Naked City

Off the Desk:

Mayor Kirk Watson is pumped with pride over his handling of the homeless campus project, but says, on the other hand, that the controversial camping ban won't be repealed. But camping ban skeptics Councilmembers Gus Garcia and Jackie Goodman are not so quick to agree with Watson that the ban will stay put. The mayor, says Garcia aide Paul Saldaña, "needs to be real careful about how he stated that because this council has not taken a vote. To make the assumption that this council is not committed to repealing the ordinance is inaccurate." Saldaña said there still are discussions about changing the ordinance to decriminalize homelessness. Normally in hard-line opposition to the camping ban, Goodman says she is considering the possibility of merely changing the ordinance. "At the moment I seem to be the only one who really focuses on the [camping] ban, per se. To give an alternative [the homeless campus] is at least a mitigation of the ordinance," she says, adding she won't be totally appeased until the ordinance is entirely repealed...

On another homeless front, city council last week approved the transfer of nearly $1.2 million in federal Community Development Block Grant funds to the Community Partnership for the Homeless, the National Church Residences, the Push Up Foundation, and SafePlace to buy land and build various facilities to house homeless veterans, the elderly, and women and children...

After weeks of talk that the Central City Entertainment Center board would be overhauled, the reorganization at Thursday's city council meeting ended with all of the current members included, save co-chair Jennifer Cole Doyle. The board's 10 spots, which had been designated for specific types of members, will now be open for more general membership that will include a youth rep and a neighborhood rep. And despite attempts from Councilmember Willie Lewis to oust Cole Dole, support from Dorothy Turner, Velma Roberts, and the Rev. Frank Garrett assured that she will be reappointed in two weeks... - K.V.

Two UT faculty members will host a lecture on "Bombs, Lies and Videotape: The Real Story of the Gulf Wars," at 7:30pm Wednesday, March 25, in the Sinclair Suite (Room 3.128) of the Texas Union. Speech communication professor Dana Cloud will discuss her research of propaganda and TV coverage of the Gulf War, and journalism prof Bob Jensen - a newspaper editor during the war - will discuss journalistic practices during wartime. - L.N.

It's time for the third annual Images of Women Conference, one of the largest national meetings promoting Latina interests. The day-long event takes place down the road in San Marcos, at the Southwest Texas campus' LBJ Students Center, Saturday, March 28. Keynote speakers will include artist Amalia Mesa-Bains, dancer Rosa Guerrero, Latino USA Radio editor Maria Elilia Martin, and many more. Call conference chair Stephanie Hinojosa for more info, 512/396-8397. Or register online at the Images of Women website, http://www.swt.edu/~sh23653/iow. - A.S.

Pease for Eyeore

Eeyore's Birthday Party will remain in Pease Park this year over the objections of some area residents. The 35-year-old raucous celebration of Spring's arrival - complete with nude revelers, drum circles, and egg tosses - has rankled its neighbors for several years, since party attendance swelled to over 10,000. But City Councilmember Jackie Goodman and other Eeyore supporters point out that other events - such as the Clarksville Jazz Festival, Aquafest, and the Fourth of July - are equally troublesome for area neighborhoods. Over the recommendations of the city Parks and Recreation Dept., the Parks Board, and a special task force, Goodman put an item on Thursday's council agenda to continue the celebration at Pease. Neighborhood residents Jeanne Vier and Dr. Charlotte Smith both spoke of their experiences with disorderly conduct at the festival, including having drunken party-goers urinating and vomiting in their yards. Vier spoke of having her car door kicked in as she attempted to enter her driveway near the park. "We suffer in this neighborhood," said Vier.

Councilmember Beverly Griffith supported the Parks' recommendation to move the celebration to Waterloo Park downtown. There are various problems with that solution, however, and the current sponsors of the event - University Area Partners and University YMCA - say they would pull out of sponsorship if it were moved from the university area. "We see Eeyore's as an opportunity to celebrate the university community. It would not be a university celebration if it were elsewhere," a University Area Partners rep told council.

The vote to keep Eeyore's at Pease - which broke down 4-2-1 with Griffith and Willie Lewis opposed and Mayor Kirk Watson off the dais - will only hold for 1998. Citing concerns that the former Eeyore's task force was a "stacked deck" against the festival, Griffith suggested that a new task force should be formed to look at the issue for 1999. - K.V.

Ware and Tear

In his recent unsuccessful run for County Commissioner, Pflugerville Mayor Haywood Ware may have won the endorsement of the local AFL-CIO, but he didn't get the free labor legwork that ordinarily comes with a union vote. Ware used an out-of-state, non-union printer to make his campaign signs - a move that earned him a collective thumbs down from local labor leaders. While other AFL-CIO-endorsed candidates reaped the benefits of union volunteers putting up their campaign signs at election day polling places, Ware was left to pound his own stakes in the ground.

A supporter of Ware's opponent, incumbent Pct. 2 County Commissioner Karen Sonleitner, discovered what appeared to be a fake "bug," or union symbol, on Ware's signs and alerted the Sonleitner campaign, which then notified David Brown, president of the area AFL-CIO. Brown called Ware's sign maker and learned that the Jackson, Miss., printer ran a non-union shop. It was then that the AFL-CIO decided against helping Ware put up signs at polling places on election day. "We ask all of the candidates up front as part of the endorsement process whether they intend to use union printers in their campaign," Brown said. "Somewhere along the line, [Ware] chose to have his work done otherwise. I'm not trying to assassinate his character," Brown added, "but we in the house of labor don't like being deceived." Ware said he has done business in the past with the Mississippi printer, but he didn't know it was a non-union shop. No one seems to know how or why the fake union "bug" ended up on Ware's signs. - A.S.

Playscape Inequities

Like many other people, Carolyn Kelly took it for granted that school playgrounds were the Austin Independent School District's responsibility. But that notion was quickly dispelled when her son began attending Travis Heights Elementary and she learned that the school's playscape, like those at most of the district's 67 elementary schools, are funded and maintained by parents. "The result is tremendous inequities, and safety hazards at many schools," said Kelly, a member of Austin Interfaith, which is calling for AISD to fund playscapes in its 1998-99 budget. Several parents have complained that while some schools have beautiful, new play areas, others have playscapes that present serious safety hazards; still others have only bare sandy lots because their slides and swings have been condemned, or because their playground was displaced by portable classrooms.

A recent AISD survey found almost half of the district's playscapes to be unsatisfactory. Many do not meet federal safety standards or standards established in the Americans with Disabilities Act. District officials, however, estimate it would cost more than $4 million to install new equipment at all the schools, not including the playgrounds at 25 elementary schools already maintained by the city's Parks and Recreation Dept. "I've always thought the district should be responsible for playgrounds," said AISD Board Trustee Geoff Rips. "It was a decision made a long time ago that parents at each school would be responsible for the playgrounds, but some schools are more financially able to do that than others." A task force of parents, physical education and elementary teachers, and AISD administrators is expected to unveil a list of recommendations early next month. Task force member Marshall Bruni hopes the board will follow the lead of districts like Houston and San Antonio, which fund and maintain their schools' playscapes. "We need the district to take responsibility," said Bruni, whose children attend Maplewood Elementary. "It's a bitter pill for them to swallow, but it's a pill they need to take. It's an issue of safety and equality." - L.T.

School of Hard Knocks

The U.S. Military, with help from a federal judge, is coming down hard on citizens arrested last November during a protest at the Ft. Benning, Georgia-based School of the Americas. U.S. District Judge J. Robert Elliott, 89, has sentenced 25 activists to six months in jail and $3,000 in fines apiece. The activists were deemed "repeat offenders" because they were arrested at a similar demonstration in 1996. No Austin residents are headed for lockup with the group, which includes priests, nuns, and elderly activists.

The School of the Americas trains Latin American soldiers, and is notorious for turning out some of history's worst human rights violators, including Manuel Noriega of Panama, Robert D'Aubuisson of El Salvador, and Gen. Hugo Banzer Suarez of Bolivia. Hundreds of other graduates have engaged in bloody massacres across the region. "Gandhi says it is a sacred duty to speak out against the government when its laws are corrupt," said Marge Eilerman, a 60-year-old Catholic nun who assists the rural poor in Booneville, Kentucky. "Those of us who dared to put our feet across the sacred white line painted on the ground are going to be in prison for six months," she said.

Having presided over all SOA-related trials, Elliott, the federal judge, has gained a reputation as "Maximum Bob." He's been especially harsh on SOA opponent Rev. Roy Bourgeois, who has spent a third of this decade in prison for his offenses. Bourgeois, a decorated Vietnam veteran and Maryknoll priest, is on his way back to prison on the latest conviction. "We don't fear the prisons," Bourgeois said in an interview when he visited Austin last October. "We're going to speak from prison until this school of horrors is closed." Another SOA demonstration is slated for April in Washington, D.C., where Congress is still battling over funding for the school that costs taxpayers $18-20 million annually. Bills to close the school indefinitely - narrowly defeated in the past - have gained considerable support recently, and will come before the House and Senate sometime during 1998. - J.F.

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