Naked City

Council Member Danny Thomas presented 14 Austinites with Distinguished Service Awards from the mayor and City Council last Thursday. Among the more notable awardees were KAZI radio host Rev. Frank Garrett, Eastside Social Action Coalition leader  Dr. Sterling Lands, and former City Council Member Eric Mitchell. Above, Nelson Linder  (at podium), head of the local NAACP, accepts an award from Thomas.
Council Member Danny Thomas presented 14 Austinites with Distinguished Service Awards from the mayor and City Council last Thursday. Among the more notable awardees were KAZI radio host Rev. Frank Garrett, Eastside Social Action Coalition leader Dr. Sterling Lands, and former City Council Member Eric Mitchell. Above, Nelson Linder (at podium), head of the local NAACP, accepts an award from Thomas. (Photo By John Anderson)

Austin Community College has experienced more drama in a week than a theatre critic. On Thursday, the board of trustees decided to reinstate the college's reduced tuition pilot program for the shortened spring semester, despite ACC President Richard Fonté's decision to can the deal a week earlier -- he now says that was a mistake. The proposed tuition program cut was part of the administration's efforts to reconcile a $2.1 million budget shortfall. On Friday, faculty leaders dealt a "no confidence vote" to Fonté, questioning his ability to manage the school. Finally, some dedicated instructors said this week they would teach for free this summer in order to lessen the burden upon students planning to enroll in one or more of the roughly 230 summer classes cut for budgetary reasons.

It's official: Assistant City Manager Betty Dunkerley will run for City Council in May. Also joining Dunkerley and lawyer Brewster McCracken on the ballot is retired police officer Bobby Sifuentes, who wants more accountability from City Council to taxpayers, help for small businesses, et cetera. Sifuentes, who like McCracken plans to challenge Beverly Griffith, now works at a South Austin body shop for Dell Shaw, a former colleague and ex-police union president who went to jail for fraud in the late 1980s.

We know that Beverly Griffith will in fact be on the May ballot, because we no longer have to say she, Jackie Goodman, and Daryl Slusher need to collect "about 20,000" signatures. The official number, according to City Clerk Shirley Brown, is 18,263. Griffith already has over 20,000, and Slusher estimates that he and Goodman need about 6,000 more. Filing deadline is March 20.

The City Council won't meet this week, so don't show up at the Lower Colorado River Authority until next Thursday, Feb. 28.

After last week's City Council work-session on single-member districts, we must revise our handicapping of members' sentiments. For SMDs: Gus Garcia and Will Wynn. Maybe not for SMDs but thinks we should vote: Raul Alvarez. Pretty firmly against SMDs: Danny Thomas. Would prefer a mixed system of SMDs and at-large seats: Daryl Slusher. Still unsure and noncommittal: Jackie Goodman. Doesn't think voters really care: Beverly Griffith. The council has until March 21 to decide whether to put SMDs on the ballot, as recommended by the last Charter Revision Committee, for the sixth time.

It's been one step forward, two steps back for Stratus Properties' ongoing negotiations with stakeholders over the company's proposed Bear Lake PUD. The City Council last week postponed yet again a decision on the Stratus proposal, delaying further consideration until March 21. In the meantime, the Circle C Homeowners Association recently voted to oppose the proposal in its current state, joining other opposing neighborhood associations. Ken Rigsbee, secretary-treasurer of the Circle C Homeowners Association, listed a number of the group's concerns in a Feb. 13 letter to the Council, as follows: Address the educational needs (i.e., schools) that would grow out of such a development; convert the proposed 800 multifamily rental units to owner-occupied residences; and outline in writing the specific development plans for the 1,200 Stratus-owned acres within Circle C Ranch. In all, Rigsbee noted, compromises on these and other issues may well be achieved through negotiations -- "but I don't personally see that happening right now."

On Feb. 19, APD Chief Stan Knee released numbers indicating the initial success of his department's newly formed Career Criminal Apprehension Team. Since its inception on Jan. 7, the team has already arrested 28 probationers and 40 parolees who have violated the terms of their release, as well as nine accomplices to one or more of the 68 arrestees. Those arrested include 31 violent offenders, 22 who committed property crimes, 15 drug offenders, and one sexual predator. So far the team is operating with six detectives and three officers, but will be fully staffed in March with eight detectives and seven officers. "The position of the department is that we wish everyone on parole or probation good luck in returning to the community," Knee said. "But if you choose not to, we will be on your tail."

In other APD news, the department's Civilian Defense Battalion -- a troop of community volunteers who've signed on to help with various homeland defense duties -- is now up and running. Volunteers are already stationed at APD headquarters and at "fixed" locations, and the mobile patrol units should hit the streets Feb. 22. Knee said the patrolling units have been delayed because decals affixed to volunteers' cars, proclaiming them as part of the "civilian defense," spelled defense with a "c" instead of an "s." "So we had to peel those off and start over," Knee said.

Scofflaws, it's time to pay up -- or pay in jail, say officials from Austin, Travis County, and other area municipalities. The semiannual warrant roundup will begin March 2 in Austin, Travis County, Pflugerville, Round Rock, Georgetown, Leander, Lago Vista, Cedar Park, Burnet, and Bastrop. Austin officials said 100,000 notices have been sent out, warning that it is time to pay those (mostly) Class C misdemeanors (outstanding parking tickets, for example). To avoid being hauled off to the pokey, residents can call their local municipality to pay up.

AISD Supt. Pat Forgione announced Feb. 18 that Reagan High School will not close. In a 2000 audit of the district, State Comptroller Carole Keeton Rylander recommended the school shut down due to low enrollment, and that the building be used instead to house the district's central administration offices and a magnet facility.

Former State Senator Joe Christie announced Feb. 19 that he will not seek one of the two at-large school board seats up for grabs in May, but will continue to work on AISD's problems as a private citizen. He plans to assist the Lege's Austin delegation in 2003 in its efforts to amend the so-called "Robin Hood" law, which requires AISD and other property-rich school districts to return tax monies to the state coffers for redistribution to poorer school districts. In a written statement, Christie said he wants to work with the business community in creating a foundation "whose sole purpose" is to help the district "recruit, retain and reward great principals."

If you didn't send goodbye balloons to Capital Metro General Manager Karen Rae, whose last day at her job was Feb. 15, don't fret. Rae will spend the next year on board Cap Met's bus as a consultant. Send her a "Congratulations!" card instead.

Georgetown City Council Member Sam Pfiester has escaped ouster twice in the same month. A recount of ballots from the Feb. 2 recall vote, in which voters recalled Mayor MaryEllen Kersch, reaffirmed that Pfiester held onto his seat by an 11-vote margin.

The Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission has confirmed that they're investigating a complaint filed Feb. 11 regarding alleged problems with the Dove Springs Wastewater Treatment Plant in Georgetown. TNRCC spokeswoman Jean Pieper Voshell could not provide details, but said the investigation has been turned over to the agency's special investigation team. The Dove Springs Plant has been at the center of an ongoing controversy since 1998, when city-commissioned engineers from the Austin firm Jose I. Guerra Inc. found that portions of the plant were not structurally sound, and appeared "to be at or near their yield point at some locations."

Former Williamson County Constable Dennis Jaroszweski, removed from his post in 1998 and defeated in a 2000 campaign to regain the job, became Granger's new police chief last week. Jaroszweski's mental stability had been in question before his temporary removal and subsequent resignation, after months of conflict with county officials. County Attorney Gene Taylor, one of those officials, says of Granger's decision, "We'll just have to see how it all works out."

The Central Texas Regional Visioning Project recently announced its initial board of directors, including nearly 70 officials and community leaders from Travis, Williamson, Bastrop, Caldwell, and Hays counties. Businessman W. Neal Kocurek will serve as "initial" chairperson.

The Planning Commission abruptly yanked the North Loop neighborhood plan from its agenda last week because planner Steven Rossiter bought a house in North Loop halfway through the 18-month process -- that is, nine months ago. While Neighborhood Planning and Zoning Dept. head Alice Glasco and PC chair Ben Heimsath both felt this was an unacceptable conflict of interest, city policy is vague and nothing was done until a property owner objected. A new planner will take Rossiter's place, delaying the process by one month. Planning team chair Bill Yoder calls the delay "a setback."

In related news, we suppose, Rossiter's former boss, Carol Barrett -- who left Austin's neighborhood planning program for the People's Republic of Berkeley, Calif. -- has just published a book called Everyday Help for Ethical Planners. Barrett, who has written and spoken frequently on ethical issues, said, "It took me 20 years to write, so Joyce Carol Oates has nothing to worry about." She declined comment on Rossiter's case.

After a Feb. 12 meeting between government officials, DuPont Corp., and Native American representatives on archeological treasures found on DuPont property in and around Victoria County (see "Who Owns the Ancestors?" Feb. 8), East Texas' Alabama-Coushatta tribe said it will draft a formal complaint against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The Houston Chronicle reports that tribe representative Walter Celestine is incensed that the Corps excavated human remains before consulting with Native Americans, which he alleges is a violation of federal law. Federal and DuPont officials say no final decision has been made on the disposition of the findings.

Next fall, the recently troubled St. Michael's Academy will relinquish the title of "Austin's only Catholic high school" when the new Juan Diego Catholic High School opens on the campus of South Austin's San Jose Church. Juan Diego will allow low-income students to work at local businesses to pay for their tuition. While work-study is common in colleges, the model is found at only two other Catholic high schools in the U.S.

Our favorite political Web sites of the week: www.enronownsthegop.com and www.whitehouse.org. The former, a creation of Democratic Party consultant Kelly Fero, is a direct political attack on the Republican Party's ties to Enron. Predictably, the GOP, not amused, sent Fero a "cease and desist" demand in response to the site's use of the Republican elephant image stamped with the tilted Enron "E." Fero's lawyers replied that the image as used is clearly parody and thus protected by law. Meanwhile, whitehouse.org (not to be confused with the official White House site, www.whitehouse.gov,, or the porn site www.whitehouse.com), includes "Daschle Watch," a special section for news from the Dept. of Faith, and dozens of "press releases" with titles such "President Wishes Janet Reno a Speedy Recovery From Hardcore Narcotics Addiction" and "President: California Democrat Will Face Death Penalty in Civilian Courts," an item about American Taliban John Walker Lindh.

On March 3 the Drug Policy Forum of Texas will sponsor the Face the Music Festival #1, a benefit for Travis County Sheriff's Deputy Keith Ruiz and 19-year-old Antonio Martinez. Last year, both were killed during drug raids conducted by the Capital Area Narcotics Task Force. The forum is hoping to highlight -- and end -- the law-enforcement raid tactics that contributed to the deaths. The evening will feature speakers, music, and comedy. 1-5pm, 1601 Guadalupe (above the Clay Pit restaurant). Call 326-4396 for more info.

They may not wanna grow smart, but state and local lawmakers can no longer claim they don't know how. The American Planning Association last week released its "Growing Smart" legislative handbook, full of model laws and practices ready for off-the-shelf adoption by, say, the city of Round Rock.

Recent Reuters Headline: "Bush Heads Arrive in S. Korea." What about the Bush bodies?

The final tallies are in for the Travis County Bar's "Preference Poll" of judicial candidates. Candidates and the number of votes they garnered include: County Court-at-Law No. 7, Elisabeth Earle (466), Evelyn McKee (159), David Hughes (64); 250th District Court incumbent, John Dietz (703), Demetri Anastasiadis (96); 403rd District Court, Brenda Kennedy (489), Frank Bryan (200).

This Week's Haiku:

Dubya in Japan.

English language, he deflates

But not devalues.

More than 100 area teenagers pledged to remain abstinent until marriage during a Feb. 20 ceremony at Austin's PromiseLand Pentecostal Church. Now if they could just make all of those terrible Christian metal and rap bands abstain from "music" ...

Learn the basics of common legal issues from local experts and attorneys at the People's Law School, Saturday, Feb. 23, from 8:30am- 1:15pm at the UT School of Law, 727 E. Dean Keeton. For more info and to register, contact 472-0279. Unlike real law school, this one's free.

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More by Lauri Apple
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