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Mitchell outspent Slusher in final days nearly 2-1

Tuesday, July 23, 2002 by

Place One challenger Kirk Mitchell significantly outspent incumbent Council Member Daryl Slusher in the final days before the May 4th election. However, Slusher won his re-election bid with 55 percent of the vote.

The fund-raising imbalance was due largely to Mitchell’s ability to pay for his own campaign. While he accepted donations from contributors like Roger Baker, Bill Bunch, Colin Clark and Mark Tschurr, approximately 95 percent of the money his campaign raised came from Mitchell’s own pockets. Mitchell, who has resumed his duties as chair of the SOS Alliance Board of Directors after temporarily stepping aside, contributed $33,400 to his own campaign two days before the election. He added an additional $20,000 to his campaign in mid-April, along with a $5,300 contribution after the election. Most of Mitchell’s money went to campaign consultants Grassroots Solutions for newspaper advertising and campaign management, and to MQ & C Advertising for his television ad campaign. During the final reporting period covering April 30th through July 15th, the campaign spent a total of $62,791.16.

During that same reporting period, Slusher’s campaign spent $34,888.46. That covered the cost of newspaper advertising, direct mail, automated telephone calls, office supplies, office space rental and food for volunteers. Slusher also paid for campaign management, but did not spend money on television commercials. Slusher’s campaign expenses date back much farther than his challenger’s. Mitchell concentrated his efforts in the weeks immediately before the election, while Slusher lists payments ranging from $6 to $200 in January and February for signature gathering. He was required to obtain 18,263 signatures from registered voters to qualify for a place on the ballot. (See In Fact Daily, March 21, 2002. ) Those signatures were the subject of a lawsuit by Mitchell, who lists legal fees to the law firm of Scanlan, Buckle, & Young of$14,393.21. Slusher was represented by attorneys from the firm of Ray, Wood & Bonilla, but does not list legal fees as part of his campaign-related expenses.

While Mitchell used his own money for his campaign, several groups organized to promote Slusher’s campaign. Citizens for Voter Choice, the group formed by former Mayor Bruce Todd, spent $22,322.28 before April 4th to gather signatures for Slusher and Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman. In the final days of the campaign, Perry Lorenz formed a separate group called, Voters for Daryl, which collected $1300, including donations from long-time environmental and parks advocates Mary Arnold and Roberta Crenshaw.

Slusher’s campaign also received financial support from a cross-section of the political spectrum. Ira Yates, Marta Cotera and Shudde Fath contributed directly to Slusher’s campaign, as did RECA President Kirk Rudy and developers David Vitanza, Bradley Schlosser and Matt Matthais. Other elected officials also lined up to support Slusher, including Council Member Beverly Griffith and Commissioner Karen Sonleitner, former Mayors Kirk Watson and Roy Butler . The Austin Police Association’s Political Action Committee contributed to Slusher, and the Austin Firefighters Association PAC contributed to Bruce Todd’s Citizens for Voter Choice.

Of the other candidates seeking the Place One, Jennifer Gale reported raising $11.27, while lawyer Vincent Aldridge reported that he did not raise or spend any money at all.

HLC uncertain about plans for renovation

When the state agreed to put the Shaw-Pease Mansion on the market, the State Preservation Board agreed to give the private owner wide latitude in renovating one of the city’s most historic homes.

The first hint of what the renovation might look like was revealed at the Historic Landmark Commission last night. Investor Jeff Sandefer, who has an option to purchase what is often referred to as the Woodlawn Mansion, has negotiated plans with the state to remove many of the newer structures on the property. Those structures would include a wing built in 1903 and outbuildings and wings added by former Governor Alan Shivers’ family. The Shivers family deeded the house to the state after the death of Shivers’ widow.

The deteriorating property went on the market after the state estimated it would take more than $2 million to preserve it. That figure is in addition to ongoing upkeep for the historic house, which sits on almost four acres of land adjacent to the Old Enfield subdivision. Sandefer offered a minimum of $3 million on the mansion and was granted a due diligence period to assess the property.

Although it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Woodlawn Mansion has never been nominated for city historic designation. Last night, the HLC unanimously approved a recommendation to change its zoning from SF-3, Family Residence District, to SF-3-H. The historic designation would give the new owner a modest tax break.

The written support for historic designation of the Woodlawn Mansion was overwhelming, more than 140 pages of documentation outlining the home’s history. The house, which has undergone numerous changes and additions over the years, was built in 1853 by Abner Cook for Texas Comptroller James B. Shaw. Cook also designed the Governor’s Mansion. The house later became home to Governors Elisha Peace and Shivers. The house is considered one of the few remaining antebellum homes of its size in Texas.

“I certainly move historic designation,” Commissioner Daniel Leary said. “This is a great moment for me, knowing this building quite well. As we know, this house was held back from this group for many years, and it’s an incredible thing we’re finally seeing it come up.”

A second motion, to approve a certificate of appropriateness for the demolition of portions of the house, required more discussion. Stan Graves of the Texas Historic Commission told the HLC it was always the state’s intention to give the private owner as much latitude as possible to renovate the property. Graves heads the architecture division for the state agency.

Sandefer’s plans, should he purchase the house, include demolition of the 1950s-era additions added by the Shivers family, as well as removal of an L-shaped wing added in 1903. The original 1854 façade would be restored to the south and east sides of the house. A door and some windows would be returned to the south side where the wing joined the façade. Low-scale north and west additions would be added. Guest quarters would be removed and wrought iron fencing added around the perimeter.

Commissioners had no significant problems with the removal of the Shivers-era additions. Commissioner Lisa Laky and Chair Lauretta Dowd, however, could not support the demolition of the 1903 wing without more documentation. Laky said support would be inconsistent with earlier decisions.

Commissioner Jim Fowler also expressed concerns about the need for a possible archeological dig on the site. Members of the Pease family, Fowler said, had claimed there were slave quarters on the early property. Historic Preservation Officer Barbara Stocklin said quarters for field slaves would be likely on the property, but probably not so close to the residential quarters. It would be difficult to hold the owner to an archeological dig without more specific information on where the slave quarters might be located, Stocklin said.

The Texas Historical Commission set some conditions on the demolition. City staff concurred. Those conditions included further study of the driveways, since historic brick might be located under the current asphalt. The existing stone curbing and columns would remain. And the wrought iron fence would be set back behind the existing stone columns. Any final plans for buildings and grounds would return to the Historic Landmark Commission for approval.

Leary, who has studied the Woodlawn property, made a motion for demolition of both the Shivers and 1903 addition. That motion failed for lack of a second. The motion that passed—without Laky and Dowd’s support—recommended demolition of the Shivers addition, but approved removal of the 1903 wing in concept only, with a request for further documentation.

Contractor Richard Gift, who represented Sandefer at the hearing, said it was Sandefer’s intention to open a dialogue with the HLC, to assess the commission’s comfort level on changes to the house. Sandefer will return with more complete architectural drawings for the HLC to review, Gift said. Renovation of the property could start as soon as September.

Crown Victorias subject of Texas class action suit

The Arizona Republic and CNN have both reported on the fiery deaths of police officers involved in rear-end collisions while driving the Ford Crown Victoria Police Interceptor. The heavy-duty sedan designed for police use is the vehicle of choice among law enforcement agencies around the country—including Austin and Travis County.

In a story that aired Sunday, Cpl. Alan Neel of the Taylor Police Department told CNN of the near-fatal fire that consumed his Crown Victoria. He said he would have died had he not been able to escape through the passenger side door. One or two seconds more, he said, and he too would have been dead.

The Arizona Republic reported last week that three police officers in that state have been incinerated in their vehicles and a fourth was horribly disfigured. All were driving the Ford Crown Victoria. See http://www.arizonarepublic.com/news/articles/0714vic-main14.html

The most recent officer death was in Chandler, Arizona on June 12. The Republic reports that civilians in similar Mercury Grand Marquis and Lincoln Town Cars have also been killed in fires after rear-impact collisions, bringing the total dead to 38.

News organizations reporting the story note that the fuel tank of the Crown Victoria is behind the rear axles, right in front of the trunk, perhaps a fatal flaw. “The Crown Victoria does have a serious design problem with its fuel tank, according to national auto-safety experts, public officials and automotive engineers contacted by The Arizona Republic. They say the car’s vertical fuel tank, which first appeared in the 1966 Galaxy, is located within the car’s ‘crush zone,’ where it is prone to puncture, leakage and deadly fires in rear-impact crashes,” according to the Republic. The story also quotes Ford spokeswoman Sara Tatchio as saying, “‘We have a very safe vehicle. The real world data supports that.’”

Travis County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Roger Wade told In Fact Daily county deputies have been “driving the cars for 17 years and never had a problem.” However, the department is following reports about the Crown Victoria’s fuel tank problem, he said. “We’re aware of it and are waiting to hear what, if anything, is going to be done about it.”

Austin Police Association President Mike Sheffield, who watched the CNN special, remarked, “It sounds like there’s obviously a problem and there’s a solution . . . There needs to be some corrective measures on the tank.” Given the nature of police work, he said, officers constantly need to stop their vehicles, making them more vulnerable to rear-end collisions than other drivers. So, Ford needs to take steps “to protect that gas tank better.” He suggested a design change later, but more importantly for now, a fix of some type for the fuel tanks.

Corpus Christi attorney David Perry has filed a class action suit against Ford on behalf of all Texas counties and cities. His petition asks the court to order Ford to inform purchasers of the Crown Victoria of the fuel tank problems and make safety modifications at the company’s expense. Nueces County filed the suit in state court. Ford has denied all of the allegations, according to the Corpus Christi Caller, calling the suit a publicity ploy. http://www.caller.com/ccct/local_news/article/0,1641,CCCT_811_1244570,00.html

Wednesday ,,

All quiet at City Hall . . . The City Council is on vacation this week as staff continues to negotiate with Stratus Properties on a number of provisions, the most important of which has been dubbed the pre-nuptial agreement, or what will happen if the city tries to downzone any of the property at a later date. Daryl Slusher was alive and looking quite well in his office Monday, having spent a restful weekend away from Austin. He declined to comment on Mike Clark-Madison’s column which proclaimed Slusher dead—at least as the leader of Austin’s environmental movement. The cloak now belongs to Council Member Raul Alvarez, according to the Chronicle. Since Beverly Griffith is no longer in office, she has apparently been forgotten, but it was Griffith who last occupied the green throne, not Slusher. He has disagreed publicly with SOS Alliance leader Bill Bunch on too many occasions. Slusher complained that critics, including UT scientists who signed last week’s letter against the agreement, do not want to deal with the real world. Slusher insists he is not championing the settlement, just trying to disseminate information about it since there has been so much misinformation . . . Slusher on Schlosser and BookPeople . . Schlosser Development, which must reapply for $2.1 million in Smart Growth incentives, will find them harder to win with supporters of BookPeople and Waterloo Records arguing against them. “I’m going to lean favorably toward local businesses,” said Council Member Daryl Slusher. “I don’t want Borders down there.” However, he said he understands that Schlosser needs to fill up its buildings with attractive tenants. “The group to work this out is the West End Austin Alliance,” he concluded, since all the bickering parties belong to the same organization . . . When will downtown proposal resurface? . . . Austan Librach, director of the Planning Sustainability & Transportation Department, said the Downtown Austin Mobility Plan, which was “postponed indefinitely” from last week’s City Council agenda, would likely come back in September. He said Council members wanted to concentrate on Stratus last week and would probably be too busy with the budget after the Aug. 1 meeting to consider the controversial DAMP proposal. Consideration of road improvements as well as pedestrian and bike amenities to be funded by Capital Metro was also postponed indefinitely . . . The Daryl & Tina show . . . Council Member Daryl Slusher and his executive assistant, Tina Bui, begin their new TV show at 1:30pm today on Channel 6. Slusher said he will be interviewing City Manager Toby Futrell. The obvious subjects for the week, he noted, are the budget and Stratus. The show will replay on Wednesday and Thursday, he said. While the Place 1 office is on television, Mayor Gus Garcia, Council Member Raul Alvarez and several staff members will be packing for a Sister Cities trip to Saltillo, Mexico, which begins Wednesday.

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

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