Naked City

Off the Desk:

Existing neighborhood libraries should take priority over a new downtown regional facility, the Library Commission recommended Tuesday in a 7-1 decision. The vote followed a lengthy bond proposal hearing in which most speakers appeared to favor a central library plan. "We're not opposed to a new downtown central facility, but we believe more detailed planning should go into this type of project," Commissioner Stephen Rodi said Wednesday. The commission wants the city to replace its three remaining leased facilities (Riverside, Twin Oaks, and North Village) with permanent buildings, and to expand the Terrazas, Carver, and Spicewood Springs branches. The Commission's recommendations -- which include a request that the city consider a bond election on the regional plan within three years -- now go to the city's Bond Commission. More to come... -- A.S.

Looks like the City of Austin hired itself a real know-it-all to crunch its post-annexation demographics. Dr. Allan J. Lichtman, cited as an expert in minority demography for recent news stories regarding the city's pending defense of its annexations at the U.S. Department of Justice, was also seen this Monday on CNN as a "presidential historian," commenting on the Monica Lewinsky affair... -- K.V.

No news is not good news at this point for the Austin Music Network. At the last meeting of the Council Committee for Telecommunications Infrastructure, the same people said the exact same things, again. Councilmember Gus Garcia told his same story of the genesis of KLRN, thinking it a model for someone to take the issue into their own hands. Councilmember Jackie Goodman made a quasi-emotional plea to save the AMN. Carlyne Majer of the Austin Music Commission said the AMN needs a general manager and more money. Paul Smolen and Marilyn Fox from the city budget offices said the AMN needs a general manager and a lot more money. And independent producer Rick Melchoir complained that, as a private interest looking to "save" the channel, he's been unable to get in on the process. The net effect of all this was... nothing. The CCTI decided to send the AMN issue to the council without a recommendation. With the clock ticking, the latest D-day for the AMN is now the February 5 city council meeting. So mark your calendar if you care about the AMN and want to let the council know... -- M.B.

Emmis Broadcasting Corp., publisher of Indianapolis Monthly and city magazines in Atlanta and Cincinnati, will add Texas to its repertoire with its purchase of the acclaimed Texas Monthly. Emmis will pay a handsome $37 million for the whole Tex Mo package. Except for the change in parents, everything else stays put, we're told...

A memorial service was held this morning, Jan. 29, for former KVUE-TV news director Carole Kneeland, who died Monday of breast cancer. Kneeland, 49, enjoyed a reputation as a tough-as-nails reporter, and later as an innovative news leader, implementing "truth tests" for political candidates and snipping coverage of crime stories. She will be missed... -- A.S.

Chamber Chatter

Everyone knows that Willie Lewis won the Place 6 seat on the city council, but perhaps the mud slung during the unusually vicious election has not quite dried. Here's an example: When the Capital City Chamber of Commerce (CCCC), which represents the African-American business community and is run by Gene Watkins and Karen Box, showed up in council chambers last week, tensions ran high. Both Watkins and Box were outspoken supporters of Lewis' opponent, former Councilmember Eric Mitchell. So the communication gap between Lewis and the CCCC was fairly obvious at the meeting.

Like the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, the CCCC is allocated 0.25% of the city's collected bed tax revenue. When that revenue tops projections, as it did in 1997, the Austin Convention and Visitors Bureau (ACVB) has the option to parcel out the surplus to all bed tax recipients in accordance with the percentages of the tax they receive. But, when equal allocations of an extra $44,910 to both the HCC and the CCCC made their way onto the council agenda last Thursday, only the HCC walked away with the extra loot. Lewis tried to halt the allocation to CCCC outright on the basis of the group's convention-booking performance. But he was reined in by Councilmember Jackie Goodman and Mayor Kirk Watson, who both argued to postpone the matter until February 12.

Lewis complained that Capital City had not met its goal for the year -- to book at least 6,100 hotel rooms for conventions and meetings. The CCCC argued that it had met a goal of 5,200 rooms, which the group had verbally agreed on with Bob Hodge, the director of the Convention Center. Box and Hodge agreed that they had had conversations about lowering the number to 5,200 rooms -- the same number required of the Hispanic Chamber. No one seemed to know why there were higher expectations of the CCCC, but Hodge argued that such a change could not officially be made without a vote of council.

After the vote to postpone, however, it seemed that forces other than simple number-crunching might be at work. "We know of another African-American chamber incorporating and we're pretty blunt about the fact that we are not taking sides at all. That's just the main gist of this. There is competition out there," offered Lewis aide Dwight Burns, adding that the ACVB is under no obligation to give the surplus bed tax to anyone. Burns said the new chamber is being formed by Barbara Burton, who is organizing the Business Opportunity Symposium. Burton could not be reached for comment. Complaining that CCCC had been less than forthcoming about its activities and rolls, Lewis quipped, "I don't think they realize who won the election." -- K.V.

Is the Salamander a Pawn?

The lawyer who represents two scientists who filed a lawsuit against the city for killing salamanders during routine cleaning at Barton Springs Pool says his clients are suing because the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service wouldn't correct arbitrary enforcement of the endangered species law. "I don't understand why it took my clients to have to step in to do what should have been obvious to anybody else looking at it. It reeks of a double standard," says attorney Robert Kleeman, whose clients produced videotape of a salamander left high and dry while the pool's water was lowered to scrub algae from the rocks. Kleeman says that operating mechanical equipment in the pool constitutes "harmful activity" which in Travis County is typically disallowed within 300 feet of endangered species without a thorough assessment of the resulting incidental kills.

However, local U.S. Fish and Wildlife officials don't think the city has much to fear. The agency admits that, subsequent to the salamander being placed on the endangered species list last May, the agency should not have allowed the city to clean the pool without the proper permit. But fish and wildlife aquatic biologist Matthew Lechner says the salamander is not in danger, that the agency has assessed the impact of the cleaning procedures, and that the city's imminent permit application will likely be approved. "We're fairly confident that it is just incidental take [acceptable kills], not something that would threaten the survival of the species," Lechner says.

Likewise, Bill Bunch, of the Save Our Springs Alliance, says that the city has committed no violations against the salamander's habitat that would interest a judge. Bunch says the lawsuit's sponsors are henchmen for developers. Kleeman, however, denies that his suit is a mere attempt to publicly mock the city's environmental policies. "Don't be questioning my clients' motives, be questioning why it was necessary for them to intervene in this, that's the question you ought to be asking people," Kleeman told the Chronicle. Kleeman, who often represents developers, refused to say whether the plaintiffs, Robert Barnhart and Alan Hamilton, were paying his legal fees. He also said that the continuance of the lawsuit depends on the "quality" of the issued permit.

The city began using the mechanical algae-scrubbing method in 1992, abandoning the use of chlorine after scientists investigating an accidental fish kill first noticed the salamander was only found within five square feet of the springs. City biologist Robert Hansen says the city switched to the more costly cleaning method as a safety precaution. And Lechner says the city has responded in a straightforward and responsible manner to protect the salamander's habitat. -- K.F.

Celebrating Choice

Last week pro-choice advocates gathered at the University of Texas for a 25-year anniversary of choice and the future of abortion rights guaranteed under Roe v. Wade. The films, rally, panel discussion, and presentation by Sarah Weddington, the lawyer who represented Jane Roe and argued her case before the U.S. Supreme Court, were largely aimed at dulling what Weddington calls the double-edged sword. "Young women today have never lived without the right to choose," she said. Though these women are fortunate, the lack of personal experience with the tragedy of illegal abortion breeds complacency in an era where anti-choice activists are organized and well-funded, Weddington warned.

For an audience of undecided and pro-choice advocates, the series of events were both moving and educational. In a screening of the Academy Award-nominated documentary, Untold Stories: When Abortion Was Illegal, filmmaker Dorothy Fadiman captured the very stories that Kae McLaughlin, executive director of Texas Abortion Rights Action League (TARAL), says are missing from the abortion debate -- the personal stories of real women who endured dangerous trips to Mexico, abortions performed on dirty counter tops, and horrifying home remedies such as Lysol and bleach douches. One pre-Roe abortion seeker explained the intensity of pregnancy this way: "A woman who is unhappy about being pregnant will risk her life to terminate it. A woman who wants to be pregnant will risk her life to protect it."

The series of 25th anniversary events was countered on Sunday by an anti-abortion protest of some 3,000 marchers. -- N.K.

Oh, Alexis

Though beleaguered by influence-peddling allegations, Labor Secretary Alexis Herman remains scheduled to speak at the Austin Area Urban League's annual fundraiser on Tuesday, Feb. 3. The Justice Department is conducting a preliminary inquiry into allegations that Herman, as head of the White House Office of Public Liaison between 1994-96, accepted cash for using her influence to help business ventures, including helping someone obtain a Federal Communications Commission license for a satellite phone system. The 90-day inquiry is due to end next month.

Herman has denied the charges, and Urban League officials say they are honored to have such a high-ranking official helping the organization celebrate its 20th anniversary. Herman was confirmed for the post of labor secretary last March -- after an arduous four-month battle in which GOP senators focused on her involvement with a White House fundraising coffee and her private business dealings -- and almost immediately won praise for her handling of the UPS strike. -- L.T.

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