Naked City

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Public support for the City Council's recent resolution against unilateral U.S. military action against Iraq and in support of continued UN inspections is running about 4-3 (57%) in favor, according to Council Member Daryl Slusher, who co-sponsored the resolution with Jackie Goodman and Raul Alvarez. (The response nearly mirrors the council vote of 5-0-2; Will Wynn and Betty Dunkerley abstained. The text of the resolution can be found here.) Of the several hundred e-mails and phone calls received by Slusher's office, early ones heavily favored the resolution, followed by a backlash after the vote. Slusher said opponents primarily argued the council should "support the president" while others said the war is none of the council's business. A few, said Slusher, were "more creative," e.g., "You are a worthless piece of shit. ... You are a disgrace to this city, hippie fag. Why don't you really protest the war like those monks in Vietnam by pouring gas on yourself then setting yourself on fire." Send your own comments to daryl.slusher@ci.austin.tx.us. As of press time, 79 U.S. cities and counties, and state houses in Maine and Hawaii, have passed similar measures. -- Michael King

Federated Department Stores Inc., owner of Bloomingdale's and Macy's, has told opponents of the $250 million Hill Country Galleria that it has no interest in the Bee Cave mall project, nor has it had any discussions with developer Chris Milam. When Bee Cave officials approved the Galleria last year -- over objections from environmentalists and area residents -- they instructed Milam to lock in high-end anchors such as Lord & Taylor, Bloomingdale's, Saks Fifth Avenue, or Neiman Marcus. May Department Stores, which owns Lord & Taylor and Foley's, turned down the Galleria last fall, in the face of opposition organized by the Save Our Springs Alliance. Milam has a 100-year lease on the property, but he said if his project isn't realized, the landowner could decide to bring big-box retail to the site. -- Amy Smith

Just one week after putting Merlin "Spanky" Handley back to work at STAR Flight -- prompting protests and a safety stand-down from other employees of the air ambulance service -- Travis Co. commissioners voted 4-1 to fire Handley last week. "The challenge was to either save STAR Flight or to worry about Handley and his lawsuit," County Judge Sam Biscoe said. Handley had filed a whistle-blower suit in August stemming from his complaints about being supervised by a city of Austin employee. After the stand-down Jan. 23, Biscoe and Commissioner Karen Sonleitner interviewed each of STAR Flight's 24 employees to get to the bottom of the strife. "All of the pilots expressed serious concerns about [Handley's] judgment, and he is a pilot-manager-trainer," Biscoe said. And nearly half of the medics and nurses "just refused to ride with him." -- Jordan Smith

Now that we're all land poorer, Austin ISD is cash richer. Chief Financial Officer Larry Throm reported to the AISD board Monday night that the district's tax rolls are worth $700 million less than anticipated, meaning a lower "recapture" payment to the state and an extra $8 million to help close the district's $59 million budget deficit.

Superintendent Pat Forgione's Budget Task Force is reviewing proposed cuts to balance the budget; on Monday, the teacher and staff organization Education Austin offered an alternative plan with less drastic cuts ($15 million against AISD's proposed $33 million) and a larger drawdown from the district's cash reserves. The Budget Task Force meets weekly and invites public input at budget@austin.isd.tenet.edu. The budget proposal is available on AISD's Web site, and public forums will be held March 4 and 5, with board action expected March 31. The board also received a task-force report advocating the addition of sixth grade to Kealing Junior High, expected to be approved for the 2004-2005 school year. -- M.K.

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