Our readers talk back.
Setting the Record Straight
It is incorrect to say that Austin school trustees ended their budget hearing on Tuesday, Aug. 20, with a "unanimous vote" for a 3% pay raise for teachers and school staff ["Austin Stories," Aug. 23].
No vote was taken following the budget hearing, although most trustees did clearly articulate their desire to approve a 3% pay raise for all district employees. The vote by the trustees to adopt the district's 2002-03 budget and tax rate is scheduled for Monday, Aug. 26.
Thank you for allowing me to set the record straight.
Austin Independent School District
Dear Mr. Black:
I take issue with Amy Smith's "An S-O-S for SOS" in the Aug. 9 edition. Smith's allegation that the "stakeholder" process was Stratus' "PR campaign" used to "win over some key environmental and neighborhood players" is untrue.
The idea of conducting a stakeholder process was initiated by Bill Bunch when Stratus CEO Beau Armstrong addressed the SOSA board last fall. He asked Mr. Armstrong to agree to a public process that included everyone with an interest in our proposed development at Circle C. Bunch was joined by Robin Rather, George Cofer, FM 1826-area neighborhoods and others calling for Stratus to negotiate in an open process. Armstrong agreed, and four long meetings occurred in the following 60 days.
A smaller stakeholder group (we were not invited to participate) spun off and met at the homes of Bob Breunig and Mary Arnold. Bunch walked away when things didn't go as he dictated, then proceeded to publicly criticize Stratus, the city, and everyone involved who didn't agree with him about the very process he initiated, calling negotiations "back room deals."
Ms. Smith's characterization of some participants in the stakeholder process as "opportunists" is unfair. Unlike Bunch, these folks were not being paid to participate, spent many hours away from their families to forge a compromise that provides certainty for the environment, neighborhoods, and recognizes Stratus' property rights.
No one believes this settlement is perfect, but to characterize the process as a "corporate strategy" to "isolate the radicals" and "educate" the "idealists" to turn them into "realists" is simply not true. Had Amy Smith called Stratus for comment, we would have been happy to provide her with documentation to support what actually occurred prior to, during, and after the stakeholder process.
Stratus Properties Inc.
Amy Smith responds: In addition to prior conversations with Beau Armstrong during negotiations, I called Laurie Swan for comment the week before the council's vote on the Stratus agreement. The call was not returned.
Commissioner Sonleitner On Corrections
I'm writing to provide some perspective on the Aug. 23 story ("Corrections Officers Demand Raise") about the TCSO Corrections Officers and their quest for raises.
The statement that "correctional officers' pay has stalled out between $32,000 and $34,000" is incorrect. Officer Layla Rendon (the "poster child" in the new billboard campaign), as an 11-year veteran, makes $43,861.17 as a base rate, based on years of service with Travis County. Her last raise came on her anniversary date in April, and she will make more depending on her overtime hours. One more year on the job moves her along the pay scale.
In last year's budget, law enforcement officers got a larger raise than corrections officers because of the Court's 5-0 vote to separate the salary scales. But corrections did get raises, no one got less than 2%, and others in corrections got more. I do not dispute that the raises in law enforcement were larger, but it is wrong to say corrections was left out in the cold.
Also, the anniversary bump of 2% for all officers (including corrections) on the Peace Officers Pay Scale (POPS) is in this year's preliminary budget. A second increase based on parity with APD for the law enforcement side of the house is being proposed. But a raise for corrections is in the budget already.
Last year, there was no "back-room deal," and this ugly battle was carried on live TV for all to see in our budget hearings. It was clear that the goals of corrections and law enforcement officers were at odds, and it led to a split in the TCSOA, documented in the Chronicle ["Endorsement Wars," March 8, www.austinchronicle.com/issues/dispatch/2002-03-08/pols_feature12.html], about who would lead that organization.
Travis County continues to pay the highest salaries in the state (and among the highest in the nation) for our corrections officers. I respectfully disagree that their jobs are the same as law enforcement -- and as Judge Biscoe notes, we pay accordingly.
I share the judge's desire to be fair with the money we have. The county also proposes to spend another $2 million to cover the staggering costs of employee health insurance, up to $21 million a year, and we are also committed to ensuring the health of the county employee retirement system by increasing the county's annual contribution to that fund.
Travis County Commissioner, Pct. 2
Clark-Madison's 'Bright Ideas'
If all of Mike Clark-Madison's "failed bright ideas" ["Austin@Large," Aug. 23] are along the lines of a civic center with a creek running through it, I am relieved they go mostly unimplemented. Ditto for his unrealistic view of what a tunnel intervention would solve at Waller Creek. Even if such a "pie-in-the-sky" tunnel were built, there isn't enough undeveloped land in that area to warrant the effort. If there was, someone would have already done it decades ago. And Waller Creek would be choked by developments like the Waller Creek Sheraton and its matching eyesore office buildings. One only has to look at original renderings of both the Sheraton and especially the Marriott, to see that the lavish creekside surroundings they promised were only colored-pencil propaganda. The same holds true for the "creekside" convention center which supposedly had the creek as its "theme." Portrayed as following a "gentle curve" in the creek, in reality it hogs every square inch of natural earth, more ignoring the creek than anything. I find no reason to believe that any new developments will be any less disgusting than those already in place.
How anything hemmed in by such ugliness can ever compare to San Antonio's much penis-envied River Walk, I'll never know. Still, I am a Waller Creek fan. I have spent many hours walking the disjointed route, amazed at the potential no one seems to recognize. It's a natural feature, something almost extinct in Austin now. It could be a beautiful park, but somehow that's not good enough. Though it would be cheaper, though it makes sense, though it takes into account the awesome power of nature, somehow we can't resist another endless round of tinkering. And come on, guys. It's a creek, and creeks occasionally flood. You don't solve that by adding more concrete. Ask Houston.
But go ahead. Call in NASA to reinvent gravity. Call Brown and Root to make sure it costs double what it's worth. And be sure to call in Page Southerland Page to make sure everything stays just as ugly and sterile as it is now. Perhaps then, someone will finally be ready to say "we need a landscape architect." I hope there will be enough dirt left to plant something.
Re: Kevin O'Dwyer missive concerning the New Village at Western Oaks (aka the Village) and Stratus agreement
Assertion: City Council has been bought by Stratus.
Counterpoint: Writing it down does not make it so, no proof has really been offered.
Fact: In 1992 Slusher stated he would negotiate a deal he felt suitable for the aquifer, the SOS leadership knew this.
Assertion: Slusher is rude (?).
Fact: Slusher was seeking to make his case; after facing 16 hours of bellicose testimony, those in opposition tried to shout him down.
Assertion: The Village has never been contacted for negotiation, and is endangered by an abutting gasoline pipeline.
Fact: The Village has been contacted, but refused to negotiate.
Counterpoint: In real-life adult terms the vast majority of Village residents have chosen to endanger themselves. Every property owner in the area was informed by deed at the time of purchase that the pipeline was there. Am I to believe that the property owners are illiterate or arrogant?
Second Counterpoint: The referred to area is one of the newest, double-lined, leak-detecting, concrete-encased, extra-setback pipelines in the nation. It's still in a lousy location (the aquifer) and the city is justified in suing.
Fact: The Village is presently oozing out more than two times the pollutant load on the aquifer that Stratus is allowed. Everyone needs to remember that even with SOS Axis fantasy standards, more pollutant still goes into the aquifer.
Assertion: Denner has a harem.
Opinion: You're a chauvinist oinker.
Idle Speculation: Mr. O'Dwyer, does being a ventriloquist dummy hurt? Having Save Our Springs Axis' hand up your rump controlling what you say has to crowd your brain box.
Your new pen pal,
The City Council says that Austin can't afford to buy Tract 110 from Stratus, because it costs $20 million that the city doesn't have. So the only way to buy this land is to collect donations from private citizens.
Building a parking garage on a city block owned by Harry Whittington would also cost about $20 million that the city doesn't have. The American-Statesman reported that the City Council intends to borrow the money.
When explaining why the City Council would not buy land from Stratus, Council Member Slusher said, "We've already spent $165 million to protect the environment."
I wish that just once, when the city government proposed building a new parking garage or highway, or widening another intersection to speed cars through, a City Council member would demur, noting how much has already been spent on highways, parking garages, and widening intersections.
The City Council doesn't want to spend too much to protect the environment. But it has no limits on what it will spend on cars. It would be interesting to know how much the city government spends in all on cars, but I'm sure that no one in the city government even wants to know.
Rave Rules Are Ridiculous
While it's extremely sad that a young man died at the party at the Asylum on Saturday, I'd like to see the focus of this rave scene battle shifted to individual, rather than organizational, responsibility. Obviously, creating laws against raves won't stop people from partying. Even at an event held at a nice, legal venue, I don't see how it's possible to ensure that absolutely no one comes in with drugs, and even more impossible to see that no one comes in already on them. People who use drugs in any situation are making a personal choice. Ecstasy is certainly not handed out at the doors of a rave. Beyond searching bags and pockets at the door, and having security officers inside -- both of which are routine precautions at raves -- I don't see what else the organizers can do. Plenty of people who attend other types of concerts or parties enjoy using cocaine, for example, or like to smoke weed. Should all other concerts be shut down, too? Should we close the doors to the bars on Sixth Street because of the potential for drug use in these venues? Obviously that sounds ridiculous, but it's exactly what is being done in the case of raves. If a rave is held at a location that meets fire code requirements, doesn't exceed the maximum occupancy for the building, and complies with noise ordinances, and the organizers take precautions like checking bags and pockets and hiring security, I can't see how the organizers or the party itself can be held responsible for drug use by the attendees. It is terrible that young people die as a result of using drugs, but the solution to that problem lies elsewhere, and is much more complex than simply shutting down the rave scene.
Pointless Letter Brigade
At first I was reading "What I've Learned Since Getting a Lobotomy" ["Postmarks," Aug. 23] trying to figure out what the hell the writer's point was. Then I realized it was just Carl Swanson being a dumbass (lobotomy or no). No Carl, the city of Austin does not have money to throw away on anything, just some not very bright people at the helm who think that corporate welfare is going to benefit this city. Even if it did have the money, it just isn't feasible to go around buying up every piece of land that someone is threatening to destroy. Ultimately it comes down to citizens enforcing good behavior because owning a piece of land doesn't give Stratus Properties or anyone the right to wreck it. I mean how would you like it if I set up a hog farm next door to where ever you live? And if you really like the thought of that, why on earth do you live in Austin? You obviously don't get it. Now I remember who you are. Aren't you the same guy who said that global warming was a myth because everything looked fine to you down on South Padre Island ["Postmarks," Feb. 16, 2001]? Get educated, and maybe you won't have so much free time to write pointless letters to the Chronicle.
No Winner in War on Drugs
I agree with Tim Maxwell ["Postmarks," Aug. 23]. America's expensive war on drugs primarily benefits the bureaucrats who are paid to prosecute it.
I think it is the height of folly for healthy people to use drugs, but like Mr. Maxwell, I think the money spent going after small-time users who are only hurting themselves would be better spent on pools and libraries.
For the record I'm 55, moved here in 1979, and have no experience with and no connection to the world of drugs. But we all eventually get old and die, and if when my time comes I need to take a palliative drug to relieve the pain of a terminal illness, I will be receptive to using marijuana. Medicinal marijuana has got to be cheaper for society than the synthetic offerings of the pharmaceutical industry.
SOS About the Money!
A breath of fresh air -- finally: "Let's offer visions for the future that are protective of the environment while respecting the legal rights of developers" ["Page Two," Aug. 9].
And if the truth be known for many of the 45,000 votes (that I'm aware of): We didn't vote for SOS to save the springs; we voted for it so that our property values would go up (less land upon which to build) and we could make more money when we sold our non-SOS covered property!
Consider This --
National Public Radio, [on its] weekend All Things Considered news program, reported on August 25 that the prison population in the U.S. is 6.6 million inmates. This figure is 1 out of every 32 adults, and has tripled over the past decade, even though crimes against persons and property is down.
Another alarming statistic is that while African-Americans comprise 13% of the U.S. population, they account for 46% of the prison population. The great majority of those serving time are doing so for mandatory drug-related sentences.
Moreover, our "tough-on-crime" president was known to use recreational drugs in college and was convicted for driving while intoxicated, the latter of which is an automatic disqualification for a presidential candidate. That this outrage is not unacceptable to the majority of conservatives demonstrates a pervasive hypocrisy that has corrupted our nation.
That we complacently accept the imprisonment of persons whose only crime is "against society" (what the hell does that mean -- how do you commit a crime against an abstraction?), demonstrates that we are covertly racist and blatantly unjust.
Maybe I'm preaching to the choir of traditional Chronicle readers. So this is for the new wave of yuppies who have moved to Austin: When you allow racist and unjust policies to ravage a minority group, it's only a matter of time before it comes around to bite you in the butt. Look what happened to mid-20th-century Germans.
The fascists are back, alive and well, people. Wake up!
Kenney C. Kennedy
Beware Draconian Health Bill
Remember those soldiers forced to take the anthrax vaccine or be court-martialed? Either choice, they suffered. We may all be in their position soon. Public health bureaucrats, playing steadily to national fears since 9/11, have a "surprise treat" in store for you and me -- the Model State Emergency Health Powers Act (MSEHPA). No doubt, this bitter pill will be packaged as being "for our own good."
Under this Draconian measure, during a "declared" public health emergency, all health-care providers will have to agree to follow MSEHPA edicts:
Doctors could be required to administer treatments, even those they deem medically inadvisable, including inoculations.
Citizens could then have these forced upon them. While states have laws exempting people from vaccination, it is not clear in the proposed legislation whether these laws would override MSEHPA.
Individuals who refuse medical examination and treatment (including vaccination) could be quarantined or isolated, regardless of whether or not they had a communicable disease.
The Model State Emergency Health Powers Act is being pushed on the legislators of individual states in quasi secrecy, given the lack of news about it. Most of us will learn of it too late, as did the people of Maryland, New Mexico, South Dakota, and Utah, whose legislators spawned the bill on them.
This little-heard legislation has also been dropped on Arizona; California; Delaware; Florida; Georgia; Hawaii; Illinois; Kansas; Kentucky; Maine; Massachusetts; Minnesota; Mississippi; Missouri; Nebraska; Nevada; New Hampshire; New York; Oklahoma; Pennsylvania; Rhode Island; Tennessee; Vermont; and Virginia. People there run the risk of being stuck with it if they don't take action soon. No doubt, the Model State Emergency Health Powers Act will be playing in our state soon. I encourage you to write your Texas representative to fight against it. If ever the words "For your own good" had an ominous ring to them, it is now. Now is the time to act!
Petition the Lege
According to your "Postmarks" letters during the last few months, readers have stated their concerns about high home insurance costs and inappropriate coverage, astronomical property taxes, inadequate school financing, and even how the candidates are not focusing on the real issues. Please let your readers know that they need to voice their views and concerns directly to their local elected officials from the governor on down the line. One easy way for them to share their views and force new legislation in January at the next legislative session is to sign the online petition at www.e-thepeople.com/a-national/petition/2880/view.
Please be sure to confirm your signature as per the instruction on the site. The petition discusses some major concerns and even provides some (not all) options for legislators to consider. Currently there are more than 200 signatures and the completed petition will be sent to three top elected officials on Oct. 1. The petition shows public disapproval of how legislators have dealt with the issues, yet also conveys the acknowledgement that legislators may resolve the issues at the next legislative session in January.
'War on War' Flawed Logic
Our pollsters, media, and government say that the president's popularity soared when he "declared war" against terrorism around the world. It reminds me of the history of the Third Reich, whose pollsters, media, and government gave Hitler 98% public approval. I questioned their propaganda then, and I question ours now.
My doubts were confirmed in July when I was part of a three-week Elderhostel event in France with a group of 24 American grandparents and grandchildren aged 15 to 18. A survey among them found more than 85% critical of US policy. The French tour leaders and the French press were 100% opposed to U.S. policy. So, I concluded that we Americans have been misled.
We must learn from the experience of Israel that military responses to terror only create more terror and more volunteers for suicide missions. Also we must remember that in 1982, when terrorists killed hundreds of U.S. troops President Reagan responded, not with war, but by diplomatically making the war in Lebanon cease. Check it out.
Rev. Jewel R. Johnson
delegate to the UN Non Governmental Org. Conference
Representing the United Church of Christ