood case at the 5th Circuit Appellate court last spring, was the
most passionate, well-versed argument for the program made in the flurry
following the ruling. Unfortunately, Issacharoff's speech was closed to all but
those affiliated with the UT law school, and his comments never got wide play.
The Absent Student Assistance Program
ASAP is a joint effort between AISD and Travis County constables to reduce
truancy in middle schools (Del Valle is a participant as well). Modeled on a
program in Harris County, ASAP is designed to achieve two things: snatch truant
middle schoolers away from trouble, and increase the state's reimbursement to
the schools for student attendance. And it's working. Attendance at the middle
schools increased by an average of 75 kids per day, allowing the district to
retrieve over $200,000 in state dollars in 1995-96. According to AISD
officials, 85% of the students need only one visit to their homes from a county
constable to cure them of ditching school.
Robert Mueller Airport Redevelopment
If Austin is ever to be "the most livable city in the nation," as the city
management motto goes, the soon-to-be old airport is probably one of the best
places to start. With over 700 acres to work with, the suggestions that have
come in to the Redevelopment Task Force have verged on the bizarre -- hey,
howzabout a zoo! -- but the most likely scenario is a multi-use land plan
mixing low- and middle-income residential, commercial, and open space. Now the
only thing we have to worry about is where to put those darn llamas.
Just before the city council races in May, the daily ran a front page story
called "Did they inhale, and does it matter?" Reporter Diana Dworin asked each
of the sitting councilmembers and council candidates whether they have ever
smoked marijuana, under the pretext of election coverage. The only
councilmember who didn't submit, or lie, was Max Nofziger, with a terse, "No
comment." As for the follow-up question in the story: "Does it matter?"
Apparently not, as the confessed pot smokers on the ballot won handily.
What a mom... After winning the Republican primary for State Representative
District 47, Terry Keel didn't want to give up his current position as sheriff
of Travis County to run in the special election this spring for the state
district. So his mom did, and she won. Confident that her son would win in
November against Democratic challenger John Lindell, Patty Keel told the daily
she wanted to "keep the seat warm" from June until January when Terry would,
presumably, take over.
Citizens Planning Committee
Ordinary citizens can change the world, particularly if they're the visionary
kind. By gathering together 22 volunteers from Austin's mainstream to form the
Citizens Planning Committee, chair Ben Heimsath, also a local architect, helped
change Austin's vision of itself. The CPC engineered a model for neighborhood
and developer involvement in the city's growth process, the end result of which
has already led to greater understanding between fighting factions and smoother
city operations. It's a pretty simple idea: Everyone gets to play. A revamped
land development code and regional cooperation is next on their list.
Madalyn Murray O'Hair
For a woman who loved the limelight, it didn't make much sense for America's
most famous atheist to pull a Houdini. But disappear she did, along with her
son Jon and adopted daughter, Robin. The trio left their belongings, and their
beloved dogs (although two of the three dogs also later disappeared). At the
end of September, it will be a full year since they vanished. And now, atheists
across the country must simply await their second coming.
Robert Boyer, Steven Feld, and Alan Cline
When Freeport-McMoRan threatened to sue these three tenured UT professors, the
trio didn't back off of their criticism of the company and its mining operation
in Irian Jaya, Indonesia. Instead, they stepped up the attack. Boyer launched a
Web page that is by far the best single source of information about the mine
and the UT controversy. Feld has continued his verbal assaults on Freeport, and
in a speech on the UT campus in early December attacked Chancellor William
Cunningham's relationship with the company. Cline, meanwhile, wrote a scathing
letter to Cunningham, asking if, in light of Freeport's threats, he was in
favor of academic freedom. Who said academics don't have guts?
When the First Lady of Austin was asked to wield her PR powers to help pass
$369 million in Austin Independent School District bonds, Christian gladly lent
her expertise. She allayed the fears of the environmental and minority
community, and tax-weary voters responded with a vehement "yes."
Camping Ban Protest
On the first night that Bruce Todd's ordinance banning sleeping in public
places went into effect, political columnist/commentator Molly Ivins and
musician Steve Fromholz -- Austinites both -- threw a hell of a slumber
party... and raised our consciousness at the same time. Long after the
television cameras shut off, and the daily's reporters headed home, Ivins and
Fromholz sat in sleeping bags swigging from paper bags and singing protest
songs. By the time the sun rose on Congress Avenue downtown, Ivins and Fromholz
were snoozing peacefully among more than 85 others lining the sidewalks, mostly
homeless men, happy to have a safe place to rest for the night.
Best Hippie Campout:Camping Ban Protest Writer Molly Ivins gets goosed at the Camping Ban Protest photograph by Jana Birchum
Last August, Ronney Reynolds unplugged Bruce Todd's privatization dreams for
the Electric Utility Department while plugging his own 1997 mayoral bid. In a
press conference, Reynolds told lobbyists to stop banking on the deal -- a
direct shot at Todd's father-in-law, his former co-worker, and his campaign
consultant, all three of whom work for a major EUD suitor, Texas Utilities. The
rest of the council followed Reynolds' lead, and it may have been the most
successful political maneuver of the year -- putting the brakes on yet another
boy-who-cried-emergency situation, while appearing thoughtfully mayoral.
To steal an analogy from Daryl Slusher's old newsletter, The Daryl
Herald, councilmembers are like two-year olds -- if you don't keep an eye
on them, they'll wander off where they should not, hide things from you, and be
generally uncooperative. They also need to be babysat, and Slusher's new aide,
Robin Cravey, appears to be good with kids. He came to city hall last summer
for former councilmember Max Nofziger, and was largely responsible for
Nofziger's late-bloom series of rapid-fire initiatives that focused on clear
air and clean water. Now, he's started afresh with a brand new councilmember
who could run anyone ragged with his darned questions and council-watching
ways. Cravey is up to the task.
Intelligent. Informative. Necessary. That's In Fact, the weekly handbill
of local political coverage circulated by veteran reporter Ken Martin. He's
scooped the daily with frequency and style, and his campaign finance coverage
for the recent council election was nothing short of fabulous, slicing and
dicing campaign finance reports like a Ginsu master.
Austin Revitalization Authority (ARA)
When councilmember Eric Mitchell attempted to keep East Austin representation
off the non-profit board that would redevelop East Austin, the stage was set
for the foxes to guard the hen house. Thank goodness, after a loud outcry from
some tough chickens, the council overruled him last winter, and four area reps
were added to the ARA, previously comprised largely of developers. Now, after
monthly meetings and workshops that provided community input, the group has
meshed in a true attempt at positive solutions.
The mayor can't stand him, so he must be doing something right. He's Richard
Troxell, who, as president of House the Homeless and a former Vietnam veteran,
speaks for Austin's homeless population. Week after week at council chambers,
he has waged a one-man war against Todd's anti-homeless ordinance passed last
January. The camping ban is still on the books, but it'll be tirelessly
challenged as long as Troxell's around.
The Austin Chronicle
This OOPS! appeared in the January 19 Chronicle [Vol. 15, No. 20], and
subsequently became humor fodder on Jay Leno's recurring press bit on The
Tonight Show: "Last week's Chronicle erroneously reported that Eric
Mitchell had shouted `Up Yours' to residents of the Swede Hill neighborhood at
a Housing Subcommittee meeting last year. In fact, Mitchell leveled a `Screw
You!' to the residents. The Chronicle regrets the error."
Texas State Cemetery Restoration
Too bad the most exciting renewal project on East 11th Street is being done for
the benefit of dead people. But not entirely; this is more than just a fix-up
gig. The State Cemetery is being redesigned and rebuilt into a landmark of Lone
Star dignity, a fitting resting place for Bob Bullock, whose cause this is, and
an incipient tour-bus magnet right in the heart of Blackshear. Between East Seventh and East 11th, Comal & Navasota,
Dawson Neighborhood Association (DNA)
Before y'all get twitchy: We have, if only in our minds, an NA Hall of Fame for
the venerable warrior boroughs like Guadalupe, Clarksville and Hyde Park
(though this HPNA garbage-can thing... well, anyway). But Dawson, a
neighborhood without much historical, economic or geographic favor, has
achieved some remarkable things in the association's brief existence. Taking on
the mighty Texas Department of Transportation and the entrenched South Congress
vice trade in the same year, and being able to claim victory both times...
that's saying something. Between Oltorf & Ben White,
South Congress and South First
The Council Vote for the New Austin Museum of Art
Let's not mince words: The proposed Austin Museum of Art is long overdue. The
project, which will give downtown many things -- a badly needed cultural focus;
a new facility designed to serve diverse cultures; its first world-class
architectural work in years, to name a few -- was unfairly derailed by The
Bust. When AMOA forces got it back on track this year, the council supported
their efforts -- and reaffirmed the idea of the city investing in culture -- by
voting 6-0 to revive the project. It showed that they know art matters.