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New police contract would

Friday, February 9, 2001 by

Raise salaries by $40 million

Civilian oversight 'neutered,' police critic says

The Austin Police Department has committed to spend more than $40 million over the next three years to recruit and retain police officers.

Officers will review the results of the 11 months of negotiations—which Chief Stan Knee calls a “handshake agreement”—in the next two to three weeks. The new contract will then go before the City Council by mid-March. The agreement includes both a citizens oversight office and a variety of incentives for both new recruits and existing officers.

Detective Mike Sheffield, president of the Austin Police Association, called the agreement fair and thanked the 1,200 members of the APA for their patience.

“I want to thank the rank and file for allowing us to finish the process, knowing that there were very high profile issues,” said Sheffield, who considers the contract fair to both sides.

The citizen oversight function for the department will include the appointment of an Austin Police Monitor’s office, which will cost the city $619,000. The City Manager will hire the monitor and an assistant monitor, who will review complaints that are not resolved by the Internal Affairs division to the satisfaction of the complainant, are serious enough to involve civil rights violations or show a pattern of abuse.

Knee said the monitor would have unfettered access to the entire police investigation process, with the exception of the administrative hearing. He called the idea of bringing all sides to the table in the process as a “true partnership.”

The City Manager will also appoint a seven-member volunteer Austin Police Review Panel. Appointments will be made after recommendation by the City Council. The panel will meet monthly and be briefed by all sides on the various complaints.

Scott Henson, a member of the Police Oversight Focus Group (POFG), which spent nine months studying various systems of oversight before making recommendations last May, was disappointed by the proposed contract. He told In Fact Daily the group’s recommendations had been “gutted like a fish” during the meet and confer process. (See In Fact Daily, June 2 & June 8, 2000).

“They took every significant piece we thought gave real accountability and neutered it down to nothing,” said Henson, a co-founder of the Sunshine Project for Police Accountability. He said he felt betrayed by Sheffield, a member of the POFG, because Sheffield had signed off on the group’s recommendations before those recommendations were taken to the contract conferees.

Knee said the pay raise would make Austin “very competitive” with other Texas cities. If the contract is approved by the City Council, the department will spend $32 million for pay increases over the next three years. Other incentives include stipends for bilingual officers and college degrees, shift differential for working evening shifts and additional pay for field-training officers. Education will be considered as “points” in the promotion of police officers.

Knee labeled points in the contract as management gains, mutual gains and police association gains. One of the biggest gains to management—outside of the civilian oversight commission—was the extension of officer probation from one year to 18 months. Because training can take up to 44 weeks, the department often has only “a few short weeks” to determine the capability of officers, Knee said.

He also said the newly-created ranking of corporal for patrol officers—which would put them on par with detectives—was “very significant.” Knee pointed out that the rank would allow patrol officers to be promoted directly to sergeant, which should encourage them to remain in the department.

This was the second round of meet and confer negotiations between the department and the association. Sen. Gonzalo Barrientos (D-Austin) and former State Rep. Susan Combs, who now serves as Agriculture Commissioner, proposed the meet and confer legislation approved by the Legislature in 1995.

Council grants variance

To Temple Beth Israel

Synagogue built before bridge put it in flood plain

The City Council voted 6-0 yesterday to approve a variance allowing Temple Beth Israel, 3901 Shoal Creek Blvd., to expand its existing facility by building in the 100-year flood plain. Council Member Will Wynn, who has been ill all week, was absent.

The synagogue plans to add a classroom, an administration building, remodel an existing structure, build a parking garage and increase surface parking. Staff recommended granting the variance, in part because the 38th Street bridge, built by the city in 1953, obstructs the flow of water in Shoal Creek to such an extent that it elevated the flood plain well into the temple tract. The synagogue was built six years before the city built the bridge. (See In Fact Daily, Nov. 16, 2000)

In addition, the temple grounds contain a unique wetland, according to Mike Lyday, a senior environmental scientist with the city. He said the wetland on the site serves to mitigate water quality problems from runoff.

George Oswald, with the Watershed Protection Department, told the Council the Planning Commission had recommended the variance while the Environmental Board last week recommended denial. However, the Environmental Board had previously recommended granting the variance, he said. Attorney Richard Suttle of Armbrust Brown & Davis represented Temple Beth Israel.

Four citizens signed up to speak at the public hearing on the variance. None spoke but all expressed support for granting the variance.

In other action, the Council gave the green light for St. Michael’s Episcopal Church to include an additional driveway for church members to get in and out of the facility at Loop 360 near St. Stephens School Road.

The council also voted 6-0 to amend the Davenport West Planned Unit Development (PUD) to allow additional access as well as to reduce setbacks stipulated in the Hill Country Roadway Ordinance (HCRO). Attorney Glenn Weichert represented the church.

Mayor Pro-Tem Jackie Goodman said granting this amendment was in the spirit of the HCRO, since that law was designed more for aesthetics than for environmental protection.( See In Fact Daily, Jan. 31, 2001)

Everyone who signed up to speak at the public hearing on the PUD expressed support of the amendment.

The Council postponed action on several development cases, including a request by Missile Partners Associates, L.P. and Burleson Road Investments, which are seeking approval to amend their Planned Development Agreement at 6800 Burleson Road. Travis Used Cars, which is asking to change the zoning at 6114 E. Riverside Drive from SF-3 (single family) to CS-CO (commercial services-conditional overlay) also asked and was granted a postponement. Neighbors have a valid petition against the requested change, which means that six positive votes are required to grant the request.

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

City Council appointments . . . Michelle Brinkman and Dana Lockler were reappointed to the Urban Transportation Commission Thursday. Eleanor Powell was reappointed to the Travis Central Appraisal District and Mimi Martinez-McKay was reappointed to the Library Commission. Mayor Kirk Watson appointed Philip Bellard, Chip Howe and Ron Lucey to the Mayor’s Committee for People with Disabilities and Kelli White to the Child Care Council. Mayor ProTem Jackie Goodman and Council Member Will Wynn appointed David Donnelly and Dr. Donald Patrick, respectively, to the EMS Quality Assurance Team . . . Candidate. . . Jennifer Gale, perennial candidate and frequent speaker at the City Council, told the Council Thursday that she is planning another run for Mayor. She criticized recent coverage of a possible mayoral race for failing to add her name to the list of probable candidates. Both the Austin Chronicle and the American-Statesman have named Council Members Daryl Slusher and Beverly Griffith and Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman as probable candidates. Gale told In Fact Daily she is also planning to run for president of the school board and for Governor as a Democrat . . . Library closings . . . The Austin Public Library Oak Hill and Windsor Branches are both closing on Monday for relabeling of books and other materials. The Oak Hill Branch will reopen on February 20 and the Windsor Branch will reopen on February 26 . . . Downtown detour changes . . . You may have become accustomed to the detour at 3rd and Guadalupe, but on Sunday that pattern will change. Southbound traffic on Guadalupe will now use 4th Street onto San Antonio to reach Cesar Chavez and the S. 1st Street Bridge. The northbound detour will also use 4th Street for motorists traveling west of Lavaca. The Austin Children’s Museum parking lot will allow local access to 3rd Street for museum patrons.

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