Warning: blatant use of music knowledge within
Dear Mr. Black
The recent cover story in The Austin Chronicle by Kevin Fullerton ["House of Cards," Oct. 22] was -- at best -- a completely biased account of the Texas Department of Housing & Community Affairs' administration of the Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) program.
Most disturbing of all is that the writer of the article and -- by association, The Austin Chronicle -- had already reached a conclusion about this agency before the article was published. For example, in his request for an interview with department staff, Mr. Fullerton penned his e-mail dated Monday, October 4, 1999 (a copy of the e-mail is included with this letter):
"Below are the questions I hope to discuss with Cherno Njie and Daisy Stiner -- I hope you are able to convince your superiors to face the music on this one."
"Face the music?" Isn't the cardinal rule in journalism to present all the facts without making any assumptions? Evidently, you made up your mind and tailored your story to fit a predetermined conclusion and frankly, that should be as disturbing to your readers as it is to us at this agency and our communications staff as your contact. Small wonder we declined to be interviewed for this article. Given the fact that you'd already made up your mind, what was the point?
While that is the major concern we have with the article, there are others. However, since there are far too many nuances to completely explain to your readers without compromising the brevity of this letter, we will only address those that really deserve an explanation.
First, every agency charged with the administration of federal funds and programs will have its critics. It is vitally important to note that in the 1999 allocation round, there were 204 applications submitted -- and only 53 received an allocation. Mr. Fullerton writes that of these 53, "10 lacked required financial statements or had problems with design or accounting -- factors that should have immediately disqualified them under the program's rules."
Had Mr. Fullerton done further research, he would have discovered that department staff -- as part of the normal application process well within the rules of the program -- had requested additional financial information to help delineate whether assets for particular applicants were individually- or corporate-owned. All the examples given in the article (i.e., the applicant who originally planned to build duplexes that weren't allowed; the one in which site plans were poorly drawn, etc.) omitted the fact that these developments are subject to numerous feasibility studies conducted by those outside of TDHCA after credits are awarded to ensure the project is still viable.
In fact, the majority of tax credit applicats submit projects that have conditions attatched to them. This is not unusual. It's not unusual for a developer to submit applications with project costs that differ from what the department thinks is reasonable. This is the whole point of underwriting. The developer submits a proposal to the department, the staff reviews it on the basis of the overall development, and we work with the developer to ensure necessary guidelines are met.
Texas is the most oversubscribed state in this country when it comes to tax credits -- more than two to one -- yet developers from around the country flock to compete every year. It's an extremely competitive process, and adequate research of the facts and procedures for scoring, underwriting, and recommending tax credit allocations are absolutely crucial to a complete understanding of the program.
Mr. Fullerton also writes that "-- two projects were signed by tax credit manager Cherno Njie and agency (executive) director Daisy Stiner before they had been formally approved by the underwriting department." Again, a closer inspection of the documents that Mr. Fullerton had several hours to review on two separate occasions at our agency after filing an open records request would have revealed codes of "F" and "P" beside each proposed development in the board summary. "F" was a final recommendation; "P" meant a pending recommendation -- from the underwriting division. It was most certainly not the blanket recommendation for these two projects from either Mr. Njie or Ms. Stiner, as Mr. Fullerton implied.
The article also quotes consultant Don Hammond as saying, "Texas' tax credit program is the laughingstock of this country." Despite all their criticism, both Mr. Hammond and developer Bob Bobinchuck, cited in the story, competed for credits this year. Could it be that the program isn't the laughingstock they imagined? Mr. Bobincheck must not think so; he's been awarded $11,986,059 in the competitive tax credit application cycle since he began applying for credits. And Mr. Hammond received credits in 1995 ($628,468) and 1997 ($351,782).
The National Association of Home Builders doesn't think the program is a laughingstock, either. In a letter dated October 7, 1999 (enclosed) the TDHCA Governing Board Chairman Don Bethel, NAHB president Charles J. Ruma concludes that the "Texas qualified allocation plan (QAP) is "hands-down' the very best in the nation in producing affordable housing for its citizens. Texas -- with 35% fewer credits -- produced five percent more units than California. The Texas model of careful project-by-project review under financially viable underwriting standards has produced admirable quantity and quality of affordable housing."
Contrary to Mr. Fullerton's colorful description, there's no "magic dust" we wave over projects to determine who gets credits. Each application is analyzed, carefully considered, and fairly scored by competent, professional Department staff.
The bottom line is that this program does a lot of good for the low-income families of this state. More than 5,273 housing units serving families earning 60% or less of area median income were produced in 1998. This year's allocation round will produce an additional 4,364 units for the state.
We are responsible to the citizens of Texas and to the legislature when it comes to the administration of our programs, and everyone at this agency takes their job very seriously. We would hope that The Austin Chronicle takes its responsibility to produce accurate, unbiased journalism more seriously in the future.
Amy E. Lemen
TDHCA Communications Division
[Kevin Fullerton responds: A state agency that claims to act responsibly does itself little service by declining to respond to a reporter's questions, then later trotting out private e-mail purportedly showing that the reporter was biased to begin with. Before I submitted those questions, done for the convenience of TDHCA officials, spokesperson Gordon Anderson had told me his bosses were not inclined to speak with me.
Furthermore, explanations about how projects' viability is tested after they are awarded tax credits does little to refute accusations that the agency fails to play by its own rules when choosing projects. The department declined my invitation to give examples of applicants who were allowed to fix their applications and subsequently did not receive tax credits.
Mr. Hammond, by the way, says his clients will not be competing for tax credits in Texas this year.]
Stop the Drug War
Congratulations to Nate Blakeslee for his piece "Drug Warriors" [Nov. 5]. It's been a long time since the Chronicle has dealt with perhaps our most dangerous and far reaching domestic issue: the War on Drugs (WOD). The Drug War murder of Rusty Windle is one of many going on all over this country -- like little Wacos every night.
I could not help but notice that the essential qualities which motivate Ms. Sue Cohen, the director of Hays Caldwell Council on Alcohol and Drug Abuse, also motivate many rabid prohibitionists. When Ms. Cohen says "we don't want to be accidentally interviewed by one of those pro-marijuana papers," she is freely admitting the intellectual and intestinal vacuum of the prohibitionist. Waxing hot and heavy with jowls a-flappin', the prohibitionist is at home before murder-mouthing congressional committees and right-wing shout shows. But in a set-piece debate of fact and science, they lose continence; hell, they don't even show up. When Ms. Cohen says "we walked a fine line" by engaging (along with the DEA) in tax payer-funded political advocacy, she is merely bragging about her share in the illegal third-world enterprise of the WOD. When Ms. Cohen says that Mr. Windle's death was a waste, but that "if a law officer had been killed or injured, that would have been a triple bad deal," she has clearly set her Orwellian priorities: some deserve killing more than others, especially if the "crime" is holding.
The chief reason for the WOD is not graft, but social control by any means necessary of a counterculture perceived as dangerous to a conservative social agenda. Held at fault for decadence at home and defeat abroad, the "Sixties types" are viciously pursued by the "drug warrior." Listen to the language of the prohibitionist and hear the words of the wholly unchecked antipathy; look at the tactics and see wide-open brutality. Austinites should take a lesson in geography and police-state politics: In the end, there is no place safe for the silent. Fear only teases these bullies. How much will they escalate the theft, destruction, and killing? How close does it have to come? The county line? A neighbor's living room? Your own?
As for Ms. Cohen, I will light up a big one when this paper comes out next week, hopefully, while she reads this letter. Her callous irresponsibility deserves its own memorial.
Stephen W. McGuire
I have zero tolerance for zero tolerance. Who would want to always be sober in a world where they use an ex-convict to con innocent-minded, working-stiff Alexander Windle, and then, when they come for him in the middle of the night, shoot him dead in his own home? ["Drug Warriors," Nov. 5]
The correct response would be to disband the drug task force because of the execution; besides, they can't catch bad guys anyway.
Sue Cohen remarks that " -- if we didn't have programs, what would our numbers [of high school marijuana smokers] be?" We have legal drugs. Not everyone becomes alcohol-dependent or a chain smoker or chooses to use illegal drugs.
The victim here is the young son of the late Alexander Windle, who will grow up without a father because of useless zealotry.
ACC Misses Point
Once again ACC misunderstands Austin voters. Blaming the defeat of their tax request on AISD's recent woes insults voters, who have little trouble understanding the difference between K-12 and college and between a 12% tax increase and a 100% increase. Last-minute appeals (in letters to The Austin Chronicle) by the part-time faculty association president and a Board of Trustees member who initially opposed the tax increase were too little, too late to influence voters, commendable as these appeals were.
If the college had made a public issue of needing more money to pay long-exploited teachers better and thereby really improve things for all ACC students, then I think voters would have responded favorably. Instead, ACC ignored the issue of teacher pay and conditions, which was in the forefront in the community several years ago -- and lingers still in the minds of most people who vote in ACC elections, and instead tried to cast themselves as trainers for Dell and AMD and Motorola. Most voters are not interested in paying higher taxes so these very rich high-tech companies can reduce their training costs.
When will ACC learn they they have 1,500-plus voters in their own teaching ranks, who -- when supported publicly -- can easily sway a small-turnout election? Part-timers at ACC have been influential for years in electing good board members. If ACC teachers had been openly and vocally behind this little nickel tax increase, I have no doubt it would have passed. By the way, I voted for it.
ACC Part-Time Faculty Association
Setting the Record Straight
I am writing in reference to "The Wannabes" ("Council Watch," Oct. 29). As a possible candidate and regular reader, I appreciate the early coverage for a City Council seat that is of great importance to the Hispanic community and the entire city. To ensure that the readers have accurate information, I wanted to make just a few points. The article stated my age incorrectly. I am looking forward to celebrating my 33rd birthday this month. Also, I would point out that as Environmental Justice Director for the Sierra Club Lone Star Chapter and Transportation Coordinator for PODER I have worked not only with El Concilio but also with Clean Water Action, the East Cesar Chavez Neighborhood Planning Team, Public Citizen, the Montopolis Area Neighborhood Improvement Council, Consumers Union, the Gardens Neighborhood Association, the League of Women Voters, and many other organizations. Thanks for your interest.
I was reading your article ["Dancing About Architecture"] in the Oct. 22 issue. I love your writing.
I was very offended with Bill Bentley's statement about me being in the prison hospital. I do have bladder cancer. His smartass remark about me taking my tapes to heaven was uncalled for.
The tapes on Freddy Fender belong to me. Completely. Anything recorded by Freddy while under this contract is mine. That includes any and all tapes. Live at Carnegie Hall, Live at the Palomino Club, Live at Gilleys, etc. I was the producer on all that but not limited to. Now he can give me the $150,000 that Freddy owes me on my BMI money he is keeping. You know Ken, it's a shame how vultures pick you apart when you are down.
Now Doug Sahm tapes are mine also. The picture on the album I own also. I had that taken in San Francisco in the Sixties.
Doug Sahm is like my son, and I dearly love him and respect him, as he is really a brother to me. You must know with all the hits I have had in my lifetime that I am proud of my sounds as they have outlasted the test of time. I really take it to heart that someone will butcher my original sounds for A Fistful of Dollars.
Marlyn Von Steiger (Austin) and Larry Fitzgerald (TDC spokesman) have arranged a visit with the VP or Warner Bros. from London who is coming to see me Nov. 15. I will take up the matter with him about Mr. Bentley and what he is doing.
You may use this letter if you wish to. You have my permission to use the whole or to reprint any part of it. My spelling is bad and so is my typing, but I am sure you can make it out.
I remain a friend.
Huey P. Meaux
P.S. Oh, please tell Louis Black hello from me. Tell him I miss being on his old timers panel. I hear from Doug Hanners a lot. I get 150 letters a month here worldwide.
In regard to the review of the Standards by Christopher Gray. I am appalled and disgusted with your blatant use of music knowledge. In your puny, bigoted mind the review may very well ring true. As for the public, the Flametrick Subs are an excellent group. Also, they still know how to bring in a crowd. You flaunt your word as if it were from God. Your cheap and futile stab at the Subs is even a new low for you. I am an avid and loyal fan of the Flametrick Subs, and I do not appreciate you lashing out at such greatness. The Standards and the Subs cater to two different crowds, the Standards with their rockabilly swing style and the Subs with their psycho-billy. OK, so the Flametricks still play the same material as before, but Mike and the rest of them are coming out with new stuff. Plus, to even consider that you have the audacity to suggest that the Satans Cheerleader Squad 666 leave the Subs. -- I know them personally and they are happy where they are. I believe that there is a good reason for an apology to be in order. A published apology.
Signed, a very pissed off reader
Flamin' Christopher Gray
Editors and Readers:
Who is Christopher Gray, and who told him he should write music reviews?
One word comes to mind to describe him -- bigot. I have just read the reviews in today's Chronicle [Oct. 29] and one just irritated the hell out of me. The Standards are a band I am very familiar with, and it's great to see them release a new CD. However, I'm appalled at the fact that Mr. Gray said, "Could it be? A band with enough jive and sneer to sink the Flametrick Subs? --" Not possible. It will never happen. The Flametrick Subs are a great band and have been around for many years. There is no one who could ever replace this band or steal their fans away. If you have ever attended any of the Subs shows, you know the crowd is a'rockin, and the place gets jammed packed. There was even a brief time when they changed days of playing from the regular Saturday to a what-would-be-dull Thursday. And what happened the fans, they followed. The point is this, the Standards, they are just your average rockabilly band trying to make some minute impact on the Austin music scene. The Flametrick Subs -- my psychobilly boys -- who could kick ass on any day -- they've made their impact.
And the Cheerleaders, they too could kick Mr. Gray's ass, and what reason would they ever need? -- There is no way that they would ever leave a band as "jivin'" as the Subs.
My personal advice to Mr. Gray -- insert foot into mouth. Just because you dislike one person on board does not give you the right to shoot them down when you feel necessary. I hope someone takes away your pen. Obviously you shouldn't be reviewing anything but yourself.
An Avid Reader --
and faithful follower of the Subs --
Thanks for the articles on the Bad Livers ("Complete Freedom" and "Against the Grain," Nov. 5). Great musicians, and I enjoyed reading their stories. Punk rock was mentioned many times in both articles, however, I must point out that charging $17.99 for the Mad Cat Trio CD isn't very punk rock. I thought price-gouging was a corporate practice, but they proved me wrong.
Worship the King
Great article and well-deserved praise by Tom Doyal for Larry L. King and his book of letters ["Celebrated for the Least of Reasons," Oct. 15]. I had the pleasure of getting to know Larry in New York about 10 years ago during the Big Apple premiere of his play The Night Hank Williams Died. We played lots of dominoes, heard colorful tales about his life and loves, as well as those ornery editors and producers.
One little-known fact about Larry is that he also writes children's books. I'd like to encourage people to get his wonderful book Who's Afraid of Lozo Brown. He charmed me when he autographed my copy to "The Goddess of the Universe" during my visit with his family in Washington, D.C. And yes, it's true -- I saw his manual typewriter. No computer in sight! Larry has a hilarious sense of humor. He is one of the last true Texans.
The Drug Debate
In your November 5 issue you use SAMHSA's (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) 1997 report to compare to the "drug" arrest rate through 1995 from the FBI Uniform Crime Reporting System ["Drug Warriors"]. More recent data is available, and is not a pretty picture.
First, the arrest rate for drug offenses is up 6% for adults and 15.6% for juveniles, 1995 through 1997.
Second, the latest SAMHSA report (1998) shows that past-month use of any illicit drug has risen slightly since 1995 to 6.2%. A more reliable indicator of drug use can be found in the University of Michigan's Monitor-the-Future survey of high school seniors, a survey U.M. has been doing since the mid-Seventies. It increased from 1995 to 1998, 23.6% to 25.8%, of high school seniors reporting use of an illegal drug in the past month.
Third, the quote you attribute to SAMHSA is not false but hardly full disclosure. You quote them, " -- standard drug surveys indicate that between 1979 and 1990, the percentage of the population that reported "using drugs in the past month' dropped from 14.1% to 6.7%, falling to 6.1% by 1995." In fact, drug use plummeted from 14.1% in 1979, its all time high, to 5.8% in 1992, and has been rising almost every year since then. Small wonder that some of our citizens are calling for other ways to solve our collective drug problem.
Palm Harbor, Fla.
Dear Austin Chronicle,
If it weren't for you guys I would have missed the concert event of the year, the Bill Frisell show (there were two but I only saw the first one) at the Continental Club last Wednesday night. Thanks very much; the show was incredible. I got to hear my favorite song ("Keep Your Eyes Open") live, and that was but one of many highlights.
Mr. Frisell if you see this, please hurry back to Austin!
Thank you for maintaining the searchable archives of Chronicle back issues. This is a valuable community resource that has helped me a great deal at work.
Elizabeth R. Bain
BELL, TURNEY, COOGAN & RICHARDS L.L.P.
Go All the Way
A Japanese friend of mine was very surprised when she tried to get to the Village Shopping Center on Anderson Lane by Capital Metro bus. What surprised her is that the bus does not take passengers across Anderson Lane into the shopping center. Instead, it leaves them at a bus stop, consisting of signs, benches, and a sidewalk, about 1é4 mile south of Anderson Lane. Many disabled people ride Austin's buses. If they want to see a movie at the Village Shopping Center, they must walk or wheelchair that 1é4 mile and busy street as best they can.
If you decide to go to Barton Springs by bus (perhaps accompanied by your children and your grandmother), you may be surprised to learn that the bus does not take you to your destination. Instead, it drops you on Barton Springs Road, about 1é4 mile from where you are going.
If Capital Metro ever provides first-class bus service, buses will take people all the way into major destinations, such as shopping malls and Barton Springs. And buses to recreational destinations (such as shopping malls and Barton Springs) will run more frequently on weekends than on weekdays, not less frequently.
If you agree with this, write to Capital Metro and tell them so. If you can, give them details about the destinations you want to reach.
Cap Met Curiosity
How come Capital Metro is now claiming 47,000 riders per day on light rail when as recently as July it was claiming around 30,000? What has happened in the last few months that would cause the estimates to jump 50%?
The 47,000 seems especially ridiculous when you compare that to the 30,000 DART light rail passengers per day In 1998.
How can Capital Metro claim its light rail will attract 47,000 riders when Dallas, with four times the population and a third longer rail system (20 miles versus 15) attracts only 30,000? Isn't anyone besides me curious?
Well, it's 1:07am and I just got home from the P-Funk concert. All I can really feel right now is an incessant ringing in my ears, my aching head, and an overwhelming sense of horror. Yes, it's almost Halloween, but does Austin really have to turn evil? Didn't anyone notice that you were chanting "Down with the P-Funk" along with a George Clinton who was disappointedly pulling you along? Did anyone hear him talk about how dope can rip you apart if you're not careful (trying to get something through)? Nobody was listening to the criticism, but they were all soaking up what sounded good, not what was good. George did all but moo to show what mindless cows the crowd was full of.
I really don't know what to think about having been in that crowd. It did comfort me a little when I saw the few other people that noticed how disgusting the audience was standing with a look of resistance on their faces. Overall, though, I'm very tired and feel let down by a city that used to be the "Live Music Capital of the World.
I heard the other day the police arrested Mr. McConaughey for playing the bongos in the buff, in his own home. And how they knew what he was doing really disturbs me. You can have someone thrown in jail for being a Peeping Tom, but the Austin Police Department get to do it. There is something very wrong with that picture. I do believe that the police need to find better use of their time than to go looking through people's windows. And may I say to Mr. McConaughey, I would get some security lights that they can set off when they get too close to your house.
Thank you for your time,
Andy All Over
Someone or some people have peppered the city with purple and gold posters of Andy Kaufman and Andy's alter ego Tony Clifton. To whoever is doing this, I have only one word to say: Right on!
Thank you very much,
I am a fifth-grade student at the Gordon School and my class wants information and postcards on your city and state.
Would you please print this letter in your newspaper so our class can get information about your city and state?
Would you please send this to:
Mrs. Bicki's 5th Grade
c/o The Gordon School
45 Maxfield Ave.
East Providence, RI 02914
Thank you for your time.
Mrs. Bicki's class