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Off the Desk:

April 24, 1998, News

Oh, Nurse!... RNs from around the state will converge on the Capitol Friday, May 1, to protest profit-maximizing patient care practices spawned by the emergence of competitive health care systems. The Florence Project's May Day demonstration, sponsored by Texas United Registered Nurses, will focus on decreasing nurse-to-patient ratios, the replacement of registered nurses by unlicensed healthcare workers, and the need for a national healthcare program. The rally kicks off at 1pm on the south steps of the Capitol... - E.C.B

The proposed Triangle Square project that has North Central residents in a furor is scheduled to go before City Council next Thursday, April 30. With the proposal already hobbled by a "no" vote from the Planning Commission, it'll be interesting to see what council will do on this one, just two days before the Smart Growth initiative goes before voters... - A.S.

State Rep. Warren Chisum's anti-homosexual agenda will rear its head again in next year's legislative session, this time in the form of a proposed bill that would ban gays and lesbians from becoming adoptive or foster parents. The Lesbian/Gay Rights Lobby of Texas and supporters will meet Saturday, May 2, to organize opposition to the Pampa Rep.'s bill. The Texas Town Hall meeting begins at noon at the AFL-CIO building, 1106 Lavaca. For more info, call 474-5475... - E.C.B.

Big Jack Attack

The news that AISD District 6 candidate Jeff Jack didn't vote in the 1996 school bond election might simply be chalked up as another campaign rumor in this spring's messiest Board of Trustees' race - except it's true.

Jack, president of the Austin Neighborhoods Council, has missed three elections since 1985 - unfortunately one of them was the vote on the $369 million bond package two years ago. His detractors say his absence shows a lack of concern for the schools; Jack says he intended to vote on election day but was called out of town on an emergency. In recent weeks Jack's campaign has had to field a number of charges, among them: that he tried to bully the Board of Trustees by playing an instigatory role in an Open Meetings lawsuit filed by the S.O.S. Alliance and El Concilio; that he referred to his opponent Patricia Whiteside as "just another PTA Mom"; and that he is anti-Semitic because of ANC's work with the Northwest Neighborhood Association, which opposed the then-proposed Dell Jewish Community Center. Richard Fawal, Jack's campaign manager, said the charges are ridiculous, particularly the last one: "I don't know if it's because of the Dell Center, or because I'm Palestinian," Fawal sighed. Jack isn't blaming his opponent for the nastiness, but he's guessing these attacks stem from his stances on past issues. As for her part, Whiteside isn't overly concerned whether the "PTA mom" remark is true or not: "Is that supposed to be bad?" she asked. - L.T.

Corridor Coordination

"In 10 years, we're going to be Dallas/Fort Worth," claims Scott Polikov, who will direct a May 1 regional planning conference at Southwest Texas State University in San Marcos. By "we," Polikov means the ever-expanding corridor from Austin to San Antonio along I-35, a 22-county region that has grown increasingly interconnected as development has leapfrogged its way across Central Texas. The conference, "Regional Issues - Local Solutions," will focus on transportation, resource conservation, and economic expansion issues, in particular water resource management and the development of a commuter rail system between Austin and San Antonio.

Polikov characterizes the conference as "essentially an outgrowth of discussions that have been happening up and down the I-35 corridor" on the need to coordinate regional strategies as the area faces unprecedented growth. The conference, which precedes Austin's May 2 vote on three Smart Growth bond propositions, addresses several touchy questions for Central Texans: How should water resources be managed and preserved? Where do rural areas fit into the region's booming high-tech economy? And how can regional transportation avenues be jointly created and sustained? Among those addressing these issues will be Austin Mayor Kirk Watson, syndicated columnist Neal Pierce, and state Sens. Gonzalo Barrientos, Jeff Wentworth, Frank Madla, and Gregory Luna. Registration for the Friday conference, which is open to the public, is at 8am at the Strahan Coliseum at Southwest Texas State; for more information, call the Austin-San Antonio Corridor Council at 245-2535. - E.C.B.

Promises, Promises

Cross a political convention, a religious revival, and a pep rally, and you have Austin Interfaith's first-ever convention last Sunday afternoon at St. John's Tabernacle. More than 2,000 Interfaith members cheered and applauded business representatives and city and county officials who pledged their support for Interfaith's adult job training initiative, which seeks to provide hundreds of Austin residents with "living wage" skilled jobs with benefits. Interfaith estimates there are about 600 jobs that businesses have pledged to fill with poor residents if they receive the necessary training. City and county officials each agreed to support a $1 million allocation for the jobs program. "Lots of people like to talk the talk, but when it comes time to walk, they want crutches. I say: `Let's do this,'" said Councilmember Willie Lewis, who was joined by fellow councilmembers Bill Spelman and Gus Garcia, County Judge Bill Aleshire, and county commissioners Margaret Gomez and Darwin McKee, who also committed to fund the initiative.

Caught up in the magnanimous moment, the majority of AISD Board of Trustees candidates also pledged support for Interfaith's schools agenda, which calls for the district to spend $1.4 million to repair and build playscapes, to leave intact funding for low-income schools, and to open the promised St. John's neighborhood elementary school by fall 2000. - L.T.

RIP Rap Rider

Ding, dong, the rap rider is dead. On April 16, Travis County District Court Judge Scott McCown ruled unconstitutional a budget rider which sought to divest the state of any investment in companies that publish rap music. While Sen. Bill Ratliff (R-Mt. Pleasant), who attached the rider to last year's budget, wanted to target rap music, his rider was so broadly written that it could have affected a wide variety of music - including opera - and forced the state's pension and investment funds to sell nearly $800 million worth of stock in media companies like Disney and Time Warner.

The anti-rider lawsuit was filed in January by a dozen plaintiffs including a firefighter, several law enforcement officers, and several teachers, and bankrolled by the Recording Industry Association of America, a trade group that represents a half-dozen of the country's biggest record labels. In his ruling, McCown said that a key issue was that Ratliff's rider was not debated by the Legislature. In addition, he ruled that the rider attempted to enact a general law through the budget process, a move forbidden by the Texas Constitution. "Our constitution demands that it be a fair fight," wrote McCown, "without log-rolling and with notice to the members and to the citizens of what is at stake to ensure that the will of the majority is expressed."

Peter D. Kennedy, an attorney with the Austin law firm of George Donaldson & Ford, who represented the plaintiffs in the case, said McCown's ruling is "an important decision for democracy in Texas, which holds that if important matters of social policy like this are going to be proposed, then they need to brought before the full Legislature and not slipped into a budget rider." - R.B.

Pass or Punt?

The AISD Board of Trustee's decision to delay next week's school boundary vote until after the May 2 elections means that the new board must now add setting attendance zones for the district's elementary, middle, and high schools to their ever-growing "to-do" list. The board's desire to keep the process open and flexible to the public were at odds with its desire to vote on the entire boundary plan next week as scheduled; to rush the vote would have cost the district the public's trust in the boundary process, board members agreed. The board canceled a public hearing slated for Saturday.

Board President Kathy Rider said while she wanted this process completed before the new trustees took the dais in May, it became painfully clear over the weekend there was no way the boundary plans could be amended, drafted, and distributed to the public in time for Saturday's public hearing. "We punted to the new board," said Rider. "I'm disappointed and I'm worried that the new board already has so much on its plate, that we're going to be here April of next year having these discussions. But ultimately, we made the best decision we could for the district."

Trustee Geoff Rips said that delaying action was the board's only choice in order to maintain public trust in the process. "If we had done it the other way, we wouldn't have been able to get the [new map] information to the public in time for them to come back with an informed response. That is important for this whole process to be successful. The public needs to believe that we are being fair." - L.T.

Olive Branch or Band-Aid?

While Austin Police Chief Stan Knee remains tight-lipped about a federal jury's verdict last month that APD does not condone excessive force against African-Americans, the chief is talking about a community plan to repair police relations in East Austin. But advocates for those who allege that officers used excessive force when they attempted to break up a Cedar Avenue party on Valentine's Day three years ago say they're still skeptical.

Controversy over the instructions the jury received during deliberations on the civil case and Knee's silence on the verdict have not eased tensions between Eastside residents and APD. But Knee is hoping that one solution lies in an effort to get citizens and police to work together to address community issues. His plan calls for the creation of "command centers" tailored to meet the specific needs of Austin communities. Knee said he expects the program to be up and running by next year.

But not everyone thinks community policing is an adequate answer: "It's like putting a Band-Aid on a knife wound," said Austin attorney Gary Bledsoe, who represented plaintiffs in the lawsuit against the city. "The NAACP proposed community policing in 1987. I support the idea, but the wounds here are deep and severe, based on a total disregard for a group of upstanding citizens."

Parisrice Robinson, president of the Austin chapter of the NAACP, agreed that the big problem with community policing is that the police have lost credibility in the eyes of many Eastside residents: "Without supporting the community, there is no community policing. It's got to be more than just petting horses."

But Chief Knee remains confident his community policing plans will help rebuild the relationship between citizens and police. "We're going to reorganize the whole structure and philosophy of the department," he said. "We will be successful." - J.S.

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