Wednesday, August 14, 2002 by

KLBJ refuses to release tapes or transcript of Cox's remarks

KLBJ Radio talk show personality Sam Cox will be on the air shortly after 6:30 this morning to apologize for a “misunderstanding” that occurred as a result of remarks he allegedly made Monday concerning educating minority students. KLBJ Station Manager Scott Gillmore told In Fact Daily, “Some of the accusations flying around are rather silly.” Silly is not the word at City Hall, however, where Mayor Gus Garcia and Council Members Danny Thomas and Raul Alvarez plan to send a letter to Gillmore expressing their concern about Cox’s alleged statements.

In an email to the City Council, Susan Andersen of Community Action Network wrote that Cox’s commentary “was that education will never be equal, it would be a waste of tax payer money, and if the education of Hispanics and blacks were the same as for whites, who would do the service jobs like lawn care.” Gillmore said that Cox was merely saying that “everybody cannot have a college education. The cost to society would be too great.” It may have “sounded as if minorities did not deserve that education, but it was not about minorities,” Gillmore said. “We’ve been looking at education from” a number of perspectives. However, the station manager admitted, “I see how someone got that impression.”

KLBJ was not releasing transcripts or copies of Cox’s remarks yesterday, but numerous citizens sent complaints about Cox’s alleged statements to Council offices.

Paul Saldaña, chief aide to Garcia, said the Mayor was particularly upset because of his great interest in education and because Austin takes pride in its diversity. Saldaña said he thought it was unfortunate that attention has turned from the need to improve education for minority students to the Cox commentary. While 33 percent of Anglos in Texas have college degrees, he said, only 14 percent of minority group members have achieved that level of education.

Cox, who goes by “Sergeant Sam,” is a retired police officer and former president of the Austin Police Association. Fred Butler of the Community Action Network (CAN) will be on the air with Cox this morning since it was commentary on the CAN report that started the controversy.

Some commissioners want to reject raises individually

Discussion was heated at yesterday’s Commissioners Court meeting about who on the court was entitled to turn down the pay raises recommended by the citizens’ advisory committee.

The job of the Citizens’ Advisory Committee on Elected Officials’ Salaries has been to recommend which elected officials should receive pay increases and by how much, and to articulate a grievance process for those officials who disagree with committee’s conclusions. Last week, Commissioners Court decided that no official would get more than a 3 percent raise this year.

The motion before the court yesterday was to approve an advertisement outlining the proposed raises that will run in the Austin Chronicle.

At first it appeared that no one on the court was eager to accept a pay raise. In fact, County Judge Sam Biscoe moved immediately to decline his proposed raise entirely. The committee had proposed increasing his salary by 6 percent. The motion passed unanimously.

The disagreement began when commissioners started talking about turning down their own raises, which were proposed at 3 percent. Commissioners Margaret Moore and Ron Davis were ready to advertise no raise at all for commissioners. Commissioners Karen Sonleitner and Margaret Gomez disagreed with that plan.

Gomez angrily told her colleagues she wanted the right to speak for herself on the pay raise issue. She considered Davis and Moore’s motion to set no raise for commissioners to be taking away her right to do that.

Sonleitner said it would be a sign of disrespect to the office and the advisory committee to override the recommendation and post a “no raise” advertisement. Biscoe countered that he did not intend to show disrespect to the committee and that the advisory committee was created to be fair to the greatest extent possible to all elected officials.

Sonleitner stressed that it was the right of the court to consider and pass the proposed pay raise—and the right of each individual commissioner to consider and turn down that raise. Sonleitner said it was no secret that she and Gomez had been working for $68,000 for a number of years, and had on previous occasions already declined proposed pay raises for themselves.

The compromise reached over the advertisement will proclaim no raise for the county treasurer or county judge; a 2 percent raise for the county attorney, county tax assessor-collector, Precinct 5 constable, justices of the peace and district attorney; and a 3 percent raise for the commissioners, sheriff, district clerk, county clerk and the remaining four constables.

A footnote on the advertisement will say Sonleitner and Gomez turned down last year’s proposed raise. A hearing on elected officials’ pay is set for Aug. 26.

In other business, the Commissioners Court agreed to enter into initial negotiations with Williamson County on the creation of a regional mobility authority. Joe Gieselman, executive director of Transportation and Natural Resources, said the agreement is the preliminary groundwork for the creation of a Regional Mobility Authority (RMA) that would include Williamson and Travis counties. Hays could also agree to join, although Gieselman said the county to the south had not yet expressed much interest in joining. Likely candidate toll projects would include the southeast leg of State Highway 45 and the proposed US 183A.

The Texas Transportation Commission must receive an initial environmental study of the area, a financial plan for the projects and proof there is local support for them before an RMA is approved, Gieselman said. An outside consultant will complete most of the initial study. The agreement, which went to both commissioner courts on Tuesday, limits expenses to $250,000 for each county, although Gieselman said he doubted the tab on the initial study would run that high.

And finally, the court decided not to approve agreements with Falls and Bowie counties to house female prisoners, despite the current jail overcrowding problem. Biscoe said such a move would put the problem “out of sight, out of mind.” He recommended the information be presented to the county’s jail overcrowding task force before any new contracts are approved. Commissioners agreed.

The out-of-county contracts will thus go to the jail overcrowding task force, which will meet on Thursday, and be back on the Commissioners Court agenda next Tuesday.

Jones, staff show off Monitor's new offices

Politicians, police, community activists and elected officials gathered at the Twin Towers office complex on Clayton Lane on Tuesday for the official dedication of the Office of the Police Monitor. Iris Jones has held the job of Police Monitor since February 11th. Tuesday’s events offered a chance for a ceremonial ribbon cutting, a tour of the facilities and an introduction of the six staff members now working in the office.

Austin Mayor Gus Garcia used the opportunity to defend the office, which was criticized by some groups for its response to the police shooting of Sophia King. “I hope that everyone in our community will give Iris and her staff a chance to succeed,” Garcia said. “Being the first at something is never easy. Due to the nature of the work of her office, she’ll likely be criticized no matter what. So I’m asking you . . . if you’re going to criticize her, take your time to study the issues and make sure you know why you’re criticizing her.”

Garcia was joined by a host of current and former elected officials who expressed their confidence in Jones’ ability to deal with pressures from the public and the police. Former Mayor Roy Butler was on hand, as was former Mayor Pro Tem John Trevino. “I had the pleasure of working with Iris some years ago,” said Trevino. “I think she’s going to an outstanding job. She has the respect of the city staff and of the community.”

Council Members Will Wynn and Raul Alvarez attended, as did City Manger Toby Futrell, Austin Police Chief Stan Knee and Austin Police Association President Mike Sheffield. A number of local legislators were on hand, including Sen. Gonzalo Barrientos and Rep. Dawna Dukes, as was District 51 candidate Eddie Rodriguez. Several of the citizens who pushed for the creation of the office were also present, including Ann Del Llano and Scott Henson of the ACLU, local NAACP President Nelson Linder, Austin Urban League CEO Herman Lessard and long-time community activist Dorothy Turner.

Jones said the open house was an important opportunity to interact with the public. “We want them to know that we’re here to serve them,” Jones said. “They need to know and understand our role, and they need to know where they can find us if they need us.” That role, Jones explained, does not include conducting its own investigation into allegations of police wrongdoing. “Our role is to initiate that process with the complainant and get that complainant up to internal affairs for an interview,” Jones said.

Over the past few months, Jones has been making efforts to raise the department’s profile in the community through a series of neighborhood meetings. “We’re not just here to sit behind a desk and wait for the phone to ring,” she said. “We have a job to make Austin better.” The next meeting will be in the Tarrytown neighborhood on August 20th.

The staff of the Police Monitor’s Office is putting the finishing touches on their first biannual report, which will include statistics on the complaints and allegations made since the office opened in February. Figures made available during Tuesday’s open house show that during its first three months of operation, the office received a total of 26 complaints. That number increased to 85 for the second three-month period. There are more than 30 categories of complaints. Staff has analyzed the data to track complaints by location and by the ethnicity of the complainant. So far, African-Americans accounted for 35 percent of the complaints, Hispanics 26 percent and Anglos 29 percent. The final version of the report is expected to be finished within the next three weeks.

For last week's news, see top of page.

Busy week for Mayor Garcia . . . Mayor Gus Garcia testified via telephone Tuesday afternoon before a city charter commission in New York City. Garcia was testifying at the request of New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who wanted to know how non-partisan elections have worked in Austin. In particular, Garcia talked about election of minorities to City Council without support of the major national parties. Today Garcia is taking off for the Texas Transportation Summit in Irving. The summit will include discussions about TxDOT’s plans, mass transit, multimodal issues, the role of toll roads in moving freight through congested areas and more. In addition, the Mayor plans to meet with Joe Mondello, chief of staff for Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchinson, to request the senator’s assistance in bringing grant money to Austin. The city is hoping to get federal assistance for upgrading sewers through a STAG grant . . . PGA development back on track . . . San Antonio Mayor Ed Garza got what he was seeking yesterday when Lumbermen’s Investment Corp. (LIC) agreed to a new proposal for land the company owns over the southern portion of the Edwards Aquifer. The San Antonio Express-News reported that LIC had returned a signed copy of the new plan, which would prohibit the city from annexing the development for 15 years and impose certain environmental controls. There was no word on whether the Professional Golf Association would agree to the new deal. Save Our Aquifer spokesmen reportedly said the new plan is even worse than the old one . . . Rising costs of prescriptions noted . . . Those getting help from Travis County’s Rural Medical Assistance Program will now pay $10 for each prescription they pick up at non-clinic pharmacies. That more than doubles the current co-pay, which is $4. The move will help raise an extra $202,000 for the cash-strapped county health program. Enrollees who can’t afford the bump in costs can still go to county clinics for the $4 co-pay. Enrollment in the medical assistance program, according to county staff, has gone up 15 percent this year alone . . . Sanchez rally . . . The Tony Sanchez campaign is throwing a party at 6pm Thursday at Fiesta Gardens, 2101 Avenue. Ruben Ramos and the Texas Revolution will provide the music. Appearing along with the candidate will be Travis County Clerk Dana de Beauvoir and a number of electronic voting machines. Those attending will be able to try out the new machines, which the clerk expects to use at each of 20 Early Voting locations this fall. However, a spokesman for the clerk’s office said the machines would not be used on Election Day. It may seem early to talk about early voting, but Oct. 19—the first day for eager voters to register their choices—is only two months away.

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

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