The Austin Chronicle

Naked City

Off the Desk:

July 11, 1997, News

The search for the chiefs continues down at city hall. The police department was supposed to have a new chief by the end of July, but City Manager Jesus Garza now says that deadline has been moved back. Rumor was that the entire eight-man candidate pool and the selection process had been scrapped, but Garza says the search is merely going slower than planned. "The only way it would be scrapped is if we don't think we can put forward at least three candidates who can be police chief. But we're not there yet," says Garza. He adds that the process is only through the initial stage and that the pool of hopefuls has not been narrowed down to final candidates. Plus, with the recent restructuring of duties between city managers, there will be a bit of a learning curve lag at city hall, in addition to other delays. Responsibility for the police department recently landed in the lap of Assistant City Manager Marcia Conner, who is not yet prepared to comment on the selection process. Austin is also without a fire chief, since Robin Paulsgrove left for greener pastures (more money) in Arlington. And the fire department also has a new assistant city manager, Jim Smith, overseeing its operations. Garza says the city hasn't even begun to consider a selection process for a new fire chief... In other city hall transitions, Donetta McCall, fearless aide to former Councilmember Eric Mitchell, has moved over to Solid Waste Services to head up the customer services division...

It's the age of the old Aquarius...There's a move afoot to turn the former Aquarius IV movie house at 1500 S. Pleasant Valley Road into a live music venue and bar. City council passed on first reading a proposal to rezone the site, but faced with protest from area apartment residents, councilmembers asked developer Bob Honts to try to negotiate a compromise with the community. Fresh from the bargaining table, Honts comes before council again this week, possibly with a new game plan... -- K.V.

If you've had it up to here with the parking situation in the North University Neighborhood, then you'll want to catch the hearing Monday, July 21, on the proposed Residential Permit Parking Program (RPP). The city's Urban Transportation Commission wants to hear from people who participated in the program's pilot project, as well as other folks. The pilot, which began in January, allowed parking only for residents of W. 32nd, 33rd, and Laurel Lane between Speedway and Hemphill Park; Lipscomb St. between W. 32nd and 33rd; and Moore Blvd. between Grooms St. and Walling Dr. Residents' vehicles bore the seal of approval with a special city-issued RPP sticker. Violators were ticketed, or worse -- towed. The hearing starts at 6:30pm in council chambers, 307 W. 2nd. For more info, call Ariz Naqvi in the city transportation division, 499-7276...

City Attorney Andy Martin is expected to go before the council today (July 10) to ask for more money to defend the city against Austinites for a Little Less Corruption (aka Priorities First!), those big meanies who are suing the city over the lack of campaign finance reform measures. Linda Curtis, Priorities First! co-chair and self-described social terrorist, says, "I cannot believe [the city] will continue this misguided effort to derail reform by feeding it more funds." The city, incidentally, is paying private attorney Renea Hicks $200 per hour to fight the case. -- A.S.

Trimming the Phat

The ailing Austin Music Network (AMN) may be humming its last bar when the new budget year rolls around. Betty Dunkerley, the city's director of financial services, says the city is facing a $15 million revenue shortfall and AMN is one of many smaller programs which may be getting the axe when the 1997-1998 budget is completed in September.

AMN advocates are already trying to drum up support for the network using Internet newsgroups and other media. But AMN staff is frustrated because, as city employees, they cannot work to change city policy. "The music community needs to think very hard about whether they value the music network and then they need to call councilmembers," says Ingrid Weigand, AMN operations manager. Unfortunately for the network, the past year has been a constant tug-of-war between AMN and disgruntled musicians over the network's presentation of a broad spectrum of music, as opposed to narrowly focusing on folk and country. So, AMN is probably not holding its breath for an outpouring of support from local musicians. In fact, the network's biggest supporter may be the very woman wielding the axe -- Dunkerley.

"There's not a bigger advocate for them than I am. I worked very hard to get [AMN] established and it's not something I'm going to give up on lightly," says Dunkerley, who has gone to bat for the network since its inception. In fact, the network officially falls under the purview of financial services, which manages all of the city's cable offerings.

AMN's annual budget is a minuscule $280,000 and Dunkerley is hoping that a July 25 report on this summer's sales tax revenue will show enough funds to allow vulnerable, non-essential programs like AMN to remain in the budget. Finding private funding to support the network is another option, but Dunkerley predicts that AMN will still require a "major contribution from the city" to stay afloat.

City staff's final budget recommendations will not be released until Aug. 12, so AMN still has a month to rally support for their cause. And even if staff does not recommend funding the program, the city council could decide to fund the network during September's budget approval process. AMN Executive Director Ester Matthews says that until the chance for public input into the budget process opens again in September, there's little the network can do to save itself, besides hope for Austin to rally behind it. "We can just keep trying to do the best music videos we can and hope that someone wants to support us," she says. -- K.V.

Cyber Cops Still Here

Contrary to the expectations of some free-speech advocates, Cyber Patrol will not be removed from the Austin Public Library's Internet stations in the wake of the recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling striking down the Communications Decency Act (CDA).

"I was happy for the decision that came down, but it created additional problems for me because of the perception that now I am legally responsible for taking Cyber Patrol off," says library administrator Brenda Branch. "My understanding is that's not the case.... In fact, the ruling actually says filtering software is part of the solution."

Branch says Cyber Patrol protects her staff from being held liable under Texas statutes that forbid the distribution of obscene or pornographic material to minors. Instances of patrons printing child pornography and showing children how to access pornographic sites had made library staff feel both sexually harassed and anxious lest they be held responsible, Branch says.

Proponents of free speech -- such as the Electronic Frontiers Foundation (EFF) in Austin -- oppose the use of Cyber Patrol because they believe that adults, not automated software, should decide what constitutes "obscene" material.

"We find that Cyber Patrol is not an acceptable permanent solution," says EFF board member Gene Crick. While there is "no beauty in having uncontrolled Internet access for children," Crick says, software manufacturers' criteria should not be used to screen sites. APL patrons were initially prevented from seeing the Lotto Texas winning numbers, for instance, because the system filtered gambling sites.

However, APL systems programming manager Frank Bridge has since responded to more than 300 customer complaints by reviewing dozens of websites and reducing the number of filters on the software from 12 to four. Bridge says that now only sites that contain nudity, gross depictions, or sexual acts are blocked by Cyber Patrol.

"APL has tried very hard to comply both with requirements to protect minors and constitutionally protected free speech," says Crick, "They're between a rock and a hard place."

Branch acknowledges that Cyber Patrol is not a perfect solution, but says other alternatives cost too much money. The cost of reconfiguring the library's 52 computers into separate banks for adults and children, for example, would cost between $500-$1,000 per machine, and some branch libraries do not have enough space for two computer banks, let alone staff to check I.D.s. An "adult override" code is also problematic because it would be too easy for minors to obtain.

Kathleen Kanarski, manager of the Twin Oaks library branch, says she has had no complaints from visitors since the system was fine-tuned, and says Cyber Patrol makes her staff "feel more comfortable in their workspace."

Overall, Branch sums things up this way: "We seem to have reached a balance that meets most people's needs, but if we can come up with a solution that would still protect the minors, still keep my staff from being liable to any sort of criminal activity, then we'd be more than happy to implement it. There just seem to be so many downsides to every solution."

APL's formal policy decision on Cyber Patrol is expected this month. -- K.F.

How Tweet It Is

At a time when birds and bugs are taking a bad rap, the Texas Audubon Society is here to chirp these latest findings: Nature tourism is the third-largest industry in Texas, generating $25.4 billion per year. Audubon's figures come at the same time that birdwatchers are pushing for more recognition of their economic clout.

According to Bird Conservation magazine, there were five birdwatching festivals in the U.S. in 1985. This year, there will be more than 60. The magazine estimates that 4,700 Texans have jobs that are supported by non-consumptive bird use. And that number could grow. As reported earlier, the number of birdwatchers in America has grown by 155% over the past decade. To feed that interest, several new birdwatching magazines have been launched, and some 326,000 people now subscribe to one or more of these.

On the local bird-watching front, nature lovers will have an easier trek to the Hornsby Bend site with new trails to the wildlife refuge on the grounds of the city's water/wastewater plant in eastern Travis County. City council this week is expected to accept a $4,500 grant from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for the project. The habitat is a haven for migratory birds along the "central flyway" that extends from South America to Siberia. -- R.B.

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