Naked City

Austin Stories

In our Top 10s issue last week, we goofed in our list of the "Top 10 Election Night Moments." Under the items "Vote counting gone right" and "Our own private Florida," we incorrectly stated that a programming error in the eSlate voting machines caused vote-counting problems in Tarrant Co., and we thus did a disservice to both Hart InterCivic, the makers of the eSlate system, and to our own Travis Co. officials who are implementing the system here. Actually, the programming error occurred with an optical scan vote-counting machine, the type of system that eSlate is intended to replace. Much like Travis Co., Tarrant officials only used eSlate in early voting, and had no problems with it. The Chronicle regrets the error. -- Lee Nichols

Unlike other Texas Democrats, the Travis Co. Democratic Party isn't on the run, but they are on the move: Their new offices are at 706 W. Martin Luther King #8. Also on the move is the Texas Civil Rights Project, which will relocate from its current offices on MLK to a new facility in Montopolis -- to be named, at the request of TCRP's donors, for international civil-rights lawyer Michael Tigar. TCRP director Jim Harrington says the new site will be dedicated in March. -- M.K.

King Fisher Creek Ltd., the Florida-based developer of the controversial Parker Springs affordable-housing complex in Southeast Austin, turned into a pumpkin New Year's Eve. The project had to be completed by Dec. 31 to receive $2.2 million in federal tax credits, and King Fisher embarked on a mad rush to make the deadline. But the Texas Dept. of Housing and Community Affairs and city officials officially pulled the plug last week; TDHCA spokesman Gordon Anderson says King Fisher's tax credits will be "recaptured" and that obtaining future government subsidies "may be difficult" for King Fisher. Neighbors who strongly opposed the project were happy: Said Kensington Park NA president Lee Sloan, "I think they're dead, but I want to see the flesh dripping from the stinking carcass." (See "Can King Fisher Creek Beat the Clock?" Dec. 27.) -- Lauri Apple

Attorneys for Maurice Pierce, the third and final defendant in the yogurt shop murders, on Dec. 3 filed a motion for a change of venue for his upcoming trial. Such motions are typically risky; the lawyers have no say over where the trial is moved, so they could end up in a more conservative jurisdiction. But prosecutors and police have little evidence tying Pierce to the crime, and he might benefit from a move to a county less familiar with the case. District Judge Mike Lynch could rule as early as Jan. 22, when Pierce is next scheduled to appear in court. -- Jordan Smith

On Monday, citing the district's worsening financial situation, AISD Superintendent Pat Forgione announced a district-wide freeze on all nonteaching positions, along with other spending controls, effective Jan. 6. "Every request to fill a vacant position, with the exception of classroom teacher positions, will be subject to the approval of the Superintendent and his Cabinet prior to being filled," Forgione announced. "Since AISD hires some 1,500 new employees each year, we intend to use attrition to create the opportunities for protecting the employment of our current staff." -- M.K.

After 17 years at the helm of People's Community Clinic, Executive Director Roseanna Szilak has resigned in order to pursue other interests. During her tenure, the clinic was transformed from a small basement location off the Drag to a two-story, $4.1 million operation on I-35, serving more than 17,000 patients. A clinic spokeswoman says Szilak currently has no definite plans. -- L.A.

Environmental activist Robert Singleton will join Brewster McCracken in May in running for Austin City Council Place 5, the seat being vacated by mayoral candidate Will Wynn. A retail manager at University Co-Op, Singleton says he would emphasize stronger environmental protection and affordability of services if elected. "A lot of people are telling me it's a terrible time to run, given the budget," he says, "but there's some opportunities in that, too." In 1991, Singleton ran for mayor and placed third of seven candidates. -- L.A.

Urban Transportation Commissioner Tommy Eden is spearheading a petition drive to have bicycle lanes installed on Guadalupe and Lavaca streets through Downtown. At Eden's request, Council Member Danny Thomas first raised the issue at a Dec. 5 meeting, and council members kicked the idea over to staff for study. A staff report is due this month. By then, Eden hopes to have deposited a load of signatures at City Hall. Neither street is wide enough to hold a bike lane without wiping out a prized vehicle lane, but proponents say the recent death of activist Keith Vick, struck down while riding his bike at 10th and Guadalupe, exemplifies why the city should redouble its bicycle safety efforts. Petitions are available at several locations, including Central Austin bike shops, Wheatsville, Eco-Wise, MonkeyWrench Books, Whole Earth Provision Company on North Lamar, and Cothron's Safe and Lock on Burnet Road. -- Amy Smith

The opponents in a civil lawsuit stemming from another fatal Downtown bicycle accident reached a settlement Dec. 27, just as jurors appeared close to rendering a verdict. Tri Dal Ltd. agreed to pay an undisclosed sum to the family of William "Bill" Gardiner, a UT chemistry professor and renowned combustion expert who died in November 2000 from injuries received in a bicycle accident at Sixth and Guadalupe. Plaintiffs alleged that an improperly installed metal plate covering an excavation project led to the nighttime accident, although there were no witnesses. Presiding Judge Guy Herman noted that on the second day of deliberations, "After a series of questions from the jurors regarding jury instructions, and a request for a calculator, both sides became more realistic in their approach to settlement negotiations." -- A.S.

After wending its way through public hearings and city boards and commissions, a proposed pipeline ordinance will go before City Council tonight (Thursday) for possible action. The proposal has been beefed up after review by the city Environmental Board and Planning Commission; the ordinance calls for a 500-foot setback (up from 200 feet) between a hazardous-material pipeline and "high-consequence" structures, such as schools and nursing homes. The setback for other new construction remains 200 feet unless a developer incorporates special fire safety features; additions to existing homes are allowed within this area. All construction is prohibited within 25 feet of a pipeline, and developers must mark this "restricted pipeline area" on subdivision plats. As of press time late Wednesday, rumors were flying that the item might be postponed from the Thursday agenda, because members of the Legislature were taking a keen interest in Austin's proposed rules. -- A.S.

UT regents got their first look Tuesday at designs for a new memorial in the Tower Memorial Garden, dedicated in 1999. The site -- the turtle pond north of the tower -- honors the 15 people killed and 31 wounded on campus by sniper Charles Whitman in 1966. The memorial, crafted by landscape architect Eleanor McKinney and artist Jill Bedgood, will be dedicated Aug. 1, 2004 -- the 38th anniversary of the shootings -- assuming UT raises the $820,000 remaining of the necessary $1 million project cost. -- M.C.M.

The business section: Once again, Whole Foods Market and National Instruments are the two Austin companies on Fortune magazine's "100 Best Companies to Work For" roster. (For a different view of working at Whole Foods, check out our issues of Oct. 25 and Dec. 20.) Both WFM and NI, which between them have made the list 10 times, moved up from last year's rankings; Whole Foods is now at No. 32, NI at 53. Meanwhile, Texas French Bread has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy; the 20-year-old bakery, which closed three of its six locations in the last year, is looking for investors. And Henry Renfert, the doctor who founded Austin Diagnostic Clinic, passed away last weekend at age 82. -- M.C.M.

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