Naked City

Off the Desk:

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Pete Foster, the trustee who left the Austin Community College board for a banking job in Houston, says he may be back in his old seat Monday to vote on his successor. The board deadlocked at its last meeting in the choice between candidates Sharon Knotts Green and Bill Spelman. Chances are Foster won't vote for Spelman, who is the environmentalists' favorite. Seems Foster doesn't live here, but he still owns a residence here. Does that make him a legal resident and an eligible voting member of the board? ACC attorney Myra McDaniel says yes. Expect to hear arguments to the contrary at the board's meeting at 5:30pm Monday at ACC's Northridge campus.

HOBO's woes continue to mount. Helping Our Brothers Out, Inc., an organization that serves the homeless, has a hard-luck story of its own to tell these days. The group of do-gooders has fallen victim to the ills of mismanagement and theft by its own employees. Now HOBO risks losing $200,000 in city and county funding because it is in such a serious state of disrepair. Group leaders are scrambling to raise money to keep the organization afloat and find a new home in the process, since its current location is getting the wrecking ball next year in a downtown makeover. Discussion on matters of funding will continue on Friday, Nov. 8 at a Community Action Network meeting, 411 W. Second St. Call 476-4357 if you're up to helping these brothers out...

Lone Star is not just for drinking anymore. Now you can sink your teeth into The Lone Star Report for regular doses of Texas politics, wrought by a right-wing hand. The publication is put out by The Landrum Society, a think-tank outfit in Dallas. The not-so-conservative In Fact reports this week that Lone Star's managing editor, Mike Arnold, is based in Austin, where he shares work quarters with the Texas Conservative Academic Network in office space donated by Hartland Bank Chairman David Hartman. Arnold, In Fact notes, was campaign manager for Kirk Ingles, the founder of the local Christian Coalition...

Which segues into the Christian Coalition's latest shenanigan. The group caught hell last week for sending out sample voter guide packets to churches that depicted photos of two fictitious candidates -- one who supported the coalition's stand on 10 issues and another who opposed their positions. Problem was, the fictitious candidate opposing the Christian Coalition's platform just happened to be an African American. This really got the Texas Faith Network's goat because, just three weeks earlier, the group had called on Texas clergy to stop distributing Christian Coalition voter guides in churches, and then this new batch arrives in the mail. Gary Bledsoe, president of the state NAACP, said the tactic was on the same race-baiting par as the infamous Willie Horton commercials...

If you're a student of Freeport-McMoRan's dealings in Indonesia, then UT Prof. Robert Boyer's Web page is a must-see at http://www.cs.utexas.edu/users/boyer/fp. And for Freeport's spin on the human rights and environmental issues at the mine, visit the company's new Web sites. For F-M, go to http://www.fmi.com. For F-M Copper & Gold, go to http:/www.fcx.com... -- R.B.

Our Nuclear Lemon

The South Texas Project (STP) -- Austin's nuclear albatross in Bay City -- made the list of America's 25 worst nuclear reactors, according to a Public Citizen study released last week. The consumer watchdog group's "Nuclear Lemons" report ranked both reactors at the STP in the top 20. The 1,251-megawatt reactor known as South Texas 1 occupies the #9 spot on the list, while South Texas 2, also a 1,251-megawatt reactor, ranked #17.

America's aging nuclear facilities, the watchdog group warns, are threatening public health and safety. STP made the list because of its faulty record, says Public Citizen. A mishap in February 1993 shut the plant down for nearly a year, prompting the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to fine Houston Lighting & Power, the plant's managing partner, $500,000 for violations of safety standards. NRC placed the STP on its "watch list" as one of the most poorly managed nuclear plants in the country.

In December 1973, the city projected its share of the plant would cost $161 million. To date, Austin has spent more than $1 billion, and 40 cents of every dollar of every customer's electric bill goes to pay for the power plant. Problems at the plant have led the city to sue HL&P on several occasions, not to mention trying to sell its interest in the plant.

In 1983, while STP was still under construction, the city hired Merrill Lynch which tried, and failed, to find a buyer. In 1988, the city tried -- and again failed -- to arrange a swap with HL&P. On Sept. 28, 1994, the city took out a $15,000 ad in the Wall Street Journal, soliciting "proposals from parties interested in acquiring its 400-megawatt share of the South Texas Project." The city got four responses. Texas Utilities, El Paso Electric, and Kansas Electric Power sent letters saying they weren't interested. A fourth response came from Thomas M. Tietz, a bail bondsman from Burnet, who was ready to take the STP off the city's hands. On Oct. 27, 1994, Tietz sent a letter to the city saying he would take the Nuke, but only if the city paid him $150 million. Unfortunately, Tietz died 15 days later, before the city had a chance to respond... -- R.B.

Orum Settles

A year after an AISD action that angered Austin's African-American community, the Austin Independent School District Board of Trustees has accepted the resignation of Eddie Orum, a black principal of LBJ High School until his September 1995 removal and reassignment to central administration. For weeks thereafter, many African-Americans went before the board protesting AISD's action. Orum consistently maintained that he was a casualty of political machinations between the school's regular academic program and the prestigious magnet science academy; school officials maintained that job performance problems led to Orum's reassignment.

Orum filed suit last March against AISD Superintendent Jim Fox and several other defendants. The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court, alleged that Orum's reassignment was based on retaliation and violated his right to free speech. He sought actual and punitive damages, as well as reinstatement at LBJ High.

The two sides settled out of court August 26. Terms of the agreement, undisclosed until this week, left Orum with an AISD letter of reference and $57,000. "I can't discuss the resolution of the case," Orum said. "I appreciate the support of the community and feel good about the outcome." Orum's leave of absence since early September will continue until his resignation is effective April 10, 1997. -- R.A.

City Life Anew

Here's a bridge-building issue in which you can take part without having to lay asphalt. A workshop on "Building Livable Communities Through Transportation" will take place Saturday, Oct. 26, 8am-5pm, at the University of Texas Thompson Conference Center.

The U.S. Department of Transportation selected Austin as one of four cities nationwide to host the workshop, co-sponsored by the Austin Neighborhoods Council. The workshop will address the catch-22 situation of inner-city residents who flee to suburbia to escape traffic and pollution, only to generate more congestion and smog in commuting to work.

The way to reverse this decline in the quality of life in inner cities is to restore a sense of community, says Fred Kent, one of 14 national and local experts who will speak at the workshop. This will require implementing traffic-calming measures, and making cities amenable to transit, walking and cycling, says Kent, the director of New York-based Project for Public Spaces. Ellis McCoy, manager of the Portland Traffic Calming Program, will show how traffic calming has helped turn Portland into one of America's most livable cities. Rick Chelman, who drafted guidelines on walk-friendly communities for the Institute for Transportation Engineers, will discuss pedestrian amenities, as will Susan Handy, who is a professor of community planning at UT, and also a board member of Capital Metro.

Also, information will be provided on the Guadalupe Street Beautification Program, which aims to make the UT drag a showpiece of pedestrian-based revitalization. Speakers who will discuss revitalization and marketing of inner-city commercial areas include Dick Ryan, director of the Texas Historical Commission's Main Street Program, and Dennis Zane, former mayor of Santa Monica, California. Call 469-7974 for more info. -- N.E.

B-1's Benediction

For years, critics have contended that the Air Force's B-1 bomber was a waste of money. Now, the General Accounting Office has issued a report suggesting that the bomber be retired. Released on September 30, just three weeks after American B-52s launched cruise missiles against forces in Iraq, the GAO report says the Secretary of Defense should "retire or reduce the B-1B force." The study notes that when compared with the B-52H and B-2 bombers, the B-1B just doesn't measure up and isn't worth the price of an upgrade and regular maintenance.

The GAO report is just the latest in a series of studies in which the agency criticizes the
B-1's capabilities, mission and cost. Built at a cost of nearly $300 million each, the B-1 was designed to carry thermonuclear warheads in retaliatory strikes against the Soviet Union. The plane costs the Air Force about $1 billion per year to fly and maintain.

Nearly half of the B-1 fleet is located at Dyess Air Force Base in Abilene. The base contributes about $300 million per year to the local economy, and Republican U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, who sits on the Senate Armed Forces Committee, has been a strong proponent of keeping as many B-1s as possible at Dyess.

David Evans, a former military affairs correspondent with the Chicago Tribune who has written extensively about the B-1, says the GAO report "is further evidence that the B-1 has been a costly failure. It shows the Air Force has not had a successful bomber program since the B-52." The report on the B-1, number GAO/NSIAD-96-192, is available on the Web at http://www.gao.gov. -- R.B.

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