Our readers talk back.
'Chronicle' Sensationalized Chapman Story
I am writing this letter because there appears to be confusion about the process being used to investigate Assistant Police Chief Jimmy Chapman ["More Bad Blood," Sept. 5]. Here are the facts.
On Aug. 22, the police chief initiated an independent administrative investigation of Assistant Chief Jimmy Chapman. This investigation is designed to do one thing: establish the facts of the matter. There are three key elements here. First, the chief chose an independent investigation to ensure a neutral, unbiased investigation of the matter. Second, this investigation will follow the protocol used by the Internal Affairs Division of the Police Department, including taking sworn statements from officers. The chief made this an explicit requirement in the contract with the investigator. This initial inquiry will flesh out the details of the allegation to determine what actually happened. Third, the investigation is beginning administratively to determine if there is sufficient evidence of either a violation of department policies or criminal conduct. The initial information in this case came from a secondary source. Direct information must be obtained before the chief makes any critical decision. The contract with the investigator specifically states that if the investigation produces a reasonable suspicion that criminal conduct may have occurred he is to notify the chief immediately. If the investigation discovers criminal wrongdoing, the information will be turned over to the District Attorney's Office.
Any time an organization has to investigate a high-ranking official for possible wrongdoing, there will be controversy. Assistant Chief Chapman will be afforded the same rights as any citizen in this country -- the presumption of innocence. Again, this investigation is designed to establish the facts of the matter. It is unfortunate that last week's Chronicle sensationalized this issue by printing a picture of Chapman with his children. How does this contribute to a fair and honest approach?
Assistant City Manager
[News editor Michael King replies: The photograph Ms. Huffman objects to is a reproduction of a "Kids and Cops" trading card distributed by the Austin Police Department as part of a promotional campaign, and the Chronicle's reproduction intentionally obscured the faces of officer Chapman's children. If Ms. Huffman (or her boss Toby Futrell) objects to the exploitation of officers' children as marketing tools, her complaint should be directed to APD Chief Stan Knee. For more on this story, see "Mala Sangre Keeps Flowing," p.21]
Reconsider Proposition 9
I strongly urge you to reverse your recommendation on Proposition 9. This amendment, if passed, will allow the state's school endowment fund to earn higher returns without greater risk, and prevent the state from spending more than the fund earns.
It will not, as you suggest ["Endorsements," Aug. 29], affect the equity of the school finance system in any way, because it does not affect how the funds are distributed.
Right now, the state can spend every dollar that is earned by the fund from dividends and interest, but cannot spend anything that is earned by the growth in value of the fund's holdings (capital gains). So, even when the principal of the fund is losing value, the state can keep spending by manipulating the holdings so that the fund receives dividends and interest, which can always be spent.
That manipulation reduces the overall growth of the fund by moving money from investments with high earnings to lower-earning investments that just happen to pay out dividends.
Proposition 9 would create a spending limit based on the fund's actual earnings, instead of the amount of dividends and interest. And it would limit spending from the fund to 6% of the fund's average value, even if the fund has short-term growth that is greater than that.
All other Texas state endowments base their spending on total earnings, as do virtually all state and university endowments nationally. The school endowment is restricted only because of language in our constitution that dates from the 1800s, when most of the gains in the fund came from land revenues, which today provide only a small part of those gains.
Failure to pass Proposition 9 will continue to keep the $16 billion fund performing below its potential, something our budget and our schools cannot afford.
District 137 (Houston)
[News Editor Michael King replies: We welcome Rep. Hochberg's clarification of Proposition 9, which reads in its entirety, "The constitutional amendment relating to the use of income and appreciation of the permanent school fund." Rep. Hochberg's assurance that the amendment will increase school funding while not affecting equity is encouraging. For that reason, we might have endorsed Proposition 9, except that we could not in good conscience endorse a proposition that does not even pretend to tell voters what they are voting for. We encourage our readers to seriously consider Rep. Hochberg's comments when they go to the polls.]
'Hell No' on Proposition 12
If we still have to explain to doctors why Proposition 12 is so deceptive, then we have a bigger problem than frivolous lawsuits on our hands. The insurance lobby's argument that high malpractice premiums are a result of high jury awards has been called into serious question by industry groups such as the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, as well as the U.S. House of Representatives. Simply put, the high cost of jury awards is nowhere near as much as the amount malpractice insurance is costing doctors.
If that isn't enough, the American Insurance Association has even admitted that insurers never promised tort reform would result in savings. Yet, these are the same people that want to change the Texas Constitution, in order to "save doctors" and "protect patient rights." Bullshit.
Texas doctors don't need tort reform to stay in business. They, just like patients, need insurance companies to start being honest. Vote "hell no" on 12.
$250,000 Can Be Costly
Dear Texas voters,
Proposition 12 opens the door for not only medical malpractice lawsuits but any other kind of lawsuit to have a cap of $250,000 on "noneconomic" damages.
Years ago I became severely ill. Because my total cap for damages was $250,000, high-powered attorneys wouldn't take my case. Attorneys don't put mortgages on their homes to represent us as in the movie A Civil Action. My case was once estimated to cost $100,000 to $300,000 to get it ready for trial, so obviously good attorneys didn't deliberately choose to lose money on my behalf. I don't blame them. I also don't have any problems with doctors or nurses. Some have been extremely kind and have helped to save my life.
The price of living (or dying) with $250,000 as the cap on "noneconomic" damages can be devastating. I lost the incredibly good health that I took for granted 13 years ago. I almost died. I lost the chance to finish my doctorate because I became too ill. I lost my primary source of income. I lost my chance to tell the truth in a court of law. I lost my chance to have a regular social life, buy a new car more than once every 13 years, and be self-sufficient financially and physically at times. If I can lose so much in a world of $250,000 caps on damages, then so can you.
On Saturday, please vote no to Proposition 12. The chance for Texans to have a fair day in the courtroom where justice is determined by judges and/or a jury, not by the state Legislature, is at stake. If catastrophic harm can happen to me, it can happen to you or your loved ones.
Proposition 12 Specifics
In response to Dr. Trent Turner's letter ["Postmarks," Sept. 5], here are three specific things that are wrong with Proposition 12.
First, most proposition supporters emphasize that economic damages are unlimited, and only damages for "pain and suffering" are affected. But in many malpractice cases, "pain and suffering" are both very real elements of damages, and very substantial. Moreover, the categories of damages that will be capped is not limited to pain and suffering; it includes "mental anguish and suffering, loss of consortium, loss of companionship and society, disfigurement, or physical impairment." These damages could also be substantial in a malpractice case. If I have to choose between an insurer's profit and a complete recovery for a patient who had the wrong leg removed, I will choose the victim of negligence, 10 times out of 10.
Second, the caps' predicted effect on premiums is dubious. Texas' recent experience with homeowners' insurance carriers should guide us here. Medical malpractice rates did not go down in California when med-mal caps went into effect in the Seventies; it took insurance reform to do that in the Eighties, and it will take insurance reform to do it here.
Third, and most important, the amendment is not limited to malpractice. The words "and other actions" would allow the legislature to cap all claims, not just medical malpractice. I challenge any physician to explain why the medical malpractice crisis cannot be solved unless we also cap damages against drunk drivers, manufacturers of defective products, and criminal trespassers.
Dr. Turner was right to ask whether there was anything specifically wrong with the bill other than that it was the "dumbest proposition ever." But it is the "dumbest proposition ever." And one of the most malicious.
I noticed with no surprise, some dismay -- and not a little disappointment in their naiveté -- that the two letters in the last issue whining about how vital Proposition 12 is to Texans were from doctors ["Postmarks," Sept. 5]. The question is -- 1) are they really buying the insurance industry's line about Proposition 12, or 2) are they trying to sell us one? If the case is 1), they're going to be sorely disappointed. Do they really think the insurance companies are going to "pass the savings on" to the doctors to any degree? If the case is 2), who are they kidding? Do we really think that the doctors are going to "pass the savings" on to their patients? Their complaints about the Chronicle's "vagueness" in opposing Proposition 12 simply show that they didn't bother to read beyond "Page Two." Proposition 12 isn't about making things fairer for the doctors -- it stands to take power granted by the Texas Constitution to the courts away, putting it instead in the hands of the Lege. Does that sound like a good idea? People who have suffered bodily injury at the hands of malpracticing physicians should be able to sue -- and so should the victims of rape and abuse and other crimes who would be affected by this ridiculous amendment.
City Killed Tree
In "A Tree Dies in Travis Heights" [Sept. 5], city arborist Jim Rhoades implies that it is the neighborhood's fault that this beautiful, old oak tree was cut down. His assertion that "If the neighborhood opposition hadn't been so intense, the tree would still be there" shows his ignorance of the legal requirements for granting a variance by the Board of Adjustment or is an attempt to avoid his own responsibility for this unfortunate situation.
A variance request must be based on a true hardship due to some site condition such as severe topography, easements, and even important trees; it cannot be granted solely for economic gain or to allow a specific design when another design is possible. Neighborhoods have seen countless abuses of the variance process, and the neighbors were right to uphold the spirit and the letter of the law in this matter to protect the integrity of the Board of Adjustment process. The fact that the plan shown at the hearing was not the actual plan was evidence enough for the board to rightly deny the front-yard setback variance request.
Mr. Rhoades owes the neighborhood an apology. It is clear the responsibility for destroying this magnificent tree is the owner's; it was her choice alone. Unfortunately, Mr. Rhoades' approval of that action reflects a growing city attitude that adding density to our older neighborhoods is a higher priority than anything else, even the protection of our wonderful old trees or enforcing city code. Since there was an alternative that could have allowed for a new building and would have saved the tree, the shame of this loss rests squarely with the owner and the city's arborist.
South Central Coalition [This letter was signed by 10 others.]
Setback Requirements Unneccesary
In last week's article "A Tree Dies in Travis Heights," Leslie Belt states that "We just didn't think [Barkley] should be given an unnecessary variance ... without a fight." Thanks to Belt's and other neighbors' enthusiastic efforts, a 100- to 200-year-old oak has been destroyed. Since Ms. Belt appears to feel so strongly about enforcing the 25-foot setback required by city code, perhaps she wouldn't mind explaining to us precisely what civic purpose this ridiculous rule serves? As far as I can tell, the answer is none. City of Austin building codes can roughly be divided into two categories: those having to do with safety and energy conservation (all good) and those which seek to enforce some kind of twisted suburban design sensibilities (all bad). The 25-foot setback requirement falls squarely into the latter category. Not only does this codify a waste of urban land, but it actually inhibits community. Building closer to the street creates more engagement between the structure and the street, allowing, for example, for the opportunity of dialogue between people sitting on their front porches and pedestrians on the street. In his excellent book City Comforts, planner David Sucher cites building to the sidewalk as the single most important pattern in creating an urban village. And a smaller front yard almost always results in more focused and intensely visual landscaping, allowing for a better streetscape. There's everything wrong and nothing right about the 25-foot setback requirement. I suspect that Ms. Belt didn't really think about any of this before playing her part in the death of the tree. There's a word for being opposed to something just for the sake of opposition: It's called being unneighborly. It doesn't matter that Ms. Barkley doesn't live in the neighborhood, we're all members of the same community, and the community is now short one more big old tree.
Chicano Secret Service Lives
Belinda Acosta made an informational error stating Chicano Secret Service "has disbanded," in her Aug. 22 article, "A Nation Laughs." Chicano Secret Service has continued performing since the departure of Lalo Lopez in 1994.
Chicano Secret Service
Minister of Information and Artificial Intelligence
Gourds Jam Too
I just read "Jammin'" [Sept. 5] by Jim Caligiuri. How could you write that article and not mention Austin's own Gourds? I say the only way that could have happened is intentionally. I do not mean that they don't fit the article -- they are the article. Jim talks about String Cheese as if they have any bluegrass in them at all anymore. Please. That is one poorly written article for sure.
Jason C. Smith
Liberals Destroy First Thursday
Well, another pat on the back for the editorial staff at the Chronicle for endorsing the current City Council, which is in the process of shutting down First Thursdays on South Congress. Three extremely cool, and I mean extremely cool APD officers were down there this past week telling people that they needed a permit to set up on the sidewalk starting next month, and they were very cool to the people there, some of whom sorta-kinda got upset. Which I guess in a strictly anal-retentive city like Austin is a necessary evil, I mean, you can't have people sitting on the sidewalk for Christ's sake, four hours a month, selling arts and crafts! This, in a town like Austin, is a calamity of epic proportions because it seems like people are actually doing something fun, and the city isn't in on it to get its 30 pieces of silver, so of course it cannot be allowed to continue. I don't know who called and complained, either yuppie scum gentrification-trash who lived in the area (among the really cool people who lived there for years), unable to get their Hummer out of their oh-so-sophisticated driveway, or just some professional whiner who couldn't stand to see people actually acting like they were having fun. Whomever it was, shame on you and your anal-retentive, control-freak personality. You're going to need some soy candles and macramé one day, asshole, and you ain't gonna be able to get any on the First Thursday of the month. You'd think liberals would be able to bend the rules for five or six hours a month on a seven-block stretch, but apparently not.
Carl T. Swanson
Armada Not Groovy
I just wanted to give serious props to Marc Savlov for his review of Groove Armada ["Phases & Stages," Sept. 5]. It's nice to know he wasn't taken in like the majority of the people who attended this overpriced DJ session. I went expecting a dynamic live show; instead we got a handful of other people's records and a few teasers. I felt cheated out of $25. They ruined their credibility that night.
UT Film Has 'Gold Fever'
Re: UT Film Institute ["Good Grades or Good Reviews?" Sept. 5]
Sounds great for Gen-X film students. One question though -- is there a retroactive "get into Hollywood free" diploma for former UT film school graduates?
Twentysomething years ago, in-house funding from UT for such low-budget Austin indies as Invasion of the Aluminum People, Speed of Light, or Louis Black's Mask of Sarnath would have been both implausible and impossible.
I guess we have become a famous-for-15-minutes-obsessed nation now that even old conservative UT has succumbed to box-office "gold fever."
Psst. A tip from someone "near" the industry ... UT would be foolish not to bankroll the straight-to-video sequel of Austin cult film, Barn of the Blood Llama. Now that would be institutional boldness worthy of not D.W. Griffith, but the even bolder Roger Corman.
Kevin L. West
Show Credentials at Salon Door
I'm shocked by the nerve that Stephen Moser has to question the fashion credentials of Christina Klisanin in his most recent column ["After a Fashion," Sept. 5]. Stephen, I really have to ask for your fashion credentials. Maybe you found a picture book on style inside your Happy Meal. However you landed the position of style moron for the Chronicle, I have to question the HR department's ability to screen applicants.
Hightower Wrong About LaMarca
I just wanted to say that what you put in here about Joe LaMarca's quote ["The Hightower Report," May 9] was way off; he has said many great things!
I don't know anyone who actually wants to see another Wal-Mart or any other windowless building constructed in Austin. Join me and many others in Austin that patronize locally owned and operated stores. Try getting through a checkout lane at the 290 and Brodie Wal-Mart, and you'll see why it's easy to switch to a local store (or at least smaller). It saddens me to see downtrodden faces and looks of despair among most of the shoppers and employees. But then it's laughable to see what people will go through for lower prices. I'd much rather pay a little more and go somewhere local.
Not Necessarily Mexican
Regarding the letter from J. Mika, "Jobless in Austin" who wants to know if the "Mexican" road crew laborers employed by COA are legal immigrants. It may surprise him to know that they may even be actual American citizens. Though I suppose he would not know this because as a "runner" he is probably looking at the color of their skin as he passes by. Did he converse with them? Because he seems to believe they only speak Spanish. Perhaps they speak more than one language, dare I say, maybe they are bilingual, they might speak only english. Maybe its his attitude and small mind that prevent him from getting his dream job, even "digging ditches." In this economy it is difficult to get a job and I admire all who are making an honest living and respect those who work outside in the conditions of the Texas weather. J. Mika may just be the posterboy for the Ugly American. It is probably best that he not travel to a foreign country where English is not the primary language. It seems that most often in this country if your skin is white, you're white, if it is black you're black, but if you're brown you're "Mexican", yet many people want to be tan, it seems to be a multimillion dollar industry.
I'm proud to be an American of Hispanic descent. But just to give him a heads up, Mexicans are from Mexico, Spanish are from Spain, etc. So, stop whining, go back to school, it may prepare you fro a job and help you get by in life. Expand your mind and feel the love.