Off the Desk:
Also before hitting the R&R trail, Dunkerley blessed the departure of Sam Harris from the Small and Minority Business Resources Department. Harris, who oversaw business relations for SMBR, had reportedly requested a transfer to the Purchasing Office. Harris, readers may recall, got into some hot water recently over his erroneous certification of a company that nearly resulted in the inexperienced firm securing a $1 million-plus electrical utility contract with the city [see the Chronicle's "Cracks in the System," Sept. 14]. Harris had worked with SMBR for a little over a year. In his new role, he will be handling special projects for Purchasing Officer Sue Brubaker...
In other city departure news, bike and pedestrian coordinator Rick Waring says he will leave his post October 16 to resume his nursing career. Waring says his new position at St. David's offers better hours and more opportunities to ride his bike. Meanwhile, Waring says the bike shop will be in good hands with interim coordinator Keith Snodgrass, co-author of the Austin Bicycle Plan, which should be ready to roll by mid-November (Part I of the plan has already been adopted). Along with Part II of the plan, council will be asked to approve proposed ordinances that would prohibit parking in bike lanes, and clear up currently fuzzy language regarding riding on sidewalks. Bicyclers would be allowed sidewalk access, except in areas posted. The city's transportation honchos are expected to huddle over the bike plan at a retreat some time this month...
In a similar two-wheeler vein, the Yellow Bike Project is looking for a new home. In the last year, the volunteer effort has distributed 152 yellow bikes throughout town for residents to pedal from Point A to Point B for free and, ideally, leave behind for someone else's use. The project needs a centrally located, garage-type headquarters for bike maintenance and whatnot. The group will keep its current base at 4701 Avenue H until mid-October. Any suggestions? Call John Thorns, 419-1737. For hotline info call 916-3553...
Finally, expect some lively back-and-forth when Mayor Kirk Watson meets with the Save Our Springs PAC at the group's first monthly social, 5:30-7:30pm Oct. 14 at the Bitter End's B Side; the new event takes place the second Tuesday of each month. -- A.S.
Jailer, Bring Me Medicine
Some local civil rights advocates are worried that HIV-positive inmates in the Williamson County jail aren't getting the treatments they need to keep their jail time from becoming death sentences. The Texas Civil Rights Project (TCRP) recently filed a class action lawsuit against the jail in that law-and-order county to the north, claiming that jailers don't provide proper medical care for inmates who are HIV-positive or who have AIDS. The suit also targets Williamson County Sheriff Ed Richards and various jail officers. It was filed on behalf of an anonymous inmate, identified as "John Doe" to protect his privacy.
The suit claims that jail personnel routinely refuse to transport detainees to AIDS clinics or dentists, and do not provide prescribed anti-HIV medication and treatment in the jail. It also says that jailers restrict the recreational opportunities of HIV-positive inmates and unlawfully disclose the HIV status of detainees to others. Finally, it claims that "John Doe" was sexually assaulted by a jail medical officer. The lawsuit, which is seeking $165,000 in total damages, claims the jailers' actions violate inmates' constitutional rights and protections offered by the Americans with Disabilities Act.
James Harrington, TCRP legal director, says he's been getting complaints about the treatment of HIV-positive inmates in Williamson and other medium- and small-sized counties for at least six years. Travis and other large, urban counties tend to treat their HIV-positive inmates much better, he says. "They're much more responsive to what the legal requirements are," Harrington says. One reason for that, he says, is that many of the larger urban counties have already been burned by lawsuits on other issues and want to avoid future problems.
Sheriff Richards says his jailers have done nothing wrong. "Our policy is to comply with the law and all the standards that are put out by the [state Commission on Jail Standards]," Richards says, adding that his attorney has advised him to say nothing more about the lawsuit. The rules set by the Commission on Jail Standards do not specifically address the care of HIV-positive inmates. In general, however, jail officials must provide aid in any life-threatening situation, or if withholding care might cause the health of a person with a life-threatening condition to deteriorate. In addition, the Texas Department of Health's model policies for treating HIV-positive inmates say that jail officers should provide medication as prescribed.
AIDS educators point out that missing doses of anti-HIV medications is dangerous; this is especially true for patients who are taking protease inhibitors, which have shown dramatic success in controlling HIV in some, but not all, patients. "Miss doses very often, and you won't control it anymore," says Sandy Bartlett, the information and education director for AIDS Services of Austin. -- D.Q.
The Right's Lessons
How do you defeat an enemy bigger, wealthier, and more experienced than you? That question brought community leaders from 27 states to Austin last weekend for some lessons on "Defeating the Religious Right at Home: Grassroots Activism for State and Local Leaders." Organized by the Texas Freedom Network and the D.C.-based People for the American Way, the three-day conference sought to take a page from the far right's playbook and train progressives to fight the right's powerful influence on public schools, libraries, public television and radio, affirmative action, and abortion rights. In light of the news that former Christian Coalition leader Ralph Reed has joined Governor George Bush's re-election team, progressive Texans soon will have a chance to put their training to the test.
"The Christian Coalition continues to misuse `Christianity' as a smoke screen for their partisan political movement, making it more important than ever for grassroots community leaders to work together to counter the Coalition's far right political agenda," said Cecile Richards, TFN's executive director. "The religious right is about 10 years ahead of most of us in terms of organization and money. They are very effective at creating and using buzzwords like religion and family values. But when people know what they stand for, these extremists are not elected."
One of the religious right's greatest strengths, said American Way President Carole Shields, is its ability to mobilize its constituency to promote voucher programs that would allow public tax dollars to go to private and religious schools. During the last session of the Texas Legislature, the pro-voucher movement spent over $1 million on radio and television ads, lobbyists, and telemarketing aimed at convincing mainstream Americans -- particularly minorities -- that vouchers would benefit public education and save their children's future. But while the effort is an example of how well the right can organize its forces, it is also an example of how grassroots activism can effectively counter those efforts: The measure was defeated.
Shields said teaching "the good guys" to organize their communities is a challenge, but one that will ultimately succeed, since most Americans do not agree with the far right's ideology. "The religious right has invested millions in winning this war," said Shields. "Can we match them dollar for dollar? No. We have to match them vision to vision. I believe that is where we will win." -- L.T.
School of Torture
Austin will be the stage for debate on the U.S. Army's School of the Americas, a tax-funded military unit in Georgia now under fire for training hundreds of Latin American soldiers believed responsible for inhumane crimes including torture and murder. Some notable graduates include Robert D'Aubuisson, leader of El Salvador's death squads; Gen. Manuel Noriega, the former Panamanian dictator now doing prison time, and Gen. Hugo Banzer Suarez, the Bolivian dictator responsible for thousands of civilian deaths during his coup.
The SOA's foremost opponent, the Rev. Roy Bourgeois, will appear in Austin this weekend for a series of lectures, masses, and video presentations, chronicling his own attempts to shut down the controversial school. Bourgeois, a Catholic priest and Purple Heart recipient who has spent three years in U.S. prisons for his role in protesting the school's existence, will be screening a documentary, School of the Assassins, that garnered an Academy Award nomination in 1995.
In 1984, the school moved from Panama to Ft. Benning, Georgia, after Panamanian officials declared it a threat to democratic stability there. It currently operates on a budget estimated at $18-20 million annually, and finds consistent support in U.S. budget legislation, despite efforts of several lawmakers to shut it down.
The effort to close the School of the Americas has close ties to the Austin community. U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin, has said he firmly supports the school's shut-down. Austin lawyer Jennifer Harbury is now an outspoken critic, following the 1992 torture and murder of her husband Efrain Bamaca under orders from Col. Julio Roberto Alpirez, an SOA graduate. Bishop John McCarthy of the Catholic Diocese of Austin provided $1,000 to help bring Bourgeois to Austin, a tribute to Father William Woods, who lost his life under mysterious circumstances in Guatemala. Bourgeois' visit is sponsored by the Guatemalan Action Network of Austin (GANA).
From 7-10pm Saturday, Oct. 4, Bourgeois will be at the Texas Center for Documentary Photography, 2104 E. Martin Luther King Blvd.; From 6:30-9:30pm Sunday, Bourgeois will be at Pato's Tacos, along with singer Tish Hinojosa; at noon Tuesday he'll be at Threadgill's as a guest on Jim Hightower's radio show. For more information on Bourgeois' itinerary, call GANA co-founder Jill Jarboe at 441-7977, ext. 19. -- J.F.