Off the Desk:
The Austin Independent School District and Deputy Superintendent Kay Psencik this week were charged by a Travis County grand jury with altering data on 16 TAAS exams at three Austin elementary schools. AISD research analyst Ricky Arredondo admitted tampering with the records two weeks ago, and County Attorney Ken Oden said Wednesday that his office intended to show that Psencik was either an accomplice or legally liable for preventing Arredondo's actions. Psencik, meanwhile, denies wrongdoing. --K.F.
Four short videos on life in Chiapas -- filmed by indigenous residents and produced by the Chiapas Media Project -- will be shown in two upcoming screenings. The Media Project has led trips to Chiapas with video and editing equipment donated to would-be filmmakers. These efforts will be screened at 7pm Sunday, April 11, at Pueblos Unidos, 2211 Hidalgo (near Robert Martinez and E. Seventh), and at noon Monday, April 12, at the Texas Union Chicano Cultural Room on the UT campus. For more info, call 476-3713. On a related note, see p.54 for an interview with filmmaker Nettie Wild on her documentary, A Place Called Chiapas, opening Friday, April 9, at the Dobie Theatre. --A.S.
Laboring Over Move
The city thought relocating the day labor site to 51st Street and I-35 in northeast Austin was a done deal, but now it looks like the new locale may not get the green light from at least two citycouncilmembers. During the April 1 City Council meeting, both Daryl Slusher and Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman said they'd have a hard time backing the move north. "I think we didn't handle the day labor situation very well," said Slusher. "I think we need to look at a site downtown." Goodman echoed Slusher's remarks: "I don't think 51st and I-35 is the best place, and I don't think I can support it," she said.
Earlier in the meeting, Latino community organizers Pedro Matias and Edelmira Mendez and a handful of other advocates asked that the council reconsider the new site, and asked to be included in the decision-making process. "The new site isn't big enough for the 200-to-300 workers who will be using it," said Matias.
The CSC/City Hall complex -- approved by council last week -- will oust the "Labor Solutions"Day Labor Program from its current site at Guadalupe and Cesar Chavez (see "Council Watch," p.20). Melissa Mason, coordinator of the program, said she'd prefer that it relocate to southeast Austin, where a majority of the workers live. "I'd like to see the new site as a boost to their communities' economy, rather than be seen as a problem for the neighborhood," she said.
For now, it seems no one is quite sure where the laborers will end up. The only given is that they must be out by this fall. Stephen Williams, the city's administrative team leader of the Day Labor Program, was surprised by Slusher and Goodman's comments concerning the north site. "It was news to me," he said, "but I'm willing to comply with any of the councilmembers' decisions."Williams said there are still other sites being considered, but he didn't say where. "No one has decided that we are going to go to 51st Street yet," he said. "We still need to get input from the neighborhoods and the laborers about the site."
Mason hopes the program will be allowed at least 60 days to get everything in order before the move. "I get the impression that the city would just like to sweep the whole problem under the rug," says Mason. "We're like a flea -- they don't notice us until we bite." --M.S.
Up in the Air
Even as rumors flew through city corridors that Austin would have to delay its new airport, on March 31 the Austin City Council got its official first look at the new plans for the old one. The Robert Mueller Municipal Airport Redevelopment and Reuse Plan ended up dominating an entire council work session simply by its breadth and girth -- 711 acres, 25 years, many millions of dollars, 35,000 eventual citizens of the "new town," and so on. Councilmembers ended up asking very few, fairly anodyne questions. Then again, the RMMA plan presentation was preceded by an executive-session briefing lasting more than an hour, so one expects that all the big questions got asked then, behind closed doors. Exec-ses was an option because the big first step toward the New Mueller is a real-estate transaction, the state's purchase of its 282 acres of the soon-to-be-defunct airport. That deal has scared heck out of New Mueller backers, who fear the council will be tempted to take that money and spend it elsewhere, though the RMMA plan presumes that most, if not all, of the state's money will be reinvested on-site in New Mueller infrastructure.
The other big step now is to create the thing that builds the New Mueller -- probably a non-profit development corporation. Look for Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman to bring that issue to the council as early as this week. There will also be a public hearing on the state's hitherto-unseen portion of the plan, organized by the office of Rep. Dawnna Dukes, 10am Saturday at Promiseland (née World of Pentecost) on 51st Street. Expect there to be some fireworks there, compared to the general love fest that surrounded the city plan's presentation. --M.C.M.
The noose appears to be tightening around the neck of David Waters. On March 24, the former office manager at American Atheist General Headquarters was implicated in the disappearance of Madalyn Murray O'Hair, Jon Garth Murray, and Robin Murray O'Hair by his own lawyer, Patrick Ganne. While federal law enforcement officials served a search warrant on Waters' apartment, Ganne told the Chronicle that Waters' "co-conspirators are rolling over and are saying Waters was involved in the conspiracy" to kill the missing atheists. On Tuesday, the San Antonio Express-News reported that Gary P. Karr, an ex-convict who knows Waters, has admitted his involvement in four homicides in Texas, including the murder and decapitation of one victim. The headless, handless corpse of Danny Fry, a Florida man who moved to Austin in 1995 to work on a mysterious project with Waters, was found in Dallas three days after the three atheists disappeared. Karr's lawyer, public defender Richard Helfrick, told the Express-News that the implications of Karr's statement are clear. "Given they are talking about a triple homicide and this other body that was decapitated, I think it's obvious they are talking about O'Hair and Fry. How many cases fit that description?" Helfrick told the paper. Both Karr and Waters are being held by federal authorities on federal weapons charges. During the search of Waters' apartment on North Lamar, federal agents found 119 rounds of ammunition, including 49 rounds of 9 mm hollow-point bullets. Karr has also been charged with receiving, storing, and selling stolen property. The additional charges against Karr were filed in U.S. District Court in Austin on March 29.
Over the weekend, dozens of federal agents scoured a ranch near Camp Wood, a town about 120 miles west of San Antonio, for the bodies of the missing atheists. The search was called off Sunday afternoon. Waters, who sought publicity last year for his claim that the three missing atheists had been planning to disappear before they vanished in 1995, is in the custody of the U.S. Marshal's Service and is being held without bail at the Hays County Jail in San Marcos. Ganne has been appointed to represent Waters. The affidavits supporting the charges against the two men as well as the affidavit supporting the search warrant of Waters' apartment are still sealed. --R.B.
Speaking to a capacity crowd at the UT Law School Friday, Massachusetts congressman and gay-rights advocate Barney Frank argued that the ability to legislate gay and lesbian rights comes down to a basic equation: A larger voting block minus an avid right-wing equals political acceptance. "We are in an interesting period regarding homophobic legislation," said the 59-year-old, openly gay representative. "We're winning the cultural war, and the homophobes are on the defensive."
So why don't gays and lesbians enjoy many of the same guaranteed rights as heterosexual Americans? Frank posited that efforts by the Republican far right have left gays and lesbians without the means to achieve such political successes. Focusing efforts to get out the gay vote is job number one, Frank said. Although gay activism has centered on public rallying, he said those efforts have fallen on mostly deaf ears in Congress since gay voter turnout has not reflected the same call for change. "In the American political system, demonstrations are not very effective ways to win," Frank said. "Trying to appeal to a majority by disregarding the majority's feelings is dumb. The purpose of politics is not self-expression; the purpose is to win the right to self-expression."
Religious conservatism and periodic public outcries by right-wing establishments such as Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell tend to be the epicenter of today's anti-gay push. Laws like the Defense of Marriage Act, which signaled another major effort by the GOP to renounce any moral ties to homosexuality, was an ironic twist of fate contrasted with last year's tell-all impeachment proceedings against the president, said Frank. "Bill Clinton and half a dozen congressmen are way ahead of me in undermining marriage," he said.
But Frank also condemned the outlandish behavior he says undermines the movement's credibility. He particularly took issue with an Easter parade that took place last Sunday in San Francisco, featuring scores of men dressed in nuns' habits. Working with the majority, rather than scoffing at it, he said, would help gays and lesbians reach more bipartisan agreement through consensus. "If we participate, then we will win," he said. "If we start now, then we will win sooner." --L.S.