Naked City

Off the Desk:

At last, City Councilmember Gus Garcia has added some much-needed grist for the mill in what had otherwise been a ho-hum Place 2 race between Becky Motal, Becky Motal, and Becky Motal. Garcia said Monday that he had outgrown his Place 5 seat on council (the post traditionally reserved for Hispanic candidates) and was shooting for the plain old vanilla seat down the row. "I don't think I need to rely on a minority seat in order to get elected," says Garcia, who spent six years on the Austin Independent School District board before serving the last six years as a councilmember. If Motal runs her campaign against Garcia the way she ran her unsuccessful bid against councilmember Jackie Goodman last spring, we can expect some interesting dynamics ahead. "I'm not planning to investigate Becky Motal," says Garcia, referring to the candidate's detective work on Goodman's smoking habits...

The "gentleman's agreement" that guaranteed a Hispanic voice on city council may be due for some re-interpretation as Garcia resigns his Place 5 post to pursue the Place 2 seat. Now some non-Hispanics are wistfully eyeing the seat. One is Karen Hadden, an Earth First! activist who filed her treasury report form on Jan. 8. Other candidates lining up for a shot at Place 5 include businessman Manuel Zuniga, state employee Tom Guerrero, and Gus Peña, president of East Austin Concerned Hispanics...

Could the Barton Springs Salamander deaths last week (and last month) have been prevented? The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service seems to think so. The agency warned the city Parks & Recreation Department in a memo last spring that frequent lowering of the pool endangers the tiny amphibians in adjacent Eliza Springs. The memo further stated that lowering the water causes silt from the shallow end to deposit in the deep end of the pool, clogging the salamander's gills and smothering its eggs. The pool crew, however, continued its maintenance practices. Last month, biologists found 12 dead salamanders in Eliza springs. And last week, the death toll increased to 28 when 16 more salamanders were found dead. "The disgusting part of this is that Fish & Wildlife told them this was a problem, and the pool staff just blew them off," said Bill Bunch, legal counsel for the Save Our Springs Alliance. -- A.S.

Max, Mayor?

Max Nofziger, longtime politician and musician, became Austin's third mayoral candidate Tuesday, January 7. Nofziger, who served nine years on the Austin City Council before retiring in June, announced his candidacy at the Laughing at the Sun art gallery in deep South Austin.

"This is my stronghold," he said. "I used to sell flowers over there at Oltorf & Congress." He added that Austin has never elected a mayor from the city's south end. He was quick to point out that the other two mayoral candidates, Kirk Watson and Ronney Reynolds, live north of Town Lake.

Nofziger said he considered helping Watson on his campaign at one point, "But the more I got to know him the more I realized I couldn't vote for him." He said campaign finance reform and the electric utility issue are two areas where the two candidates differ. Both oppose selling the utility, but Watson favors setting up a board-controlled utility, while Nofgizer advocates a city-owned, city-controlled entity.

Nofziger said he intends to finance his campaign according to the guidelines of Austinites for a Little Less Corruption, the grassroots organization that wants to put campaign-finance reform on the ballot. The group favors limiting contributions to $100 per person and $50,000 total, and $75,000 if a runoff is necessary. Nofziger said abiding by those principles would be no problem. "I don't intend to spend that kind of money," he said, saying he would devote more time than money to campaigning.

For months, Nofziger had been rumored to be considering a run for mayor. But many in-the-know wags refused to believe the grist, especially given the formidable lineup already in place with candidates Reynolds and Watson.

Neither of the two seemed bothered by Nofziger's entry into the contest. "Max brings a number of very strong convictions and some strong name identification to the race. It's going to be a three-way horserace," says Reynolds. Watson is betting on voters wanting some new blood at city hall. "Now we have two people in the race -- Max and Ronney -- who have been there all along, and they're saying, `if you promote me to Mayor, things will be different.' I think Austinites want something more than just more of the same."

Brigid Shea, who, like Nofziger, left office six months ago, is surprised the ex-councilmember is choosing to make a comeback. "Max is a good guy, but I think that the time for him as mayor has passed," she says.

Nofziger's departure from public office may have left him feeling like a fish out of water. Since stepping into private life, Nofziger has spent his days doing car commercials and being a part-time musician.

Among the issues Nofziger cited as key to the mayoral race were the electric utility, the environment, air quality, aligning city and county government, transportation, overhauling Palmer Auditorium, and converting the Cinema West adult theater into a performing arts space.

Nofziger said he announced his candidacy in the small gallery, a former lawnmower repair shop nestled among transmission repair shops and Mexican restaurants, to emphasize the importance of Austin's art community. He also said he has no plans to put his musical career on hold, saying that for him, singing is like "Ronney Reynolds going to a CPA office." --C.G.

Freeport Tries Intervention

Last year at this time, Freeport-McMoRan and the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) were bitter enemies, fighting a public battle over the environmental impact that Freeport's mine has on the environment in Irian Jaya, Indonesia. Now, the two are ready to join forces to prevent the release of potentially embarrassing information about the company's huge gold, copper, and silver mine, which contains reserves valued at some $60 billion. On Monday, Roy Minton, a name partner in the Austin law firm of Minton Burton Foster & Collins, which has represented Freeport in numerous cases over the past few years, filed a motion to intervene on behalf of OPIC in the lawsuit known as Robert Bryce et al. vs. The Overseas Private Investment Corporation.

Bryce and The Austin Chronicle filed the lawsuit in September under the Freedom of Information Act. The suit seeks to force the federal agency to release the details of its environmental analysis of the Freeport mine. OPIC's investigation of the mine resulted in a landmark decision by the agency to cancel a $100 million political risk insurance policy it held on the Freeport mine. OPIC has refused to release hundreds of pages of documents containing information about water quality below the Freeport mine, claiming that those documents contain privileged business information that could hurt Freeport's competitive advantage in the mining business. -- A.S.

Keeping ARCC Afloat

In the ongoing struggle to overcome hardships at the Austin Rape Crisis Center (ARCC), the board of directors now is reaching out for help from its sister organization, the Center for Battered Women (CBW). ARCC leaders have initiated talks with the CBW about possible solutions to ARCC's longstanding financial and management concerns, including the possibility of merging the two agencies.

Two factors are at play in the push to integrate the two centers, or at least some of their services: pressure from ARCC's local funding sources to resolve its problems, and a trend toward consolidation in the under-funded non-profit sector. For the last decade, ARCC and CBW have had on-and-off discussions of a possible merger. There was last talk of such a move in 1990, but any action at the time was deemed unnecessary. However, the cut-throat competition for non-profit monies in today's business climate finds smaller agencies such as ARCC struggling to stay afloat.

The two agencies are looking at their duplication of services -- such as a 24-hour hotline and therapeutic counseling for survivors -- as possible consolidation candidates.

Though both agencies grew out of the grassroots volunteer efforts of the now-defunct Austin Women's Center in the mid-1970s, the two have not developed at the same rate. CBW has grown into a much larger and more prosperous agency than ARCC. With a staff of 74, a volunteer base of 250 and an annual budget of
$2.5 million, CBW dwarfs ARCC's staff of six, volunteer crew of 150, and $500,000 budget.

Although similar programs in Williamson and Hays County and in Houston and Ft. Worth have consolidated, the Austin agencies have evolved separately and see their missions as separate, though parallel. Both are concerned, however, along with local professionals, that any consolidation of efforts not subjugate one program to the other. Family violence and sexual assault "are two different issues. They're not mutually exclusive, but they have different dynamics," says Amy Wong Mok, president of the Texas Association Against Sexual Assault (TAASA).

Fearing a pattern at merged agencies in which rape crisis programs are perceived as the step-child of family violence programs, TAASA does not support the idea of an ARCC/CBW merger. Kelly White Rountree, executive director of CBW, echoes TAASA's concern. "It needs to not be one program gobbling up another, it needs to be about making sure that it's a fit for both programs," she says.

A joint six-member task force made up of ARCC and CBW board members will study the feasibility of consolidation and begin making recommendations in July. -- K.V.

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