Our readers talk back.
ACC Supporters of KaplanDear Editor,
We, the undersigned current and former elected leaders of ACC employee organizations, commend the Chronicle's endorsement [May 5] of Allen Kaplan for re-election to the ACC board. The accusations against him quoted in a "Postmarks" letter [May 5] last week stem from misrepresentations by ACC's mercifully departed President Richard Fonte, who used them as part of a campaign to keep college employees from expressing their opinions to the board and to keep the board from evaluating him for his poor performance.
We, the very people cited in the letter as being negative about Allen, are in fact all supporting him, which exposes the accusations for the falsehoods they are. Those of us involved in educating ACC students are grateful for Allen's dedicated work for the college and ask Chronicle readers to vote to continue it.
Terry Thomas, Al Purcell, Daniel Traverso, Joe Lostracco, Mary Parker, Maxine Montgomery, Bill Montgomery, Becky Villarreal, Don Becker, Dan Dewberry
Exposé Sloppy and MisleadingDear Editor,
As two of five Rollingwood City Council members who have an intimate understanding of Rollingwood's contract with the Lower Colorado River Authority for the construction and operation of the city's wastewater system, imagine our surprise and dismay when we read Michael King's sloppy and misleading "Naked City" "exposé" of what's happening in Rollingwood in the May 5 edition of The Austin Chronicle [News].
Mr. King asserted that only 500 of 1,400 homes in Rollingwood have been hooked up to the city's new wastewater system. Well, there are only about 500 homes in Rollingwood, almost all of which are hooked up. The fewer than 10 homes not hooked up have owners who chose to stay on septic. The number 1,400 refers to the number of residents.
Mr. King stated that the cost of the wastewater system was "originally estimated at $7.2 million, the job came in at $17 million, although that has reportedly been reduced somewhat." Well, the costs have been reduced much more than "somewhat." In fact, instead of having monthly capital costs once projected to be $144,000, the city's monthly liability now stands at $70,000 and will remain unchanged at that level.
Mr. King stated that the motion to hire outside legal counsel for review of professional services contracts was made by Mayor Pro Tem Dale Dingley. As reflected in the council meeting minutes of March 27, Alderman Bill Hamilton made the motion, which was seconded by Alderman John Barton.
We have no idea what Mr. King means when he says, "The issue is now complicated by revelations of apparent conflicts of interest involving Mayor Hollis Jefferies (up for re-election May 13)." The negotiated amendment to Rollingwood's contract with LCRA that was signed by the city and LCRA in September 2005 has no complications. After five months of negotiation, you can be assured that both parties are crystal clear about what the contract and the amendment contains. The contract and the amendment are not renegotiable. Likewise, there are no "revelations of apparent conflicts of interest" involving Mayor Jefferies period. A year ago Mayor Jefferies voluntarily recused himself from negotiations with the LCRA because of a purely coincidental and tenuous connection between his employer and the LCRA, over which Mayor Jefferies had no control whatsoever. Mayor Jefferies was under no obligation to recuse himself. He did so to avoid any appearance of impropriety. Unfortunately, by including "conflicts of interest" in the same sentence as "Mayor Hollis Jefferies," Mr. King engages in a wholly unwarranted character assassination of a public official nine days before that official stands for re-election.
Lastly, we also have no idea what Mr. King means when he says, "Maybe the entire city needs to adjourn to a neutral venue." We're sure his intention was not to somehow try to belittle one of the most appealing small towns in the state, if not the nation, nor the 1,400 residents who are very proud to call Rollingwood home.
Alderman John Barton
Alderman Mike Wiley[Michael King responds: I apologize for the error concerning the number of homes in "The City of Rollingwood," and it's been corrected on the Chronicle Web site. To describe the rest of what I reported in last week's "Naked City" based almost entirely on city documents as an "exposé," is flattering, but a bit overwrought.]
Bunch DavidiansDear Editor,
Mike Clark-Madison tells us that props 1 and 2 are not progressive, a term he takes to be a synonym of "well-meaning ninny" ["Austin@Large," News, May 5]. Certainly this is how Clark-Madison comes off in his diatribe against these propositions. Then again, maybe not. Neither Clark-Madison nor the former City Council members who oppose Clean Austin have chosen to reveal how much they're being paid by EducatePAC.org, a name taken straight from the playbook of the Bush administration, since the primary goal of this PAC is to obfuscate, hoping to confuse voters into voting against their own best interests. Well, except for voters who also happen to be developers hoping to get special tax breaks for paving over the aquifer. Clark-Madison should be challenged on every inane point that he makes; however, the Chronicle affords Clean Austin proponents only 300 words to make their case, so one will have to suffice.
Clark-Madison equates the validity of making information public with how many people will directly use this information. So, Mike, re-runs of Friends are more important than any book on science, engineering, the arts? Recently, transportation activist Roger Baker attempted to find out what percentage of the 2000 transportation bonds have been spent on bike/ped facilities. The city informed him that they would tell him nothing without a formal FOIA request. Baker obtained such a request and learned that for the first five years of the bond, every single penny has been spent on acquiring SH 130 row and nothing on promised intersection improvements, HOV lanes, and bike/ped facilities. Sixty-seven million clams would pay for an awful lot of library, Mike. Too bad nobody was minding the piggy bank and the money was spent on a boondoggle instead: a toll road, which by TxDOT's own analysis, will only relieve 8% of the traffic on I-35 by 2020.
In 1993, when Statesman environmental reporter Bill Collier became a PR man working for Freeport McMoran, the Chronicle covered it as a news story and as confirmation of unseemly bias in the Statesman's environmental reporting.
But there was no similar condemnation by the Chronicle nor a story examining journalistic ethics when Chronicle reporter Mike Clark-Madison recently parlayed his progressive journalism credentials to a position as a PR man for TateAustin's clients, who include AMD, the Austin Chamber of Commerce, and the local toll road authority. Instead, last week the Chronicle published as a piece of journalism a PR piece by Clark-Madison, who in the first sentence identifies himself as "a progressive writer and journalist" and an "active citizen and neighborhood leader" ["Austin@Large," News, May 5]. Mr. Clark-Madison does not identify himself as a PR man whose clients are the very corporate insiders that are targeted by Propositions 1 and 2. And the Chronicle has neither covered TateAustin's work on behalf of those opposing Propositions 1 and 2 nor explained how passage of Propositions 1 and 2 would adversely affect TateAustin's clients by affecting city support for toll roads, providing timely public disclosure of tax-giveaway deals, and preventing those who would pollute the aquifer, like AMD, from getting taxpayer subsidies. The Chronicle did little to help the reader evaluate Clark-Madison's piece, only noting in small print at the end of it that Mr. Clark-Madison is now "in partnership with TateAustin" and that his "column" was written for an anti-proposition PAC.
Mr. Clark-Madison is just doing his PR job. What are you doing, Chronicle?
Doug Young[News Editor Michael King responds: For the record, I read Mike Clark-Madison's article on the Educate PAC Web site, considered it a solid analysis of the politics underlying the props controversy, and asked him, as a former columnist and city editor, if he would permit a Chronicle reprint of the piece, as a guest "Austin@Large." He agreed. (No payment was discussed, but as is customary we intend to pay him a freelance fee.) Had I realized the hysterical and venomous personal attacks the reprint would subject him to (as reflected in the above two letters), I might have warned him more strongly against it. In no way does he deserve this personal abuse or the flame-war attacks on his integrity, for the apparent offense of having a different opinion than that of our correspondents.
Mike Clark-Madison responds: I was not paid anything, by EducatePAC or anyone else, to write the piece that appeared on their Web site and in the Chronicle last week. Period. I did it for free because I care. Being a whore doesn't pay as well as the Bunch Davidians think. In fact, it pays a lot less than being the trust-fund baby of an oil and sprawl fortune like SOS moneybags Kirk Mitchell, who's dumped far more money into this race than any developer or "insider." By the Bunch Davidians' own standards, their own side should be deemed untrustworthy and corrupt, because it's funded with dirty money (and, as an added bonus, has violated numerous campaign-finance laws). In sum, Dear Leader Kim Jong Bill and his sugar daddy are trying to buy an election to rewrite Austin's laws for Bunch's personal benefit. Explain that away, kids, before you start calling me a whore. I do thank Patrick Goetz for having the remarkable courage to actually engage in the substance of what I wrote instead of simply libeling me. However, his point is likewise inane. Why yes, I do think the validity of spending millions of dollars of taxpayers' money to publish information (which is different from simply "making it public") is dependent on how many of those taxpayers are going to use it. I've never watched Friends, but I've never paid for it either.]
Props Will Hurt, Not HelpEditor,
We are all parks, trails, open-space, and clean-water advocates who have worked for decades to protect and improve Austin's environment, and we oppose Propositions 1 and 2. We worked all last summer and fall with some of the propositions' proponents on the Travis County Parks bond election that permanently preserved Reimers Ranch and set aside thousands of acres to protect water quality in the Pedernales and Colorado Rivers, yet we first heard of this petition drive when we read about it in news reports and saw paid petitioners on the streets. At that point it was too late to offer input that may have improved the language and prevented many of the negative consequences.
As written, Propositions 1 and 2 will hurt, not help efforts to protect parks, open space, and water quality. Prop. 2 will limit the city's ability to draw development away from the aquifer, undermine successful efforts to work around the state grandfathering law to limit development, and put us on a collision course with the state Legislature. The steep cost of both these propositions will also force cuts in not just environmental protection but also parks, libraries, and social services.
Perhaps worst, if 1 and 2 are approved it will almost assuredly delay a planned November bond election that is recommended by the citizen's bond committee to include more than $90 million for parks, open space, and water quality protection. If this bond election is postponed it will mean that some key properties over the aquifer will be lost to development forever.
If you care about parks, open space, and water quality we strongly urge you to vote no on Propositions 1 and 2 this Saturday.
Director, government, and community affairs
Hill Country Conservancy
with Jon Beall, Jeb Boyt, Valarie Bristol, George Cofer, Anjali Kaul, Charlie McCabe, Nan McRaven, Ted Siff, Amy Wanamaker
"Substance' = My OpinionDear Editor,
1) "This is a campaign of semantics and good intentions, with supporters seeming to be remarkably unconcerned with substance" [all quotes taken from "Page Two," May 5].
I support it and am concerned with the substance.
2) "Read them. They are ridiculously crammed with dictates and restrictions."
Yes, they are. It is obviously an attempt to make the amendment have teeth by giving it specificity and not some general guideline. I'd like to look at other amendments to the city charter to compare it.
3) "These are proposed changes to the city charter, the core document that structures the city: They are not guidelines, or even laws, but charter amendments!"
Unless I am mistaken, amendments are the only mechanism for citizen-originated proposals to make it into our city government. There is no way to put guidelines or laws on the ballot, just charter amendments.
4) "Given that no one can reasonably estimate the actual costs of these propositions, the social and economic justice communities are again shocked, if not exactly surprised, by the arrogance of the environmentalists' privileged take on the matters at hand."
I'm not in favor of this for enviromental reasons, but for social justice and good government reasons.
5) "Supporters' tunnel-vision certainty that these amendments will do exactly what they believe they'll do is troubling."
I am entirely confident there will be some unwanted reprecussions. I think that on the whole however the good will outweigh the bad.
6) "In pursuing this 'open government' agenda, the framers of these propositions did much of what they supposedly 'oppose.' They were put together quickly by a relatively small group, without much public input."
Dunno, I wasn't involved in the creation of it, I have no idea how transparent the process was. I tend to think he's right though, it is not terribly well written, and it definitely looks like it could use more consideration.
So what. There isn't a charter proposal that that isn't true of to some degree.
7) "As another example of 'Do what we say not what we do,' I had an e-mail exchange with a gentleman who wrote Michael King that we must be opposed to Prop. 1 because it 'will add to [the continuing declines in print media circulation and revenues] because the public will be able to learn what city hall is doing over the Internet and not from the Statesman and Chronicle.'" [And he didn't want me to publish it.]
Uh, again so what?
8) "The form of this debate is as upsetting as the content of the propositions."
Then focus on the content and rise above the bait.
R. Michael Litchfield[Louis Black responds: "Unless I am mistaken, amendments are the only mechanism for citizen-originated proposals to make it into our city government." Of course, I didn't limit it to citizen-originated proposals, there is the old-fashioned, constitutional way of lobbying your elected representatives, but still you are mistaken, as there are also "ordinances."]