Naked City

Off the Desk:

Offering to "restore integrity, responsibility, and maturity" to Austin City Council's Place 6 seat, community activist Willie Lewis made official Tuesday his decision to challenge strong-man incumbent Eric Mitchell. "I think a lot of people see him as a person who hasn't done as much as he could for the people," Lewis said of Mitchell. Among the dozen or so supporters who turned out to hear Lewis' declaration was fellow activist Ron Davis, who lost to Mitchell the last time around. Lewis, of course, doesn't expect to come close to matching Mitchell's campaign fundraising muscle, but he promised to behave better than his peevish opponent. "We need a councilmember... who respects people, neighborhood leaders, and other councilmembers," he said. Lewis has signed on Todd Main, formerly of Citizen Action and Councilmember Beverly Griffith's campaign, as a paid consultant... -- K.V.

After four years of publishing the tart and tawdry Fag Rag, Craig Edwards has moved on to his newest creation, Exposure Magazine. The free gay and lesbian mag debuts Friday, March 14, in Austin, Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio. Exposure boasts the largest circulation of any queer pub in Texas, a claim that threatens to wrest the circulation tiara away from the weekly Texas Triangle. The new magazine promises a broader scope of content, with beefed-up coverage of entertainment and culture, plus an assortment of other nuggets and treats... -- A.S.

In the ball and chain department, Texas' prison system is three times larger today than it was in 1991. And the per-capita cost of keeping inmates locked up is apparently declining. Last month, the Texas Criminal Justice Policy Council reported that the cost of keeping an inmate behind bars has dropped from $44.40 per day in 1994 to $39.51 in 1996. Is this good news? -- R.B.

Rose Smells a Rat

Mark Rose is many things, but he can hardly be described as an environmental extremist. So when he excoriated FM Properties last week in a four-page memo that ended the Lower Colorado River Authority's negotiations with FMP, it was rather surprising. After all, Rose, the general manager of the LCRA, was seen by some observers as FMP's savior when it comes to sewage treatment.

FMP needs to upgrade its sewage capacity in order to expand its project. By letting LCRA take over the sewage operation, FMP could have escaped much of the political heat it was facing from the city of Austin. The city has steadfastly refused to provide sewer service to the 4,000-acre development project, which lies about 12 stream miles upstream of Barton Springs Pool.

The LCRA was negotiating with FMP to buy the company's water and sewage treatment plants for $5 million. But Rose said that at the 11th hour, FMP, which is managed by New Orleans-based Freeport-McMoRan, demanded that it have control over the permit issued to the treatment plant by the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission. "In short," Rose told his boardmembers, "they want a private corporation to have control over a publicly owned entity's right to ask for TNRCC approval of any permit requirement." Rose went on to say that FMP's "favored outcome is one in which they shift liability -- political and regulatory -- to us and maintain control over the permit."

This is not the first time Freeport has made big demands at the end of complicated negotiations. Brigid Shea, the former city councilmember who is now executive director of the Save Our Springs Alliance, said, "To me this is absolute proof that Freeport is untrustworthy. They have demonstrated this repeatedly."

The full text of Rose's memo to the LCRA board is on the Chronicle's web page at /. -- R.B.

The Bane of GAIN

A long-standing feud between City Councilmember Eric Mitchell and Guadalupe neighborhood leaders in East Austin went from bad to worse last week when Mitchell got the boot from a Guadalupe meeting.

Exactly what led to the councilmember's unceremonious dismissal from the meeting is a point of disagreement between Mitchell and meeting attendees Mark Rogers of the Guadalupe Association for an Improved Neighborhood (GAIN), and the Rev. Bill Elliott of Our Lady of Guadalupe Church and Austin Interfaith.

According to Rogers, Mitchell and Councilmember Gus Garcia's aide, Paul Saldana, showed up uninvited to the meeting. (Many in attendance thought they should be able to discuss the zoning proposals without the presence of local politicians, Rogers explained.) Once Mitchell was there, he did not play the part of interested observer, but proceeded to take issue with a GAIN-disseminated flyer that details GAIN's stance on Mitchell's proposed plans for East Austin redevelopment. "I'm here to tell the truth," he declared.

Elliott, for one, was unimpressed. Referring to a 1995 letter Mitchell sent to the Vatican, accusing Elliott of organizing "political hit squads" in East Austin, Elliott says he asked Mitchell: "Have you heard from the Pope yet about those truths you wrote about me?" After a heated verbal exchange between Elliott and Mitchell, the councilmember left the meeting in short order, grousing, "You've all got your minds made up." Though Rogers says that he and other neighborhood leaders several times offered to meet with Mitchell at another time, he says Mitchell left without discussing their offer.

Mitchell, for his part, confirmed that he and Elliott had words, and that he was "put out" of the meeting, but he defends his decision to attend the gathering. GAIN's meeting, he says, was an attempt to thwart his development plans for East Austin. "These folks, being the duplicitous people that they are, were having a secret meeting," Mitchell says. "They have their own agenda, they hate certain people, and my name's probably at the top of the list."

Mitchell mainly took issue with being excluded from what he had assumed was a public meeting, and with the GAIN flyer that was critical of his planning initiatives. He called the flyer a "total misrepresentation of the facts." Initially, the GAIN meeting was to have included all the Central East Austin neighborhood groups, but the group later decided to keep the meeting small by not publicizing it. Mitchell says that if GAIN refuses to cooperate with his development plans in Central East Austin, "we'll just make a hole in the doughnut and leave them out." -- K.V.

Knock, Knock

Who's there? Police. Police who? Police vote for me. The one who gets to tell that joke is Councilmember Eric Mitchell, whose candidacy has already won one of the most sought-after endorsements, that of the Austin Police Association. The APA awarded the endorsement early, bypassing their usual selection process of interviews and a candidates' forum, this year scheduled for March 21 at Town Lake Center.

"He has been very supportive of us and he's already been very supportive of the community," says APA Vice President Mike Sheffield. APA PAC Chair Sean Mannix says the endorsement came early so Mitchell could get the one-up on challenger Willie Lewis and anyone else who might run. "We just wanted to let Eric know that regardless of who ends up running against him, he's our candidate," says Mannix.

Of the seven councilmembers, Mitchell is the APA's favorite. He's been a firebrand police supporter, often vocally, and is credited with leading the fight to allow earlier retirement and increase retirement pay. Looks like his work is paying off. -- A.M.

Threadgill's Plan Nixed

In keeping with the dubious logic of city councilmembers who tried to make light of a weighty issue, the Austin Music Hall does not serve vegetables and Threadgill's does; therefore, Threadgill's is not going to get an institutional network (INet) cable drop to broadcast a music series from the venerable eatery on North Lamar.

Despite the fact that other commercial music venues have been approved for cable connections, Time Warner (TW) has been dead set against supplying Threadgill's with a hook-up on grounds that the INet connection is designed for government and educational institutions. According to TW, the difference between Threadgill's and other approved cable-drop venues, such as the Austin Music Hall, is that the hall wants to broadcast the one-time Austin Music Awards show on March 12, whereas Threadgill's wants to air a 13-part series.

As a consolation prize, TW had instead offered to pay the $14,500 difference necessary to supply Threadgill's with a direct fiber-optic connection, but Threadgill's program coordinator, media consultant Woody Roberts, says the offer is a moot point since the restaurant does not have the equipment necessary to use fiber optics.

The council slogged through a bogus debate on the issue, with Mayor Bruce Todd taking a stab at humor -- something about who serves vegetables, who doesn't, and what is the recommended daily allowance? Todd and Councilmember Gus Garcia wrangled over the implications of setting precedent on INet at commercial venues. Todd wondered if the same consideration might be given to Luby's if the cafeteria wanted an INet connection. Garcia quipped that he had never heard of anyone singing at Luby's. Todd responded, "Obviously you don't go to the Luby's I go to, we sing all the time." Oh, what merriment.

Councilmember Eric Mitchell seemed to have a broader agenda. While admitting that he never tuned in, he suggested that "maybe we need to sort of rethink this whole music channel scenario." No one took him up on the offer.

Roberts, meanwhile, says he's giving up on the project after a two-year struggle, which, in the end, was tantamount to a Machiavellian chess game between TW and the city over the appropriate use for the INet. He surmised that TW is "afraid that if this is as successful as I think it will be, that music cities around the United States are going to want to duplicate us. It could cause a brushfire that they would have to deal with." -- K.V

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