Off the Desk:
When Gov. George W. Bush arrived in New Hampshire, he was greeted by a scathing editorial in the influential Manchester Union-Leader that said his style is "to lay low, look for popular issues, let others do the hard work, and then step up to claim credit in the hour of victory." Yesterday, after Bush's departure, the paper excoriated him for his tenuous positions on abortion and affirmative action, asking if he was "a leader"or a "follower of public opinion," and calling his positions "inexplicably squishy." If only Texas editorial writers followed the lead of their Yankee brethren, the presidential race could get interesting. For more, go to: http://www.theunionleader.com/. --R.B.
Neighbors are buzzing about the noise coming from the air handling system at the Heart Hospital of Austin, on West 38th. "At times it sounds like a plane trying to take off; sometimesit's like an air blower," says David Hefner, who hears the "high humming" noise constantly from his home about a mile west of the hospital. Hefner and other representatives from the Rosedale, Hyde Park, Alta Vista, Ridgelea, and Heritage neighborhoods have formed the Silence the Heart Hospital (SHH) Coalition to try to quiet the nuisance.The group will have its first meeting Monday at Yarbrough Branch Library, 2200 Hancock. Hospital president Michael Zucker says an acoustical engineer is studying the complaints ...
More than 500 folks turned out to sign a giant "going away" card and take one last stroll around Robert Mueller Municipal Airport last Friday. The event, "Bye, Bye Bob," raised about $32,000 through ticket sales, sponsors, and the auctioning of airport memorabilia; proceeds go to Huston Tillotson's United Negro College Fund scholarships. The airport is scheduled to close to general aviation traffic at midnight Monday. But airport neighbors aren't exhaling yet. There's still plenty of work to do: The Lege didn't allocate any funds for the New Mueller project, so contrary to everything everyone had been thinking, it seems the whole thing now belongs to the city. In the weeks ahead, the coalition will take up the master planning process again to figure out what to do with the 282 acres the state was going to utilize. --L.T.
When's the last time anyone heard the superintendent of the Austin Independent SchoolDistrict tell teachers and staff that professionaldevelopment will be "driven by personal accountability and self-evaluation" because "we have trust and confidence in you?" The single finalist for the AISD superintendent's job announced by the board of trustees Monday night, Mark A. Edwards, has built a reputation as an innovative, hands-on administrator whose enthusiasm for continuous education brings out the best in his employees. Maybe that's why trustee Patricia Whiteside was moved to tears, and trustee Olga Garza gushed, "For the last 24 hours I've had two songs going through my head. One is James Brown's "I Feel Good," and the other is that old camp classic, "I've Got Joy, Joy, Joy, Joy." Board members seem to have met the anti-Jim Fox.
Board members cited Edwards' passion for education, ability to work with the community, and emphasis on continuous professional development as prime factors in their choice. Since 1994, Edwards has served as the superintendent of Henrico County Public Schools in Virginia, where steadily climbing test scores have garnered Edwards profiles in education trade mags. He will visit Austin and district campuses the last week of June.
Austin Federation of Teachers president Louis Malfaro said he had high hopes for Edwards as someone who would eschew a "kick ass and take names" philosophy like Fox's and instead strengthen the initiatives the district has already made to address its problems, such as focusing on elementary school reading, expanding fine arts education, and committing additional resources to narrow the performance gap between richer and poorer schools. The only reservation about Edwards? As an administrator with experience primarily in Virginia, Florida, and other Southern states, Malfaro said, Edwards hasn't had to bargain with teachers' groups. --K.F.
Talks on the ever-controversial day labor issue continued last week, as the APD stepped up to try and give neighbors of the new site some peace of mind regarding law enforcement in the area. About 50 or so residents attended the meeting at the Promise Land mega-church on E. 51st St., as well as about 10 of the police officers assigned to cover the area. Police assured neighbors that the site would be policed by a full-time officer, in addition to a walking beat in the surrounding areas. Concerns ranged from the familiar -- How long will the response time be when someone associated with day labor trespasses on my property or harasses my kids? -- to the bizarre "serial killer theory." Apparently, the news of several recent homicides in Weimar, which are believed to have been committed by a man who's currently riding the rails for transportation, sparked this one. Farfetched, yes, but neighbors argued that the nearby tracks could make the new site attractive to folks who are just passing through. Assistant Chief Bruce Mills pointed out that the current day labor site is near not only railroad tracks, but also Shoal Creek, where numerous transient encampments can be found. The geography surrounding the new site is less conducive to such encampments, he said. Police and neighbors commiserated about the illegal and otherwise bothersome goings on at the Rio Motel which, despite persistent rumors to the contrary, is not being bought by the city. Officers said they are seeking to close the Rio down, via a lawsuit that would declare it a public nuisance. Police said that Attorney General John Cornyn'soffice has been slow to act on the suit, so Meg Brooks of District Attorney Ronnie Earle's office said she'd let her boss know "that there was a public outcry" and suggest he look into filing the Rio lawsuit himself. --J.S.J.
After more than six years and $10.37 million dollars, East Austin's Millennium Youth Entertainment Complex -- nee the Central City Entertainment Center -- will have its long-awaited grand opening 5pm Friday, June 18. The entertainment center was the brainchild of Jenniffer Cole-Doyle, 27, Michael Bryant, 29, and other members of their Eastside youth activist group, By the Youth, For the Youth Inc., who were catalyzed by the 1992 drive-by shooting murder of 16-year-old Tamika Ross to develop a safe haven for neighborhood kids.The group lobbied and gained support for the complex from former city council member Charles Urdy in early 1993, with the hopes of opening it by 1996. But the project, touted to be a symbol of the Eastside's renewal, has been something of a political hot potato. Part of the controversy was due to the unusual fact that the city of Austin would own the facility. As owner, the city would bear all the costs of funding the center, from land acquisition and construction costs to selecting and paying a management company to run the place. In addition, it was projected that the center would not turn a profit until 2003 -- and even then it would only be about $3,000 in the black. Eventually the financing was worked out: A 20-year, $7.83 million federal HUD loan was negotiated (which, ironically, delayed the project; the city was in the midst of loan negotiations with HUD when the federal government shut down in 1996). The remaining funds come from $1.34 million in "repurposed" HUD block grants and $1.19 million from the city's general fund, says Assistant City Manager Marcia Conner.
Center supporters, including Tamika Ross's parents David and Rosemary Townsend, are excited that the financial concerns didn't quash the community's dream. "A lot of people focused in on how much it cost to build," said David Townsend. "But can you put a monetary value on life? A life it might save is well worth the cost and the wait." The 50,000 square-foot complex is snazzy, boasting a 154-seat multipurpose theatre, a 16-lane bowling alley, and a 12,000 square-foot skating rink, not to mention a fabulously squishy children's "soft play" area (which this reporter highly recommends). The complex, located at 1156 Hargrave, will be open to the public from 5-9pm Friday. At the very least it's worth it to see what a brand-new pair of bowling shoes actually looks like. -- J. Smith
Bill Be Gone
Last Thursday, University of Texas Chancellor William Cunningham announced that he's resigning his position as of August 2000. The reasons for the departure are not clear. Cunningham says it was his decision to leave and that he's eager to take a job in the private sector, but sources close to the situation say Cunningham didn't jump, he was pushed. "No one was surprised by this," says one source, who added that Cunningham has repeatedly irritated the regents with his abrasive management style and that he wasn't effective enough at the Texas Legislature.
While Cunningham has undoubtedly had successes at UT, he has also had his share of controversies. Those were summed up in two editorials that ran last week. The Daily Texan said, "Whatever accomplishments Cunningham may list after his name, the Freeport-McMoRan debacle deserves just as prominent a place in the University's history books." The Austin American-Statesman, which has been critical of the ethically challenged chancellor, said that while Cunningham will be remembered for several accomplishments, he will also "be remembered for his controversial corporate ties and fund raising for new buildings and athletic facilities at a time when UT staff salaries were abysmally low." The Stateman editorial went on to recommend the UT Board of Regents find a replacement who has the "ethical judgment to separate his or her corporate ties and professional duties."
During a press conference on June 10, Cunningham was uncomfortable talking about his relationship with Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold, a New Orleans-based mining company that operates the world's richest copper and gold mine in Irian Jaya, Indonesia. When asked about the money he got from Freeport, and his decision to name a UT building after Jim Bob Moffett, Freeport's CEO, at the same time that he served on the company's board, Cunningham said, "I have been very proud of my relationship with Jim Bob Moffett. He's a great man, a great Texan." While Donald Evans, chairman of the board of regents, told reporters "I hate to see him leave," lots of others are pleased to see him go. One prominent critic, Steven Feld, an ethnomusicologist and MacArthur Fellow, repeatedly asked Cunningham to meet with him to discuss the Freeport matter, but says Cunningham refused. Said Feld of Cunningham: "I think the private sector is where he belongs. It's just unfortunate he spent so many years at the University of Texas figuring that out." --R.B.