Naked City

Off the Desk:

Kirk Mitchell's independent bid for the Precinct 3 County Commissioner's post became virtually official Tuesday, when Mitchell filed his petition to be placed on the November ballot to run against Democrat Nan Clayton and Republican Todd Baxter. The same day, Mitchell appeared on the John Doggett radio show to chat up conservative county residents - the ones whom Mitchell hopes will support his campaign to stop county spending for non-voter-approved infrastructure projects. "What I'm saying is not scary no matter where you live," said Mitchell, who had appeared twice before on Doggett's show to promote the "Smart Growth" bond package. The indie candidate says a cross-section of folks are rallying behind him on this one. So far, Mitchell's candidacy has the endorsement of the Austin Neighborhoods Council president Jeff Jack, conservationist John Beall, and former GOP County Commissioner candidate Darrell Wilson, who presides over the Tanglewood Forest Neighborhood Association... - K.F.

Robert Redford's contribution to the preservation of Barton Springs comes in the form of his new film, The Horse Whisperer. Redford is dedicating tonight's (Thursday) Austin premiere as a benefit to the Springs. The evening's hosts - Save Our Springs Alliance and the Save Barton Creek Association, will offer two screenings - 6pm and 9:15pm - at the Alamo Drafthouse. A reception takes place next door at Gilligan's from 8-10pm, with Don Walser and His Pure Texas Band, who perform on the movie soundtrack along with other local artists. Tickets are $25 for each event and are available at the Alamo, Waterloo Records, or by calling 477-2320, ext. 47...

The Family Pathfinders program of Austin has won a national Daily Points of Light award for its accomplishments in training volunteers to help families meet the transitional demands of life without welfare benefits. State Comptroller John Sharp created the program in response to federal legislation placing a five-year limit on welfare recipients. - A.S.

Supremes Say S.O.S. Rules

Is there a more beautiful, more sonorous word in a democratic society than "unanimous"? What other word evokes such fullness, such sureness?

Last Friday, after nearly six years of discord, after six years of hearing attorney Roy Minton and others talk about how "arbitrary" and "capricious" the Save Our Springs Ordinance is, the Texas Supreme Court ruled unanimously, on every point, that the ordinance is legal, valid, and proper. Every argument that has been regurgitated by Minton and his employers at Circle C Land Corp., a subsidiary of New Orleans-based FM Properties, was rejected.

Talk about a victory. This wasn't a defeat for Minton's side, it was a rout, a blowout, a crushing, spanking, tail-between-your-legs-go-home-and-hide-under-the-sheets kind of beating. And it couldn't have come at a better time. City attorney Andy Martin believes the ruling will strengthen the city's position as it fights other lawsuits over water quality protection in the Barton Springs watershed. "Any time you have a case where the Supreme Court is writing on issues that are hot and supporting the city's power and authority to do things, it's helpful," said Martin.

One of the main claims from S.O.S. opponents was that the ordinance would ruin the city's tax base by lowering property values. The court acknowledged that S.O.S. does affect the value of some property, but that fact "does not make it invalid, arbitrary, unreasonable, inefficient or ineffective in its attempt to control water quality," said the court in an opinion written by Justice Greg Abbott. And the court added a phrase that has been known for years by water quality experts: that impervious cover limits "are a nationally-recognized method of preserving water quality. Further, it is indisputable that limiting pollutants in runoff water will aid in preserving water quality."

Those lines, in particular, were aimed at Minton's claim that the S.O.S. Ordinance has no water quality value, and instead is aimed at limiting growth. After the ruling, Minton acknowledged the fight over S.O.S. is pretty well over. "I think that's probably the end of it," he said. "We will meet with the client and go over what is possible on a motion for rehearing, and make up our mind at that time. [But] I don't think the court is going to change its mind."

The ruling was obviously a big win for the city and the Save Our Springs Alliance. But amid the victory dance, there should also be a little time for reflection. After all, Austin residents had to spend some $1 million to defend the ordinance in court. That's $1 million that would have been better spent on things like libraries, playground equipment, and parks. We as citizens are doing without those things so that S.O.S. opponents could take their case to the highest court in the state only to be told that their legal arguments were without merit. It's not nice to gloat. It's poor form to stick out your tongue and say nanny nanny poo poo. But in this case, a little gloating is justified. - R.B.

Blumenthal Backs Off

Local poet and novelist Michael Blumenthal says he is dropping "any and all contemplated complaints" against Southwest Texas State University for passing him over for a permanent teaching position. Blumenthal, who had a one-year contract with SWT, had applied for the position that was eventually offered to Cyrus Cassells, a black, gay poet who Blumenthal feels was hired because he is a "diversity" candidate. After the decision, Blumenthal's attorney, Steven W. Smith, plaintiffs' lawyer in the Hopwood case, fired off a letter to SWT officials that suggested a lawsuit would be in order unless his client and the university were able to reach a "mutually satisfactory" solution (see last week's "Naked City"). This week, however, Blumenthal, against the advice of his attorney, decided to drop the matter altogether.

In a May 11 letter to Robert D Gratz, SWT's vice-president for academic affairs, Blumenthal wrote, "I believe now, as I believed when I came here, that it is not only good, but necessary, for this university to have more Black and minority faces among its faculty.... But I also believe - then as now - that the way to treat every human being, myself included, is with dignity, honesty, forthrightness, compassion and dignity. I, and my family, however, were not treated that way by this university." All told, Blumenthal sums up his year teaching at SWT as "a sorry experience." - C.S.

Cash for COPS

When the City Council annexed 30,000 new residents into the city last year, there were fears that Austin Police Dept. forces could be stretched too thin. So the council called the COPS - the federal Community Oriented Policing program - for help. Last week, U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett announced that the federal Office of Community Policing Services has awarded APD a $3.2 million grant for 43 new police officers to help the department grow with the city. This grant brings the total COPS funding the city has received to about $13.5 million. The program was founded as part of the Clinton Administration's push to place 100,000 new police officers on the nation's streets.

APD officials say the award is consistent with the department's efforts to find innovative and flexible modes of deployment that will better integrate patrol officers into neighborhoods. But the primary benefit, says Jan Hilton, APD Assistant Director of Administrative Services, is that the grant will increase the pool of available officers and will remove current officers from pulling overtime shifts. After annexation, Hilton says, placing officers on overtime was necessary to preserve the city's commitment to maintain 1.9 officers for every 1,000 Austin residents. After three years, however, this grant funding will end, and the city will have to pick up the tab for the additional salaries. "This is helpful for getting started," Hilton noted. "It stretches the general fund dollars."

APD Chief Stan Knee said he was pleased to find federal support for his efforts to make Austin one of the 10 safest cities in the nation. And Doggett, who announced the new funding last week, said in light of Austin's rapid growth, "it simply boils down to being able to hire more officers in order to keep our streets safe." - K.F.

Not Crazy for Kaplan

Austin Community College professors were understandably stunned when ACC officials suddenly called an early morning faculty meeting last week to seek volunteers to teach Kaplan Educational Centers' developmental studies curriculum in the fall. Administrators eventually backed off any plans to pilot Kaplan in the fall, but not before a furor erupted among faculty members who felt the administration was trying "to cram Kaplan down our throats" on the last day of the semester.

ACC administrators say the meeting was simply to gauge whether the faculty was interested in introducing the Kaplan program on a purely volunteer basis. The timing of the meeting was coincidental, they said.

Many faculty members said they thought ACC President Richard Fonte had altogether dropped the plan to hire Kaplan to help overhaul ACC's developmental studies programs. After all, the idea is wildly unpopular among ACC's developmental studies professors: Opposition has been vocal and unwavering since Fonte first proposed the idea late last fall, and meetings with Kaplan officials and administrators from schools currently using the company's services failed to garner any enthusiasm. "I guess we all thought Kaplan was out of the picture," said ACC writing professor Grady Hillman.

As it happens, the administration has not completely ruled out hiring Kaplan or another outside consultant to help with the college's developmental studies programs in the future. While Fonte has said no outside entity will replace college faculty, he also insists that ACC must explore revising their remedial studies curriculum, particularly since over a third of the college's 25,000 students will take some type of non-credit remedial course based on how they score on the Texas Academic Skills Program test.

Still, the administration's enthusiasm for Kaplan perplexes developmental studies professors. Known for its test preparation successes, Kaplan has recently attempted a foray into community college remedial programs, promising to teach basic skills better and faster than a college's in-house staff. But while ACC profs say they want to make every effort to improve the school's developmental reading, writing, and math programs, they say they're not impressed with Kaplan. Developmental studies professors say they are in the midst of an internal review process to evaluate ACC's program and help them identify its strengths and weaknesses. They've also enlisted the aid of outside consultants like Hunter Boylan, director of the National Center for Developmental Education at Appalachian State University.

"We have said, and the administration has agreed, that there must not be any pressure on anyone to do this," said Faculty Senate Pres. Mike Midgely. Added math professor Maggi Miller, "I have never heard any member of the full-time faculty say they are interested in giving Kaplan a try. Our feeling is this is a poor program with no track record of success. The faculty is united in our resistance to this." - L.T.

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