Since I first entered public office in 1990 I have admired the journalistic writing in The Austin Chronicle and your extensive, generally even-handed coverage of Austin politics. So I was distressed to find myself so flagrantly misquoted in Roseana Auten's otherwise informative article on the AISD bonds ["Tales Out of School," Vol. 17, No. 6]. When I complained to Ms. Auten, I was told that your staff engaged in some last-minute cutting and editing. There are many styles of management, some more effective than others, but invalidating what my colleagues on the Board and I had worked to accomplish would hardly be my system for affecting positive change. I guess quoting my friend Linda would be one way to sum up my feelings. "The wheels are spinning, but the hamster is dead."
Please understand that the 1996 Bond Proposal was built on a new model of program management. The advantages include the group procurement of supplies (an obvious cost-savings); the coordination of the work force; and the coordination of the renovation of existing schools, remembering that most AISD structures were built in the Fifties and are in need of massive reconstruction. These advantages and more have been purchased for a mere 17% more than was finally spent for buildings in the 1983 and 1990 bond packages.
The obvious challenges of this program point to the School Board's role as a watchdog for the community. We must ask the difficult questions and, even more importantly, ensure that all of the schools in AISD receive the best in technological innovation that can be provided.
The overall bond package presents ambitious goals for a finite amount of funds. Ms. Auten wrote that the 1983 and 1983 and 1990 were "handled in-house for a fraction of the cost" perhaps she and her sources are too young to remember the over-runs and general iniquities that occurred. Our current package is not excessive, nor is it inordinately reflective of Dr. Fox's passion to "build a corporate culture." The goal is to ensure that an intensive, multi-detailed effort is conducted as efficiently and cost-effectively as possible, a mission that the Trustees and I shall continue to monitor with vigilance and compassion.
Kathy Rider, President
AISD School Board
[Reporter Roseana Auten did indeed misinterpret AISD board president Rider's objections to the high cost of hiring an outside firm to manage AISD's bond package. While Rider did say that she wishes she could take back her approval of the deal, she never expressed a desire to "kill it," as the article suggests. Instead, Rider vowed to carefully monitor its progress. The Chronicle regrets the error.]
Bad to Worse
If you want to make Austin politics even worse, vote for the so-called "campaign finance reform" city charter amendment on November fourth. It will make a bad system worse and encourage political domination by special interests.
It's really "THE RICH MAN'S ELECTION ACT OF 1997." It limits ordinary contributions to $100 but allows individuals to spend unlimited amounts on their own campaigns. A well-to-do candidate can give himself tens of thousands of dollars; but if you or I give his opponent 150 bucks, we're crooks. That's hardly a fair system, and it encourages rule by the elite. Under this enlightened concept of reform, the rich would have no limits, while the rest of us would have very strict ones.
This is also a "POLITICIAN PROTECTION PLAN." By setting unfairly low limits on challengers' fund-raising ability, it virtually guarantees the reelection of incumbents who get millions of dollars worth of free media just by being in office. Had this law been in effect in the recent City Council race, challenger Willie Lewis wouldn't have had a prayer of beating incumbent Eric Mitchell. By the same token, it will be almost impossible for a challenger to beat Lewis, or any Council incumbent, next time around.
This proposal could also be called the "SPECIAL INTEREST CAMPAIGN LAW." It places no limit on "third party" spending. An individual, like environmentalist Don Henly or developer Jim Bob Moffit, can legally spend unlimited amounts on an "independent" effort for or against any candidate.
Even worse, this so-called reform proposal does nothing to stop negative "issue advocacy" campaigns like the ones the NRA, Sierra Club, Christian Coalition, Labor and Pro-Life groups have been waging in recent years. For example, a pro-corporate group, dominated by real estate developers, could fund an "independent public education" campaign to artfully attack opponents under the pretense of "educating" the public about an issue like "taxes" or "property rights."
While independent candidates will be crippled, well-funded special interest groups will be free to develop supporter files or public relations campaigns that will have enormous impact on elections. Under these rules, candidates will increasingly recede into the background, while special interest coalitions become the driving force in Austin politics. This kind of spending, by the way, is largely unregulated, so Austin campaign finance will be driven into even murkier and more sinister shadows.
Contribution limits are a good idea, but they should reflect real costs here on the planet Earth. A $100 limit is arbitrary and absurd. It was plucked out of the air without any real rationale, and it makes adequate fund-raising virtually impossible for an independent challenger in a city wide race.
This proposal is a perfect example of the Dr. Kevorkian school of politics -- in which progressives enthusiastically arrange their own suicide and insist on taking the rest of us with them. They've staked everything on a silly $100 limit, and their proposal doesn't even include single member districts or public campaign financing -- two reforms that would actually make politics more affordable.
I've worked with many of this charter amendment's supporters over the years, and I respect them, but they've made a bad mistake this time.
If this so-called "reform" law hurts big money interests, how come those interests haven't even bothered to organize a campaign against it? This new law is supposed to ruin the big corporate money boys forever; so why aren't they fighting it? Maybe the bad guys know something the "reformers" don't.
Dean Rindy is an Austin political consultant whose clients have included Kirk Watson, S.O.S., Brigid Shea, Daryl Slusher, and Single Member District Charter Revision Campaigns.
Small Donors Not Enough
In 1996, two candidates in separate races had strong small-donor support. Through the May 4 general election, Daryl Slusher raised 877 contributions of $100 or less and Jackie Goodman raised 1,044. For each this represented more than 80 percent of the number of donations received but less than half the total amount raised. If the charter amendment restricting donations to candidates was in effect, both campaigns would have been crippled and almost certainly defeated.
Both candidates had to contend not only with opponents but also with two political committees -- Take Back Austin and the Real Estate Council PAC -- which spent over $250,000 against them. (Take Back Austin's effort against Jackie included the dirtiest mud-slinging I've seen in 20 years here.) Nothing in the proposed amendment would have prevented these committees from raising or spending the same money in the same way because donations to commitees that operate independently of candidates are not -- and cannot be -- restricted.
If Daryl's and Jackie's donors had been restricted to $100, the budgets of both campaigns would have been cut in half. That would have meant no television, no phonebanks, and damn little mail and printed material beyond fundraising letters. Since each candidate squeaked by with about 51 percent of the vote, it's hard to imagine how either could have won.
Small donations help a lot, but they are not enough to get the job done when faced with well-funded, independent political committees, especially those that resort to negative campaigning. Low budgets mean that there is very little for volunteers to do -- you can't hand out what you can't afford to print -- and small-donor fundraising takes lots of printing and postage.
In addition to being counter-productive, the proposed amendment is clearly unconstitutional. It ought to be soundly defeated.
[Ed. note: Alfred Stanley is an Austin political consultant who has worked for the campaigns of Mayor Kirk Watson, Councilmember Jackie Goodman, and former Mayor Bruce Todd, among others.]
Give Them Something to Protest About
The selection of Sierra Blanca for nuclear waste certainly does present an economic and environmental dilemma ("Wasteland," Oct. 16, 1997). Why should residents have to rely on environmental degradation in order to afford basics such as books or fire trucks? It's not a coincidence this site was chosen. Indeed, this plan to dump garbage in the backyard of poor people was one of the reasons Bonnie Raitt recently joined our protest in Austin.
I voted against the Compact to import any New England radioactive trash to Texas. But lacking the votes to stop approval in this Gingrich Congress, I did manage to amend the proposal to limit shipment of radioactive waste to only Maine or Vermont.
Governor George Bush has said that limiting the "amount of low-level radioactive waste to two small states was the best environmental decision to make for Texas." But the fine print in the Compact that he advocates would accomplish just the opposite. It would permit an unelected group of Commissioners, appointed by the Governors of the three states, accountable to no one but themselves, to authorize radioactive trash shipments from anywhere. Texas would likely become the pay toilet for radioactive waste from across America.
Unfortunately, the powerful special interests that have done such an effective job pushing this Compact through Congress are already working to strip off this amendment in the U.S. Senate. Governor George Bush and our U.S. Senators can either stand up to protect Texans from nuclear garbage from everyone else or open the door wide to radioactive trash. Texans need to give their officials a simple but firm message: Don't Mess with Texas.
Rep. Lloyd Doggett
In Defense of Waring
I believe the recent criticism of Rick Waring, the recently departed coordinator of the Austin Bicycle Program (ABP), by the Chronicle ["Breaking Away," Vol. 17, No.7] and others is much too severe. Before criticizing his actions or inaction it is necessary to understand how plans and initiatives move through the city government. Shepherding plans through the city process is arduous and takes longer than anyone wants, particularly when former department heads did not fully support the plan. A cautious and methodical approach is preferred for launching an alternative transportation plan in order to work within the "system."
Some bike advocates do not fully understand the city's political system, approaches to getting funding consideration, and what resources it has taken to move the Bike Plan I/II forward. Our community would be better off if more emphasis had been placed on helping the ABP succeed, through the Bicycle Advisory Council, and less on fighting the Bike Helmet Ordinance. A battle may have been won there, but the war to promote biking will go on for many years to come.
Mr. Waring and his small staff have had to overcome obstacles within the city system such as competing for resources within the Public Works and Transportation Department, attempting to also address pedestrian issues, and dealing with various layers of city bureaucracy, which have all contributed in limiting the effectiveness of their efforts towards addressing bike issues. The ABP staff should be credited for developing two parts of a bike plan that could greatly help legitimize biking as an attractive alternative to our automobile dependency. I have personally worked with the bike staff on three initiatives, finding them to be a dedicated and responsible group of people.
Bikers Are People Too
Dear Chron folks:
I wish to clarify the otherwise fine article on cycling in Austin ["Riding on the Wrong Side," Vol. 17, No. 7]. Mr. Nichols made it sound like there was only one incident when quoting me, when there were actually two. In the first I was sideswiped, got the full license plate, make & model and description of driver and occupants. Upon calling 911 I was blown off, and told to call a different number the next day, which was never answered. In the second incident, I was egged, got the make and model of the car, but only half the license plate. Considering my previous success, I didn't bother trying to file charges. Now that the police don't have to go after adult cyclists without helmets, maybe they can expend more energies protecting our right to the road. Same rights, same rules, same road.
Michael F Zakes
Prop., Waterloo Cycles
No Offense Meant
In the issue dated October 10, 1997, a letter was written in response to my previous letter regarding the "Triangle" development. The letter seemed to indicate concern regarding my remarks about the Bluff Springs mobile home development. I regret that I may have created the wrong impression. I did not intend to denegrate the efforts of another neighborhood to control development. My remarks were only intended to highlight the disparate treatment of the issues in The Austin Chronicle. Other letters sent to the Chronicle and the Statesman which were not published were more specfic regarding the Chronicle's treatments. The Statesman has printed several articles which addressed the problems with the proposed mobile home development in our area, and in contrast the Chronicle's coverage has been inadequate.
President, Silverstone Homeowner's Assoc.
Response to Robert Bryce's call for a Dell-A-Thon [Vol. 17, No.7]:
A little jealous are we? Michael Dell is wealthier than you are because he made many good business decisions. There is enough fairness in our system that his good decisions were rewarded. If he is obscenely wealthy, that may be a problem with the same system. I suspect, no matter what culture he lived in, he would have become successful.
It seems reasonable that property appraisals reflect a value one might expect to realize if selling their property. If Michael's house could never be sold for the appraised value, the appraisal is incorrect. It doesn't matter if he paid too much to build it. Chalk that up to business decisions he might have made better.
Michael may be wealthier than you are. He may have a bigger house than you do. You, though, probably enjoy some advantage he does not. Get on with your own life. Jealousy will only make you unhappy.
Wow, it's the day before the beginning of the MTV Music and Sports fest and finding any info about it in the Chronicle is like trying to get good advice on birth control from the Vatican. Ken Lieck managed a few sentences but of course it was done with a verbal sneer, since we all know how base and commercial and unworthy of Austin MTV is. C'mon, ya old farts (I'm an old fart, too, but at least I know that culture didn't die with the Beatles), this is arguably one of the biggest events to ever happen in this sleepy Texas town! Do you really disdain the under-30 pop-culture scene that much, or are you just playing "Austin is so cool that we don't even notice when thousands of people come to town for an internationally televised event featuring many of today's hottest pop/rock bands?"
with an ornery grin and a wink,
To the Editor:
Today's (10/15/97) story of John Denver's death recalled a memory of almost 30 years ago:
Denver was a member of the Mitchell Trio for a while, originally called the Chad Mitchell Trio until the namesake went out on his own. I knew another member, Mike Kobluk, who married a girl I grew up with. In the spring of 1969, living in Ft. Worth, I got a call from Mike saying they had a concert at Austin College in Sherman and inviting us up for that and a visit afterwards.
"You probably heard Chad left the trio," Mike said, "but you've got to see the guy who replaced him, John Denver."
We drove up to Sherman that evening but there was trouble: the third member, Joe Frazier, had missed his flight to Dallas. He'd chartered a plane but wasn't expected until 10:30 or 11:00. Meanwhile, the crowd was there.
Denver, who apparently had a solo act before joining the Trio, walked out alone with a 12-string acoustic. He explained the situation, said Frazier was on his way, and meanwhile he'd do his best to keep them entertained. He then put on the damndest show I've ever seen. His voice was a more pure tenor then than it was later, beautiful and clear. He sang all kinds of songs, cracked jokes, played a good 12-string, got the crowd singing with him. This went on for over two hours non-stop and the audience was captivated, whooping and yelling, totally in the palm of his hand. He gave them more than their money's worth.
Then, to top it off, when Frazier finally arrived to thunderous applause, the college suspended the late hours rule and the Trio put on their entire regular concert. This was probably one of the finest pieces of show biz ever; it should've been an album.
Later, of course, Denver became famous on his own but I know everyone there that night will never forget the unknown blond tenor who carried the load by himself.
Dear Mr. Savlov,
While I'm certainly happy to hear that you enjoyed the Charlatans U.K. concert on October 6th (as I also did), there is some seriously lazy journalism within that should be corrected immediately. You wrote that "Robert Collins' inspired keyboards... almost brought the house down."["Live Shots," Vol. 17, No. 7] Unfortunately, Marc, Rob Collins is no longer alive. He was killed in an auto accident in England in 1996. After the death of Mr. Collins, Martin Duffy of the band Primal Scream stepped in to help the Charlatans finish their current CD Tellin' Stories. While the band certainly did have a session man along to play keyboards, it certainly was not Collins. If you feel a need to name names in the future, perhaps you should ask one of the band's roadies or managers for the man's name instead of just reading the inside of the CD booklet.
[Ed. note: Savlov swears he knows this, but in revising his "Live Shot," he accidently dropped in Collins' name instead of the group's new keyboardist, Tony Rogers.]
Oooops! Not Dead
In the October 17th issue of the Chronicle, we came across the article by Gina Arnold [Whither Rock?" Vol. 17, No. 7] on rock music which had two mistakes in it already corrected in footnotes. However, those are not the only ones. Arnold mentions that "Kevin" of Skinny Puppy died of heroin, among other musicians who shared the same fate.
1. Kevin spells his name "Cevin" and he's still alive. 2. The Skinny Puppy member who died of heroin was Dwayne R. Goettel.
Just a reminder, Thank you.
Chronicle Prints Dumb
Are you not getting any mail? I find it absurb that you would print such time wasting letters to the editor -- it makes me really doubt the rest of your news. To waste space on letters from Julius Gordon & David Rattfield for their personal complaints about some personal affronts, and than spread their woe to Austin itself? Give me a break. KKK in Austin because of one drunk? I did Austin for 40 yrs. It is not KKK territory, and I resent his accusations. As for the writer complaining about Austin being homophobic: that has to be a weird joke! Try the neighborhood near the Capitol. I am really curious -- why do you print DUMB?
Redington Shores, Florida
I saw U-turn. an astonishingly beautiful film. Funny too. Good acting. Amazz-zing camera work and editing and sound track but for all its pluses, the film is just another Tarantino-esque violent-sensationalist semi-parodic `neo-retro-neuvo' noir auteur du jour. Literally no more helpful to our present situation, to anyone's present situation, than a 100 million dollar blockbuster action film. Both belong alongside yesterday's dog excrement in terms of importance for our society. I'm sure they think they're making art because they manage to make an interesting film without a big budget or special effects and because in their subject matter they reject bourgeois morality in favor of the quirky, raunchy, hedonistic and sometimes downright evil catch-as-catch-can modern alienated hero. But, hey, so does a billion dollar youth consumer industry. Big deal. They've made a "Gen-X" advertisement, that's all. (I guess it was for Dr. Pepper since that's what Sean Penn gulps down not once but twice). I have to say I prefer the cornball dance number "Be A Pep-per, Drink Doc-tor Pepper...." Least I don't have to be reminded of the amoral nightmare we call the modern world. Thanks, Quentin, and Quentin II and very merry Christmas to the both of you.
P.S. I had originally peppered my letter with expletives and argued in a `ps' that they were not gratuitious because they were evidence that I'd internalized these movies' overall philosophy: if life `sucs,' you must be doing something right (because, hey, only froggin' morons are happy and responsible people). My dad has a name for that philosophy: he calls it "being cute." Tarantino's a real cutie and so is whatshisname, the artist who did U-turn.
Just A Bad Egg
Dear Mr. Gordon,
Now why would you want to go and paint our fair city of 543,596 with such a wide brush stroke? After all, even in a party of only eight there's always the chance that one individual will show poor judgement.
Y'all come on back now,
The following is in response to a Postmark in Vol. 17, No.7, entitled "Wrong-headedness" and written by Julius Gordon.
Mr. Gordon, While I do not excuse the ignorant behaviour exhibited by the individual at Gumbo's, your blanket accusation that the entire population of Austin is made up of "racist bigots" is just as ignorant and closeminded! To judge an entire city by the comments and actions of one individual seems awfully like judging an entire race by the behavior of an individual member of that race, and we all know how wrong that is. Your anger and frustration is warranted, just misdirected.
Let's all join in congratulating Attorney General Dan Morales for his war on cigarette smokers! Cocaine and heroin are so much more beneficial for teenagers!
Thank You to Michner
I don't know how to get this message to James Michener except in the hope that someone close to him will read this and tell him, "Thank you for taking us to so many places we would have never known. What a wonderful guide and teacher you have been. You have enriched our lives."
Jack and Margaret Howel
Not Always Kind
To the Editor:
The article by Spike Gillespie ("Validation?" Vol. 17, No. 6) holds true to many types of relationships, including friendship. Even though the article addressed a "woman/cutie pie" involvement, violence/abuse like that extends to male/male, female/female relationships regardless [of] whether the relationship is intimate or not.
As aware and educated as I am regarding abusive situations, I never thought I would find myself in one. At the moment, I am dealing with the nightmare effects of "ending" one such relationship. The article confirmed the reality that I don't stand alone in my pain and helped soothe the "blame/fault" factor. I had my so-called friends tell me I deserved it because I chose to be involved. It made me realize that human nature is not always kind.
When I had the nerve to confront my "friend" as to the abuse factors and the unfairness of it, it turned into a "get out of my life -- I don't need you" reaction followed by weeks of harassment and threats. It then escalated into a confrontation where the person broke the window on my truck with his bare hands because I refused to step out and fight him. Since then, I have had to file a peace bond and a criminal mischief charge against this person I thought was my friend.
Once my ribs were bruised during an episode that surprised me because it came out of nowhere. I found myself making excuses for his behavior because there was not a reason for the hostility. I excused it by his being drunk. There was also a situation where I had to take "responsibility" for not allowing this person to kill a cat by having him cut me with a knife. How can a person who is so loving and friendly turn so hostile? In the beginning, I found this person attractive for the things I lacked -- the things I wanted to relate to: a friendship that provided warmth, conversation, and companionship. It turned out to be a relationship where intimidation and psychological warfare were subtle. All the things I did for him were taken for granted. In my quest to "fix" things and allow time to "mend" the altercations, I found that no hope was in place to accomplish that.
I hope that people who are in such ugly environments find the strength to overcome the hostility and violence and surface to a "lesson learned" outcome by letting those type of situations go! I want to thank the Chronicle for helping mend my psychological/emotional self by providing the article.
A bill has been introduced into the U.S. House that would abolish both the income tax and the hated IRS. It is HR2001 and it would replace the income tax with a national retail tax. The tax would be a simple 15% collected at the point of purchase with fair provisions for the poor to receive back each year the entire amount paid in. The abuses of power and brutality by agents of the IRS are well-known and documented. We can put an end to the nightmare of the IRS and the income tax by writing a letter to Congressman Doggett's office asking him to support HR2001. A flat tax would not abolish the IRS and would end up as a fat tax years later as adjustments to it were made. Let's abolish the IRS now that we have a chance. Together we can bring about a day when tax forms, audits, and the fear of April 15 and harassment by IRS brutes are a thing of the past. I have written my letter. Now it is time for you to do the same.