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APA Chief expresses concern

Monday, February 5, 2001 by

That Griffith will oppose contract

Council Member says she has taken no position

Sources inside City Hall are telling Sgt. Mike Sheffield, president of the Austin Police Association, (APA) that his organization has solid support among six City Council Members for a pay raise and other items APA has negotiated with city staff. Sheffield told In Fact Daily Sunday that he expects to issue a press release early this week announcing the agreement.

In an e-mail forwarded by Texas Monthly publisher Mike Levy, Sheffield expressed concern that Council Member Beverly Griffith might attack the proposal. Griffith said Sunday night, “Whoever informed Mike Sheffield that I had taken a position of any kind on the contract is totally incorrect.” The City Council has been briefed on the proposed contract in executive session but no vote has been taken.

Griffith said, “I am enormously supportive of the police and their mission and I always have been. I have voted for every item that the police chief has recommended.”

Sheffield sees it differently. He wrote, “This one council member has never come out as a strong supporter, nor has she been overly interested in the policing of Austin, except to complain about how much money we cost the city, and absolutely never misses a chance to complain and criticize the department and its officers behind the scenes and refer to us as ‘little Pac men gobbling up the budget money like the little dots on the video game screen.’”

Griffith denied using the Pac man analogy to describe the police.

According to Sheffield, his unnamed source has said that Griffith would “be questioning, then attacking our pay increases. We are hoping and praying this is not the case.”

Griffith said she has not taken a position on the contract and cannot do so until she receives more information on the city’s income stream. She said she had arranged for a briefing from the Finance Department. Any item of more than $39,000 on the agenda would carry a notation on where the money would be coming from, Griffith noted. When negotiations with the APA started, the police were asking for about $52 million.

City revenues are down as a result of a decline in sales tax collections, so some incentives may have to be funded later rather than sooner, according to one City Hall source.

“There are issues in this contract that the City and APA spent months negotiating that are critical to the ability of the Austin Police Department to fill its vacancies and function with the trust and the support of the citizens it is asked to serve and protect, especially in light of the current round of headlines in the Austin American Statesman,” Sheffield wrote. Presumably, he was referring to headlines concerning Chris Ochoa, who was recently exonerated and released from prison. Ochoa claimed that a member of the department coerced him into confessing to a murder he did not commit.

Sheffield said Sunday the department currently has 1,140 officers and a cadet class of between 30 and 33. The authorized strength of APD is 1,215, he said, but it is not easy to maintain that level with a normal rate of attrition. Police believe a higher entry-level salary would attract more cadet candidates.

Sheffield said his remarks about Griffith were “based on what I’m hearing from other people. I hope I’m wrong. I hope it’s just the stuff that floats around City Hall.” In his missive to Levy, Sheffield commented, “We don’t know how good our sources are . . .” To that, Griffith responded, “That’s a hoot!”

Futrell reacts to criticism

Of City Hall design concept

Deputy City Manager finds dialogue mean-spirited

Deputy City Manager Toby Futrell has served notice that she is fed up with the “‘design by committee’ campaign” of Carl Tepper of the Urban Transportation Commission, and others who have attacked Antoine Predock’s conceptual plan for the new City Hall. The City Council approved the conceptual design last week.

In an e-mail disseminated by Texas Monthly publisher Mike Levy last week, Tepper said, “People with taste spread the word: Please attend the city council meeting (last Thursday) and state your oppossition (sic) to your tax dollars being utilized for a drug induced crate stacking experiment.”

In an e-mail sent to Levy, Futrell responds, “Although I know I am going to regret entering this mean-spirited dialogue,” she finds that “the tone and content of many of the comments you are passing (are) reminiscent of Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead .” Levy regularly forwards comments from City Hall critics on a number of issues, including the architectural plan. In a preamble to her comments, Levy says Futrell “represents the very best of the best of people who have dedicated their careers, and their lives, to public service.”

Futrell points out that “funding for the City Hall project was finally made possible after many decades because it could be funded through two funding sources, none that would compete with the many unfunded bond project needs of Austin . . .”

Architects Antoine Predock and Juan Cotera were selected to design the project “through an exhaustive competitive process, which included public, staff and Council input. Both are highly respected, proven and experienced architects,” Futrell continues, insisting that the architects are committed to listening to public input and incorporating those “ideas that help reflect the character of Austin as they move through this process from concept design to schematic design.”

Futrell says she is offended “by the incredibly mean-spirited comments you have been passing along from a handful of people who chose not to compete for the job of designing the City Hall or were not qualified to compete for that job in the first place.” Defending Predock and Cotera, she concludes, “Austin does not deserve to end up with a muddled architectural statement of a building designed vicariously by a self-appointed committee.”

“Great buildings are not about the lowest common denominator,” she says.

“Additionally, I am astonished that any professional architect, who either did not compete for or did not get selected for a job, would throw rocks from the outside at the design concept of an architect who did compete for and win a job.” Futrell said.

In another e-mail sent out by Levy, Bill Bunch, executive director of the Save Our Springs Alliance, notes that his organization supported the move by Computer Sciences Corp. from its planned building over the Edwards Aquifer to downtown. He says he was surprised to learn later than CSC had not assigned its environmentally sensitive land to the city since the company was building on city-owned land. However, he says, “The CSC folks did, through the process, show that they were listening to community input, so it's not so farfetched that if a letter writing campaign were started to lift the size restrictions, the city could at least build a decent sized facility and—in my humble opinion—include a decent library as well.”

Bunch shows his sense of humor, describing his preferred amenity to the new City Hall as “a rooftop beer garden with large TV screens protected by plastic that would show the council hearings and people could safely throw spoiled fruit, stale beer, etc. at the screens when they felt like we often do.”

©2001 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.

Grand opening . . . The old Bergstrom Air Force Base doughnut has been transformed into a four-star Hilton Hotel, which will have its grand opening at 6 p.m. today. Hilton International, the City of Austin and the builder, the Landmark Organization, are hosting the celebration with music, a light show and ceremonies featuring Mayor Kirk Watson . . . The Austin area Urban League’s Equal Opportunity Day Banquet will honor Ada Anderson with the Whitney M. Young Award. The award is presented each year to a member of the community who has removed barriers to equal access and opportunity. Anderson founded the Leadership Enrichment Arts Program to encourage minority youth to become involved in cultural resources. She is also a member of the board of the Austin Lyric Opera. The banquet will be Friday night at the Renaissance Austin Hotel. For more information call 478-7176 or 494-1959 . . . We feel your pain . . . Delegates from Kwangmyong, Korea are visiting Austin this week. The visitors will be learning how Austin deals with explosive growth and the problems that go along with that, since Kwangmyong shares many of those problems. Council Member Daryl Slusher, who also serves on the board of Capital Metro, will host a rail and transportation briefing for the group on Wednesday.

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