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City Council and mayoral elections off to a slow start in the dollar derby

Friday, January 21, 2000 by

Election day just 15 weeks away but you wouldn't know it from the action

If you think the 1999 City Council elections were a yawn, with just 8.36 percent of the 408,891 registered voters casting ballots and all three incumbents winning reelection without a runoff, wait till you hear about the 2000 races. Positions on the ballot this year include the mayor's job and three council seats. So far few candidates have surfaced and those who have made known their aspirations to serve have not drummed up much money. Which is not to say that things couldn't change but right now the political machinery is barely cranking for an election just 15 weeks away.

Candidates may file for a place on the ballot from Feb. 22 through March 22. Early voting begins April 19 and ends May 2, and the general election will be held May 6. A runoff election will be held June 3 if required.

Here's how the fields are shaping up so far:


Kirk Watson announced his intention to seek reelection on Dec. 8 and as reported by In Fact Daily Dec. 9 the only known challengers at the time were two homeless people. No one else has surfaced to date. Albert Leslie Cochran's claim to fame is parading on Congress Avenue, often in a miniskirt, padded halter top, high heels and a full beard. Cochran did not file a contribution report for this period. Jennifer Lauren Gale continues with a string of election attempts stretching back to mayoral races in Dallas. Gale's report shows contributions of $86. Watson, who raised $749,000 in his first race of 1997, and spent another $65,000 of his own money, has not cranked up the fund-raising effort yet since there's no viable challenger in sight. He has raised $1,200 to date, including $100 from Southern Union Gas executive Bobbie Barker, who is soliciting funds for Watson. Other contributors, all at $100 apiece, include Ronald and Connie Endres of Wimberley, Nancy and Gerald Capezzuti, Daniel McClellan, Dennis and Debbie Morgan, Ann Stevens, David Stevens, Peter and Michelle Kelley, Kathleen Guido, Thomas and Mary Lu Robillard, political fund-raiser Alfred Stanley, and David Kvapil. Watson has $16,000 in loans outstanding from his previous campaign.

Place 2

With Gus Garcia stepping out after he finishes his current, third term, the field so far shapes up with Raul Alvarez, Gloria Mata Pennington and Rafael Quintanilla vying to be his successor. Alvarez, 33 years of age, is environmental justice director for the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club. (See profile, In Fact Daily Jan. 11.) He got out of the starting gate by raising $8,000 reflected in his Jan. 15 report. Quintanilla filed his designation of a treasurer Jan. 10 and Pennington did so Jan. 13, so neither were required to report contributions on Jan. 15. Alvarez lists 57 individual contributors, all but two at $100 apiece, for $5,650, plus $2,350 in contributions of $50 or less. Of the $5,650, $1,900 came from people outside Austin and $500 of that was from outside Texas. Some of the local contributors included political fund-raiser Alfred Stanley; attorneys David Frederick and Amy Johnson, of the environmental law firm Henry Lowerre Johnson and Frederick; Ken Manning, environmental policy manager for the Lower Colorado River Authority; environmental engineer Lauren Ross, of Glenrose Engineering; Steve Beers and Dick Kallerman, of the Austin Sierra Club; Sabino Renteria, chair of the United East Austin Coalition; and Kent Butler from the University of Texas' Community and Regional Planning Program. Alvarez has loaned his campaign $1,500. His major expenditures so far include $400 for rent on a campaign office, $1,250 for Campaign Manager Matt Watson, and $1,300 for consultants Blizzard Fawal & Associates. Last night the campaign headquarters was full of noisy energy as Alvarez' Latino community steering committee gathered for a strategy session.

Quintanilla, 53 years of age, is a self-employed attorney and member of the Austin Community College board. He plans to hold his official campaign kickoff rally and fund-raiser Feb. 8 at Serranos at Symphony Square, starting at 6 p.m. So far he has not hired a consultant or campaign manager, but plans to do so by the time of his announcement. "I'm talking to people and collecting checks," Quintanilla says. Quintanilla was appointed to the ACC board and ran unopposed to keep the job. His only previous political contest was for president of the Austin Independent School District board of trustees in 1994. He says he raised about $30,000 for that election and placed second behind Kathy Rider, who unseated incumbent Beatriz de la Garza. Quintanilla was born in El Campo and came to Austin in 1964 to attend the University of Texas.

Pennington, 62 years of age, is on leave from the City of Austin and her retirement becomes official at the end of the month, she says. She was employed by the city for 23 years and was manager of senior services programs for the elderly. She plans to meet with supporters next week to decide where to set up a campaign office, who to hire as campaign manager, and firm up plans for a fund-raiser. While Pennington has never sought political office she claims experience in working in campaigns before she joined the city payroll, including those of Gonzalo Barrientos and John Treviño Jr. The candidate says she plans to make her first appeal, via mail, to some 200 friends and acquaintances by Feb. 1. Pennington was born in Galveston and came to Austin in 1965. She graduated from the Ursuline Academy in Galveston (high school) and has no college. "The Ursuline nuns gave me a good education," she says. "I did not feel handicapped by the lack of a degree."

Place 5

Council Member Bill Spelman has still not announced whether he will seek reelection and his ambivalence is reflected in the goose eggs on his contribution report. Bicyclist Amy Babich and Stephen "Twig" Meeks are running for the Place 5 seat but neither of them have raised any money yet. Spelman's been working for two and a half years on the council job and not getting the $30,000-a-year pay because the state Constitution bars state employees (he's an associate professor at UT's LBJ School of Public Affairs) from being compensated for such service. The 42-year-old incumbent could not be reached last night for a check up on whether he's running again, but as late as Jan. 10 when asked by In Fact Daily he said that he had not decided.

Babich, age 47, holds a doctorate in math from the University of Texas at Austin, the magnet that drew her to this city in 1976. She works part-time as a circulation clerk at the State Library's Talking Book Warehouse. She and husband Mike Librik also operate a small business, Easy Street Recumbents, selling bicycles. Neither Babich nor Librik, a member of the Parks and Recreation Board and the Robert Mueller Municipal Airport Redevelopment Advisory Group, own a car, and travel via bicycle. Babich tried to run for council in 1999 but her petition to get on the ballot was ruled insufficient, as were those of incumbents Beverly Griffith and Daryl Slusher. "This time we'll turn everything in before the deadline," Babich says, adding signatures will be verified well in advance. She says she will forego traditional election techniques like direct mail ("I think they're gross) and will campaign through word of mouth and candidate forums.

Meeks first filed a treasurer's designation to run for council in November 1998 (In Fact No. 170), to oppose incumbent Daryl Slusher's reelection bid. Ultimately he did not make the ballot. The most attention Meeks has gotten from the media was when Rich Oppel, editor of the Austin American-Statesman, ridiculed him with an editorial last Aug. 8 because Meeks, who was homeless at the time, told Oppel he would not take a job in construction. Meeks filed a new treasurer's designation Nov. 4 to run for Place 5 in the 2000 City Council election but the City Clerk's office had no contribution report for him yesterday. He could not be reached last night for comment.

Place 6

Council Member Willie Lewis, age 63, is seeking a second term and held his first fund-raiser Tuesday night (In Fact Daily Jan. 19), too late for inclusion on his contribution report this time. Lewis is being challenged by Thomas "Hollywood" Henderson, a former football star with the Dallas Cowboys, and Danny Thomas, an Austin police officer. Both filed treasurer's designations recently and thus were not required to file contribution reports. Neither Henderson nor Thomas could be reached for comment yesterday. Both have been featured in stories by the Austin American-Statesman, Henderson on Jan. 14 and Thomas on Jan. 19. Through Dec. 31 Lewis showed no funds raised, but his report indicates that he is still carrying a $15,000 debt from his first council race in 1997, money that he loaned to his campaign. Lewis retired from the U.S. Air Force in 1980 and later retired from Lockheed. Lewis unseated controversial incumbent Eric Mitchell in 1997, raising $115,000 in that campaign, not counting loans of more than $24,000.

Wild card

Paul "Chip" Howe filed a treasurer's designation Dec. 7. As reported by In Fact Daily Jan. 11, Howe is a clinical coordinator for brain-injured adults with the Mary Lee Foundation Rehabilitation Center. He has a bachelor's degree from the University of Texas and a master's degree in child psychology from Incarnate Word College in San Antonio. Howe, age 48, has not decided which place on the council he will seek.

On-site sewage task force disagrees over definitions and grandfathering

Glacial pace marks effort to rerwrite rules stricter than state minimum standards

Members of the three-commission task force looking at the city's proposed on-site sewage system (OSSF) regulations Thursday grappled with the question of grandfathering systems that were installed before adoption of the current regulations. During the discussion it became clear that different committee members, staff and consultants had very different ideas about what kind of inspections the city would be doing under the new regulations.

Mary Bell Lockhart, environmental programs manager for the Austin/Travis County Health Department, said she thought a septic system that had been previously licensed by the city would only need a cursory inspection. However, if there were no records on the system, it would be necessary to uncover it for inspection.

Water and Wastewater Commissioner Harriet Harris said if there were only going to be a cursory inspection, the inspector would have to note that on the report. Susan Parten, an engineer for Community Environmental Services, a consultant to the city, said the inspector would have to open the septic tank to determine that it was not leaking. She suggested that old systems be grandfathered if they have functioning equipment connected to a drain field and have tanks that are not leaking. Assistant City Attorney John Steiner, who has been working on drafting the ordinance, was asked to work Parten's definition into the part of the ordinance dealing with relicensing.

Jeff Snowden, an engineer and a persistent critic of the proposed new rules, said, "The ordinance demands that you put in very good (new) systems and yet you're going to relicense systems that are not near as good. Are we comfortable accepting systems that are nowhere as good (as the new ones)?"

Steiner said, "This is a difficult public policy issue," and one appropriately addressed by the committee.

For Steve Hay, a member of the Long Canyon Homeowners Association, the discussion proved what he had been thinking–that the ordinance is unclear and therefore could be enforced differently by different inspectors. The homeowners association rewrote the ordinance and presented it to the committee, stating, "The current ordinance language allows city staff to make unilateral determinations that could require a property owner to dig up and/or replace an existing on-site sewage facility based on assumptions and technical theory, not site-specific conditions."

Last month an attorney for the association said the approximately 300 homes in the Long Canyon neighborhood were annexed only for planning and zoning purposes, so the OSSF rules would not apply to his clients immediately. However, Jim Nias said the residents fear that they will be annexed for full purposes when the city takes up annexation again. The majority of homeowners in the area would have gotten their operating licenses 10 to 15 years ago, he said ( In Fact Daily Dec. 9).

At one point in the meeting, several committee members were talking on top of one another and no one could complete a sentence without being interrupted. Water and Wastewater Commissioner Jim Haley told the group, "I'm clamoring to hear a complete sentence at any time."

The same group will meet again Feb. 3 at 6:30 p.m. to resume discussion on the proposed ordinance.

E-mail water scare a hoax…Though the e-mail was anonymous and the allegations of dangers in treated drinking water seemed specious, Randy Goss, director of Austin's Water and Wastewater Department, took the matter seriously. On Jan. 19 he sent a lengthy e-mail to mayor and council members to refute allegations that Austin's drinking water had tested positively for the Epstein-Barr Virus. While he was at it Goss allayed any concerns over the possible contamination of drinking water by MTBE (methyl tertiary butyl ether), an additive used in vehicle fuel that is unregulated in Texas. "While we always take any threat or concern seriously, this event appears to be a hoax or some sort of scare tactic," Goss wrote… Litter patrol…A Barton Creek Greenbelt Cleanup is set for Saturday, Jan. 29, starting at 9 a.m. Sponsored by the Barton Hills Neighborhood Association, volunteers are asked to assemble at the back entrance to Barton Springs Pool, dressed for work in rough terrain… Out of hock…The contribution and expenditure reports filed Jan. 15 by the three incumbents who won reelection last year without a runoff shows all three are debt free: Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman and Council Members Beverly Griffith and Daryl Slusher reported no loans outstanding.

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