Edited By Lauri Apple, Fri., May 31, 2002
Friday's American-Statesman reported that the average median family income in the five-county Austin area increased by 22% from 1989 to 1999 -- the biggest increase among other regions in the state. But as Texas AFL-CIO Communications Director Ed Sills points out, data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that in the same period, the consumer price index rose about 34% -- meaning that buying power actually declined. The same article quoted without question a senior economist from the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, who contended that the border region "boomed" due to trade liberalization with Mexico and the North American Free Trade Agreement and its predecessors. The economist did not mention the more likely reason -- that the federal minimum wage rose from $3.35 an hour to $5.15 (still not enough to be considered a "living wage" in most cities, including Austin) -- or that many maquiladora jobs are now drifting to cheaper, more exotic locales in Asia, leaving the NAFTAfied workers stiffed. -- L.A.
Final reminder: You still have until June 1 to cast your ballot in the ACC run-off elections.
The Austin City Council is on hiatus until June 27, which gives "Naked City" readers plenty of time to study other American city councils' methods of handling zoning, platting, variances, and other issues. Last week's meeting brought the final session for departing Council Member Beverly Griffith and her staff; Griffith aid Toye Goodson will start a new job on June 18 in Austin Energy's Green Building Program. Meanwhile, Mark Nathan, aide to Council Member Will Wynn, is leaving his post to become field director of the Tony Sanchez for Governor campaign. Nathan, whose first day will be June 3, will be responsible for set-up and operation of Sanchez's field office across the state and voter/ID turnout programs. -- L.A.
It's not back: Wednesday, the Capital Metro Board of Directors voted to delay any light rail referendum until 2004. The vote is a consequence of a Cap Metro deal worked out with the Texas Legislature. The board still plans to move forward eventually on light rail. -- L.A.
Even as Austin ISD Superintendent Pat Forgione's plans to rehabilitate the district spawn new controversy, battles from the past rage on. Former LBJ High School Principal Sylvia Lewis, who Forgione fired in 2000, has filed a lawsuit against him, Forgione deputy Glen Nolly (her former boss), and the district itself, claiming she was dismissed as the result of a conspiracy between AISD brass and white parents at the LBJ Science Academy magnet school. Lewis made a similar case before the AISD board of trustees in a quasi-judicial hearing in 2000, but the board accepted Nolly's characterization of Lewis as a bad administrator who worsened chronic problems at LBJ -- including rivalries between the largely white magnet program and the largely non-white main student body. Lewis and Nolly are both black; Lewis' case has been one of the rallying points among African-American community leaders critical of AISD and Forgione. -- Mike Clark-Madison
In the market for a used rotunda? How about an airline terminal and concourse? The city's Economic Growth and Redevelopment office has notified all ready buyers that the deconstructed pieces of the old Robert Mueller Airport are up for sale. "Deconstruction is the operative word," said Nellie Nutting, interim Mueller property manager. "The terminal is not being demolished. It's being taken apart piece by piece" in what is described as the largest deconstruction project in the city's history. And while most of the memorabilia is already gone, much valuable material -- including the intact rotunda, terminal, and concourse -- are still on the block. Fixtures, cabinets, doors, counters, magazine racks, etc. "could be perfect for nonprofit groups," said Jim McKee of ICE Contractors, the deconstruction contractor. For more information, call Jim McKee (972/670-5146); John Lopez of Lopez Deconstruction Services (pager 209-4993); or Andrew McGarran of Lopez (pager 202-7730). -- Michael King
The Downtown Austin Alliance has balked at the city's attempts to turn its adopted Downtown Design Guidelines into city code requirements. The DAA supported the urban-design principles, intended to promote denser downtown development and discourage cars in favor of pedestrians and transit, when first presented by the Design Commission. But the city's attempt to convert them from suggestions into laws has struck some DAA leaders as a bait-and-switch that they believe will backfire by driving developers to the suburbs. City staff say the point is to make Downtown Austin different from the suburbs, but Design Commission members, who spent two years working on the guidelines, likewise say they intended them as principles, not regulations. The city's Smart Growth matrix, used to waive fees as an incentive to urban-core development, already incorporates most of the guidelines. -- M.C.M.
Mary Anne Fox of North Carolina State University, a top candidate in UT's search for a new chancellor, withdrew from the race Tuesday. University of Minnesota President Mark Yudof, former dean of UT's law school, is now considered the leading finalist. -- Lee Nichols
If you need some private face-time with the guv, it's gonna cost you. That was the implicit conclusion of statewide stories this week reporting that in the 15 months after Rick Perry became governor, 83% of his meetings have been with his campaign contributors. According to a computerized study by Pete Slover of The Dallas Morning News, 135 of 162 meetings held by Perry during that period have included contributors, particularly "GOP loyalists." Perry's press office said he schedules meetings with "people in leadership positions," and "that's the same sort of person likely to support politicians financially." The DMN noted a similar study of Gov. Bush's administration by the Campaign Study Group, which found that 46% of his non-government meetings were with campaign donors. One GOP political consultant told the paper anonymously that donations before or after such face-to-face meetings are "understood" to be expected as part of "political protocol." -- M.K.
In early May, the militant pro-life group Army of God -- which supports using violence against abortion providers, and denounces birth control as a "sin" -- hacked the Web site run by the pro-choice UT student group Action for Abortion Rights (A.F.A.R.) and inserted a photo from Playboy. "You are all sluts like the Playboy model above who only care about being able to kill your baby after you forget to use condoms: The only 'choice' is; use condoms, or don't use condoms," the hacker posted. Conveniently forgetting about rape, the militant concluded, "The only way you can get pregnant is to have unprotected sex." A.F.A.R. members recently contacted the FBI, but so far, the agency hasn't pursued a formal investigation. Meanwhile, "Naked City" wonders: What is someone who professes to be acting in the name of God doing with a picture a naked sex kitten? Perhaps the Army of God doesn't mind masturbation ...
The AFL-CIO is working on a project involving the state's unemployment insurance program, and wants to contact workers who are nearing the end of the benefits line. "I am looking for any worker or workers who have received extended unemployment benefits and have exhausted them or are nearing the end of the extended benefit period," said AFL-CIO Legal Director Rick Levy. "We are working with the National Employment Law Project to shine the light on the inadequacy of the Texas system, particularly as Texas is now, for the first time in a while, on the top 10 list in terms of unemployment, and of course in some parts [of the state] the rate is significantly higher." If you are in this situation or know someone who is, e-mail Rick at email@example.com. -- M.K.
Cities, counties, and school districts around Texas are getting nervous about a new state law that allows "primarily" charitable organizations -- as opposed to "exclusively" charitable ones -- to claim exemptions from local property taxes. So far, state Comptroller Carole Keeton Rylander has cleared eight statewide fraternal organizations with more than 1,400 properties around Texas, including the Masons, Elks, and SPJST, to pursue exemptions from local authorities -- and some, including relatively nearby Blanco County, have complied. (Once you grant the waiver to one such group, all other groups become eligible.) If localities don't comply, groups can collect signatures to force the issue to the ballot box. -- M.C.M.
The Lesbian Gay Rights Lobby of Texas will honor progressive and supportive candidates for statewide offices during a brunch Sunday, June 2, as part of this weekend's events planned for the seventh annual Texas Gay Pride Festival. The LGRL board will also introduce its new executive director, Francisco Sanchez (see item below). Brunch will be served 11am-1pm at the Fiesta Gardens Hacienda, 2101 Bergman. Tickets are $25, and sponsorships are also available. The daylong festival, on the grounds of Fiesta Gardens, runs noon-8pm with food, beer, entertainment, booths -- the whole nine yards ($5 will get you in the gate). A women's dance kicks off the festival Saturday night at the club house ($10 donation). More info is at www.lgrl.org, or call 474-5475. -- Amy Smith
Houston activist Francisco Sanchez has been named executive director of the Lesbian/Gay Rights Lobby of Texas. Sanchez, who succeeds Dianne Hardy-Garcia, served as legislative director for former Houston Rep. Diana Davila and is active in both state and Harris County Democratic Party politics. Moreover, the LGRL board of directors is relying on Sanchez's lobbying and strategizing expertise to promote the organization's issues. Sanchez's lobbying and political consulting background includes HIV/AIDS funding, gay/lesbian immigration rights, healthcare access, consumer rights and environmental issues. "He's going to be phenomenal," said LGRL board co-chair Steve Atkinson. "He has a really good mix of experience, including very good, very concrete legislative experience. That's important for us because, as is always the case, we're foreseeing a tough legislative session ahead." -- Amy Smith
The Italian city of Reggio Emilia is planning to end its sister-city relationship with Fort Worth over "human rights" issues -- namely, Texas' enthusiastic practice of capital punishment. This aggrieves folks in Cowtown, who note that Fort Worth has no power over state criminal-justice policy, but the Italians want the Fort Worth City Council to pass a resolution condemning the death penalty. So far, no such complaints have come from Austin's 10 international sister cities -- only four of which are in countries (Australia, Germany, Mexico, and Peru) that have abolished capital punishment for common-law crimes. -- M.C.M.
After Tuesday's controversial execution of Napoleon Beazley, who was a minor at the time he committed murder, Scott Cobb of the Texas Moratorium Network issued a statement regarding the 10-7 vote by the Board of Pardons and Paroles that denied Beazley clemency. "Politics plays a big role in who lives and dies in Texas," Cobb wrote. "All of the current members of the Board of Pardons and Paroles were appointed by a Republican governor. If a Democratic Governor had appointed some of those members, Napoleon may have received the change of two votes that he needed for a commutation." Huh? We support Cobb's anti-death penalty leanings, but wonder whether he forgot the 1990 Democratic gubernatorial primary. Candidates Ann Richards, Jim Mattox, and Mark White ferociously tried to out-death penalty one another, and each insisted he or she would be the superior killer of prisoners. One debate between them was so embarrassing that it merited a Saturday Night Live skit. -- L.N.
In connection with Barbara Ehrenreich's recent appearance in Austin (see "From the Bottom Up," below), Robin Bradford of Foundation Communities provided some local stats "On Not Getting By in Austin." If Ehrenreich had done her research in Austin, Bradford reports, she would have discovered, among other things: Approximately one-fourth of people in Travis County are working poor. If alone, Ehrenreich would need to earn at least $10 an hour to afford food, bills and housing; with one child, at least $17 an hour -- and nearly one-third of Austin jobs pay less than $10 an hour. And she can't afford to get sick -- or pay for decent housing, if she could find it; more than 6,000 people are waiting for housing assistance in Austin, and the wait is two to three years. -- M.K.
Architects Chris Krager and Chris Robertson of Krager Robertson Design Build (KRDB) have won the Citation of Honor Award in the 2002 Design Awards Competition sponsored by the Austin Chapter of American Institute of Architects. This year's award honors KRDB's Cedar Avenue S.M.A.R.T. Housing Development, recognized for its "location in the community, urban design and the unique use of standard building materials," reads the AIA-Austin statement. The homes, located on Cedar Avenue in East Austin, were financed through the Austin Housing Finance Corporation Small Builder Program, and are reserved for families earning 80% of the area's median family income (about $54,400 for a family of four). The AIA design competition recognizes outstanding architectural projects by members and promotes public interest in architectural excellence. -- M.K.
The Texas Fair Trade Coalition is looking for phone volunteers this week to help generate calls to members of the Texas Congressional delegation asking them to oppose the Fast Track legislation, expected to reach a House vote in mid-June. Volunteers will be calling for a couple of hours in the evening on several days through next week. For more information, call Jere Locke at the TFTC, 402-0860.
The upcoming issue of Adbusters magazine will feature local culture jammers ReTag, who brand the storefronts of multinational chains with their own logos to emphasize how symbols of consumerism have come to dominate our cultural landscape. In April, the group caused a stir -- and attracted the Austin Police Department's attention -- by painting the Gap's logo on the face of the Gap's Drag location, "Tower Records" on the nearby Tower Records, etc. For more info, visit www.howandwhy.org/retag.html. -- L.A.
And you thought it started in 2001: While cleaning out his house to move elsewhere, Chronicle music news columnist Ken Lieck stumbled across the Nov. 21, 1977, issue of Newsweek -- which, interestingly enough, includes a letter to the editor headlined "War on Terrorism." When we noticed the author was one J. Derral Mulholland of Austin, we did a double take. The resident of our fair burg had this to say: "The only reasonable response to the current brand of terrorism is for every country to agree that acts of terrorism involving random or innocent hostages or the taking of lives be punishable only by death -- no trial, but summary execution." Yeesh, and you thought Austin in the Seventies was nothing but a groovy hippie party. -- L.N.
Headlines of the Week: "On the Job, Bush Has Mastered Diplomacy 101, His Aides Say" (New York Times, May 22). How long 'til he graduates? Then there's this one from the Austin Business Journal: "Frito-Lay launches products in Austin targeted at Hispanics." We assume this campaign won't use the same ad firm that came up with the "Frito Bandito" -- and that anyone who has tasted Fritos or Doritos can tell those products aren't aimed at Hispanics. -- M.K. and L.N.
Citizen Works, a pro-democracy organization founded last year by Ralph Nader, hopes to recruit 500 organizations to sign on to its new unity platform on corporate accountability by mid-June. "As concerned individuals and peoples' organizations representing workers, environmentalists, consumers and citizens across the U.S. and around the world, we are responding to the collapse of Enron by calling for a fundamental transformation of the relationship between corporations and society," begins the statement. Included is a 10-point basis for unity and action that calls for the separation of corporations from the state, re-regulation of utility markets, more pressure on corporations to pay their fair share of taxes, and stronger labor and environmental obligations, among other things. Citizen Works hopes the Congressional Progressive Caucus will adopt the platform at its June 4 meeting. Groups that wish to sign on can send their names, locations, and contact information (phone, fax, e-mail) to Charlie Cray at firstname.lastname@example.org. -- L.A.
On May 21, representatives from the Coalition for Higher Education Act Reform rallied on the steps of the U.S. Capitol before delivering to Congress a letter demanding full repeal of a 1998 amendment that denies access to federal financial aid to students convicted of drug offenses -- no matter how minor. CHEAR's efforts have steadily gained steam since the organization's inception three years ago. Two separate bills are wending their way through Congress as a result of the uproar caused by the HEA provisions, including one bill -- already signed by 67 U.S. Reps -- that would repeal the 1998 provisions. Opponents of the draconian law have called it an "economic death sentence," and say that more than 80,000 students have been denied access to financial aid resources as a result. For more information see www.raiseyourvoice.com or www.drcnet.org. -- J.S.
Lesley Ramsey, Green Party candidate for the state Board of Education, hopes to give her right-wing Republican opponent a run for her money. But to do that, she needs money. Ramsey's campaign will hold a fundraiser Thursday, May 30, at the Clay Pit, 1601 Guadalupe, featuring music by Oliver Rajamani. 6:30-8:30pm.
Speaking of the state education board: The Lone Star State remains at the forefront of the textbook discussion -- with much say-so from the radical right-wing, whose ranks are well-represented on the board. On Friday, May 31, the ACLU will hold a public forum featuring Ashley McIlvain of the Texas Freedom Network, who will discuss the right-wing's role in deciding how textbooks portray issues ranging from evolution to creationism, as well as what we can expect during the upcoming "textbook wars." Marimont Cafeteria, 5:30-6:30pm. For more info, contact Ruth Epstein at 459-5829 or email@example.com.