Naked City

Tax Day brought out the IRS-haters, but also a broad collection of other protesters -- including pro-hemp advocates and U.S. foreign policy critics. This was the scene at the downtown post office on Monday.
Tax Day brought out the IRS-haters, but also a broad collection of other protesters -- including pro-hemp advocates and U.S. foreign policy critics. This was the scene at the downtown post office on Monday. (Photo By John Anderson)

After more than a year of discussion, evaluation, and bitter joking among the populace, Intel announced yesterday that it's putting its concrete building-in-becoming at Fifth and San Antonio on the market. Back in the halcyon days of 2000, the company had planned to stick a chip design center on the site, but then the economy tanked and construction stalled. No word yet on whether Intel will finish construction or sell the building "as is," but its presence in Austin will continue to be felt via its leased locations in southwestern and northwestern parts of Austin. The company also maintains a field office at an "undisclosed location." (Is that where Dick Cheney goes to hide?)

Late Wednesday, the Lulu Flores campaign announced that Flores has requested a recount in the Democratic primary runoff election for Texas House District 51. The campaign released a statement saying Flores had submitted the recount request to the Texas Democratic Party "at the request of many supporters and to assure confidence in the result for all parties involved." In the April 9 runoff, Eddie Rodriguez defeated Flores by 117 votes.

It came as a surprise to few, but last week the City Council unanimously approved Toby Futrell as Austin's new City Manager, effective May 1. Futrell replaces Jesus Garza, who will become deputy general manager of water resources and environmental management at the Lower Colorado River Authority. A long-time city employee, Futrell had most recently served as deputy city manager.

Futrell has recruited San Marcos Deputy City Manager Laura Huffman to fill one of Austin's three assistant city manager positions. Huffman, who used to be an auditor for the city, will earn $125,000 a year.

City Council Place 1 challenger Craig Barrett announced Friday his plans to file ethics complaints against incumbent Daryl Slusher for accepting campaign contributions from former mayor Bruce Todd's PAC, Citizens for Voter Choice. The PAC, which gathered signatures to help Slusher bust term limits, took contributions from city-registered lobbyists (including Todd himself) as well as other PACs, all of which violates Austin's campaign finance laws. These claims have also been made by Kirk Mitchell, but Barrett -- a UT student and the son of former Austin neighborhood planning director Carol Barrett -- does not seek to have Slusher disqualified from office, as Mitchell had in his court case. -- M.C.M.

The North University Neighborhood Association and others vying for a "bigger voice" in the city neighborhood planning process will hold a rally to kick off the Give Neighborhoods a Voice Coalition at 2pm on Sunday, April 21 at First English Lutheran Church, 30th & Whitis. The new coalition lists faster neighborhood planning, "chang[ing] the lobbyist-driven, 'politics-as-usual' habits of City Hall," and electing responsive city officials among its goals. NUNA remains perturbed about the City Council's approval of the massive Villas on Guadalupe student housing complex on Hemphill Park.

Advocates for a Travis County hospital district, including the Gray Panthers and the League of Women Voters, held a public meeting this week to build support and organize for a potential November referendum. Such a district, with taxing authority, would take over paying for the county's indigent health care -- a cost currently borne by the city of Austin and largely defrayed by charity care provided by Seton Healthcare Network at city-owned Brackenridge Hospital. Brack also provides trauma care for a dozen Central Texas counties; meanwhile, Travis remains the only major Texas county without a public hospital district. City leaders want to explore creating a multi-county district, which would be the first in Texas. -- M.C.M.

After 12 not-so-glorious years, the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills (TAAS) test was administered this week for the last time to Lone Star third- through eighth-graders. The new Texas Association of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS) test moves in next year.

The League of Women Voters and the Austin Council of Parent Teacher Associations is hosting a forum tonight (Thursday) for AISD Board of Trustees candidates. The event will begin with a 6:30pm reception, followed by the forum from 7-9pm in the board auditorium at the Carruth administration complex at 1111 W. Sixth.

After months of talking about it, the city has finally put out a request for proposals for consultants to help overhaul Austin's always-controversial cultural-arts funding process. The RFP specifically asks for "viable cultural arts funding program model alternatives for the City," which implies that the current process is destined to be junked. However, a consultant team won't have much time to produce a new model before next year's $2 million or so in bed-tax money is doled out this summer, as part of the city budget. -- M.C.M.

Four "property-rich" school districts lost their bid to reinstate their lawsuit against the state and its Robin Hood education-equity plan, which requires them to forfeit revenues that are reallocated to "property-poor" districts. The Third Court of Appeals did not agree that Robin Hood, combined with the state-mandated $1.50-per-$100-valuation cap on school property taxes, functioned as an illegal state property tax. Austin District Judge Scott McCown threw out the suit last year, but the districts plan to appeal to the Texas Supreme Court. However, if Lt. Gov. Bill Ratliff has his way, Texans may vote on a constitutional amendment next year to allow a statewide property tax to replace Robin Hood. -- M.C.M.

The city of Austin is currently soliciting bids for vendors to provide real-time Internet broadcasting of the construction of the new City Hall. From the 12th floor of the Hobby Building (at Third and Lavaca), a camera will capture images as the Antoine Predock-design edifice takes shape, and feed them to the city Web site. Also on the purchasing front, the city is looking for a publisher -- presumably a legal publisher -- who will recodify and produce new and clean versions of the city code, the massive Technical Criteria Manuals that govern specifics of land development, and the city attorney's opinions. -- M.C.M.

The Texas Ethics Commission has fined Tony Sanchez's International Bank of Commerce $7,500 for failing to report political contributions in 2000. Although the wealthy Democratic nominee for governor could pay such a sum out of pocket change, it's believed to be the largest fine ever levied by the Ethics Commission, which tells you how seriously Texas takes such things. Predictably, Gov. Rick Perry's campaign said the fine proved Sanchez's "failed leadership and disrespect for Texas laws." IBC's political action committee made more than $100,000 in contributions in 2000, mostly to the GOP and various Republican candidates. -- M.C.M.

In a rare triumph of common sense over civic boosterism, Houston Mayor Lee Brown has asked that the Bayou City not be considered as a host city for either the 2004 Democratic or Republican national conventions. There's already too much going on in Houston, Brown said, citing the construction of the city's first light-rail line and a new performing arts complex, expansion of the convention center and both airports, a bid to host the 2012 Summer Olympics, and the upcoming Super Bowl and Major League Baseball's All-Star game. The cost to the city of hosting the Ds or Rs was estimated at upward of $40 million. -- M.C.M.

Earth Day Happenings: On Saturday, April 20, Sonakali Gardens & Zoological Preserve, a new zoo in Round Rock, will hold its second annual dog wash and raffle from 9am-5pm at the Wal-Mart south entrance, 1325 & I-35. The wash will benefit Sonakali's construction fund. On Sunday, April 21, the Friends of Bright Leaf State Natural Area will host an open house in the park, 2-5pm. Highlights include guided hikes of varying difficulty, kids activities, and refreshments. But don't bring your freshly scrubbed dog, because dogs aren't allowed in Bright Leaf. For more info, contact Park Manager Jeff Hershey at 459-7269.

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More by Lauri Apple
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