Our readers talk back.
Fri., May 24, 2002
ACC Run-Off Requires Attention
Last week's Chronicle [May 10] failed to mention that there still will be a run-off election June 1 in two races for the ACC Board. Some Chronicle readers may be wondering why they should bother to vote in that election.
ACC is at a crossroads. It has stretched its .05% property tax rate to the limit. It can no longer meet the increasing demands put on it by the community and at the same time move toward paying its faculty and staff fair and competitive wages. The situation has been made worse by administrative blunders such as overestimating interest income (for a loss of about a million dollars) and mismanaging a tuition discount pilot program (for a loss of about $1.2 million). ACC -- and this community -- desperately need a board that can restore and maintain trust. We need a board that will establish real oversight over the college's finances and demand accountability from the ACC administration.
All the candidates in the run-off are good, intelligent, competent people. I am supporting Dr. James McGufee in the Place 3 race because I am convinced that he will insist that the president of ACC fully comply with board policy and because he is committed to fair and competitive pay for all ACC employees, including part-time faculty. I hope that Chronicle voters will carefully consider the candidates in both of the ACC races and thoughtfully make their own choices.
Again, the election is June 1 and early voting is May 19-28. Dr. McGuffee's Web site, www.accelection.org, contains more information about early voting and election day precinct locations.
ACC Board Member
[Ed. note: The Chronicle's ACC endorsements ran in the May 17 issue, and can be found again in this issue on p. 6.]
ACC needs a change. ACC's budget problems were not caused by higher costs for faculty. ACC's problems were caused by poor revenue projections. E.g., since November of 2000, the Federal Reserve Bank (woodrow.mpls.frb.fed.us/economy/charts/int1.html) has shown interest rates have been falling. But, in the summer of 2001, the current Board approved the 2002 problem budget with a revenue increase expectation from interest income from $1.6 million to $2.4 million (+$800,000). In reality (with interest rates dropping since 2000) interest income was $1.4 million less. This was the biggest error in the 2002 budget. The second big error in revenue expectations was the half-price course fire sale on 1,000 classes which caused another $1.2 million loss.
ACC can no longer afford such lack of fiscal stewardship. Paul Sherr and James McGuffee are needed on ACC's board. They can add and subtract.
Dr. John P. Cise
ACC Professor of Physics and ACC Founding Dean of Math & Science, 1974
A Way to Improve Turnout?
Given the repeated abysmal voter turnout in local elections, I wanted to inquire why local elections are not conducted simultaneously with national elections? I submit that if all elections were held on Election Day, we would minimize the taxpayer expense of holding elections and dramatically increase voter turnout. Sounds good, right?
Does anyone know why we aren't holding local elections in November?
Belgium No World Cup Waffle
I just read your "Soccer Watch" article in The Austin Chronicle [May 17]. I am from Belgium and from Dutch descent. I think you overestimate the ability of the U.S. in the World Cup, after watching the USA-Netherlands game in which the Dutch goalie saved the game for Holland, it is unwise to put the blame on the Dutch goalie. I don't think the U.S. has the man to finish it off (like a Figo). Even if they get past the first round (which would be very tough) they'll probably have to play against Italy or Mexico. Belgium, which just won from the current world champion France, is being underestimated yet again. As a Dutch person I know how unwise it is to underestimate the Belgians; they can be lethal in their counterattacks. They are in a weak group and if they win, they end up playing against either Turkey, Costa Rica, or China (assuming Brazil will take that group). In other words, I think the shots for Belgium making it further then the U.S. are a lot bigger than you write about in your article. I am sorry but I have to disagree with your article, hope you have a nice World Cup.
Don't Blame Bush for Everything
Regarding Michael King's "Death Star and Fat Boy" ["Capitol Chronicle," May 17]. Please at least ask your writers be truthful in their articles. Mr. King leans so obviously to the left that I'm sure there are calluses on his left elbow, hip, and knee! His own article states that California was seeking redress from the FERC in May of 1999. The next paragraph lays blame directly on Lay and Bush. If I remember correctly the election was in 2000 and Bush didn't take office till 2001.
This whole debacle was already in place and being played out (and ignored) during the reign of King Clinton. King can Blame Lay, blame Enron, blame greed; he can be angry with Bush because Bush didn't do what he wanted to see him do. King shouldn't try to deceive your readers into thinking that this energy debacle comes back to Bush's doorstep. This is unfair and above the quality we normally find in your magazine.
Kris C. Hilsberg
I have always enjoyed The Austin Chronicle and the unique, stirring, and sometimes humorous cover page. I cannot say I knew who Patty Griffin was before this week's cover, but I can tell you I will never forget! Thank you for the wonderful cover photo. My god, what a beautiful woman!
Open Letter on Open Meetings
Since I am on the Bouldin Creek Planning Team, let's discuss the planning process.
City staff started our planning meetings saying, "all team members had to agree to sign the MOU." What if we agree to sign the MOU? We were told we could spend $20,000 of tax funding to enhance our Bouldin neighborhood.
This "memorandum of understanding" contract is usually seen applied between governing bodies like cities, state offices, corporations, and world governments.
My smart friends tell me that the MOU was really being used by the city to circumvent the Open Meetings Act. In agreeing to sign the MOU, we the residents of Bouldin were actually saying: "We 'understand' the city is in total control of the planning process."
So no audio tapes were made and no accurate decision record/minutes, required by the Open Meetings Act, were produced.
We were told "all planned re-zonings suggested" by other planning teams before ours were passed by City Council into ordinances.
My smart friends told me, your Bouldin Creek planning team is more likely a "political subdivision" of Austin. That we had quasi-judicial powers and these "suggestions" are really "quasi-judicial advisories" that are being "rubber stamped" by City Council members. The Bouldin "team" is actually an advisory board/committee. Texas attorney generals have issued opinions that have covered this type of process.
Our up-zoning advisories make changes in the "monetary values of real property" which effect everybody's property in Bouldin Creek.
Under these conditions the use of the Open Meetings Act is required.
Required also when there exists an imbalance in the vote by which these advisories are produced. This imbalance means conditions exist where minority vote advisories can be nullified by the majority vote of special interest groups.
Deliberately circumventing the OMA is against the law in Texas.
'Dancing' on Vacation
I just picked up the May 17 edition and as I was looking through, I noticed something missing. Yes, there's "Page Two" (on page 4) and the letters to the editor, local and state news, "After a Fashion" (what a waste of print). Oh, here's the weekly Sushi Guide (best sushi? Bert & Ernie's on Hamilton Pool Road), oh, and a lovely article on Patty Griffin. But Louis, there is no "Dancing About Architecture"! Come on! The best thing you've got and it's gone? Unbelievable!
P.S. I'll be getting back to you on term limits.
Southwestern Graduation Debacle
We attended graduation at Southwestern University in Georgetown on Saturday. This lovely school seems to have forgotten its foundations. Instead of a joyous occasion, the audience was insulted and called names by the guest speaker, bell hooks. We were labeled white supremacists and more. She was anti-American. It is one thing to have open discussion about alternative views in the classroom and quite another to be a bigot. The speaker's reiterated message to the graduates was they hadn't learned anything and only had death to look forward to. Many parents booed. Most in the audience, including the graduates, would not applaud.
Shame on the administration for not understanding their students and families, as there were many ethnic and religious groups represented in the audience. If they don't die, for a while anyway, some of those grads might be in a position to provide financial support, but I don't think many will remember the school fondly since they were also labeled capitalists and imperialists.
Litchfield Park, Ariz.
Suttle Sense of Humor?
Dear Chronicle Fashion Editor,
I read with interest your comments on my attire at the Wildflower Center benefit ["Naked City," May 17]. For the black tie affair, I wore a black tuxedo (owned not rented), complete with all the uncomfortable stuff that goes with it. Please let me know what I should do to get "dressed up" for the next one. By the way, I don't remember seeing you there.
[Ed. note: For those who missed the suttle, er, subtle sarcasm, the item to which Suttle refers was written by Chronicle publisher Nick Barbaro. Our actual fashion editor is Stephen MacMillan Moser.]
Waiting for Waits
Being a longtime Tom Waits fan, I looked forward to reading Margaret Moser's interview in this last issue ["This Business Called Show," May 10]. And while I enjoyed what was there, the one question I wanted an answer to never came up. That being: Is it true he has sworn to never play Texas again after the incident at La Zona Rosa at SXSW?
Of course, this story has been going around for three years now, and as far as I know, no Texas dates during that time. I know he was supposed to play SXSW again this year, but the show never happened. Being an admirer of both man and music, I hate thinking that he would actually turn his back on a whole state of fans over a closing-time incident at one bar. And not having been there, I'd add that there's always two sides to the story. But even if the club was totally at fault, is that justification to blackball the whole state?
So I'm wondering, did Margaret just not think to ask? Or did she ask and not get an answer? Because as much as I enjoy his music, I really can't see buying anymore Tom Waits CDs if he is going to snub the thousands, if not millions, of fans in Texas who probably know nothing of this.
So, if you could, what's the straight skinny here? My future Tom Waits purchases are hanging in the balance.
Margaret Moser replies: The question was moot as Waits' people did indeed negotiate for a SXSW 2002 show that did not happen for logistical reasons. Waits will doubtless play here when he tours again. If he tours.
I wrote to the management of KUT to explain why I was not renewing my membership this year and received no response -- not even an automated one! I would like to know if anyone else feels like we are being shortchanged by KUT's lack of diversity and reluctance to develop local programming.
While traveling through Florida this year, I noticed that every public station throughout the state included local news (even traffic reports) in their NPR news hours. When is KUT going to make good on its promise to develop a local news show? Instead of that, the latest programming changes have incorporated more syndicated programs. We now have four hours of news every evening and the only local news included are weather reports and a few sports updates from Round Rock. By my count, about 48% of KUT's programming is made up of nationally syndicated shows and another 36% of the hours are dominated by only three deejays. Why? Austin is filled with talented people who could develop news shows, variety shows or shows about musical genres.
I mourn the demise of Access, Sound Sight, and American Pop. These were examples of local producers informing and engaging the local audience. If I am the only listener that feels this way, then I'll tune out in peace. If there are more of us, let's let our feelings be known.
Yours in cooperation,
Austin: One Giant Ticket Trap
Recently, I was traveling up I-35 near 183 when I noticed about six or seven APD motorcycle officers camped out in the shade of the overpass. Within a half mile past that I observed another officer issuing a citation and, within another quarter-mile, yet another officer issuing a citation. It was a kind of mass ticket-issuing party. This doesn't appear to be officers patrolling, but officers grouped and oriented for the sole means of creating revenue by preying on motorists traveling a major thoroughfare. I witnessed this shakedown again a couple of weeks later on I-35 South at the Austin city limits. Seven or eight APD cars in addition to a police helicopter were performing the same scam. Why? Is the city of Austin hard up for money? What happened to the surplus from the boom years? I don't see it in my city. A poorly planned pedestrian bridge was finally erected -- only after pedestrians kept dying on the Lamar Street bridge. The streets haven't improved. Town Lake is still trash-strewn, the hike-and-bike trail still unsafe, the MoPac pedestrian bridge still fouled with bird droppings. Where did the money go, Kirk? Then I see a story on the local news about the APD getting new BMW motorcycles.
Simply put, Austin needs more police. There are still numerous fences, hedges, and hidden alleys not yet occupied by idling, gas-guzzling patrol cars (for 16 hours every day). A larger force would pay for itself by issuing an increasing number of tickets and upping fines (speeding tickets start at $116). City Hall's recent announcement that it is cracking down on moving violators is comforting news as we are well on our way toward the government's ultimate goal; that of providing each citizen with his own personal policeperson to help us pay for the ever-increasing number of laws and traffic signs. On the plus side, this will cut back on the cost of departmental transportation, as our personal cops can ride with us in our cars. Of course, having your own personal officer of the court will be expensive and will mean federal subsidies (pronounced higher federal taxes) and increased municipal fees (pronounced higher state and local taxes). In addition to the salary you pay him (or her), each officer can earn bonuses based on performance (i.e., the number of fines he issues to you and his attendance). By the way, that's how things already work. We're lucky this once laid-back town was able to snag some "big city" talent to lead us into this age of aesthetics and enlightenment. To all you guys out there risking your lives behind billboards: "Thanks." Also, I think the terms "policeman" or "officer" are no longer appropriate. Although I haven't yet figured out a politically correct name for this branch of our government, I now understand how the term "revenuers" originated.
P.S. Congratulations to the brain trust who passed legislation penalizing people who forget to fasten their seatbelts. This is at least 25% of all drivers. It should be very lucrative for them.
The Buck Stops at Redrock
I wonder if you've ever visited the Redrock Country of Utah. I have, and I can say it's the most beautiful place on Earth. I could try to describe the amazing colors, the towering cliffs, the gorgeous natural arches, and the glorious sunsets, but there's no way I could do it justice.
Now Bush and his oil industry friends want to hunt for oil there. They've already brought in the "thumpers," giant ground-pounding machines that do seismic tests. If they have their way, there will be oil derricks along the border of Arches National Park within sight of Delicate Arch, one of our nation's premier natural wonders. Canyonlands National Park is also threatened.
Drilling in this area just makes no sense. At a time when our oil-guzzling ways are making us more vulnerable than ever to terrorism, we should be increasing our use of wind and solar power, not looking for more oil. Continuing to search for oil will only prolong our dependence on the Saudis and others who then use the money to fund terrorists and reward the families of "martyrs." We will never find enough oil in the U.S. to meets our needs. The amounts we consume simply do not exist under U.S. soil. Even the most optimistic oil barons admit that we will always have to buy enormous quantities of oil overseas.
One thing anybody can do is ask their representative to support the Redrock Wilderness Act. This act will help to safeguard these lands against more pointless and destructive searches for an obsolete energy source.
If we allow drilling and seismic testing in these areas, then we might as well permit clear-cutting in Yosemite, and strip-mining in Big Bend. It's a crime that must be stopped.
A Privatizing Proposition
You have to love it. The city is in all probability going to, guess what, raise taxes. Slow economy and they want to raise taxes. You've got to be kidding. I think half the people in Austin would drop dead in their tracks if anyone suggested, well, that perhaps some of the tasks and services provided by the city at taxpayer expense might be privatized. Instead of raising taxes to pay for services provided by the city of Austin, why not simply allow private sector companies to do things like road work? Seems that in a slow economy, the role of the government is to create jobs, not increase the burden on the taxpayer. The best way the government of Austin can create jobs would be to privatize any and all ancillary services provided by the city. Nobody can make a rational argument that government bureaucrats are somehow more able to do a job than someone in the private sector is, or that a government entity can always provide better, more cost-effective services. Seems to me, compassionate people like our current crop of elected officials would, in tough economic times, reduce taxes and try to create jobs for citizens displaced by the slowing economy. Privatization creates jobs and reduces taxes on working people. Someone might look into it. Just a thought.
Carl T. Swanson
Dollars & Sense
It just occurred to me that there is a formula of sorts for what's happening down around Sixth Street: People with money want to live someplace cool; a place is cool precisely because people like them don't live there.
From the Archives
I really enjoyed Kelly Petrash's August 11, 2000 article "Better Living through Porno" [austinchronicle.com/issues/dispatch/2000-08-11/xtra_feature.html] -- it was funny, engaging, and interesting. I wish my city had a newspaper like yours.
Some Facts For Mr. V
Michael Ventura's dark flight into his unconscious (May 3, "Letters @ 3AM") may have had a purgatory effect on him but dumped a tidy load of crap on us. Perhaps if his missile had been composed earlier than 3AM, Ventura might have had the wherewithal to scare up a fact or two. Here's one, Mike: The functions of gargoyles indeed were (and are) widely known ... "what exactly do they guard. Upon whom are they to be loosed?." Gargoyles are decorative water spouts and are only found on the building's exterior. The fact that they "... seem to have the run of the place" to you is your imagination still straining under its childhood trauma. Here's another fact for you Mr. V. The reason for these ornaments' ugly stylings is well-known, too; they were meant to guard the church by frightening away the ubiquitous demons. This explains why it was "necessary to include these monsters, even where they would not be seen." ... because, as you have demonstrated to your readers, they can visit you any time, anywhere.
Let it go, Michael. The news is good! There is no god(s). The Church that haunts you has no more apotropaic power than those gargoyles do. Its leaders are as confounded by its contradictions as you are.
Now that we've heard your confession, you can go in peace.
P.S. A grotesque is a gargoyle which doesn't spout water but can still scare the devil.
First Weed, Now Cigarettes?
Wouldn't it be nicer if Austin's bars and nightclubs weren't filled with cigarette smoke?
Your readers might be surprised to hear this sentiment coming from a smoker. The problem I have with smoking in bars and nightclubs is simply that too many people do it. Like many smokers, I enjoy the smoke from my own cigarette, but not from everyone else's. If bars and nightclubs could enforce a limit, of say, 10 people smoking at a time, that would solve the problem. But such a limit couldn't really be enforced.
California prohibited smoking in bars and nightclubs in 1998. When I first heard about this regulation, I was skeptical. I didn't think smokers would agree to follow it. However I recently went to California, and I found the law works. The state regulation prohibits smoking in enclosed spaces, but sensibly permits smoking on outdoor patios. Smokers by and large have accepted it.
I love Austin, but going out at night is now a more pleasant experience in California than it is here. Austin City Council Member Beverly Griffith says she supports a smoking ban in this city's bars and nightclubs. Unfortunately, she believes bar owners would fight such a change tooth and nail.
Bar owners in Austin should take a close look at what has happened in California. A year after the smoking ban took effect, the California Department of Health Services collected revenue data from businesses affected by the ban. The department found there was a greater percentage increase in taxable sales for bars and restaurants from Jan. 1, 1998 through Dec. 31, 1998 than in either of the two preceding years.
I am not going to take a side in the longstanding debate about whether or not second-hand smoke can cause lung cancer. I don't know the answer to that question, so I'll stay out of it. It's enough to know that too many people smoking cigarettes in an enclosed space is irritating. Isn't that enough reason for a ban in this city? I hope so.
City Council: 'Coke Whores With Credit Cards'
So, Austin is going through an economic slowdown, everyone seems to be aware that this is not the Land of Milk and Honey it was three years ago. Everyone, that is, except the Austin City Council. They are still out spending money like coke whores with a stolen credit card. Just a question ... did anyone on that council ever consider not spending money on bullshit? Sixty million dollars to fuck up the traffic downtown? Here you go, Daryl, try this one out: If people cannot figure out how to get around downtown on the streets we have now, they're not going to help the economy because they're too dumb to have a job. Another thing: Light rail was voted down. People in Austin don't want our streets torn up for the next 10 years in some asinine attempt to "ease traffic." The "problem" is not lack of carrying capacity for our roads, it is assholes who think their cars are restaurants, make-up rooms, phone rooms, reading rooms, and places to check your e-mail. If people in Austin quit screwing around and actually drove their cars, there wouldn't be the problem we face now. Cap/Metro is still working on implementing Light Rail. It was voted on, it was defeated, but Cap Metro said "Screw them, we're doing it." Well, screw Cap Metro, they should be taken to court and made to comply with the will of the voters. Give the money back to the people who work and earned it.
Did any of the Three Stooges ever consider that Austin really doesn't need to spend $60 Million on a New City Hall? Heaven forbid the people who work for the citizens of Austin not get a new Imperial Palace to dictate from. Maybe, if revenue is down, spending should be curtailed, but not in Austin. "Nothing's too good for our city employees as long as our taxpayers can foot the bill." Like we need a new helicopter hovering over Sixth street at $1,200 an hour.
Just a thought,
Carl T. Swanson