1) East Austin vs. APD: As controversy raged on -- and the investigations dragged on -- over the 2002 death of Sophia King, the June fatal police shooting of Jessie Lee Owens took conflict between APD -- and City Hall -- and the African-American community to a whole new level. By year's end, APD Officer Scott Glasgow had been indicted in Owens' death for following improper procedure -- the first such indictment against a cop in memory -- by a grand jury that went on to issue a report decrying a "different brand of law enforcement" in Austin's communities of color.
2) A Wynn-Win Situation: The race to succeed Mayor Gus Garcia (and, really, his predecessor Kirk Watson) ended up being a solo sprint for Council Member Will Wynn, who easily outpaced Max Nofziger, Marc Katz, Brad Meltzer, and Leslie Cochran. But the race to succeed Wynn in Place 5 was a different story, with half a dozen solid candidates and a run-off between Margot Clarke and eventual big winner Brewster McCracken.
3) The Budget Meltdown: For the first time in years, City Hall laid off employees and raised property taxes as City Manager Toby Futrell wrestled with a $54 million gap -- first in a series of bust-induced belt-tightenings that should define the Wynn administration. Despite the mayor's tough talk about making even further cuts, the council ended up showing less resolve, caving on controversial changes to the fire department and social-service contracts and deferring until next year a real fiscal reckoning.
4) Wal-Mart (and Lowe's): Anyone who thought last year's Stratus settlement signaled an end to the aquifer wars was much mistaken. A proposed Wal-Mart at MoPac and Slaughter prompted a new outburst of outrage, an eventual surrender by the world's largest retailer, and now a lawsuit against the city and Stratus, who (sotto voce) backed the anti-Wal-Mart forces. Meanwhile, Lowe's Home Centers profited from misunderstandings between Austin, Sunset Valley, and the Legislature, and scored a deal to build its own big box. The city's across-the-board ban on big-box retail over the aquifer roused the business lobby from years of slumber.
5) Wal-Mart (and Sixth + Lamar): There were actually two big "Wal-Mart" stories this year: one about the aquifer and one about national chain stores coming in to eat Weird Austin for lunch. Also a battleground in the latter war was Sixth + Lamar, where city incentives for a mall project anchored by a Borders -- right across the street from local stalwarts BookPeople and Waterloo Records -- opened up debate about what kind of economy Austin wants, gave a starring role to the quality-of-life lobby Liveable City, and eventually scared off the big-book-box boys.
6) The Rise and Fall of the Smoking Ordinance: As the finale of his 40-year-plus career in public service, Gus Garcia carried the weight -- with help from a loud and well-funded insta-lobby of community activists -- for a drastic tightening of Austin's indoor smoking rules. Unfortunately, the people most harmed by such a change -- the city's bar and club owners, and their many friends -- were not consulted and did not go quietly at all. By year's end, the city was on its third ordinance of 2003, and the tobacco-free triumph went up in, well, you know.
7) Barton Springs Pool Is Poisoned!: So said the Statesman in a huge January takeout that, unfortunately for its Pulitzer pretensions, turned out to be largely off-base and itself tainted by the paper's toxic agenda. (By year's end, the Statesman was back to its old self, shrilly slamming the city for virtually any attempt to protect the aquifer and the springs.) After a 90-day shutdown, the springs got a clean bill of health.
8) Seton, Children's, and the Hospital District: Seton Healthcare Network upped the price tag for its de facto management of the city's legally mandated responsibilities to provide indigent care, convincing City Hall to -- more or less -- give Children's Hospital of Austin to the Catholic hospital chain, which is building a new facility at the old airport. On the upside, efforts to create a public health care financing district -- a first step to solving the city's health care mess -- were finally blessed by the Legislature, setting the stage for a 2004 vote.
9) Envision Central Texas: When first conceived two years ago, the ECT "regional vision project" was seen as an attempt to mitigate the impact of endless boom. By this year, the boom had gone bust, but the growth-management message had not: In ECT's regional survey, thousands of citizens expressed an unequivocal desire to change -- as much as possible -- from the sprawl-driven status quo.
10) Jimmy Chapman and John Maspero: How the mighty fall. As the year began, these two buddies were, respectively, APD's assistant chief and the Williamson Co. sheriff, and it all went downhill from there. Chapman and Maspero's alleged involvement in shady maneuvers in the long-simmering Mala Sangre scandal led to allegations of perjury against Chapman, an independent investigation, a lot of hand-wringing, and at year's end Chapman's resignation. Meanwhile, Maspero's own rowdy lifestyle finally caught up with him, drunk and whizzing in the bushes on a dark Georgetown road; the ensuing outrage in straitlaced Williamson Co. led the sheriff to take his own early exit.
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