Naked City

Edited by Louisa C. Brinsmade, with contributions this week by Roseana Auten, Andrea Barnett, and Amy Smith.

THE LONG GOODBYE: Rumors dating from last year's mayoral race proved correct this week when Mayor Bruce Todd announced he would not seek re-election in 1997. In his announcement Tuesday, August 22, Todd cited family and career issues as his main reason for returning to the private sector. He has served as mayor of Austin since 1991; prior to his election, he served as Travis County Commissioner from 1986-90.

Possible mayoral hopefuls include Councilmembers Ronney Reynolds and Gus Garcia, and Chronicle senior writer Daryl Slusher, who forced Todd into a tight runoff last year and won 49% of the vote. Both Reynolds and Slusher have publicly aknowledged an interest in the race. Asked if he would run for a councilmember seat next year or hold off for the 1997 mayoral race, Slusher told radio host Eric Blumberg Wednesday, "I'm still thinking those things through." Former Councilmember Bob Larson has also expressed some interest. Larson says he has been encouraged to run, and that he "could be talked into it." Larson has scored bonus points lately with his Save Austin From Extravagance (SAFE) campaign to put up for a public vote $10 million in public funds approved by the council for the baseball stadium. Former Councilmember Robert Barnstone's name has also been passed around as a possible contender for the position. Asked if he was interested, Barnstone replied only that he "wouldn't make a decision from an opportunistic point of view."

Word is, the close race against Slusher, as well as the recent editorials in the Austin American-Statesman that take a critical stance on the lack of leadership apparent in Austin, played a factor in Todd's decision. Some observers say now that Todd has announced his intentions, he will be relegated to "lame-duck" status for his remaining tenure, but Councilmember Brigid Shea pointed out to the daily that Todd still has a year and half left to enact his agenda, and that his legacy is still up in the air. -L.C.B.

RIGHTS, SCHMIGHTS: Austin attorney Roy Minton gave his opinion of free speech the other day in District Judge Scott McCown's courtroom. He was there to try to convince the judge that five local anti-Nuke activists should be forced to give depositions and hand over reams of personal papers and correspondence in a lawsuit filed by the cities of Austin and San Antonio against the company which runs the South Texas Project (STP) nuclear plant, Houston Lighting and Power (HL&P).

Asking for a moment to confer with his two assistant attorneys, Minton whispered loud enough to be heard several rows back that "I don't care about their first amendment rights, I'm going to depose these individuals."

HL&P attorneys maintained to Judge McCown that the City of Austin has been engaged in a conspiracy to attack the STP at every chance, and works in league with anti-nuclear activists. To try to prove it, they have asked for copies of the activists' personal calendars, appointment books, and correspondence with a wide range of local, state, and national officials, as well as with private individuals and grassroots environmental, peace, and social justice organizations.

W. Scott McCollough, attorney for three of the activists, says Minton and HL&P appear to be trying to harass the activists purely for their objections about the nuclear plant. As evidence, he points out that the cities' suit against HL&P seeks reimbursement for power the cities had to buy elsewhere when the plant was shut down. By contrast, "[t]hese individuals want STP shut down forever," McCollough says. "The city is suing because the plant was shut down."

Judge McCown, calling HL&P's request "intrusive" and "extraordinary in its scope," ordered the depositions to go forward under the supervision of retired Judge Jim Meyers. Meyers' time will be paid for by HL&P, which has been ordered to submit a revised list of the documents it wants, and to give justification for the information it seeks.

The depositions have not yet been scheduled, says T. Paul Robbins, one of the five activists. HL&P could still appeal McCown's decision, and even if it doesn't, it will take time for the company to rewrite the subpeonas, Robbins added, saying the depositions could happen as late as October. Even though McCollough represents only three of the activists (Robbins, Bill Jackson, and Les Breeding), Judge McCown said the other two activists could get in on the deal, too. One, Susan Lee, is out of town and still has not yet been served with the initial subpeona. Tom "Smitty" Smith of Public Citizen is waiting for one of his attorneys to return to town, Robbins says. - A.B.

THE POLITICS OF RECYCLING: Next year, Austin's apartment dwellers will receive city-funded recycling services as part of a new program that's still being hammered out by solid waste officials. As the plan sits on the drawing board, the folks at Ecology Action of Texas, Inc., are jumping up and down trying to get the city to set up a program modeled after the way the environmental group does things. Only they're not so sure how much credence a city bureaucracy is willing to give to a non-profit bunch of volunteers, even though they've been in the recycling business for 25 years.

While the city tinkers with its multi-family plan, Ecology Action is putting the finishing touches on its new drive-through recycling center, which will open September 1 at 907 E. Ninth St., across from the Austin Police Department. The center is believed to be the first of its kind in Texas, maybe even the nation.

"It's the coolest idea in the world," says Sue Johnson, who chairs the Ecology Action board. She credits the group's general manager, Bob Russell, with dreaming up the idea and styling the center after the old-fashioned gas stations, complete with uniformed attendants.

If Johnson has her way, the city will team up with Ecology Action to fund a network of drive-through recycling centers in neighborhoods across town. The centers would eliminate the possibility of hundreds of blue recycling boxes stacked outside apartment complexes, and would help clean up the clutter at existing drop-off sites inside multifamily complexes, Johnson says.

The jury's still out on that suggestion. Willie Rhodes, the director of the city's Solid Waste Services, says his office is drafting a proposal to send out to private waste haulers to determine how they would tackle a multi-family recycling program. An earlier idea of funding the program through a fee tacked on to tenants' electric bills has been pulled back for further consideration. One other option the city is considering is reimbursing apartment managers for what they pay private haulers to collect the recycled goods.

"That plan is like a moving target," Johnson says. "There's no incentive for apartment managers to pay someone to collect the stuff. We're looking at recycling from apartment dwellers' point of view, but the city doesn't have that luxury."

No matter which route the city takes on recycling, Johnson says she's not losing any sleep over the possibility of losing clientele. "We'll consider everyone a winner," she says. Besides, she adds, "We get the true believers in recycling. These are the people who come to us because they want to recycle their cereal boxes." - A.S.

AND THEY EAT CHILDREN FOR BREAKFAST: Much has been said, and will continue to be said, about the propriety of holding the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, China - and the possibility of First Lady Hillary Clinton's leading the U.S delegation. The Chinese government's abuse of human rights, including forcing women to have abortions and to be sterilized, is the major objection the Austin American-Statesman raised in an August 16 editorial against the convention.

But another, quite bizarre, reason in the mounting argument against the United States' participation has been launched in this month's missive from James Dobson, host of "Family News in Focus" on Christian radio and president of Focus On the Family (FOF), a clearinghouse of family-oriented materials. He writes, "[H]uman fetuses have begun to appear on menus of Chinese restaurants as a delicacy and health tonic."

Where did Dobson get this information? A publication called World, produced by God's World Publishers in Asheville, N.C., recounts an alleged investigation by a Chinese newspaper reporter into the rumored practice of consuming aborted fetuses, which are said "`to improve complexions and promote general well-being...'" The reporter was allegedly unsuccessful on the first attempt to procure fetuses, but supposedly scored on the second visit to a Shenzhen hospital, and was told, "`Normally we doctors take them home to eat - all free. Since you don't look well, you can take them.'"

Amy Wong Mok, chair of the Asian-American Alliance of Austin, is planning to attend the UN conference and be a panelist in a discussion on the future of the women's movement. "This is beyond outrage," she said, when told of Dobson's allegations. "I do not want to engage in such a slanderous discussion. He's using questionable materials to dehumanize us. If he is really concerned about the unborn person, he should present it in a dignified way."

Mok said her purpose in attending the conference, which runs from August 30 to September 15, is to promote inclusion. The recent defection of Norma McCorvey, aka Jane Roe, from the pro-choice camp "raised a concern I have," she said, "that the feminist movement is classist." She believes feminism's elitist reputation is attributable, in part, to articulate, educated white women gaining most of the media's attention. "To only value one group of women above those who don't fit into the white, middle-class profile isn't feminism," she said.- R.A.

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