Naked City

Off the Desk

Dell Computer's planned move back to Austin is being glorified in the local daily, but some community leaders are wondering what kind of message the big guy is sending to other companies by moving into the Drinking Water Protection Zone. Dell will transfer its executive-level branch from Round Rock to the Las Cimas office complex, currently under construction off of Loop 360, south of Bee Caves Road. The announcement came as both a surprise and disappointment to many enviro reps, particularly given the fact that Save Our Springs Alliance leaders had successfully lobbied other major employers -- Motorola, CSC, and Intel -- against settling in environmentally sensitive territory. "No company of Dell's stature has moved into the DWPZ in about 10 years," said former SOS Chair Robin Rather, who counts herself as among the disappointed. Various community leaders are expected to share similar concerns in a statement to be released within the next day or so ...

If there is safety in numbers, then the Sister Neighborhoods Program just might be the ticket to learning how to win friends and influence people at City Hall. The new coalition-building program makes its debut May 20 as part of a half-day workshop aptly named "Neighbor to Neighbor: Solutions for a New Austin." Drawing on the age-old Sister Cities model, the new Sister act will pair up dissimilar neighborhoods, such as urban and suburban neighborhoods, to help increase communication and understanding citywide. "The current city process creates only one avenue for neighborhood involvement: opposition. We need a new process by which neighborhoods can participate in a proactive way," said Sabrina Burmeister, a Neighbors of Triangle Park leader who is co-organizing the workshop with Cathy Echols and Jim Walker. "We need to stop saying why we're angry and start working toward providing solutions," Burmeister added. The workshop is from 8:30am-2pm at Martin Middle School, 1601 Haskell. For more info and to RSVP, call Walker at 499-0526.

When assistant police chiefs get passed over for the top post, the usual course is to leave town and become a chief somewhere else. That was rumored to be the path Bruce Mills would follow after losing the job to APD Chief Stan Knee in 1997. But Mills, ever the good soldier, stuck it out and landed a police chief job right here at home, at Austin Bergstrom International Airport. "I don't have to move away," Mills said gleefully over the phone from Washington, D.C. He'll retire from APD next fall and immediately move to the airport to replace outgoing chief Ken Cox, and oversee a police force of 43 officers. "Aviation is a brand new challenge for me," Miller said. "We've gone from a small airport to a much larger, international complex. There's about 300,000 to 500,000 passengers flying through that airport every week."

In this part of the country, Southern Union Gas Co. is recognized as our local gas utility -- and little else. But on the pages of daily newspapers in Northeastern Pennsylvania, SUG is known as the Austin company that sold 40,000 acres of wilderness -- including 28,500 acres of watershed -- to a landfill operator and junkyard dealer. "This is an absolutely obscene deal," said Henry Smith, a medical doctor and a founding member of Defenders of Our Watershed, a Pennsylvania group that formed after the sale by an SUG subsidiary, PG Energy. Smith said his group plans to lobby Gov. Tom Ridge and conservation organizations to bring the land under state ownership for preservation. "Our governor wants to run with your governor for vice president," Smith added, "and our governor wants to be 'green.' We think this is a good way to hold him to his promise."

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