Naked City

The City Council voted 5-2 last Thursday (Beverly Griffith and Danny Thomas dissenting) to approve a lease amendment creating a separate "hospital within a hospital-- for reproductive services on the fifth floor of Brackenridge Hospital. City staff's next steps for the $9.3 million facility include developing architectural plans and timelines, preparing patient transfer agreements, contracting for services and information systems, and getting the place ready by the projected July 2003 ribbon-cutting.

The city's Charter Revision Committee this week finalized its report to the City Council recommending charter amendments for the May 4 ballot, including a repeal on both term limits and the current $100 campaign contribution limit. Other amendments would allow the council, rather than the city manager, to hire the police monitor and appoint the civilian review panel, and would raise the city manager's purchasing authority without council approval to $100,000. The previous Charter Revision Committee recommended single-member districts, which are already on the Council's plate (for more details, see "Chartering a Course," p.24).

Filing for the May 4 City Council elections begins Feb. 19. While incumbents Daryl Slusher, Jackie Goodman, and Beverly Griffith can't file until they collect their term-limit-busting signatures (see "Austin@ Large," p.14), some challengers are already rarin' to go. Lawyer Brewster McCracken has entered the race, and Assistant City Manager Betty Dunkerley -- whose retirement from city staff has been expected for a while -- is considering jumping into the ring. The last day to file is March 20.

AISD Board of Trustees President Kathy Rider announced Feb. 12 that she will not seek re-election in May. Rider, who has served since 1992, said it's time for some new voices on the board. And Dist. 7 Trustee Olga Garza announced Feb. 7 she also will not seek re-election to the seat she's held since 1998. However, Garza said she will continue to stay active in district affairs. "This does not end my advocacy," she said. "I'm just taking it to a different level."

The Austin Arts Commission voted unanimously Monday night to restart the process of selecting public art for the soon-to-be-expanded George Washington Carver Museum and Library. A committee with the city's Art in Public Places had recommended three artists to provide the art, but none were African-American -- raising the eyebrows and ire of Carver friends and neighbors (see "Articulations," p.27).

The Planning Commission this week considered the neighborhood plan for North Loop, an area between Lamar and I-35, and Koenig and 45th. The City Council is expected to tackle the plan on Feb. 28.

Motorola will cut 670 Austin jobs over the next few weeks. Company officials (not to mention the working stiffs) hope this will be the final round of layoffs before the semiconductor giant returns to profitability. The layoffs are part of the company's ongoing plan to nip 2,000 jobs around the globe. Economic soothsayers believe the slumping chip industry will begin showing signs of revival later this year.

The Austin Police Dept.'s efforts to beef up its roster have hit a snag, as over half of the last class of academy cadets failed a new, state-mandated final written exam adopted by the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement. The Commission's test has been flummoxing wannabe cops across Texas, and Austin's failure rate is in line with the state average. Cadets get three chances to pass the test.

State District Judge Mike Lynch ruled on Feb. 7 that statements made by yogurt shop murder defendant Michael Scott would be admissible during Scott's capital murder trial, scheduled to begin this summer. In the ruling, Lynch wrote that he found no signs that either APD or federal investigators had coerced or intimidated Scott into making incriminating statements regarding his alleged role in the Dec. 9, 1991 murders. Jury selection for Scott's trial is set to begin July 28.

With a projected budget shortfall of at least $2.1 million, last week Austin Community College announced it will cut 297 class sections it intended to offer during this spring and summer's shortened semesters. On Feb. 11, ACC officials announced they are also canceling the reduced tuition pilot program for nearly 400 students enrolled in the spring's shortened semester. The students have until Feb. 15 to pay the balance of the tuition or withdraw for a full refund. Most of the budget tightening involves $700,000 worth of administrative cuts, which individual departments are still ironing out. ACC President Richard Fonté said the cuts are painful, but necessary. "It's a very, very difficult situation," he said. "The bottom line is that we do not have the resources to do everything this city needs us to do." On the upside, the school is offering an overall increase in sections this year, and the reduced tuition pilot program will return in the fall.

Pct. 2 County Commissioner Karen Sonleitner may be winning the endorsements war over Democratic primary opponent Jeff Heckler, but Heckler, too, is racking up support from key environmental and law enforcement groups. The Austin Sierra Club, Texas Environmental Democrats, the Travis County Sheriff's Officers Association and the Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas have all endorsed Heckler. Neither candidate received backing from the Black Austin Democrats, Austin Tejano Democrats, or the Capital Area Progressive Democrats.

In another move to sustain racial diversity in the diminishing wake of the Hopwood decision, UT has created a new scholarship program for students from 130 selected Texas high schools -- including Reagan, Johnston, and Del Valle. The "Keep Texans in Texas" program will match any offers students from these schools receive from out-of-state institutions. Conservatives have already bashed the program as an end-run around Hopwood's ban on racial preferences.

New Mueller heads, mark your calendars. At the March 5 meeting of the council-appointed Mueller Advisory Commission, the public will get its first look at the proposals from San Francisco-based Catellus Development Corp. and the local Mueller Redevelopment Team, each angling for the contract to be master developer of the old airport. The city's planning consultants (led by Roma Design Group) and staff will evaluate the proposals. The staff recommendation is set to go to the City Council in April or May.

In case you can't get enough of Dem gubernatorial candidate Tony Sanchez, www.tonysanchez.com offers wallpaper for your screen. Now, every time you turn on your computer you can see Tony chilling at the ranch! Smiling with Tani! Or silhouetted and wearing a cool hat! Fun, but not nearly as impressive as www.rickperry.org's illuminating photos of the guv hanging out with Mexico's President Vicente Fox, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, and two "happy" miniature dachshunds.

After an extended controversy, the Texas Supreme Court finally released new ethics rules forbidding its clerks from accepting bonuses from law firms that express interest in hiring them after they leave the court. These "clerk perks" -- often in the $30,000-$40,000 range, and sometimes paid even before law-school grads start work as clerks -- looked enough like bribes to force the court to defend them to the state Ethics Commission, legislators, and Travis County Attorney Ken Oden.

The Web portal CitySearch.com will close its Austin office on Feb. 22. The Pasadena, Calif.-based company will lay off its local editorial staff (previously reduced from five to two, sources say) as part of a nationwide downsizing, but some local ad staff will remain. Editorial content and major ad sales will now be handled out of four hub cities -- Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, and Atlanta -- with some use of local freelance writers. Parent company Ticketmaster reports that CitySearch posted a loss of $7.1 million in the fourth quarter of 2001 (actually an improvement over its $10.8 million loss in 4Q 2000).

Put on your donkey suit and head up to Williamson County this weekend for a rally for Democratic statewide, national, and legislative candidates. Hosted by the Democratic Party of Williamson County and Sun City, the rally will include visits by gubernatorial goobers Dan Morales and Tony Sanchez, U.S. Senate candidates Ken Bentsen and Ron Kirk, Austin's own Kirk Watson, and others. Saturday, Feb. 16, 9am-3pm, Sun City Ballroom. For info, call 415-4536 or 864-0327.

Isn't it eRonic: eLoyalty Corp., a consulting company based in Lake Forest, Ill., has let go of 10 employees in its Austin office.

This year, former mayor and aspiring state attorney general Kirk Watson will celebrate his birthday in a most political fashion: at a pricey campaign fundraiser held in his honor. On Thursday, March 21, from 7-9pm, Watson, musician Robert Earl Keen and friends will gather at the Paramount Theatre and trade tunes, anecdotes, and fat wads of cash -- and probably eat some cake. Plebes can pay $50 for basic admission, but those who spend $250 will be acknowledged in the program. The heaviest hitters will plunk down $25,000 for premier seating (fur cushions?) for 10, invites to a sponsors reception, and the program nod.

On Sunday, Feb. 17 at 7:30pm, Rev. Jesse Jackson will hold a community meeting to raise awareness of and denounce race-based insurance pricing by life insurance companies. Joining him will be Texas Rainbow/P.U.S.H. Coalition Chair Hazel Falke-Obey, state Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, and other lawmakers. David Chapel Missionary Baptist Church, 2211 E. Martin Luther King Blvd.

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