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In Fact Daily

Thursday, September 6, 2001 by

City Attorney Sedora Jefferson

It wasn’t a role she ever expected to play, but Austin’s new City Attorney, Sedora Jefferson, seems comfortable as the leader of the city’s Law Department. A graduate of Temple University and the University of California at Los Angeles Law School, Jefferson moved to Dallas in 1984. The following year, Jefferson said, “Luck brought me to Austin,” where she fell in love with the city and landed a job with the Texas Attorney General’s Office. She said Austin’s charm and landscape were big factors in her decision. The area reminded her of Norwalk, Connecticut, her hometown, she said.

Jefferson learned the ropes of litigation, defending state agencies against discrimination and wrongful discharge complaints. After three years, she became Assistant Chief of the Insurance, Banking & Securities division. There she continued to be involved in litigation and worked with state regulators in closing failing savings and loans.Jefferson next took a big step, moving to the Texas Department of Commerce (TDC) as General Counsel. She notes wryly that TDC has had a variety of functions, but at the time she was there, the agency was doing economic development, tourism and administering federal Job Training Partnership Act funds.

In 1995, the Attorney General’s Office called on Jefferson again, this time asking her to take over the agency’s Human Resources Division and it’s 35-member staff. “I’ve always done a lot of employment law . . . and I think it was because of my knowledge of that area that I was always picked to take on supervisory duties,” she says. After a year, Jefferson became Chief of the Administrative Law Division, which provides legal advice to 85 state agencies and represents them in court.

Three years later, when then City Attorney Andy Martin was looking for a new Chief for the city’s Employment & Housing Law Division, he hired Jefferson. About a year later, at the beginning of 2000, Jefferson became Deputy City Attorney. So, she was second in command for about a year and a half before Martin surprised her—and others—by resigning to go into private practice.

In Fact Daily asked Jefferson to describe the greatest challenge she currently faces. “The challenge seems to be more personal (than departmental), becoming familiar with all the issues,” the department faces, particularly in the land use area, she said.

Before Jefferson became City Attorney, the city hired David Donaldson and Peter Kennedy of George & Donaldson to handle a federal lawsuit filed by the Hyde Park Baptist Church in its struggle to expand in the face of city regulation and neighborhood opposition. Last week, federal district Judge James Nowlin rejected the city’s attempt to get the case dismissed. The city asked the court to abstain from hearing the case and send it to state court for a hearing under state law.

Nowlin’s ruling allows the church to move forward on its claims under the US Constitution and the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000, a law with few precedents but great potential to restrict the zoning powers of local governments. Jefferson said, “The court, in deciding not to abstain, did not rule on the merits.” When the case is heard, she said, “I feel confident that we will prevail.”

Because Jefferson is modest, In Fact Daily asked Andy Martin to describe his successor. “She gets the job done without making a big deal out of it,” he said. “I was really impressed with her managerial skills and her attention to detail as an attorney. I think she’s equally strong in both—her analytical, legal reasoning and her ability to make decisions and treat people the way they need to be treated.”

While the City Attorney is attending Council meetings, “the deputy has generally been the person who handles day-to-day things in a 55-person law office,” Martin noted. “When the deputy’s doing a good job it saves the city attorney from having to do those things,” he said.

Jefferson, who turned 42 on Labor Day, is married to CPA Carl Searles. They have a nine-year-old daughter named Paige. The attorney says she rises about 5a.m. daily, so she can get to the office early. Asked what she does in her spare time, she said, “There isn’t much in the way of spare time,” but what time she has is devoted to following her daughter’s activities, including soccer and softball.

Garcia outlines hopes for

Mayoral term at fundraiser

Strong challenger has yet to appear

About 200 supporters turned out for the first fundraiser of the short mayoral election season last night. Former Council Member Gus Garcia told the gathering that some had asked him why he would want to run during a recession. Garcia noted that he was born during the Great Depression and when he came on the City Council in 1991, the city was just coming out of a tough recession. “We prepared for how we were going to get out,” he said. “Now we’re a little bit sick again,” he said, but we don’t know whether the city simply has a cold or pneumonia.

Garcia said he would be looking at doing more public projects, listing transportation as a major priority. He said in addition to road projects, the city should focus on light rail, pedestrian and bicycle access. “As always, there is the issue of environmental protection. The environment is not going to get protected all by itself,” mentioning both air and water quality as high priorities. In addition, he said, he wants to improve Austin’s recycling system so that 50 percent or more of what is typically thrown out as trash is recycled.

The candidate also said he wants to help energize neighborhoods to maintain Austin’s quality of life. In addition, he mentioned one of his earliest political interests—education—noting that Chicago’s Mayor Daley is encouraging his constituents to read To Kill a Mockingbird this fall. Garcia began his elected civic service as a member of the Austin Independent School District board and said he is still interested in education. As mayor, he said, “I intend to use the pulpit” to encourage educational efforts.

Garcia urged his supporters to make sure all their friends are registered to vote. “I’d hate to win this election with eight percent voter turnout,” he said. Last night’s event was organized by the Hispanic Contractors’ Association. Bonding & Technical Services, Inc. was the major sponsor.

Filing for the mayor’s race begins today and lasts through Oct. 6. The election is Nov. 6. We understand that two radio personalities— Sammy Allred of KVET and Bama Brown of its sister station KASE—have announced their intentions to run for the seat. But has anyone told them the job only pays $35,000 a year?

Neighborhood activists gather

To talk about noise problems

Some say Austin is the loud music capitol of the world

Nearby neighborhoods joke they didn’t hear the Bob Marley Festival for the first time in Austin in years . . . but that’s only because the venue had been moved to San Marcos.

A growing number of neighborhood groups— Eastwoods, East Cesar Chavez, Heritage and North University among them—are questioning how the city is enforcing its noise ordinance during outdoor live music events. Tish Williams of the Heritage neighborhood—near the Rhythm House and Mango’s, in the University area—says she’s called the police almost 60 times to ask them to issue noise citations.

“Never once have they been able to cite them under the ordinance,” Williams said. “Everyone has a different interpretation, and there’s never one the same as another.”

Neighbors impacted by the noise met at Ninfa’s on Tuesday night to talk about strategy and options. Joey Rhode, who lives next to Jaime’s Spanish Village on Red River, has already sued the Red Eyed Fly to stop its outdoor concerts. Rhode likes to quote others who have asked whether Austin is the live music capitol of the world, or the loud music capitol of the world. He says plenty of the protesting neighbors are music lovers. They just don’t want to hear outdoor concerts in their living rooms at midnight.

Others are concerned about shows at downtown’s Waterloo Park. Afternoon concerts can last up to six hours and the noise can be heard as far north as 45th Street. The sound waves travel up the creek. Neighbors agree it gets wearing at times. They also say the police they have contacted have all but given up on issuing citations on the ordinance.

Why encourage downtown living in such an inhospitable environment? Williams asked the group. But Chris Riley of the Downtown Austin Neighborhood Association was not so quick to lay it at the City Council’s feet. Riley says it’s up to neighborhoods, as well as the Council, to raise the red flag on music violators. Riley also pointed out that almost every other Texas city with a noise ordinance has tougher standards than Austin.

Neighbors say that concessions made in court to clubs who challenged the ordinance four years ago hinder enforcement of the ordinance. Rhode says the ordinance requires readings on a decibel meter. Only three officers on the Austin police force are certified in their use, Rhode said.

“The current status of the ordinance make it useless,” Rhode said. “There are so many restrictions on how and when and where they can do the readings, it’s a joke.”

Rhode does suggest a standard for enforcement: 85 decibels six feet in front of the door of the club with two doors open. Most clubs with indoor music can meet that standard, Rhode said. It’s a limit that makes the music loud enough for the fans but not obtrusive for others. In New York City, where there is so much residential and club activity packed side by side, a club can be cited if music can be clearly heard inside a residence.

Anyone interested in more information can contact Mary Gay Maxwell of NUNA at marygay@io.com or call 472-5958.

2001 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.

Budget votes coming . . . The City Council will begin approving the budget for next year at a 10 a.m. Monday meeting. Barring a miracle, it will not pass on all three readings and the Council will come back on Tuesday at the same time. The final vote could be either Tuesday or Wednesday. All meetings will be held at Town Lake Center, with parking at One Texas Center, 505 Barton Springs Road . . . Lakeside condos in limbo . . . Gordon Dunaway, developer of the Monarch condominium project at the foot of Rainey Street, told In Fact Daily that Austin’s high-tech slump has put his project in a precarious position. He said he has been discussing a “friendly foreclosure” with the lender, which would mean he and the lender would “become partners.” In the meantime, Dunaway said he is still showing the site and plans to prospective buyers . . . No City Council today . . . The Council has not scheduled a regular session until September 27 . . . Zoning and Platting . . . The new Zoning and Platting Commission will meet next Tuesday in the 3rd floor conference room at One Texas Center, the same time and place as the old Planning Commission. Those familiar with the old agenda will be comforted to see that the new agenda looks exactly the same, only the name of the commission and seven of the commissioners have changed. The first order of business next week is to approve the minutes from the Aug. 28 Planning Commission meeting. The other members will just have to trust Commissioners Betty Baker and Jean Mather if they are going to vote on that item. Close to the top of the agenda is election of officers and discussion of parliamentary procedure. The agenda is about the usual length.

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