Naked City

Austin Stories

It's been less than six months since Sal Cavazos was appointed the new principal of Johnston High School, and already some parents and community activists are taking up arms over changes to the school's athletic staff proposed by the new administration. On April 11, Cavazos and new Athletic Director Les Johnson announced that six of the school's 24 coaches would be reassigned before next fall, including Tony Castillo, the softball coach and 1961 Johnston grad who has led the Johnston girls' team to the playoffs three years running. The decision to reassign the coaches was made based on Johnson's evaluations of the coaching staff, Cavazos says.

Of course, another reason for parents' fervor could be inaccurate reporting in the Austin American-Statesman about the changes. On April 12, the paper printed the names of 10 coaches it said were to be reassigned -- including five whom the administration is not seeking to replace. Further Statesman stories implied that the coaches were not only losing their coaching positions but would lose their teaching assignments as well. "We've been trying to correct their errors," says Rudy Montoya, the school board member who represents Johnston.

Cavazos says he is in the process of reviewing Johnson's evaluations, and hopes to be done by May 11. "I'm going to review the recommendations," Cavazos says. "But the principal has the discretion [to make the staffing changes]." In fact, Cavazos notes, Johnston's coaches have been aware that they might be reassigned since last fall. "Back in October, the area superintendent [Dr. Rosalinda Hernandez] met with all 24 coaches and told all of them that none were assured a [coaching position] for next year," Cavazos says, "and that the new athletic director would decide." Johnston parent and Campus Advisory Council Member D.J. Johnson says parents had no idea district officials had been planning the changes since last fall. "At least we could have known what was coming down the pipe. Then we could have rallied a defense." For his part, Athletic Director Johnson is trying to stay out of the fray as much as possible. "I really don't want to be involved in any of this," he says. "All I'm doing is everything I can to help the kids at this school [by] setting up the best programs we can for these kids."…

As promised in this space last week, you'll find the Intel contest result on p.34. Next week: The Vignette Excuse Contest?…

Here in the Process Capital of the World, getting a neighborhood plan implemented is about as easy as finding a place to park downtown at lunchtime. There's a maze of city regulations to wander through, disparate neighborhood interests to corral, and a gauntlet of city commission meetings to traverse -- and that's before you get within range of City Hall. Throw in objections from one of the highest of the city's high-powered lawyers, and things can get a little messy. In Hyde Park, where a zoning overlay for the neighborhood is headed to the Planning Commission next Tuesday, Hyde Park Baptist Church attorney Richard Suttle is trying to throw a wrench in the works by protesting the process by which the city notified neighborhood residents of the proposed zoning change. "The Church requests that its property or any property that it owns a beneficial interest in be excluded from the proposed Hyde Park Neighborhood Conservation Combining District," Suttle wrote in a letter to two of the city's neighborhood planners in March. At a Historic Landmark Commission meeting a couple of weeks ago, Suttle told commissioners he would do whatever he had to remove the church from the plan, which would govern zoning for the neighborhood in all areas that aren't included in the current HPBC Civic NCCD, which governs zoning on church properties.

As neighborhood planning leader Karen McGraw explains it, the new zoning would apply only in cases where the church NCCD does not specifically lay out setback and impervious cover requirements. That means (pending a decision in an HPBC lawsuit filed against the city in federal court) that the new NCCD wouldn't substantially affect the zoning around the church's proposed parking garage, which would rise five stories high on residential Ave. D.

That's about 20 feet higher than the highest structure allowed on single-family zoning in the rest of the neighborhood, but it's apparently not enough for the church and Suttle, who've gone to the Legislature seeking an exemption from all but the "least restrictive" zoning standards that apply to churches in the city. "We feel like the church should not have completely different rules," McGraw says. "They just want free rein; they're down at the Legislature trying to get rid of zoning altogether." Just before the neighborhood filed its new plan, the church submitted a zoning amendment of its own, proposing that the Jacksonian Apartments (3816 Speedway) and another lot just south of the church's existing senior center be included in its 1990 NCCD, and thus exempted from site development standards. Neighbors suspect the move is a harbinger of the eventual relocation of the church's sanctuary, which church leaders say it has outgrown, from the other side of Speedway. They're working on a valid petition against the zoning exemption, which would allow the church to escape setback and impervious-cover requirements. But if it's not, neighbors predict, they'll find another way; "They would like to be their own country," McGraw says…

If you've had one too many Mother's Day brunches, how about a Million Mom March? Texas moms will rally for gun control on Sunday, May 13, on the south steps of the Capitol. Registration begins at noon, with the march at 1:30pm and a rally from 2-4pm. Keynote speaker is Molly Ivins, with music provided by Tina de Varone, Jacqui Cross, and the All Saints Episcopal Handbell Choir. Pre-register online at

Who was that handing out 44 laptops to top students on behalf of the Hays Consolidated ISD Education Foundation at its ceremony honoring top 10% grads this week? Why, none other than foundation board member Gary Bradley, whose land would be the site of a special district whose tax revenues -- generated by a hotel and golf course resort there -- would be channeled back into the foundation, and from there into the Hays County Consolidated School District. "Folks, it doesn't get much better than this," Bradley told the crowd of students and teachers at the formal banquet at the UT Alumni Center. No word yet on why laptops were being handed out at the end of the school year, but we're sure Bradley had, as always, the children's best interests at heart…

No crisis here, ma'am -- yet, we think, maybe. On Tuesday, City Manager Jesus Garza released the city's five-year financial forecast -- the first step in this summer's long march toward the fiscal 2002 city budget -- and it anticipates that the city's General Fund revenues will fall short of needs by about $20 million. That's real money, but it's not the gaping fiscal chasm into which observers feared the city, with its slowed-down sales tax receipts, was about to plummet. (It works out to about a 5% across-the-board reduction in General Fund spending, unless the City Council decides to finally raise property taxes to a sane level. Compare that to the 22% cut the General Fund took in 1987, during the Bust.) As of March 31 -- the end of the city's second quarter -- sales tax revenue had grown 4.8% over the FY2000 returns, far faster than any other large Texas city, but substantially less than this year's budget had anticipated. Garza credits the city's recent emergency savings program -- i.e., $6.5 million in cuts to this year's planned spending -- with keeping the gap for next year manageable. But with headlines like "Dell to lay off 4,000" and "Vignette scraps downtown plans," sales tax collections may nosedive even further...

One month after 36-year-old former Austin Police Department officer Samuel Ramirez was convicted of official oppression, 299th District Court Judge Jon Wisser sentenced the ex-cop on May 3 to three months in jail and a $2,000 fine. Ramirez was found guilty of forcing a Southeast Austin woman to perform oral sex on him in March 1999 while he was on duty. But then Wisser suspended Ramirez's sentence, leaving the former officer free on bond until the judge rules on a motion for a new trial. Ramirez's defense attorney Steve Edwards says he filed the motion because he was denied "the right of cross-examination." Just before the trial began in late March, Edwards says, a civil suit was filed against the city and Ramirez seeking monetary compensation for the woman who brought the charges. The woman testified in court that she was only interested in seeing justice done and was not seeking any other compensation, Edwards says. "If [the prosecution] knew she was going to file [the civil suit] and still asked if she wasn't doing this for money, they are under the obligation to rectify this if they knew there was false testimony." Edwards believes the fact that the woman was seeking damages would have been crucial testimony for the jury to hear when weighing her credibility as a witness. Prosecutor Judy Shipway could not be reached for comment. Wisser has 30 days to rule on the motion…

-- Contributors: Mike Clark-Madison, Michael King, Jordan Smith

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Sal Cavazos, Johnston High School, Tony Castillo, Les Johnson, Rudy Montoya, D.J. Johnson, Hyde Park Baptist Church, Richard Suttle, Karen McGraw, Hays Consolidated ISD, Gary Bradley, Jesus Garza, city budget, Samuel Ramirez, Jon Wisser, Steve Edwards, Judy Shipway

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