Naked City

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We've been hearing a lot of talk lately about instant runoff voting, a voting system that allows voters to rank candidates in the order of their preference. With IRV, if no one gets a majority, the candidate with the fewest votes drops out of the running, and the votes of everyone who voted for that candidate are automatically "re-cast" for their second choices. Confusing? Yes, but "when you see it on paper, it works pretty well," says Craig McDonald, director of Texans for Public Justice, who personally supports the proposal. "You rank your votes -- one, two, and three -- and if your No. 1 person doesn't get a majority, you don't have to come back to the polls" because you've already indicated your second choice. Fred Lewis, a member of the city's Charter Review Commission, which recommended instant runoffs to the City Council last year, says the system could save the city money and enhance turnout, because "it only requires voters to go to the polls once, it decreases costs … [and] it allows people to vote for who they really support because they can vote for their second choice if their first choice doesn't make it." David Cobb, an IRV supporter with the Center for Voting and Democracy, adds that instant runoff voting promotes more "issue-based" campaigning, because, as a candidate, "I want your supporters to at least rank me as their second choice rather than my other opponents." IRV proponents have won the ear of Council Member Will Wynn, who says he supports the proposal in concept because "it ensures a higher voter turnout than you ever have in a runoff election. To me, it's just staggering -- our last city runoff election cost $442,000 to hold, and we had about a 4% voter turnout. That's $21.80 per vote cast." The change would require a council vote and a charter amendment election, which could come as early as August -- if the mayor jumps ship and forces a special election -- or as late as November, when the next general election is scheduled…

Council Member Will Wynn and wife Anne Elizabeth Wynn opened their Tarrytown home last week to some 150 Democratic Party loyalists who paid good money to hear CBS news anchor Dan Rather and former Dell exec and big-time Dem donor Tom Meredith ponder the national political climate. Those with $125 or $500 (or more) to spare for the March 21 event included Vignette founder and former CEO Ross Garber, Austin Ventures big wheel John Thornton, musician/writer/pundit Kinky Friedman, and local politicos Mayor Kirk Watson, District Attorney Ronnie Earle, Council Member Beverly Griffith, and District Court Judge Darlene Byrne. Probable mayoral candidate Robin Rather, who brought father Dan and Meredith together for the bill, was also on hand. Political consultant Mark Yznaga, who headed up the Travis Co. Democratic Party's organizing and vote-getting efforts last November, was credited for pulling the event together and whipping up the finger foods to boot. The cash collected from the fundraiser will retire TCDP's election-year debt and help keep the office afloat next year…

This Thursday, the Urban Transportation Commission gets a say in its future. The commission, you'll recall, got its collective knickers in a knot several weeks ago, when it sent the council a resolution asking that council members at least consider the commission's input before voting on transportation-related matters -- like, say, closing half the streets downtown. Input, after all, is what the UTC, like other boards and commissions, was ostensibly set up to provide. But in recent months, says Commissioner Carl Tepper, the council has voted on several transit-related matters without so much as notifying the UTC. Today, the council will consider that resolution, backed by Council Members Raul Alvarez, Jackie Goodman, and Daryl Slusher. But the problem goes beyond Urban Transportation: The city has more than 60 boards and commissions, many of which have long outlived their mandates as advisors to the council. Is it time to think about disbanding the boards and commissions en masse and starting over from scratch? "I don't know if boards and commissions are necessary or not," Tepper says. "But if they're not, why not abolish the commissions and stop wasting [commissioners'] time?"…

Skin it or sell it. That was the message Intel officials heard Wednesday from downtown representatives and other assorted business and developer folks displeased with the company's decision to halt construction on its downtown office building. Intel met with the group in the former Isuzu dealership office whose windows look out over the concrete skeleton that Intel plans to leave behind. Intel spokesman Fred Shannon started the meeting by apologizing for the company's poor handling of the decision to halt construction. He said Intel plans to seek extensions on its building permits for another nine months before deciding whether to proceed on the project. In the meantime, Intel says it's open to cosmetic suggestions about what to do with the building. Shannon says neighborhood meetings will continue on a regular basis…

It appears that the number of jobs cut at Dell, reported last month at 1,700, may have been greater than that, thanks to a round of firings that allegedly took place earlier this year for what one former employee calls "minor violations" of company rules, including accessing questionable sites on the Internet, forwarding jokes to other Dell employees, and failing to wear Dell badges. The former employee says he was fired without severance last month for accessing an allegedly pornographic (and indisputably tasteless) Web site. (Other current and former Dell employees confirmed that more cuts had occurred, but did not want to speak on the record.) A Dell spokesman said he wasn't aware of any job cuts beyond the 1,700 laid off February 15, adding that "performance-related" firings are handled on a case-by-case basis. But according to the former Dell employee, this was no ordinary round of cuts. "They were trying to reduce their workforce," he says, estimating that at least 180 workers were given the axe. "It was widely rumored at Dell at the time -- watch out, they're trying to fire everyone they can." And it strikes him as odd, he says, that Michael Dell donated $10 million to charity on Monday, February 12, then laid off 1,700 people three days later. "In my opinion," he says, "that $10 million would have paid for the jobs of those 1,700 people." Contributor: Amy Smith

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Gary Bradley, Spillar Ranch, Rick Green, Daryl Slusher, Will Wynn, Bill Bunch, Craig Smith, Save Our Springs Alliance, Save Barton Springs Association, instant runoff voting, Craig McDonald, David Cobb, Will Wynn, Fred Lewis, Elizabeth Wynn, Travis County Democratic Par

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