Naked City

Off the Desk:

Hospice Austin wants to buy the beloved Christopher House, the recently closed healthcare site for people with AIDS. If Hospice Austin can come up with proper funding, the nonprofit agency would acquire the Christopher site and provide inpatient hospice care for the terminally ill. Still, some Christopher House advocates argue that the site should continue to serve the HIV community exclusively. To that end, the city is looking into the possibility of buying the site and continuing to provide AIDS healthcare services in the Christopher tradition. The city recently sent a team of engineers over to Christopher to give the place a look-see. Expect to hear more discussion on Christopher's future in coming weeks...

Early voting for the May 3 city election starts Monday, April 14, and runs through April 29 at the following polling places:

    • Austin Rec. Center, 1301 Shoal Creek Blvd.
    • Downtown, 617 Congress Ave.
    • Westgate Mall, Ben White & Lamar
    • Northcross Mall, Anderson & Burnet
    • ACC Admin. Office, 5930 Middle Fiskville Rd.
    • ACC Northridge, 11928 Stonehollow
    • ACC Riverside, 1020 Grove
    • Pan Am Rec Center, 2100 E. 3rd
    • Rosewood Rec Center, 2300 Rosewood
    • South Austin Rec Center, 1100 Cumberland
    • Spicewood Springs Branch Library, 8637 Spicewood Springs
    • University Hills Branch Library, 4721 Loyola
    • Oak Hill Elementary, 6101 Patton
    • Doss Elementary, 7005 Northledge

Voting hours are 7:45am-7pm, Mon-Fri, and 10am-4pm, Saturdays. For an online version of that list plus a lot more, including a list of all candidates and ballot propositions, visit the city's quite complete election page, http://www.ci.austin.tx.us/election/...

If you're hankering to learn more about the city council candidates, tune in to the hopefuls' respective websites for a taste of true-blue propaganda. Cyberspace candidates and their websites include mayoral candidates:

Ted Kircher (http://readthis.com/Ted4Mayor),

Kirk Watson (http://www.kirkwatson.org),

Max Nofziger (http://www.realtime.net/~max),

Place 5's Bill Spelman (http://www.spelman.org),

and Place 2's Becky Motal (http://www.motal.org). Or if you're of the liberal persuasion looking for dirt, check out Scott Henson's new council candidates' Hall of Shame website at http://www.onr.com/user/blackdog...

-- A.S.

The City of Austin Electric Utility wants to help cut your grass. They won't help push the mower, but they might give you a deal on an electric one. Gasoline-powered mowers can emit as much air pollution per hour as several dozen cars. So to promote better air quality, the utility will offer discounts of up to $90 on a new electric mower if you trade in your old gas hog. On April 26, go to the city's north service center at 2412 Kramer Ln. If you're interested, call the utility ahead of time at 322-6300 or 322-6316...

-- R.B.

Saturday marks the day the Corporation for Affordable Housing will begin turning dirt on a new housing development in Manor, in eastern Travis County. The non-profit, faith-based group will break ground for the first phase of the Wilbarger Creek Homes project. Digging begins at noon at the corner of Lockhart and Lampasas streets...

-- A.S.

Pressure Cooker

No one who keeps up with the Neighborhood Housing and Community Development Department (NHCD) will be surprised to hear about the resignation last week of the department's director, Bill Cook.

Just two days before Cook's sudden resignation on April 4, he had proposed to the city council that $2.8 million in federal Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds be reallocated from several programs -- including councilmember Eric Mitchell's pet project, the Austin Revitilization Authority (ARA) -- to the One Stop Capital Shop, an off-shoot of Mayor Bruce Todd's pet Austin Project.

The buzz at city hall is that Cook had been caught in a tug-of-war between city staff and councilmembers for several years and had had enough. Cook was only willing to confirm that he "decided that it was time to move on," but refused to comment on the controversy surrounding his departure.

However, City Manager Jesus Garza did confirm this week that Cook's reallocation plan grew out of an ultimatum issued by the federal department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), which doles out CDBG funds. HUD is demanding that at least $1.7 million be spent before June 30 in order to properly balance the ratio of allocated dollars to expended dollars -- or else the money will revert back to HUD coffers.

Cook's proposal to allocate the funding to the One Stop Capital Shop, which will offer job training and information about public assistance, likely stems from the fact that its services are already up and running, whereas the programs that will be losing funding, such as Mitchell's ARA, are still in the planning phases of redeveloping East 11th and 12th streets.

While Cook was placed in a "use it or lose it" situation with the CDBG dollars, City Manager Garza denies that Cook's resignation stemmed from the pressures of taking money from pet politically charged programs and putting it elsewhere. However, Diana Soliz, a businesswoman and community activist who originally proposed the One Stop Capital Shop, but is no longer involved in the program, noted that Cook was constantly caught between a rock and a hard place in trying to appease the council. "Bill was pulled every which way," said Soliz. "It was difficult to try to do his job efficiently when all these little political favors needed to be done."

To be sure, there are lessons to be learned from this recent turn of events. Garza admits that the city will have to relearn how to manage housing funds. "We have to try to find out whether we have good milestones for all of these projects," he said. He stressed the importance of the city switching to short-term funding allocation and planning, rather than hoarding federal dollars while projects await completion.

At any rate, city council will hold a public hearing on Thursday, April 24, on the proposed CDBG reallocation, and the council will vote on the plan May 14. -- K.V.

Unseemly U.

Many words are better, stronger, than "unseemly." Yet, when it comes to describing the malodorous machinations of UT Chancellor William "Dollar Bill" Cunningham, the editorial writers at the local daily appear to be stuck on "unseemly." On April 8, 1996, when the editorialists took Dollar Bill to task for cashing in the stock options he was given by New Orleans-based Freeport-McMoRan, and making a tax-free $650,422 in the process, they wrote that "in truth the whole cozy connection between the chancellor and the Moffetts, however legal, is unseemly. Is opportunism what higher education is all about?"

Last Sunday, the Statesman's editorial writers again took Dollar Bill to task -- this time for the fundraising efforts of the Friends of the University Political Action Committee, which gave large contributions to Lt. Gov. Bob Bullock and other members of the Texas Legislature. (UT's fundraising activities are at issue in a lawsuit filed by an administrator from UT-San Antonio, who claims he was coerced into donating money to the PAC.)

While excusing Cunningham from direct involvement in setting up the UT PAC (which, by the way, is not at all clear; the PAC was set up shortly after Cunningham became chancellor), the Statesman said Dollar Bill has helped it raise money. "The image of university presidents shaking down subordinates for money to buy political influence is an ugly one," said the paper's lead editorial on April 6. "At the very least, it is unseemly, if not patently wrong, for UT System officials to solicite [sic] campaign money from employees."

Since the folks at Cox seem to be lacking the funds for a good thesaurus, here are some suggestions for the next time they want to castigate Dollar Bill: How about wrong? Or maybe scurrilous? Offensive? Improper? How how about just plain corrupt? -- R.B.

Keeping the Faith

Austin Interfaith is putting the finishing touches on a full slate of issues which the group will present to city council candidates at an April 24 forum. Interfaith intends to ask candidates to support the group's efforts in the areas of welfare reform, job training, education, and youth issues.

With everyone from the White House to city hall expecting churches to pick up the slack for the newly gutted national welfare program, Interfaith is focusing its concern on assistance for impoverished families. In addition to campaigning for job training and a $10-per-hour minimum "living wage" standard that employers could meet in exchange for city tax abatements, Interfaith is also organizing with other multi-religious organizations across the state for a march on the Texas Capitol April 14.

Interfaith also wants council candidates to promise funding for the group's work toward helping schools to provide summer jobs for youth, English language classes for adults, and after-school programs. The English language classes have been operating on a budget of $15,000 to date, but due to growing interest in the program, Interfaith says, it will need $50,000 each from the city and the county to cope with the lengthy waiting list for classes.

While the group does not endorse political contenders, council candidates are likely to make note of the group's requests, since the group's cross-cultural, city-wide influence can make Interfaith either a tough opponent or a powerful ally in the local political arena. -- K.V.

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