Naked City

Edited by Lisa Tozzi, with contributions this week by Robert Bryce, Lee Nichols, and Amy Smith.

   


Off the Desk:

BFI Recyclery's contract with the city ends Jan. 31, but the nettlesome issue of what to do with the BFI facility -- long a thorn in the side of an East Austin neighborhood -- has yet to be resolved. BFI and city officials haven't reached an accord on a buyout of the Bolm Road site, so the city may consider the condemnation route. On a positive note for the neighbors, however, there will be about a 60% reduction in truck traffic by the end of the month. The city, after months of reviewing recycling bids from private companies, has decided to take on much of the processing work itself. BFI, meanwhile, is in location limbo. "We're happy that the 60% reduction in traffic should significantly help our neighborhood issues," said BFI spokeswoman Lynda Rife. "We're more than willing to move -- if we can remain economically whole." --A.S.

Maintaining that United Nations sanctions against Iraq are "immoral and illegal," a group ofAustinites plans to protest the economic embargo by mailing medicine, water, dried fruit, and other supplies to the country at 11:45am Friday, Jan. 8, at the downtown post office, 510 Guadalupe. Friday's protest is part of the growing movement across the country to lift the sanctions, which according to U.N. statistics have resulted in 1.5 million Iraqi deaths since 1991. Late last year, Bishop John McCarthy and 53 other Catholic bishops signed a letter calling for an end to the sanctions. Several U.S. House members, including Texas' Ciro Rodriguez, Eddie Bernice Johnson, and Sheila Jackson-Lee, have also called for an end to the economic embargo. "If we stand by and let this tragedy continue, we are all complicit in genocide," said Jere Locke of the Austin-based Campaign for a Just Peace in the Middle East, one of several groups participating in the mailing. For more info, call 263-1883 or 471-1990 or see http://www.realtime.net/~liana/no_war ... --L.T.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Serviceis planning to add nine cave-dwelling invertebrates from Bexar County to the Endangered Species List. The animals -- three of which do not have common names -- are found only in north and northwestern Bexar County, in 28 caves, 21 of which are on Dept. of Defense land. The primary threat to the cave bugs is development. The federal proposal is just the latest in a long string of federal action taken to protect animals that are found only on the Edwards Plateau. In 1988, members of the Austin chapter of Earth First! occupied several caves in northwestern Travis County which were threatened by development. Just two weeks after that event, known as the cave-in, the Reagan Administration agreed to add five cave bugs from Travis County to the Endangered Species List. Federal officials are seeking comment on the proposal to add the Bexar County cave bugs. For more information call Alisa Shull of the Fish and Wildlife Service at 490-0057.--R.B.


The O'Hair Diaries

Long before Larry Flynt was offering cash for information regarding the sexual peccadilloes of United States Congressmen, he was a friend and confidant of America's most famous atheist, Madalyn Murray O'Hair. So it's not surprising that Flynt's name crops up several times in O'Hair's diaries.

Fourteen years ago, when Flynt was sent to prison for contempt of court in a case involving the drug arrest of failed automaker John DeLorean, O'Hair convinced Flynt to sign a power-of-attorney that gave her control over all his assets, including Hustler magazine. But O'Hair's gambit was thwarted by Flynt's brother, Jimmy. On March 16, 1984, O'Hair wrote in her diary: "I can't believe the perfidy over the Larry Flynt deal. The whole gawd-dam world is made up of liars, cheats [and] swindlers whose single driving force is greed. Everyone sells out. Everyone can be bought."

Everyone and everything -- including O'Hair's diaries. Later this month, the innermost secrets and darkest thoughts of the woman who liked to refer to herself as "the most hated woman in America" will be sold to satisfy a claim against her estate brought by the Internal Revenue Service. The diaries, which contain more than a thousand pages of handwritten notes, cover a span of 42 years, from Jan. 5, 1953 to Aug. 10, 1995, just seven weeks before O'Hair disappeared along with her son, Jon Garth Murray, and granddaughter, Robin Murray-O'Hair.

Ronald E. Ingalls, a lawyer and bankruptcy trustee who was appointed to oversee the liquidation of O'Hair's estate, said he has "no idea" how much the diaries and personal documents -- which include O'Hair's birth certificate, militaryservice record, and marriage license -- are worth. But he's hoping he can get enough money from the sale to pay off a $250,000 claim the IRS has lodged against O'Hair's estate. Ingalls, who is storing the two-foot-high stack of diaries in a safe-deposit box at a downtown Austin bank, has not set a date for the sale. "We may do a private sealed bid or a public auction, depending on how much public interest there is," he said. Gregory Shaw, vice president in charge of books and manuscripts at Los Angeles-based auction house Butterfield & Butterfield, put the value of the diaries at "certainly not more than $100,000. It could be as low as $10,000 or $15,000."

Though the diaries contain a trove of insights into O'Hair's personality, they may be somewhat disappointing in terms of their historical value. There are no entries from 1959 to 1972, the period of her life that was perhaps the most intriguing. In 1960, she filed a lawsuit against the Baltimore school district in an effort to remove prayer from public schools. In 1963, she was a secondary plaintiff in a case heard by the U.S. Supreme Court that resulted in a ban on prayer in public schools. That same year, O'Hair fled to Mexico to evade charges of assaulting several Baltimore policemen. There is another significant and inexplicable gap in the diaries: There are no entries between late 1989 and August of 1995. During that time, O'Hair was fighting to protect her organization from lawsuits brought against her by the estate of James Hervey Johnson. There were also several mysterious thefts from atheist headquarters, including the loss of a computer and $60,000 in bearer bonds, and the theft of $54,000 from the group's bank accounts.

A 90-minute forage through the documents reveals a woman obsessed with money and power. On Jan. 6, 1973, O'Hair wrote her goals for the new year: "Begin a Bible chair at U. of Texas. Get a mink coat and a Cadillac car. Humiliate Billy Graham, for money." Again in December of 1975, after reviewing the poor state of her financial affairs, she wrote, "And where are your dreams Madalyn. I need money and power. One is synonymous with another. I need numbers and money. One gets the other. How to break into the circle?" And there's a deep-seated bitterness, as well. More than 40 years ago, long before she dashed into the media spotlight carrying the banner of atheism, O'Hair wrote about her passion for discord: "What is the matter with hating?" she wrote on Oct. 9, 1956. "It is treated as a leper among the emotions. Why in the hell should we go exuding sweetness & light?"

The final entries in the diaries appear rather pedestrian. On Aug. 1, 1995, while on vacation in Virginia with her son and granddaughter, O'Hair complained about the cost of travel. The final entry, dated Aug. 10, 1995, discussed the Civil War-era exhibits the three were seeing: "We read every plaque, every explanation, every brochure. Slides, lectures, films... well what is a vacation for? I think we relaxed."

Anyone interested in bidding on the diaries should contact Ingalls at ohairchapter7@ hotmail.com, or call 472-4436. --R.B.


Giving Peace a Chance

On Monday, the controversy at KOOP radio(91.7FM) worked its way into and out of a courtroom, with both sides working out a compromise that could result in some stability at the embattled, cooperatively run community station.

The differences between the station's current Board of Trustees and Friends of KOOP, a large group of station members opposed to the board's alleged misconduct, were supposed to be headed toward a resolution in last month's elections for KOOP's community board, the body which appoints the trustees. But trustees invalidated the results of that election (the board claimed ballots were stolen, the Friends charged that the board was simply stalling its own removal), and Friends members Michael Zakes and Jerry Chamkis filed suit in Travis County court, charging the trustees with stealing elections, fiscal mismanagement, and civil conspiracy to take over the station. The suit asked that individual board members compensate the station for misappropriated funds, that the trustees be removed, and that the station be placed in the receivership of an alternate board selected by station members in September.

Zakes and Chamkis' lawyer, Russ Ham, said, "The hearing went on for about two hours until the judge [visiting Judge Fred Moore] just melted down and said, 'Can't you guys work this out?' " The lawyers and their respective clients then went into the jury room and hammered out an agreement.

The compromise specifies that two current vacancies on the Board of Trustees will be filled by representatives of Friends -- who selected former assistant station manager John Duncan and Vickie Benitez -- who will be approved by the board, and then serve alongside current trustees Teresa Taylor, Aida Franco, Mac McKaskle, and Carol Hayman. The board will run the day-to-day business of the station by simple majority, but any major decisions -- on the scale of relocating the station, major equipment purchases, or long-term contracts -- would require a unanimous vote. And the court ordered that within 45 days of the decision, the station must complete a new community board election overseen by a neutral third party selected unanimously by the board. Also, current interim station manager Marcel Tafoya will continue in that capacity.

"Basically, we're satisfied," says Zakes. "We're going to put our energies into the new elections, and we feel good because there won't be any hanky-panky and we'll have people on the Board of Trustees to keep an eye on things. Early on in the last election that was a problem because the board made unilateral decisions without input from the election committee. It was much less than what we wanted, but we're satisfied with what we got. I think we can all work together to get the station back together again."

Board of Trustees President Taylor also was satisfied with the arrangement, saying that it "reflected plans the board already had in progress," including having a third party monitor the community board election and to fill the two vacant trustees' seats. She said that since the Friends' selections ultimately are approved by the board, "That's acceptable to us because it is in keeping with the station's bylaws. The problem with the [Friends'] proposal to unseat the board is that it did not follow the bylaws.

"I hope that we can now begin to heal the rift in the station," added Taylor.