Off the Desk:
The fuzz nearly nabbed Save Our Springs PAC member Bill Bunch at Eeyore's Saturday afternoon. Why was the S.O.S. Alliance attorney on the verge of getting busted? Electioneering. Birthday bash organizers are concerned about losing Eeyore's non-profit status should they allow political leafleting of the type that Bunch was engaging in, explains UT YMCA chair Stacy Suits, who was in charge of the counter-culture fest. Bunch's yells of "All hippies most vote! All slackers must vote!" were squelched by security guards, who, Bunch says, demanded that he turn around and put his hands behind his back. What, and miss the political schmooze-fest at Palmer Auditorium Saturday night to spend the night in jail? Bunch opted to leave quickly, but not without first "copping a lawyer attitude," recalls Suits... -- A.D.
Downtown Austin is starting to look more like downtown. At least that's what the folks downtown say. A survey of the daytime inhabitants found an overall improvement in visuals, safety, and cleanliness. In the needs-to-improve department, respondents said they wanted more parking, more retail, less transients, better sidewalks, and low-interest loans for renovating store fronts. This is the second study since 1995 commissioned by the Downtown Austin Alliance. A first in this year's study -- a big plea to promote the arts downtown...
Austin attorney Rafael Quintanilla is the newest trustee appointed to the board of the metamorphosing Austin Community College. He replaces Mack Ray Hernandez, also an attorney, who resigned from his post in March after nine years on the job...
Mark Friday, May 30 on your end-of-the-month calendar for an ACLU review of the Texas Legislature -- "The Good, the Bad, The Awful." Jay Jacobson, who heads ACLU Texas, will present his findings of the winners and losers among advocacy groups at noon, at Furr's Cafeteria in Northcross Mall. The talk is free, the food isn't. Call 459-5829 for more info... -- A.S.
When Sally McIntosh, president of Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) arrived at the group's annual picnic last Sunday, the last thing she expected to hear from one of her close friends was: "I'm surprised that you're endorsing Eric Mitchell." McIntosh was surprised too. Her friend was referring to a Mitchell campaign ad that ran in both The Texas Triangle and the May 1 Chronicle, stressing that Mitchell's "numerous" appointees to city commissions "include men and women who are involved in the gay civil rights struggle."
The ad went on to list McIntosh, Rich Bailey, and Saul Gonzalez as Mitchell appointees to the Austin Human Rights Commission which oversees, among other things, gay and lesbian civil rights. Not only was McIntosh not informed of the ad ahead of time, but she, Bailey, and Gonzalez were all appointed in 1993 -- before Mitchell was even elected to the Austin City Council. Mitchell is running for re-election in Place 6 and faces Willie Lewis in a May 31 runoff.
"[Mitchell's] timing was so clever. To run it on the Thursday before the election so there was no recourse," McIntosh said. She added that she and other commissioners named in the ad have to be careful about what they say in response to the ad, because it is a misdemeanor for appointed commissioners to try and influence city employees on election issues.
"I am willing to say that Eric Mitchell did not appoint me or ask my permission to use my name in the ad. It distresses me greatly that it might be construed as an endorsement of Mitchell because I do not endorse him," McIntosh said. She points out that Mitchell has "wiggle room" in that he did vote, along with the rest of the council, to approve the continuation of her appointment to the commission a few months back. But in fact, Mitchell's only actual appointee to the Human Rights Commission is his campaign's favorite mouthpiece, Dorothy Turner.
Eugene Sepulveda, a board member of the Human Rights Campaign, a national gay and lesbian rights lobbying group, has a similar gripe about a recent Mitchell campaign ad published in the Austin American-Statesman. The ad named Sepulveda among a lengthy list of Mitchell supporters. Sepulveda said he specifically told Mitchell that he did not want his name in the ad, particularly since their friendship had become strained over the councilmember's run-in with a council aide. Mitchell allegedly threatened the aide and called him a faggot. Sepulveda says he was disappointed by Mitchell's attitude about the incident, as well as his refusal to personally issue a public apology.
When Mitchell telephoned him at home to ask his permission to use his name in the ad, Sepulveda says he emphatically declined. "By the time he called, I wasn't interested in promoting our friendship and certainly not in promoting his candidacy," he said.
Mitchell's campaign manager, Preston Ervin, refused to comment on the ads or the allegations by Sepulveda and McIntosh. -- K.V.
Boll Weevil Upheaval
It was a long time coming, but Earnest Gesch finally feels vindicated. The Eola cotton farmer has resisted the Texas Boll Weevil Eradication Foundation (TBWEF) for more than two years. And last Wednesday, the Texas Supreme Court ruled that the legislation that created the TBWEF was unconstitutional.
In a 5-to-4 decision handed down last week, the court found the weevil eradication foundation, which was created by the Legislature in 1993 and given a broad range of powers, "represents an overly broad delegation of legislative authority to a private entity."
Justice Nathan Hecht, who concurred with the majority opinion, wrote a scathing analysis of the TBWEF, which was given power by the Legislature to enter private property with the permission of growers and the power to destroy cotton crops of non-participating farmers. Hecht wrote that the TBWEF "wields more legislative power with less restraint than any other privately chartered non-profit corporation in Texas, or, as far as I can tell, in the history of Texas." He went on to say it is by "no means a typical administrative agency; it is not even an atypical administrative agency; it is a complete anomaly in the structure of government.
"Plainly put," Hecht continued, the TBWEF is "little more than a posse: volunteers and private entities neither elected nor appointed, privately organized and supported by the majority of some small group, backed by law but without guidelines or supervision, wielding great power over people's lives and property but answering virtually to no one."
Sources familiar with the controversy are speculating that the eradication foundation, which is saddled with more than $30 million in debt, might take bankruptcy to escape its creditors. Or it could seek legislative relief from the Texas Legislature. But the lege has less than a month left before it adjourns and is not scheduled to reconvene until January of 1999.
Gesch, like many other farmers in the San Angelo and South Texas areas, opposed the eradication program. But like other cotton growers, he was required to pay assessments to the foundation. Over the past three years, he estimates he paid more than $12,000. "I don't expect to get any of that back," said Gesch. "But I'm tickled to death. I'm just glad to see the program's over."
The only winner throughout this entire mess are the lawyers at the Austin law firm of Small Craig & Werkenthin. According to an article published in February in Texas Lawyer, the firm, which represents TBWEF, racked up $400,906 in billings between 1994 and 1996. Ed Small, who lobbies for TBWEF and also lobbies for the Texas & Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association, did not return phone calls from the Chronicle. Another winner was Frank Myers, who, as head of TBWEF, was paid $124,088 per year. That's $25,000 more than the governor. Calls placed to Myers at the TBWEF office in Abilene were referred to the office of Small Craig.
On Tuesday, Sen. Robert Duncan
(R-Lubbock) presented SB1814 to the Senate Natural Resources Committee. The
26-page bill would overhaul the boll weevil program statewide. Cotton farmers from across Texas attended the standing-room only hearing. The committee will reconsider the bill today, Thursday, May 8. -- R.B.
Tribal Leader Speaks
In an April 29 speech at Loyola University in New Orleans, Tom Beanal, the Amungme tribal leader who has filed a second complaint against Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold for alleged human rights abuses, said Freeport is doing little to improve its image at its mining site on the island of Papua, New Guinea.
He said Freeport's dumping of more than 125,000 tons of untreated mine waste into the local river every day is causing serious problems. "Freeport is not honest and does not want to acknowledge these problems," Beanal said. "The company denies every kind of effort by the local people peacefully to express concern about the company's impact on their lives and the environment." The full text of Beanal's speech is on the Chronicle's website at /. -- R.B.