Naked City

Government watchdog group Public Citizen held a Bring on the Ethics rally on the Capitol steps April 24 to coincide with hearings by the state Sunset Advisory Commission regarding reform of the state Ethics Commission. The Ethics Commission has largely failed to be the watchdog and tough enforcement agency it needs to be to police politicians in Texas, said Public Citizen's Tom Smitty Smith. While the staff and the commissioners have tried hard, bad law has handcuffed them. The law we now have on the books was designed by politicians to protect politicians. Public Citizen claims that while the commission has received 729 complaints over the last decade, it has never taken a strong enforcement action or initiated an investigation on their own.
Government watchdog group Public Citizen held a "Bring on the Ethics" rally on the Capitol steps April 24 to coincide with hearings by the state Sunset Advisory Commission regarding reform of the state Ethics Commission. "The Ethics Commission has largely failed to be the watchdog and tough enforcement agency it needs to be to police politicians in Texas," said Public Citizen's Tom "Smitty" Smith. "While the staff and the commissioners have tried hard, bad law has handcuffed them. The law we now have on the books was designed by politicians to protect politicians." Public Citizen claims that while the commission has received 729 complaints over the last decade, it "has never taken a strong enforcement action or initiated an investigation on their own." (Photo By John Anderson)

On Saturday, May 4, be daring. Be different -- vote. Up for grabs: Three City Council slots, three AISD Board seats, three places on the Austin Community College Board, and two spots on the Barton Springs/Edwards Aquifer Conservation District. Also on the board are eight propositions; check our endorsements or the features on p.28 for details. If you missed last Sunday's televised City Council candidate forum on the city-operated cable access Channel 6, don't fret -- it's being replayed almost continuously through election day. -- L.A. & Lee Nichols

After you're done voting on Saturday, head over to Austin's installment of the Million Marijuana March -- coinciding protests held around the world to promote reform of marijuana laws. Meet at high noon (wink, wink) at Republic Square (Fourth & Guadalupe), or show up later at the Empanada Parlour (707 E. Sixth) for a benefit from 6-10pm. Bring a pro-reform letter addressed to U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett for free admission. For more info, call 693-2356 or see www.hempadvocates.org/liberation.

During the second of two heated meetings convened to discuss proposed changes to the city noise ordinance, Austin Police Assistant Chief Jim Fealy announced on April 24 that the plan will go back to the drawing board. The level of ire the ordinance generated took city officials somewhat by surprise -- and so away it goes, until police and city staff can find something that's "palatable to everyone," said APD spokesman Paul Flaningan. "We realized we really needed to take a lot longer look at this. We need to bring everybody together and come to some sort of consensus." For more, see "Keeping the Peace," p.60. -- Jordan Smith

During executive session last week, the council unanimously awarded SchlumbergerSema a $36 million contract for wireless meter readers that will go to Austin Energy. Last year, the city sued Convergent Group Corp., whose new owner is SchlumbergerSema, for sending faulty equipment -- late. Convergent counter-sued. The contract is part of the settlement. For the new meter readers, there was no competitive bid, and the contract details remain a secret. Is this what they call "good government?'' -- L.A.

Mayor Gus Garcia announced Monday that the city and KLRU-TV will team up September 28-29 to create the Austin City Limits Music Festival in Zilker Park. The event will benefit Austin PBS affiliate KLRU, and is expected to book both national and local acts in the roots/ Americana vein featured on the 27-year-old show. -- L.N.

Capital Metro officially named interim general manager Fred Gilliam its new head honcho on Monday, and also announced they're doing away with the GM title. Gilliam will henceforth be known as the president and chief executive officer of the transit agency. He replaces Karen Rae, who resigned in February. Gilliam has four decades of experience in transit, including GM positions in Memphis and New Orleans, and chief operating officer in Houston. His salary will be $125,000 a year. -- L.N.

Since the proposed U.S. 183-A toll bypass through the Northwest Corridor -- a road project that's been on the books for nearly two decades -- has now been dropped by the Texas Turnpike Authority from its list of Central Texas road projects, state Rep. Mike Krusee, R-Round Rock, is trying to form a "regional mobility authority" to build it. This RMA would include Travis and Williamson counties and the cities of Cedar Park and Leander. An act of the last Legislature made such RMAs possible, but none yet exist, and the state is still working out the rules governing them. Local leaders say the RMA law -- which doesn't allow the authorities to issue their own bonds -- puts too much financial burden on the cities and counties involved. -- Mike Clark-Madison

Republican attorney general nominee Greg Abbott, who's made "a plan to combat domestic violence and sexual assault" a centerpiece of his campaign, says his Democratic opponent, former Austin Mayor Kirk Watson, did a poor job fighting the same fight here. During Watson's term, reported rapes rose 91%, from 254 in 1998 to 486 in 2001. Watson noted that the city's population increased during that time and that, as mayor, he encouraged more accurate reporting of assaults. Abbott was burned last week by a Dallas Morning News report showing that, as a state Supreme Court justice, he had repeatedly ruled against rape victims seeking civil damages related to their assaults. -- M.C.M.

Last week the Texas Workers' Compensation Commission voted to change the medical compensation system for paying doctors who treat workers who've been injured on the job. The Commission tied the doctors' fee schedule to the rates paid on federal Medicare, in a move immediately praised by business groups but blasted by the Texas Medical Association and the AFL-CIO. The Texas Association of Business said the change would reduce medical costs for employers, but doctors said the reduced reimbursements -- estimated as high as 30 to 40% for some specialties -- mean many doctors will leave the system, making it much more difficult for injured workers to receive care. "The Workers Comp agency has been bought and paid for by the insurance industry," said AFL-CIO President Joe Gunn. The AFL-CIO expects to challenge the new system in court. -- M.K.

Just when we thought closure was in sight, the protracted saga of former Austin police officer Timothy Enlow, fired last August for what Chief Stan Knee called "racial profiling," is far from over. That's right, Enlow's arbitration with the city, which was scheduled for May 6-10, was abruptly canceled two weeks ago when the arbitrator withdrew, citing a scheduling conflict. What is interesting -- and still unclear -- is why this conflict came up all of a sudden, since the arbitration date has been on the books for months. According to the city's Civil Service Commission, the hearing has yet to be rescheduled. For more on Enlow, see "A Very Fuzzy Profile," Dec. 28, 2001. -- J.S.

The state still has not sold Woodlawn, the historic but somewhat dilapidated Pease mansion on Niles Road; this week, they failed to receive a valid bid at the minimum $3.1 million price. So the General Land Office will negotiate with potential buyers who expressed "extreme interest." State officials confirmed that one of the 80 or so people who took a look at Woodlawn was actress Sandra Bullock. The mansion, designed by pioneer Austin architect Abner Cook and home for nearly a century to the family of Gov. Elisha Pease -- whose estate included most of today's 78703 ZIP code -- was acquired, but never renovated, by the state at the behest of late Lt. Gov. Bob Bullock. -- M.C.M.

According to the latest estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau, Austin's suburbs are still among the 100 fastest-growing counties in the U.S. The estimates released this week -- covering from April 2000 (date of the last census) to July 2001 -- peg Williamson County at No. 5, having grown a whopping 11.1% during that brief time. Hays County is 26th on the list, Bastrop 30th, Caldwell 51st, Burnet 57th, and Comal 59th. (Those last two aren't officially part of the Austin metro area.) Travis County itself grew by only 2.6%, and didn't make the Hot 100. According to these estimates, the official population of the Austin MSA is 1,313,231; just over half of those people live within the Austin city limits. All those growth projections, of course, predate the bottom of the bust. -- M.C.M.

People's Community Clinic, the underfunded, nonprofit provider of health services to the under- and uninsured in Austin, received a $1 million donation from Bettye and Bill Nowlin last week -- the largest gift it has ever received from an individual donor. Mr. Nowlin is the founder of Austin-based hardware/software maker National Instruments. -- L.N.

After nearly two years of searching, UT's School of Journalism finally has found a new director: Lorraine Branham, currently the assistant to the publisher of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, will take over as head of the journalism school this summer. Before joining the Pittsburgh paper in 2000, Branham was senior vice-president and executive director of the Tallahassee Democrat, managing editor at the Philadelphia Inquirer, and a metro editor at the Baltimore Sun. Branham is both the first woman and African-American to hold the post, no small matter at a time when newspapers are struggling to diversify their newsrooms. -- J.S.

Green Party gubernatorial candidate and Nowar Collective member Rahul Mahajan will read from The New Crusade: America's War On Terrorism, his new book on post-9/11 government actions, on Thursday (today), May 2, at 7:30pm, at Monkeywrench Books, 110 E. North Loop. For info, call 407-6925 or e-mail collective@monkeywrenchbooks.org.

Also today, the Mueller Neighborhoods Coalition is holding a celebration in recognition of Mayor Gus Garcia and the Austin City Council's support for Robert Mueller Municipal Airport redevelopment. 6-7:30pm at Mueller's B.B.Q., 1917 Manor Rd. Graphics and details about the Mueller masterplan will be available, and all City Council candidates (real and imaginary) are invited.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

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More by Lauri Apple
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