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Committee struggles to complete new rules for on-site sewage facilities

Friday, March 17, 2000 by

Industry members continue to disrupt meetings

As members of the city's committee to recommend new regulations for on-site sewage facilities (OSSF) struggle to wade through the more than 50-page document, the audience is allowed to interrupt, ask irrelevant questions and argue with the staff and committee members. Water and Wastewater Commissioner Harriet Harris, a member of the committee, is fed up. Following Thursday night's two and a half hour meeting, Harris told Water and Wastewater Commissioner Mike Wilson, the committee chair, "You've got to chair this meeting. I'm really upset about this." She asked Wilson to stop members of the audience from interrupting the proceedings.

Wilson said he would consider her comments, but he said the reason industry members, like Jeff Snowde n, continue to interrupt to complain about the rules is "they feel they haven't been heard." Then Wilson told Harris she hadn't heard the industry point of view because she had not attended the stakeholder hearings. Harris retorted that the industry point of view is noted throughout the draft rules.

The group has been meeting since last fall, spending two months meeting with stakeholders, including representatives of septic installers, sanitarians, real estate interests, and homeowners who are worried that annexation will mean having to install new systems. Snowden, an engineer who designs and installs OSSF systems, told the committee last December that the city should simply adopt the state minimum rules and enforce them. ( In Fact Daily Dec. 8, 1999) But the whole point of the city making its own rules is to offer more environmental and health protection than is offered by the state rules, which were written by the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission (TNRCC). The city has been enforcing the state rules for more than a year. TNRCC must approve any new rules the city wishes to enforce in the future.

Committee members approved five sections of the regulations Thursday, including one that sparked arguments over what types of septic systems should be designed by engineers and what types could be designed by sanitarians. Buzz Avery, committee member and chair of the Environmental Board, said, "I would like to find a way to get sanitarians to do more complex design work," than that described in the draft rule. Wilson said, "I have a problem with putting people out of work." Susan Parten of Community Environmental Services Inc., a consultant on OSSFs, said, "It's only since Austin adopted the minimal state standards that sanitarians could do a lot of design work."

Harris said, "I have a problem turning this into an employment situation. I think we should be dealing with it as an environmental and health situation." Seyed Miri of the Water and Wastewater Department said, "There are some complex systems that cannot be designed by sanitarians." However, Miri said, in reviewing the systems that come into the utility for approval, he has not seen any complex systems designed by sanitarians. "They lack the background, training and education" needed for that kind of design work, he said.

Assistant City Attorney John Steiner helped settle the argument by saying, "We can't tell somebody who is licensed by state law that they can't do something state law gives him an affirmative right to do. Whatever we say, state law is going to govern." Others noted that there is disagreement between TNRCC and the agency governing engineers about what types of work may be done by nonengineers. "You need to decide as a policy matter what you don't want sanitarians to do," Steiner said. The group approved the draft section, with Water and Wastewater Commissioner Jim Haley noting, "This is effectively a human compromise, so people can stop arguing," about the section. Haley, an attorney, and Wilson, an engineer, voted against the section.

A section on spray irrigation was postponed after it became clear that the discussion would be lengthy. Mary Bell Lockhart, of the Health Department, said she had just received comments on the section from the Watershed Protection Department (WPD) and wanted time to discuss those comments with WPD staff before proceeding with that section of the regulations. Lockhart said sanitarians generally agree that state rules governing spray irrigation need strengthening.

The group's next meeting is scheduled for March 30. Steiner told In Fact Daily he believes the committee has completed work on about 80 percent of the document. After the committee is done, the various commissions will probably be asked to make a recommendation before the ordinance is sent to the City Council. TNRCC must approve the ordinance before it takes effect.

Linda Curtis shakes up Place 5 council race by jumping into fray

Curtis the fifth candidate with eyes on Spelman's vacated council seat

Local hell-raiser Linda Curtis is running another petition drive. Nothing novel about that, except this time it's the petition to get her name on the ballot for the Place 5 City Council seat being vacated by Bill Spelman. She filed a statement with the City Clerk's office March 15, naming James M. Ebert as her campaign treasurer. Curtis had been running for District 48 state representative as the Reform Party candidate but withdrew because of "ballot access problems," she tells In Fact Daily.

"People have been asking me for years to run for council and I just got disgusted enough to do it," Curtis says. What disgusted her? "As I got more and more into the LCRA ( Lower Colorado River Authority) water deal and how the decision was made, I got so outraged," says Curtis, referring to the $100 million the City of Austin paid the LCRA to secure its water supply through 2050. Curtis got so outraged, in fact, that she held a press conference Jan. 27 to announce she had formed a political action committee called RAKET, Reformers Appalled at Kirk's Ethical Transgressions." (See In Fact Daily Jan. 27, 2000.) The group's purpose was to drum up candidates to run against Mayor Kirk Watson, who is seeking a second term. In return Watson joked he was forming a PAC himself called HAHA, Help Abolish Horrible Acronyms. Curtis then took her outrage a step further, announcing on Feb. 23 that she was filing a criminal complaint with the District Attorney's office alleging that a violation of the Open Meetings Act may have occurred in connection with the LCRA water agreement. Curtis tells In Fact Daily the D.A. wouldn't touch it but the County Attorney's office is now looking into the matter.

While pushing her petitions in front of Whole Foods Market, Curtis says, she's taking time to talk to voters about the City Council and claims what she's hearing isn't good. "People are not happy with the way they're conducting business–and I'm here at Whole Foods, the council's turf, not Circle C," Curtis says. "I've had so many complaints from people all over town who are sympathetic to this council but are being treated badly. There needs to be a shakeup," she says.

Her campaign strategy will be to build coalitions with "newly annexed voters…and some people who are getting the council run-around," says Curtis, who was active in trying to prevent the massive annexations that the council approved in late 1997. One gimmick the group, which was funded by the Taxpayers Defense Fund, used was passing out wooden-handled, paper fans with Mayor Watson's face on one side and "Slow Down!" on the other.

Of course Curtis was no fan of Watson's before that. She served as campaign manager for former Council Member Max Nofziger when he ran for mayor in 1997, finishing far behind Watson and former Council Member Ronney Reynolds. In that campaign, Nofziger circulated phony money with Watson's picture on it labeled "United Special Interests of Austin," and "5,000 bucks," to criticize the large number of $5,000 contributions Watson got from lawyers. Nofziger also lambasted Watson's environmental record as chair of the Texas Air Control Board, triggering a backlash from environmentalists who had already aligned with Watson. If you get the idea that Curtis and Watson might have some healing to do before they can work together, should they both wind up on the dais after this election season, you may be right.

Asked about her campaign budget, Curtis says that former Council Member George Humphrey told her to raise at least $40,000. "I'm trying to find 200 people at $100 apiece to get $20,000 quickly," she says. "I want to raise $20,000 in two weeks." She's no novice in fund-raising, having run canvass operations. She also helped raise money for Lenora Fulani, who twice ran for president. "Hopefully I'll be a competitor," Curtis says.

Curtis works for the Gallup Organization as an interviewer and says she would have to take a pay cut if she leaves her job to work full time as a $30,000-a-year council member. She has reduced her workload to 15 hours a week to campaign for the City Council position. Curtis, 49 years of age, graduated from North Miami High School and has an associate degree from the University of Florida, she says. She left college to work in the anti-war movement and women's movement of the early 1970s where, she says, "I was learning more than in college." She founded women's clinics and later worked as a grassroots organizer in some poverty stricken areas. "I learned what it's like in poor communities and how they changed when they were embraced. I wanted to do something about poverty and for people being left out and ignored."

Curtis has been engaged in third-party politics for decades, including Ross Perot's United We Stand, the Patriot Party and the Reform Party, but she's best known locally for sparkplugging petition drives aimed directly at the City Council. In 1995, she led a petition drive for Save Austin From Extravagance (SAFE), which quickly raised an estimated 20,000 signatures and forced the City Council to put on the ballot a $10 million bond issue to help build a minor league baseball stadium. The grassroots effort to force the election stemmed from the council's stated intent to declare an emergency and issue certificates of obligation to pay the city's share of the stadium cost. Noting the success of the petition drive, the ballteam owner and City Council decided to call the election before the petitions got to the City Clerk. Once the measure was on the ballot, Curtis co-founded Priorities First! to oppose it. At polling places, the stadium bonds struck out with voters. (See In Fact Nos. 10, 11, and 13, September and October 1995.) Today Round Rock has a minor league baseball team and a new stadium and Austin does not, but that was the will of Austin voters.

Former Council Member Bob Larson led SAFE and worked with Curtis on the petition drive that brought about the baseball election. He didn't know Curtis was going to run for City Council but when informed said, "I'm excited. She has a lot of energy and some good ideas–and some bad ones. It would be good to get her in there and shake things up." Larson added, "Linda would make things interesting–I might start watching Channel 6."

Curtis' other big local achievement was the leading the petition drive for Austinites for a Little Less Corruption to reform campaign financing of council elections. When City Clerk Elden Aldridge ruled the petitions insufficient, the group filed a lawsuit that wound up in a trial before U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks. The judge ruled in favor of the petitioners, ordered an election be held, and wrote a scathing opinion that was probably a factor in Aldridge's eventual forced retirement. When the measure got on the ballot in November 1997 voters approved it overwhelmingly. Curtis later repudiated the reforms and said they were flawed, but noted the election had been but a first step in a long-term effort to clean up elections.

Jeff Heckler of the Solutions Group worked with Curtis to resist the annexations of 1997 and to boost the campaign finance measure. Heckler says he had already agreed to back Clare Barry for Place 5 before Curtis decided to run. "Overall, I think anyone of her talent should run," Heckler says. "She will raise some issues that need to be raised. You can always count on a lot of juicy quotes and a lot of activity." One example, during the height of the battle over the bond election for a baseball stadium, Curtis said: " KLBJ (radio) and the Statesman wouldn't know a grass-roots campaign if it bit them in the butt." (In Fact No. 13.)

"People who don't even like me I hope will vote for me to have a little entertainment and diversity on the council," Curtis says. "Can you imagine me and Kirk on the same council?"

Cab driver third to enter race against Mayor Kirk Watson

Dale Reed would expand roads, halt light rail, and annex to county line

Honk. Honk. Move it over, Mac. A new candidate has gunned his way into the race to be the next mayor of Austin. He's Dale Adrian Reed, a 53-year-old taxi driver for Austin Cab. Reed paid the filing fee March 15, becoming the third candidate for the mayor's job with Jennifer Lauren Gale and Albert Leslie Cochran. Mayor Kirk Watson has not filed yet but is raising money for reelection.

Asked why he was running for mayor, Reed first said, "I really don't know," then added, "I'm a cab driver and I'm out in traffic all day. I know the conditions of roads and streets. I think streets should be rebuilt and expanded, not all of them." Other issues? "I'm against light rail–it will cause more congestion than it cures." Reed says that he understands in peak hours light rail will dispatch cars every two or three minutes and at each place the rail line crosses a street it will cause traffic bars to come down, thus impeding traffic.

Ignoring the fact that other cities often incorporate to avoid being swallowed up by City of Austin, Reed said, "I'd like to expand the city limits to the county line and consolidate the county and city. I'd ask the outlying cities to come into the city. I figure if I could get these guys it would lower Austin's tax and raise the others to meet in the middle, say 35 cents (per $100 valuation). It would really be good for the city as a whole."

Reed says he will not hire a consultant and will act as his own campaign manager. His campaign budget? "I need to raise at least $100,000. I'm going to try to do it. I will give it a shot." Where will he get such an amount? "I don't know where," he says. The new candidate says he's never run for office but picked the mayor's spot because, "The mayor will be the one who's able to do anything. The mayor sets the agenda. I didn't feel like I would fit in as a council member."

Reed says he has been in Austin since 1991 and formerly was an owner-operator of three cabs with American Yellow Checker Cab Co. "I now drive for other owners," he says.

Reed says he was born in San Antonio and graduated from Natalia High School in 1965, earned an associate's degree in police science from Los Angeles City College in 1971, and a bachelor of science degree in law enforcement from Southwest Texas State University in 1975. Though educated for police work, he says he couldn't pass the physical in either Los Angeles or Austin due to a leg injury that prevented him from running. Reed said he recently retired from the Civil Air Patrol.

Barry kicks off campaign… Mary Clare Barry held her first fund-raiser last night, drawing 54 people to Threadgill's World Headquarters despite howling winds, tornado warnings and thunderstorms in some parts of Austin. Though Barry's never run for office, she knows one thing: don't talk too long. "To tell you why I'm running I would have to tell you the story of my life," Barry told a crowd of about 30 midway through the two-hour event, "and because I'm running I've learned to do that in three minutes. I come from a large and loving family. I have many friends. And I would not be here but for the love of strangers. I want to give back some of that love," she said. One of her goals is to provide leadership to Austin newcomers so they know what to preserve. "More than a few people were skeptical of my chances of winning," Barry said. "I think we've changed their minds," she added, referring to the fact she has all the consultants who managed Bill Spelman's campaign in 1997, including Blizzard Fawal & Associates. Her campaign manager is Xen Oden. Informed that Linda Curtis had just declared for Place 5, Barry said, "I'm sorry to hear that. I think that will pull votes from me." Amy Babich has already filed for Place 5 and Will Wynn and Paul "Chip" Howe are expected to do so… Cap Met vet opposes light rail…He served three years on the Capital Metro board and was chair in 1988 and 1990, but Steve Bayer says he will campaign against light rail. His board rolled back the sales tax from a penny to three-quarter cent and abolished fares, which boosted ridership. He says the bus system is not working properly now and as one example cites plans to cut buses from the No. 7 bus route despite packed buses and no seats for riders now… Smart Growth hearing…The Urban Transportation Commission will hold a public hearing Monday, March 20 in the 8th floor conference room at One Texas Center, 505 Barton Springs Road. The purpose is to hear community input on the transportation element of the Smart Growth Master Planning Guideline. The meeting starts at 6 p.m. For more info, call George Adams at 499-2146… Howe about money…Place 5 council candidate Paul "Chip" Howe will hold a fund-raiser Sunday, March 26, 2-6 p.m. at The Pier on Lake Austin, featuring Tim Nolan and the Time Bombs. On Wednesday, March 29, he's holding a campaign meeting at the Old Alligator Grill on South Lamar 5:30-6:30 p.m. For more info call 442-6700 or e-mail

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