The Austin Chronicle

Top 10 Local Stories: From bonds to boobs

By Michael King, January 5, 2007, News

1) Pay as We Go: Least controversial yet most likely to improve the common quality of life were the seven municipal bond propositions passed overwhelmingly in November, underwriting everything from basic infrastructure to affordable housing to open space, central library to film studio. As triumphant as the bonds themselves was the public winnowing process – a nearly two-year progress involving a broad cross section of the entire city. Kudos to everybody!

2) Poppin' the Props: Not nearly so popular were the May propositions, led by the petition-proposed "clean water" and "clean government" amendments that polarized local reform groups and slapped the city into court for misleading ballot language. After a bitter public fight, Propositions 1 and 2 were overwhelmingly defeated, while the voters modified campaign finance law and expanded city employee health coverage for domestic partners.

3) Remember the Candidates?: Almost forgotten in the proposition bullhorns were the candidate slates – Mayor Will Wynn and Council Member Brewster McCracken were easily re-elected, and newcomers Mike Martinez and Sheryl Cole climbed the dais. The May election also transfused old and new blood at AISD and ACC.

4) The Moriarty Mystery: Former Austin Clean Water Program director Bill Moriarty was actually ousted from his Earth Tech contractorship in 2005, after the city cited an apparent conflict of interest with his domestic partner, for holding separate contracts with ACWP. Moriarty sued city officials and competing contractors last December and settled this year with the officials. But the private lawsuit is pending, and early in 2006 he charged the city with neglecting serious water-pollution problems in deference to wired-in contractors. In 2007, keep watching the wells.

5) Enchiladas to Go?: When the landowner announced plans to build three Marriott hotels at Second and Congress, the fate of local landmarks Las Manitas, Escuelita del Alma, and Tesoros Trading Co. hung in the balance. The balance still hangs, as the city looks for a compromise and the various parties tread water this month. Look for more twists, turns, and rhetorical salsa in the new year.

6) An AMD Grows at Lantana: Despite loud public and quieter official opposition, longtime Austin high tech titan AMD proceeded with plans to build a major installation on Southwest lands endangered since they belonged to Freeport-McMoRan decades ago. Opponents call it the next domino in the demise of Barton Springs; AMD defends its green-building plans as the best that money can buy. Can money protect the springs? When we know, it'll be too late.

7) Help the Homeless (Water Plant): At year's end, the city had yet to find a home for Water Treatment Plant 4, intended to replace the overwhelmed Downtown relic known as Green. A brief staff run at the Eastside Roy G. Guerrero Park was shot down by logistics and public outcry, and then Travis Co. threw a roadblock into a land swap for the Cortaña tract in the Balcones Canyonland Preserve. The city is hanging fire at the Bull Creek headwaters while it tries to persuade the Commissioners Court to change its mind. Like other substances, water flows downhill.

8) Corpses by the Gross: Low-budgeted and overwhelmed by out-of-county autopsies for paying customers, the Travis County Medical Examiner's Office finally got a reluctant housecleaning. Chief ME Roberto Bayardo retired at long last, but not before Deputy ME Elizabeth Peacock finally had enough. The Commissioners Court hired a new ME, and the official rhetoric is that things will improve – but that's what they said about the Augean stables before they had to call in Hercules.

9) Whither Wal-Mart?: Looking inward from its traditional suburban ring, the Bentonville Behemoth targeted Northcross Mall for a new store site – meeting with quick and vociferous neighborhood opposition, but only after city staff had reflexively blessed the latest humongous big box. Wal-Mart and developer Lincoln Property Co. hold all the financial and most of the political cards, but the neighbors aren't rolling over. The new year will tell if people or property rule.

10) The Nekkid Truth: Official Austin ISD went all aflutter when nude photos of high school teacher Tamara Hoover were found on the Web – thereby endangering young minds with the obscure knowledge that under their clothes, people are naked. A legal settlement allowed Pecksniffery to triumph and Hoover to move on. Henceforth, AISD students can continue to learn such important lessons where they belong, in the gutter.

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