News Roundup: On the Other Hand ...

Judges, sheriffs, and council members try to overturn old decisions

Not done yet? Sheriff Greg Hamilton
Not done yet? Sheriff Greg Hamilton

In this week's News Roundup: A federal judge overturns a previous ruling that gave Carlos Chacon $1 million for enduring excessive force by police; after announcing that he would not, Travis County's sheriff reconsiders running for a fourth term; a council member tries to get a Downtown courthouse project moved out East; and more.

• You Win Some, You Lose Some: Federal Judge Sam Sparks ruled that plaintiff Carlos Chacon did not show enough evidence of pain and suffering in his lawsuit against Austin Police officers Russell Rose and Eric Copeland when he argued the officers used excessive force against him outside of an I-35 motel in April 2011. A jury originally ruled that the city owed Chacon the $1 million he sued for in March, but on Thursday the lack of evidence meant that Chacon stands to receive significantly less. He gave Chacon the choice of accepting the $60,000 or going to trial to recoup what he believes is the proper amount. That decision is currently in the air. – Chase Hoffberger

• Hamilton Reconsidering: Four months after announcing that he won't seek another term in office as Travis County Sheriff, Greg Hamilton announced Wednesday that he's considering a fourth term. The sheriff told the Chronicle that he's considering filing for candidacy, and that he's been asked by various members of the public and those within the TCSO office. The sheriff's consideration coincides with the pulling out of his right-hand man, Chief Deputy Jim Sylvester, though the correlation's not completely clear. Sylvester told the Statesman last week that he was bowing out to spend more time with his sick father. – C.H.

• Just Another Hee-Haw: District 6 Council Member Don Zimmerman took a break last week from Council's busy budget work to insert himself into the discussion over Travis County's new courthouse complex $287 million bond proposal. Rather than openly declare himself in opposition to the Nov. 3 bond vote, Zimmerman proposed a Council resolution to "move" the project to somewhere in East Austin, with an undesignated city "property swap" for the Third and Guadalupe Downtown block (already owned by the county) planned for the project. "Putting the proposed courthouse Downtown doesn't make sense," said Zimmerman in a press release. "Downtown is already very congested and expensive. East Austin would be much more affordable and would spur economic development in the 'Eastern Crescent' of the city."

The Austin Bar Association, which supports the bond, responded at length, calling Zimmerman's proposal "not a solid plan." Director of Communications Nancy Gray pointed out that the Downtown tract, purchased in 2008 for $22 million, is worth much more today, and any East Austin city land could not meet that amount without a significant additional payment. Moreover, as planners have repeatedly pointed out, the construction costs for the Civil and Family Courthouse Complex would not change with relocation: "Construction costs are constructions costs. Period." The release goes on to list a baker's dozen of reasons – inaccessibility, impracticality, additional cost, and disrupting a long-considered plan – to oppose Zimmerman's last-minute teaser, which can't even be considered by Council before a Sept. 23 committee review at the earliest. "This resolution does nothing to help stimulate growth in East Austin," concludes Gray. "Instead, it subverts a well thought-out, financially sound plan the County has been working on for years."

The bond campaign manager, Genevieve Van Cleve, was less diplomatic. On Facebook, under a photo of a jackass, she called Zimmerman's proposal "laughable," and wrote: "For an intolerant politician that hates to spend money, you have to wonder if Zimmerman's really serious about this deal. The more likely scenario is that he is using his position on the council to actively campaign against this bond." – Michael King

• Budget Victories: On Friday, Sept. 11, following the preceding day's final City Council budget reading and adoption of the FY 2016 budget, Austin Interfaith and allied organizations held a press conference at City Hall, celebrating the budget's increase in wages for low-level city employees (to a $13.03/hour base), and the extension of living wages and health care benefits to temporary and part-time employees. Speakers included AI leaders Kurt Cadena-Mitchell and Alan Freedman, as well as Mayor Steve Adler and Council Members Greg Casar (District 4), Ann Kitchen (D5), and Leslie Pool (D7). The groups thanked their Council "budget champions," also noting additional funds for Capital IDEA job training, Austin ISD parent support specialists, Primetime afterschool programming, extended library hours, a $10,000 bump in the homestead exemption for seniors and the disabled, and $1.65 million for parks, pools, and recreation centers. All these programs were AI budget priorities, derived from outreach through the 37 churches, schools, unions, and nonprofit groups that make up the coalition. – M.K.

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