Naked City

Off the Desk:

City election officials are bracing themselves for yet another low turnout Saturday as voters decide on a number of heady issues: A trio of "Smart Growth" bond propositions, a field of candidates vying to fill six seats on the AISD Board of Trustees, the fate of the Barton Springs/Edwards Aquifer Conservation District, and two spots on its board, should it survive the election test. The thorniest bond issue is Prop. 2, which seeks authorization for $65 million in utility revenue funds to buy land over the Edwards Aquifer (see below). In opposition to that proposal, the Circle C Political Action Committee is trying out a curious little marketing schtick with a "First, You Vote, Then, You Float!" swim party to woo voters into saying "no" on Prop. 2 and "yes" to dissolving the Aquifer District. The PAC is offering free beer, sodas, snow cones, and rides - to the polls, that is. For general information on the election, check out the city's website - - or call 499-2663... - A.S.

It's official... the city has taken its first step toward privatizing the beleagured Austin Music Network, by soliciting bids from vendors hankering to take over the music channel. A Request for Proposals went out Monday; to get one, call 499-1800. Proposals are due by 2pm June 5. On another note, the National Academy of Cable Programming has nominated AMN (along with TimeWarner Cable and Rogers & Hammerhead Productions) for a CableACE award for the Rogers & Hammerhead Show - a Thursday night affair that offers songwriters an opportunity to talk about their music as well as the ups and downs of the music biz... - A.S.

Cecile Richards, daughter of former Gov. Ann Richards and director of Texas Freedom Network, will not run for state Democratic Party chair after all. Richards, the odds-on favorite for the post, cited family concerns as the reason. The news was a disappointment to party members who hoped Richards' leadership and reputation would provide a needed boost to Texas Dems, who have not won a top-of-the-ticket race since mom won in 1990. As it stands now, only former Republican Molly Beth Malcom of Texarkana has thrown her hat in the ring, and her candidacy has been met with predictable reluctance. Malcom was active in Republican Clayton Williams' 1990 gubernatorial campaign, but says Ann Richards inspired her to switch parties in 1992... - L.T.

Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold CEO James R. Moffett had another lucrative year in 1997. According to the company's proxy statement, Moffett got a total compensation package of $6.78 million - this during a year when Freeport's stock price fell by half, from $30 to about $15. Moffett's pay package far exceeded those of his peers in the industry... - R.B.

Who's Who on Prop. Two

You can't tell the players without a program in the battle over Proposition 2 - the city's $65 million land acquisition proposal on the May 2 ballot. Although there's no shortage of anti-Prop 2 material circulating around town - including direct mail, yard signs, and radio ads - at press time not a single PAC had registered in opposition to any of the bonds. The lack of PACs may be due in part to the council's unusually hasty timetable for this bond election (scarcely more than six weeks have passed since the election was called), a move that has drawn criticism from opponents, most notably Travis County Judge Bill Aleshire. Then, too, there's the disincentive of the new $100 contribution limit imposed on PACs by the No More Corruption charter amendment, which is getting its first field test following passage late last year.

Like all campaign reform measures, however, Austin's charter amendment stops short of regulating the political behavior of individuals - that's because citizens have a constitutional right to spend their money and voice their opinions. One person with plenty of both is Texas Monthly publisher Mike Levy, who made the most of his first amendment rights by lambasting the green council in last Saturday's Statesman, and then reprinting and distributing his Op-Ed piece in letter format (on TexMo letterhead and envelope) to about 100,000 Austin voters. Other individuals with an axe to grind and money to spend include Royal Masset, the Republican political operative who has bought radio spots on KVET; Eric Anderson, the former S.O.S. supporter-turned-critic, who has distributed "No on the Bonds" yard signs; and James Cooley, a conservative political analyst who has also purchased and distributed yard signs attacking Prop. Two ("No Water Tax").

According to Cooley - who complains that buying land with revenue bonds (to be repaid with a levy on your water bill) puts the water/wastewater utility in the parks and wildlife business - there has been no coordination between his efforts and those of his fellow anti-Prop. 2 activists; no stealth-PAC is in existence, in other words. Asked how (as someone who actually works for a living) he was able to afford the considerable expense of a city-wide sign campaign, Cooley explained that, although he personally paid cash for the signs, he then "sold" some of them to people "who wanted to help out."

While Cooley seems to be dancing around the edges of what most people would call political fundraising, an anti-Prop. 2 group calling itself Citizens for Aquifer Protection (CAP) may have crossed the line altogether. CAP (not to be confused with TAP, Texans for Aquifer Protection) is a nonprofit corporation headed by Charles Laws, manager of Creedmore-Maha Water Supply Company, an aquifer pumping operation that has long sought to disband the Barton Springs/Edwards Aquifer Conservation District, the agency that regulates Laws and other pumpers. CAP sent out a 75,000-piece mailing urging District residents to vote to disband the BS/EACD, and more problematically, to vote no on Prop. 2. According to Mike Blizzard of the S.O.S. PAC, Laws and company may be violating state law by not filing as a PAC. Thus far they have failed to report contributions or expenditures to anyone. And if CAP is funded by Creedmore-Maha, it may also be required to adhere to the $100 contribution limit stipulated in the No More Corruption charter amendment. CAP treasurer Wes Ritchie, who has represented Laws for years, declined to say who the group's funders were, noting that he had only recently been advised that CAP may have violated city and state campaign laws. Of the anti-Prop. 2 message, Ritchie said he "kinda wished it wasn't on there," and that he was waiting to hear from the Texas Ethics Commission about whether his CAP is really a PAC. - N.B.

Workers Unite!

The citywide campaign for a living wage took another baby step toward action last Saturday as representatives from the Austin Peace and Justice Coalition, International Workers of the World, the Texas Alliance for Democracy, and other organizations met at the state Capitol to talk about local pocketbook issues. But those reps who turned out for the meeting numbered only 20 or so members of the umbrella Austin Living Wage Coalition - which is seeking a universal minimum wage for all Austin workers. The gathering followed a 1,200-person march sponsored by the University Staff Association to promote equitable wages for UT staff.

The low turnout Saturday was in sharp contrast to the group's March meeting, when about 100 activists and community members met to make preliminary plans for the citywide living wage campaign. Thus far, the fledgling coalition has determined several possible interpretations of "living wage," according to member John Hitzfelder, which range from about $7 to $16 an hour. According to House the Homeless activist and coalition member Richard Troxell, the formula currently in favor is the "housing model" (based on the availability of affordable housing for a full-time worker), which translates into an Austin minimum wage of $7.39 an hour.

Six to 10 members of the coalition will attend an upcoming national living wage conference in Boston to determine how to implement such a wage in Austin. Boston's minimum wage is $7.49 an hour. The options, according to Doug Zachary of the Austin Peace and Justice Coalition, include introducing legislation or a ballot initiative to raise the local minimum wage from its $5.15-an-hour status. - E.C.B.

Ridgetop Rallies

While the AISD Board of Trustees decided to keep Ridgetop Elementary open after all, there is still one troublesome spot that likely won't go away for a while: Parents, teachers, and students want to know why they were kept out of the loop regarding the school's possible closure.

Ridgetop supporters packed the Board of Trustees meeting Monday night to praise their school's small classes, its close-knit community and model bilingual programs, and to fault the district for not telling parents and teachers of the board's plan to shutter the school of about 300 students as early as next fall. Though bilingual classes are offered throughout the district, Ridgetop's commitment to students with limited English skills makes the school a popular choice for parents, said Rita Haecker of the Austin Area Association of Bilingual Teachers.

Board members were not surprised that the suggestion to close a school would prompt such an outcry, but several were perplexed as to why Ridgetop teachers and parents were not aware that closure was a possiblity. Board members said Ridgetop's closing was included in boundary plans that should have been distributed to parents and explained at community meetings held throughout the district. "It does concern me that we had a staff recommendation (to close Ridgetop) and we did not have the community informed," Board President Kathy Rider said Monday night. Board members said that closing Ridgetop is still under consideration, but the earliest the board would make a decision is December.

This isn't the first time the district hasn't been forthcoming with pertinent information. Maria Loya of El Buen Samaratino Episcopal Center said the lack of information on the Ridgetop closing is the second example in two weeks of how the district has failed to inform the public of decisions that dramatically affect their lives. Loya said there was also confusion between the city and the district over the administration of a program to distribute sack lunches to low-income students over the summer. Many feared that the lack of communication would result in the loss of the 29 cold lunch sites operated by the city Parks and Recreation Dept., but AISD officials say no sites will be closed. The district will operate 15 hot lunch sites at its schools, and Parks and Rec will serve cold lunches at various locations including recreation centers, parks, and apartment complexes, as it has in previous years. - L.T

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