Naked City

Now that the lawsuits are over, it's time to talk issues. Candidates for City Council did just that at the AFL-CIO building on Monday during a forum moderated by <i>Austin American-Statesman</i> columnist Susan Smith (standing). Seated (l-r) are Place 1 candidates Kirk Mitchell, Jennifer Gale, and incumbent Daryl Slusher.
Now that the lawsuits are over, it's time to talk issues. Candidates for City Council did just that at the AFL-CIO building on Monday during a forum moderated by Austin American-Statesman columnist Susan Smith (standing). Seated (l-r) are Place 1 candidates Kirk Mitchell, Jennifer Gale, and incumbent Daryl Slusher. (Photo By John Anderson)

Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman, U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, state Rep. Elliott Naishtat, and other dignitaries will discuss the Bush budget and its impacts at the next general membership meeting of the Gray Panthers of Austin -- Sunday, April 28, at 1:30pm at the AFL-CIO Hall at 11th and Lavaca. For more info, call 477-6000.

As of Tuesday, a whopping 1,998 people had voted early in Austin's municipal election. Highest turnout locations were the Travis County courthouse, UT's West Mall, the Randalls on Ben White, and the Northwest Recreation Center. No one has voted at Allison or Walnut Creek elementary schools. Early voting continues through Tuesday, April 30. -- M.C.M.

One of Austin's first charter schools, the Kenny Dorham School for the Performing Arts, was taken over this week by the Texas Education Agency. According to TEA files, the school's board and administrators are "no longer working together and appear to be divided into two factions"; required meetings have not been held and audits not performed. The Eastside school, named for the post-bop trumpet legend who grew up in Austin, enrolled fewer than 25 students last year (almost all African-American) at a nearly $250,000 budget. Former Oklahoma City schools chief Marvin Crawford will become Dorham's special master -- TEA's last step before closing the school down for good. -- M.C.M.

Expansion planned by Whole Foods could resurrect the Sixth+Lamar commercial development plan. It had been foundering without an anchor tenant, but the natural foods juggernaut decided to move its corporate headquarters and flagship store across the street from its current location. Construction could begin in early 2003 and be completed by 2005. -- L.N.

The Seaholm District Master Plan passed out of the city Planning Commission, but the development blueprint didn't exactly win an overwhelming endorsement. The 5-3 vote, with Commissioners Maggie Armstrong, Cloteal Haynes, and Dave Sullivan dissenting, advances the plan to City Council with a couple of major quandaries: the still-unsettled future of the Lumbermen's Investment Corp. tract on Town Lake, and the pending extension of the Pfluger Pedestrian Bridge. Development of the LIC tract is on hold due in part to City Council rejecting a bid to rezone the property to allow for a condo tower; there's also a proposal floating around for the city to buy all or a portion of the tract. The holdup on the bridge extension hinges on competing proposed alignments, each with a different price tag. -- A.S.

In the City Council election department, Jackie Goodman and Beverly Griffith scored the most endorsements in this week's roundup, while Council Member Daryl Slusher and his challenger, Kirk Mitchell, made out with two apiece. Here's what we know: South Austin Democrats endorsed the three incumbents; Capital Area Progressive Dems -- ditto; Texas Environmental Dems -- Goodman, Griffith, Mitchell; and finally, Save Our Springs PAC -- Goodman, Griffith, Mitchell. The groups all endorsed the Fair Elections Act, Prop. 1. -- A.S.

Last week the City Council unanimously approved the Bouldin Creek Neighborhood Plan on first reading. But not all is going smoothly in the funky South Austin hood: The immediate neighbors of a property on South Second Street contest its rezoning, requiring a conflict resolution session within 30 days before council will consider it on second (and probably third and final) reading. -- L.A.

On April 17, the Lulu Flores campaign filed with the state Democratic Party to request a recount in the April 9 District 51 state house run-off -- a close contest won by Eddie Rodriguez -- in order "to assure confidence in the result for all parties involved," said a campaign announcement. Rodriguez, who won by 117 votes, is confident he'll survive the challenge. "There's no negative feelings," he said. "It's within her right to do it." The County Clerk's office said they'll finish the recount by Tuesday. -- L.A.

One of two women behind George W. Bush is coming home to Austin: Not the soft-spoken one, but the tough-talking Karen Hughes, Bush spokeswoman, confidant, and top White House counselor for the last eight years. By most accounts, Hughes and family are simply homesick for Texas, so have decided to trade the White House for the old family home in West Lake. They're expected to make the return trip to Austin this summer. What's the president going to do without the woman who taught him what to say and when to say it? "George Bush is the big loser here," The Dallas Morning News' Wayne Slater told NPR Wednesday morning. "He needs her." -- A.S.

Jane Dunn Sibley, perennially described as a "doyenne" of Austin's arts scene and the prime mover behind the growth of the Austin Symphony, may see city-owned Symphony Square renamed in her honor. The Parks Board had a public hearing this week on the recommendation. -- M.C.M.

Dr. Charles Weschler, a professor at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey/Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, will be expounding on the topic of "sick building syndrome" today (Thursday) at UT. The "dramatic" rise since WWII in asthma and allergies within the general population can be directly traced to the amount of time we spend in closed spaces, says Weschler. The lecture begins at 4pm in auditorium 1202 of Ernest Cockrell Jr. Hall. For more info, see www.utexas.edu/research/ti2e.

In his UT appearance last week, biologist E.O. Wilson -- the "father of biodiversity" -- drew wild applause when he cited our own Edwards Aquifer as one of America's most valuable natural hotspots. This week, The Nature Conservancy reported that Texas is home to 6,273 native species of flora and fauna -- second in biodiversity only to California, No. 1 in bird and reptile species, and No. 3 (after California and Hawaii) in endemic (found nowhere else) creatures like the Barton Springs salamander. The Aloha State also, sadly, is No. 1 in the percentage of its species facing extinction. Texas' more than 600 endangered species only puts us in 11th place. -- M.C.M.

An appeal hearing regarding the issuance of a conditional use permit for the operation of Sammy's House, a small day care on the edge of Hyde Park that caters to special needs and medically fragile children, will be heard today (Thursday) before City Council. In February the Planning and Zoning Commission voted to approve the permit, but several neighbors are contesting the decision. The hearing has already been postponed twice. -- J.S.

Huge financial losses have forced Earful of Books Inc. to close its stores across Texas, including two in Austin that occupied space in trendy areas of town. The locally based, publicly owned audio-book company has had a dismal stock performance over several months, with shares trading at below 10 cents this week. -- A.S.

In a surprisingly tart piece, the normally GOP-friendly Dallas Morning News blew holes in attorney general candidate Greg Abbott's campaign claims of solidarity with rape victims. As a Texas Supreme Court justice, the News reported, Abbott repeatedly voted against victims who tried to bring negligence suits against the companies who hired their attackers or allowed unsafe worksites. Abbott replied that he was interested in helping victims, not "lining the pockets of trial lawyers" -- like his Dem opponent, former Austin Mayor Kirk Watson. Abbott also claimed on the trail that, under Watson, the city's police spending declined, which as most any awake Austinite knows is rubbish. Policing is the largest and fastest-growing line item in Austin's $2 billion budget, with much of that money going to pay increases under the city's police union contract. Abbott's fancies drew a rebuke this week from Austin police union President Mike Sheffield. -- M.C.M.

Down one notch on the ballot, comptroller candidate Marty Akins is complaining that the Texas Dem establishment isn't backing him. Not (just) because he briefly opposed gubernatorial candidate Tony Sanchez for the top spot on the ticket, but because former Lt. Gov. Ben Barnes -- who's credited with assembling the Dem's "dream team" -- has business dealings with incumbent state comptroller Carole Keeton Rylander (speaking of former Austin mayors). Barnes says this is silly, even though Rylander has invested state pension funds with one of his various companies. -- M.C.M.

And speaking of Rylander, the comptroller has given us just what we need: more arguing over semantics. On April 22, she disputed a report in the Houston Chronicle that said she had taken more than $500,000 in campaign contributions from firms and individuals who have contested tax cases before her office. During her 1998 campaign, she vowed never to take contributions from anyone with pending tax matters before her office. But on Monday, according to the Associated Press, Rylander said what she meant was that she wouldn't take the contributions from people who had "cases that came to me personally." Rylander added that state law does not preclude her from accepting the donations, but that she decided voluntarily that it would be inappropriate. -- J.S.

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals refused to hear an appeal, filed by the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, of two Houston men's 1998 conviction under the state's controversial sodomy statute. Texas is one of only four states that criminalizes anal and oral sex between same-sex but not opposite-sex partners. John Lawrence and Tyrone Garner, with Lambda Legal's help, plan to take their convictions -- for which they each pled no contest and were fined $125 -- to the U.S. Supreme Court. -- M.C.M.

The Texas Legislature's Austin-bashing has become an issue in the governor's race, though not in the way you might expect. Seems that five days after Gov. Dubya signed into law the Lege's reinstatement of HB 1704, which grandfathers thousands of acres from the Save Our Springs Ordinance, then-Lt. Gov. Rick Perry sold a 60-acre tract over the aquifer and netted more than $200,000. Perry says the land was in a blind trust, but his opponent Tony Sanchez said it didn't pass the smell test -- "[Perry] is not known as a truthful person." -- M.C.M

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