Mark Tschurr returned to Austin last year to find a town drastically different from the one he left three years earlier. The business culture had moved from a model based on making a profit to one that cheerfully defended a lack of profit. There was more traffic on the roads, and Barton Springs, as Tschurr saw it, was in greater danger than ever. Even more astounding was a curious catch-phrase enjoying a healthy marketing run at City Hall. "Managed growth?" Tschurr asked rhetorically the other morning over a steaming cup of coffee. "That sounds like managed cancer. Whatever happened to 'no growth'?"
Well, as we said, Tschurr has been gone a while. His re-entry into the local scene has him sitting as the new board chairman of the Save Our Springs Alliance, an organization that took a beating in the daily press last spring over its opposition to the peace settlement between the city and the group's longtime nemesis, Gary Bradley. The emotionally draining process of that settlement prompted the abrupt resignation of board chair Robin Rather, who had broken from the group to publicly throw her support behind the Bradley agreement. Her departure left environmental mainstay Mary Arnold little choice but to step in as interim chair until the board's annual elections this month. Tschurr's elevation to the chairman's seat was unanimous, as was Nancy Scanlan's promotion to vice chair.
Needless to say, Tschurr has his work cut out for him. For the record, Tschurr believes the Bradley settlement was "disastrous ... it was your classic backdoor agreement. What the agreement looks like today is not what was shopped to the community," he says. "Austin suffers in the long run because land that shouldn't be developed will be developed, leading to further degradation of the Springs. What the agreement did for land speculators," Tschurr continues, "was that it lowered what had been their barrier to entry. That's where the city failed miserably." That opinion notwithstanding, Tschurr plans to meet with individual council members to do some old-fashioned lobbying on behalf of SOS.
Tschurr's last jump into the public arena was in 1993, when he ran for City Council on a business-for-the-environment platform. Back then, Austin was still holding fast to its business vs. environment mindset, and Tschurr, as the owner of a successful tech company, badly wanted to alter that way of thinking. Running for the same seat that year was first-time council candidate Jackie Goodman. Those two advanced to the runoff in a green-vote split, and Goodman won by a wide margin. So Tschurr went back to growing his business, Tschurr Technology, whose customers were the biggies of the day -- Motorola, Advanced Micro Devices, and Cypress Semiconductor. In 1996, he merged his company with Microvision Inc. of Minneapolis, and he and his family headed north for a new life.
Tschurr's financial status improved considerably last year with the sale of Microvision to Electro Scientific Industries. The sale made Tschurr a wealthy man, although he gets squeamish and a tad defensive when you mention it. ("We're probably the only ones on our block with a clothesline," he says.) Now in the process of "transitioning" out of the company, Tschurr, if he chooses, never has to work again. "I want to spend the majority of my time with my family [wife Betsy, and children Helen and Henry] and working on SOS," he says. Would he consider another run for City Council? Tschurr pauses for several seconds. "No," he says, finally. "I don't think so." He gives the question a little more thought. "Not unless there's a bust. Then I'd like to play a role in the rebuilding process."