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Some candidates have not done their homework

Tuesday, March 26, 2002 by

Nine of the thirteen aspirants for Austin City Council took the opportunity Tuesday night to further reveal their personalities and political postures at a North Austin Civic Association (NACA) candidate forum.

The meeting, in the Lanier High School auditorium, attracted about 35 people. Candidates each made a two-minute opening statement and then had one minute to answer specific pre-selected questions.

The candidate forum provided first-time hopefuls with an opening to pitch their ideas to voters, deal with some different areas of city policy and take a stab at a compelling sound bite. Place Four candidate Eddie Bradford got a crash course on the city’s system of health clinics as candidates responded to questions about funding for controversial reproductive services and the hospital within a hospital at Brackenridge Hospital. (See In Fact Daily, Feb. 8, 2002.) “Unless I’m wrong, I didn’t think we funded health care in general in the city,” Bradford said. “I think if we want the city to have health care, then we should talk to the citizens about that. In general, I’m against the city funding these sorts of things.” While Brackenridge Hospital is operated by the Seton Healthcare Network under a contract with the city, the city does operate a system of "Community Health Centers" in co-operation with Travis County

“What I believe the City of Austin needs is fresh blood,” Place One candidate Vincent Aldridge declared. “The charter amendments that I guess you’re questioning . . . I don’t know what they are and I don’t have an opinion concerning them.” Place Three Candidate Billy Sifuentes did have a strong opinion about one proposal, but it won’t be on the ballot. “The most important one is the Police Monitor,” Sifuentes said. “The monitor should and must go under the City Manager and not be controlled by the—hopefully—eleven members of the Council.” While the Charter Revision Committee had recommended to the City Council that a proposal regarding the Police Monitor be placed on the May 4th ballot, the Council decided against it. (See In Fact Daily, Mar. 20, 2002.)

Sifuentes said he supports single-member districts, as did Place Three candidate Linda Curtis. That set them apart from Place Three candidate Robin Stallings, who expressed reservations about the proposal. “I think it’s going to cost the neighborhoods a lot . . . It’s going to be hard on people who are used to having a lot of different choices of Council members to go to.” Stallings used portions of his opening statement to praise Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman who is in Place 3, noting that they frequently supported the same transportation and mobility issues. “I’m a raging rebel for the status quo,” Stallings said. Stallings also attempted to present his position on all of the charter amendments within his allotted one-minute answer segment. He response of “Yes, yes, no, yes, yes, yes, yes, maybe,” drew laughter from the audience. Stallings, Sifuentes and Curtis are split over the issue of transportation. Stallings is a long-time advocate for bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure. Sifuentes called for stricter enforcement of existing traffic laws, while Curtis said she would put a stop to special interests promoting new road construction. “The problem ultimately is about the political system,” she said. “We have highly politicized city, state and national government where nothing gets done because you have special interest money that rules the process.”

While candidates were extremely civil and there was no mud-slinging or any personal accusations, challengers did make a point to express their differences with incumbents. Place One candidate Kirk Mitchell said he didn’t believe the current Council had done enough to protect the environment. He also criticized the process used to place the single-member district proposal on the May 4th ballot. “It should have started much earlier,” Mitchell said, noting that there would be little time to discuss district lines before the start of early voting. “I’m concerned that I may not be able to support singe-member districts in this configuration.” Place One Council Member Daryl Slusher reminded the audience that the 8-2-1 plan, while including single-member districts, would be more accurately described as a mixed system. “I was a leading proponent for that compromise on the Council,” Slusher said. “I heard from citizens who said ‘I want more than one Council member accountable to me’.”

Place Four candidate Brewster McCracken said he also supported single-member districts. “No member of the Austin City Council lives north of 35th Street,” he said, noting that he himself was a north-side resident. “I favor the current proposal that’s been put forward.” Council Member Beverly Griffith didn’t speak out to oppose the proposition, but instead called for careful study. “It’s a revolutionary change . . . There’s a lot to think about,” she said.

The final question of the evening concerned a proposed ordinance that would allow neighborhoods to ban the parking of cars in the front yards of homes. (See In Fact Daily, Mar. 18, 2002.) Members of NACA have been among the most active in calling for a ban on the practice. McCracken may have garnered some support with his remarks on property rights. “Your home is your most valuable investment,” he said. “The ability to maintain that investment a lot of times depends upon your neighbors maintaining their investment as well.” He indicated support for the proposed ban on front-yard parking, which would include a provision to allow individual neighborhoods to either opt in or out of the ordinance. Incumbent Beverly Griffith pledged to study the details of the proposal, which will be discussed at a series of public hearings before the Council in the coming weeks. Aldridge said he would be against the opt-in-or-out language currently being discussed. “In order to have cohesion in our city, you can’t allow its members piecemeal to come before you and determine what’s good,” he said. “It ends up costing us more money to deal with it.”

Place Four candidate Eddie Bradford filled in for Place One candidate Craig Barrett, who was unable to attend because he was taking a college exam. Place One candidate Jennifer Gale also was not present. In Place Three, Council Member Jackie Goodman was unable to attend most of the forum, but did arrive at the end and spent some time meeting with voters. Place Four candidate Betty Dunkerley did not attend.

City Auditor's staff to be involved in final certification

While City Clerk Shirley Brown and her staff continue to verify that each of three incumbent Council members brought in enough valid signatures to guarantee a spot on the May 4 ballot, gadfly Linda Curtis is rounding up her own team to check signatures on Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman’s petitions. “I think Jackie Goodman’s signatures are vulnerable,” said Goodman's Place 3 challenger. “We never got 75 percent” valid signatures on petitions for Austin ballot initiatives. “The most I’ve ever gotten is 79 percent.” Goodman turned in 24,080 signatures, according to her own calculations.

If her validity rate is 75 percent, Goodman would have 18,060, falling short of the required number of 18,263. However, at 76 percent, she would have 18,300. “I know when you’re paying petitioners, they cheat,” Curtis said. “We hired only activists,” as opposed to single-shot petitioners, she said. Curtis worked on Council Member Beverly Griffith’ s signature campaign.

At any rate, Curtis said she will be doing her own validity check. She hopes to get copies of Goodman’s petitions today. Since all of the clerk’s staff is busy verifying the signatures, Curtis said the copying would be done by an outside copying service. She said she will have an all volunteer group, running computers from “the nerd community.” She said she would do the checking “very carefully” with a trained group of volunteers. “If the clerk comes up with the numbers I expect, we’ll stop,” the check, she said.

Curtis emphasized her confidence in Brown, saying the clerk’s earlier decision not to verify the signatures was the because of advice from Assistant City Attorney John Steiner. Early Monday, Brown said she was hoping to get through Griffith’s petitions by the end of the day. She indicated that a decision on the number of valid signatures would be reviewed by the City Auditor’s Office.

Friends of Lake Austin want to use herbicide as well as carp

City biologist Mary Gilroy gave the Environmental Board an update on Lake Austin’s hydrilla problem last week, prompting the Board to craft a motion supporting the City’s efforts to control the pesky waterweed.

Secretary Karin Ascot told In Fact Daily the Board favored further investigation into the efficacy of using sterile Asian grass carp to control the spread of hydrilla. “We expressed our opposition to the use of any herbicide whatsoever in our drinking water supply, due to risks of possible human error and potential synergistic effects with other chemicals present in the lake, among other things.”

Gilroy reminded the Board how Texas Parks and Wildlife (TPWD), the agency that has legal jurisdiction over Texas waterways, denied the City’s request for a permit to introduce grass carp into the lake back in November 2000. That denial quashed an early attempt by the city to determine if the fish could safely reduce or eliminate hydrilla from the lake.

A more recent request by the City for a permit allowing about 3,000 carp was also denied, she said. However, TPWD has finally agreed to allow the City to place 25 radio-tagged carp into the lake in order to monitor movement of the fish. Gilroy said the City would spend $23,000 for the experimental program and the LCRA would provide the radio tags.

TPWD will hold a public hearing on the matter in early April, she said, and the sterile fish will be introduced at the end of April. A report on the results is expected this July, she noted.

In addition to the introduction of hydrilla-eating carp, the City is also focusing on native plant revegetation, so natives can replace the exotic hydrilla once it begins to wane. Gilroy said the City is also considering both the use of the hydrilla fly, a small insect whose larva tunnels through the plant, and the prospect of creating a more favorable habitat for turtles to flourish, thus allowing an expanding turtle population to feast on increasing amounts of hydrilla.

The city is looking at federal funding from the Army Corps of Engineers and funding from TPWD to assist with such programs, she said. Recommendations on these innovative methods of controlling the problem are expected late this year, she added.

Gilroy, who is with the Watershed Protection & Development Review Department, said success in restoring the Lake Austin ecosystem depends on an integrated approach, working with citizens and various governmental agencies. Controlling the problem becomes increasingly difficult as time passes because the hydrilla is spreading so fast, she said.

From 1999 to 2001 the spread of hydrilla documented in Lake Austin increased from 23 acres to 240 acres. Now, documents show that the invasive water plant has reached nearly the full length of the lake, even taking hold in the vicinity of Mansfield Dam. Gilroy said 430 acres of hydrilla were documented in Lake Austin before the January drawdown. The plant creates a serious safety hazard and limits recreational access, she said, and there is now a strong potential for the thick, aquatic weed to spread to Town Lake and the Colorado River.

Friends of Lake Austin (FOLA), a recently formed citizens group, has begun to take action independent of the City of Austin, which owns the lake. Gilroy said the group hired a consultant who found more hydrilla in the lake than any governmental agency has yet documented, including a patch near Tom Miller Dam. The lakeside property owners and business people who comprise FOLA have raised around $200,000 to fight the noxious waterweed. The group’s strategy to combat hydrilla is a three-pronged attack utilizing the sterile Asian grass carp, herbicide and lake drawdowns, Gilroy said.

All three methods have their drawbacks. Chair Lee Leffingwell and Vice-chair Tim Jones asked Gilroy about the potential repercussions of the non-native grass carp entering the ecosystem. Jones asked what the fish would do after it had eaten all the hydrilla in the lake. Gilroy said the fish would also eat milfoil, another invasive water plant, and it might migrate downstream in search of hydrilla in Town Lake or the Colorado River.

“It’s a very difficult balance,” she said. “With the removal of hydrilla…we need to go in there with native plants so the hydrilla won’t come back.”

Leffingwell and Ascot expressed concern about the use of Nautique, the only herbicide approved by the Environmental Protection Agency that can be used in drinking water supplies to combat hydrilla.

Gilroy said the copper-based herbicide normally remains in water for only six to ten hours, or a maximum of 24 hours, before it precipitates out. It is only effective to a depth of eight to ten feet, she said, whereas a lake drawdown can effectively diminish hydrilla to a depth of 11 or 12 feet. Lake drawdowns have previously taken place every other year, she noted, but because the hydrilla is spreading so fast, this year was the first time the water level was dropped for two years running.

Ascot made a motion for support and the Board voted 6-0 in favor, with Board Members Ramon Alvarez, Connie Seibert and Matt Watson absent. Watson had been in attendance but left about five minutes before the vote.

AFL-CIO endorsements . . . The labor organization met Saturday and endorsed Council Members Jackie Goodman and Daryl Slusher for re-election. They also endorsed Betty Dunkerley and Brewster McCracken jointly to replace Council Member Beverly Griffith, who was out of town this weekend . . . Judge gives EPA 40 days to finish salamander consultation . . . Federal Judge Sam Sparks yesterday gave the Environmental Protection Agency and the US Fish & Wildlife Service 40 days to conclude their review of pollution regulations governing construction in the Barton Springs watershed. The judge ruled in a suit filed by the Save Our Springs Alliance, which had earlier won an order that gave the agencies an early September 2001 deadline. However, the EPA has been dragging its feet since the USFWS issued a draft opinion declaring that continued use of the current rules—the construction general permit—puts the Barton Springs salamander in jeopardy of extinction . . . Capital Metro: And the winner is . . . Sherry Matthews Advocacy Marketing. The company, along with subcontractors TateAustin and Nustats, won approval from the Capital Metro Board of Directors yesterday for a five-year $3.8 million contract. The Matthews firm has worked on numerous public education campaigns for governmental agencies, including the Texas Department of Health, TNRCC, TxDOT and the Texas Railroad Commission. TateAustin has assisted Capital Metro on a number of important issues over the past two decades and Nustats, the research partner, has performed marketing studies for Cap Metro in the past. The board also approved two call center voice recording systems from S & P Communications at $91,500 . . . Sales tax down here too . . . Like the City of Austin, Capital Metro has found that its tax revenues are 7.4 percent below what was expected. Interim General Manager Fred Gillam reported that passenger fares have been 6.6 percent lower than expected thus far this year as well. However, operating expenses have been trimmed and are 11.8 percent lower than budget projections . . . On time performance improved . . . Gillam reported that overall on-time performance for last month reached its highest level in two years, with buses meeting a system-wide goal of 90 percent on-time performance.

© 2002 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.

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