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City says cut back watering:

Monday, July 17, 2000 by

Stage II Mandatory rules in effect

Water customers must comply or face $2,000 penalty

If your swimming pool, wading pool or pond isn’t full now, you can’t fill it until the City of Austin’s water crisis is over. Likewise, no automatic irrigation of the lawn– except on your designated day between midnight and 10 a.m. Chris Lippe, director of the Water and Wastewater Utility, held a press conference outdoors Sunday to announce that Austin had entered Stage II Mandatory Use Management. Lippe said water customers used 220.3 million gallons on Saturday—enough to trigger Stage III measures, which are even more stringent.

Lippe said he was hoping that the Stage II measures would be enough to convince the public of the need to follow city regulations, so it would not be necessary to impose Stage III rules. He said “unusual circumstances” on Saturday, including the addition of new hook-ups and the need to flush some pipes, weighed in the decision to opt for Stage II levels. The utility will monitor usage carefully for the next two weeks and then decide whether to enact Stage III measures, Lippe said.

Water usage increased 31 percent between July 2 and July 15, from 167.8 million gallons to the 220 million gallons recorded Saturday. The heaviest usage for last year was 211.2 million gallons.

“We want to give the community a chance to assist us in what are now mandatory restrictions. We’ll just have to see how everything responds,” Lippe said. “We’ve never been at these record levels before.” The last time Austin had to resort to mandatory water restrictions was 1985, Lippe said. During that summer, citizens cut water usage by about 13 million gallons per day after mandatory regulations were announced.

Violators will receive a warning the first time a violation is noted. Lippe said if there is a second violation, a citation will be issued. A municipal court judge could assess a fine of up to $2,000 per violation.

The city has set up a hotline to take reports of violations and answer questions at 499-2220. For more information, go to www.ci.austin.tx.us/watercon.

Michele Middlebrook Gonzalez, the city’s public information officer, said the unusual outdoor press conference was held outside because city buildings are not air-conditioned on weekends. Even though the temperature topped 100 degrees Saturday afternoon, Gonzalez said the temperature inside Waller Creek Center would have been even higher..

Appeals Court says AISD,

Agencies, criminally liable for

Employee's illegal actions

Travis County's TAAS indictments upheld

Last week the Third Court of Appeals gave state agencies, cities, counties and other political subdivisions fair warning that they may be held criminally liable if their employees break the law while acting on behalf of the agency or entity. In an opinion authored by Justice Jan Patterson, the Austin appellate court rejected an appeal from the Austin Independent School District (AISD), which had asked the court to declare unconstitutional Section 7.22 (a) of the Texas Penal Code.

Travis County Attorney Ken Oden obtained 16 indictments of the school district in April 1999 for violations of the Penal Code related to tampering with government records. According to the indictments, Ricky Arredondo, an AISD employee, was acting “within the scope of his employment” when he altered district records in order to improve school ratings in the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills (TAAS) test. The indictments said the district was responsible for the tampering done by its agent, Arredondo.

The three-judge court agreed with Judge David Crain of Travis County Court at Law No. 3 in upholding the constitutionality of a provision of law allowing indictment of the district.

School Board President Kathy Rider was on vacation and could not be reached for comment. However, Rider told the American-Statesman the board would have to meet with its attorneys before deciding whether to appeal to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. The district’s criminal defense attorney, Chris Gunter, did not return a phone call from In Fact Daily.

Cristen Feldman, a attorney with Texans for Public Justice, told In Fact Daily, “The case has implications well beyond AISD. Ex parte AISD will increase accountability pertaining to state agencies. State agencies should now pay closer attention to the activity of their employees, since they therefore can be held liable themselves. I think across the board, it increases accountability,” he said, regardless of the type of governmental entity involved.

Feldman, who serves the watchdog group as a National Association for Public Interest Law Fellow, said, “I’m not in favor of employers looking to see how many paperclips an employee has in his or her desk. That’s not what this case is about. It’s about greater accountability in terms of criminal wrongdoing. Potentially, the Travis County Attorney will have jurisdiction over a lot of state activity. Where the District Attorney could not or wasn’t bringing a criminal claim, the County Attorney now has the potential to do so.”

Feldman said the level of culpability required under the misdemeanor section of laws relating to illegal acts by employees is much lower than what would be required for filing of felony charges. For that reason, he said, Oden is in a stronger position to prosecute governmental entities for criminal wrongdoing.

“Now we have the potential for County Attorney to bring a misdemeanor claim against an association– and encompassed in association is a state agency– and the threshold is just basic principles of agency. Due to the basic dynamics of agency law principles, that means those state agencies themselves should pay closer attention to the actions of their employees,” Feldman said. A spokesman for County Attorney Ken Oden said Oden was out of town and could not be reached for comment. Deputy Superintendent Kay Psencik was also charged with tampering with TAAS records. Psencik's attorney, Charles Burton, of Minton Burton Foster & Collins, said the former district employee's trial date has not been set. He said he had not read the new ruling and could not comment.

Too hot to talk about…While Austin Energy says it hit a record peak load on Friday—2,216MW—mum’s the word from the Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA). Robert Cullick, executive manager of communications and corporate strategy for the LCRA, said Sunday that the river authority did experience peak electric usage on both Friday and Saturday. However, he said he could no longer give out exact figures. That data is now confidential, he said. “The market watches everybody’s numbers very, very closely and the degree to which you need electricity will have something to do with the price you pay for it.” Cullick was referring to the price of electricity on the spot market. That price “changes every day. It changes every hour. But if we say yesterday we peaked out at a certain amount, people know generally how much we can make, and therefore they know how much we have to buy. They’ll know how much we’re looking for in the market. That would put our customers at a disadvantage,” since additional usage costs are passed on to the utility’s customers. The information was not confidential on Thursday, when the agency reported it had hit 2,514 MW on Wednesday. On Sunday, Cullick said the figures were “commensurate with the rate of growth in this region. When it’s really hot, everybody has their air conditioners on. The peak is about the same as the growth rate for this region.”

More rolls downhill…The Water and Wastewater Commission subcommittee studying the proposed on site sewage facilities ordinance will meet at 6 p.m. today in Room 101, Waller Creek Center, 625 E. 10th Street. Commissioner Lanetta Cooper will moderate the discussion.

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