Off the Desk:
Who says green and growth are mutually exclusive? Not the Green Council who, in another of their patented all-for-one moves, announced in concert Wednesday their new "Smart Growth" plan. In a process which Councilmember Daryl Slusher predicts will last at least seven months, the council plans to rewrite the city's land development code, streamline the process of gaining development approval, and finally finish off the city policy to replace the accidentally repealed SB 1704. Councilmember Jackie Goodman describes the plan as an attempt to organize the city's oft-criticized development policies "so people can figure out the overall concept that's driving things." - K.V.
For years we've talked about what to do with the old Seaholm Power Plant - Austin's beloved power generator, now retired. An imposing study in industrio-funk, Seaholm is on the verge of an exciting afterlife. All we have to do now is determine its fate. A science museum? A performing arts center? Seaholm supporters are getting the ball rolling on ideas, and to help generate public input, the city will fling open the old power plant's doors this Saturday, Feb. 28, so folks can get a feel for the place. The open house is from 11am-3pm. Seaholm is located on West Cesar Chavez, next to the Cedar Door. Visitors are advised to take the West Avenue entrance to the power plant, on the north side of the building... - A.S.
Deepak Chopra's recent appearance at the Renaissance Hotel was touted as an evening of conversation with one of the "pioneers of the current mind/body revolution." It also seemed to be an extended infomercial for former mayor Bruce Todd's new alternative healthcare network, Health2, which underwrote Chopra's appearance. After audience members (about 1,800-2,000 at $30 each) were seated in the packed hotel ballroom, they were treated to an extended video commercial for Todd's new enterprise. Can you say niche marketing? - D.W.
Pennies From UT
Cries for equal pay are growing louder at the University of Texas in the wake of a recent study showing that staff members earn nearly 18% less than the average salary market in Austin. A 1997 compensation study revealed that 94% of 6,200 UT staffers are paid below average when compared to salaries paid for equal or similar positions in Austin. The study also found that the highest 300 paid positions at UT are held mainly by males who are paid at or above the local market salaries.
"We have to take responsibility for what is going on and stop being silent," said Peg Kramer, president of the University Staff Association. Kramer, a student development specialist at the UT School of Social Work, added that most UT staffers who are not in management and executive positions cannot keep pace with Austin's high cost of living. Meanwhile, the group has collected more than 1,300 signatures on a petition which Kramer said will ultimately go to the Texas Legislature. Before then, the money issue takes the floor Thursday, Feb 26, at a staff meeting, 5:30-6:30pm in Garrison Hall, Rm. 1. A noon rally is also planned for March 5 on the West Mall. - L.S.
Hillary Boosts Mauro
In the world of political celebrity, First Lady Hillary Clinton is The Bomb. Even while Zippergate shines light into the darkest corners of her marriage, getting the political nod from Ms. Clinton can not fail to bestow blessings upon even the most doomed of political campaigns. And the blessings were rolling in at $10,000 a plate last Thursday during a special fundraiser at the Four Seasons Hotel for Garry Mauro's gubernatorial campaign on the occasion of his 50th birthday.
Ms. Clinton, Mayor Kirk Watson, State Sen. Gonzalo Barrientos, and former Gov. Ann Richards each lavished praise on Mauro during a half hour of speeches preceding the private dinner. Only a fraction of the approximately 300 attendees had ponyed up for the dinner, but accommodations at the photo op were none too shabby. An open bar and sumptuous buffet, music by Marcia Ball, and lavish floral arrangements were proof that Mauro's campaign has already garnered more than pocket change. The haute atmosphere was disrupted by a man frantically protesting the impending bombing of Iraq, yelling "We don't want your phony war!" during Richards' opening comments. It was, perhaps, not the message but his breech of etiquette which elicited Richards' already heavily quoted attempts to quiet him. "Somebody back there come get this guy. He's gonna have a heart attack. Medic! Medic!" she said to the tittering amusement of the politically well-connected, as the protester was roughly hauled away by Secret Service agents.
Among those honored guests and curious onlookers were: Councilmember Beverly Griffith and husband Bailie, Travis Co. Sheriff Margo Frasier, Assistant City Manager Marcia Conner, former State Rep. Wilhelmina Delco, State Rep. Elliot Naishtat, and other notables. Manuel Medina, who worked on the campaigns of Victor Morales and Bobbie Enriquez, pointed out that not everyone invited to the dinner party had to fork over cash. "I'm sure some people did, but other people put in $10,000 worth of field work," he said.
Every speaker pounded Mauro's "Texas Families First" slogan - none more so than Mauro himself. Mauro, who has known President Bill Clinton and the First Lady since they all attended Yale Law School together, also hammered on his apparently uncanny similarities to the popular president. "He wants to do the same things I want to do," Mauro mused. And the First Lady seemed to agree, comparing the "pretty big odds" Mauro is up against in his race against Gov. George W. Bush, Jr. to Clinton's odds when he initially decided to run for President in 1991. In her short speech, Ms. Clinton managed to ingratiate herself to the Austin crowd, touching on highlights of local culture. "I wish the Armadillo was still here," she said to predictable applause. "And I wish I could stay for South by Southwest and just sort of hang out with everyone," she added. In the perfect conclusion to the short and showy event, Mauro's two children - daughter Alex and son Dave - carefully carried a birthday cake with lit candles onto the stage as Richards led the crowd in a round of "Happy Birthday" for the political hopeful. Then Mauro leaned over, sucked in his breath, and made a wish. - K.V.
On Jan. 9, the Austin American-Statesman ran a 793-word op-ed piece by Councilmember Daryl Slusher in which Slusher explained why the city was justified in annexing the Circle C subdivision. On Feb. 22, the daily ran a response to Slusher's piece written by Circle C developer Gary Bradley. The only difference was that Bradley got the star treatment. While Slusher's piece ran on a Friday on the op-ed page, Bradley got his piece on the front page of the Sunday "Insight" section. From there it jumped to the back page of the section. Bradley not only got over twice as much space as Slusher, the Statesman also posted a longer version - totaling 2,651 words - on its Web page. So how does a developer whose bad debts have cost federal taxpayers some $90 million, a man who has used every means possible to prevent the city from exerting its regulatory powers over his development, gets twice as much space as an elected city councilmember? Statesman editor Rich Oppel explained, "I gave more weight to Bradley because he hasn't been in the paper recently." Oppel then added, "Unlike you, we don't have a problem with publishing material from people we might disagree with. The Slusher thing provoked him [Bradley] and he decided to get his writing shoes on and we decided to run it. It got good readership." Phone messages for Bradley were not returned. To read Slusher's piece, go to: http://www.Austin360.com/news/02feb/22/circlec.htm. For Bradley's piece: http://www.Austin360.com/news/02feb/22/bradley.htm. - R.B.
Stop us if you've heard this one before: Jim Hightower, the nationally syndicated left/populist talk radio host who broadcasts live every weekday from Threadgill's World Headquarters in downtown Austin, cannot be heard on our local airwaves, despite being heard on over 106 stations nationwide. As of Feb. 9, KNEZ (1530AM) - which picked up Hightower after his Live From the Chat n' Chew Cafe had struggled for over a year to get a local carrier - went to a Spanish-language music format. The reason KNEZ (formerly nicknamed "K-News") president Buddy McGregor switched formats is simple enough - money. McGregor says the news/talk format just wasn't profitable, and his consultants told him the quickly growing Hispanic demographic could be very lucrative. But McGregor left Hightower with a good hook to pitch to other stations: "Jim was the only program that was making money." (KNEZ also had CNN Headline News and right-wing New Yorker Bob Grant, among others, in its lineup.)
This doesn't mean Hightower will pick up a station quickly. KJFK operations director Brian Billeck said that, "At this point, G. Gordon Liddy is doing well for us [in that time slot] and we're locked into a contract for another year." KLBJ-AM has Rush Limbaugh in that time slot, and KVET has said they are pleased with their noon news block. Actually, McGregor hasn't given up on Hightower, or the news/talk format. He says he is currently attempting to purchase his new competitors, Tejano station KTXZ (1560AM). If he can do so, he would like to bring back the news station "and maybe put Hightower back on the air... I just think the news format needs time. It would have caught on, given time," says McGregor.
"Like we say in the business," says a disappointed Hightower, "Radio happens. The switch was really unfortunate... but at least we showed we have an audience." A coalition of businesses had helped get Hightower on Austin's airwaves last September by convincing McGregor that sponsors could be found for a left-wing radio show. Hightower says that coalition is still with him, "and we were steadily adding new sponsors." - L.N.