Thursday, August 15, 2002 by

Sheffield moves to distance Austin police from retiree's remarks

Yesterday, KLBJ Radio personality Sam Cox apologized for remarks he had made on Monday implying that minority group members have less need for an education than Anglos. However, his apology did not convince Mayor Gus Garcia and Council Members Raul Alvarez and Danny Thomas that Cox should keep his job. They also expressed disappointment that the station had not released a copy of the tape or a transcript of Cox’s remarks.

Cox’s comments on Monday were in response to remarks by KLBJ’s program manager Mark Caesar about the Community Action Network report on education in Central Texas. The report emphasized the need for improving education for minorities and lower income students. Seventy percent of Austin ISD’ s student population belongs to a minority group and the district has been ranked among the lowest of Texas urban districts in educating minorities.

KLBJ replayed Cox’s earlier remarks yesterday. On Monday, he said, “First and foremost, what I want to say is there will never be enough tax money to quench the thirst of educators—administrators. They will always be able to find a way to spend it . . . And number two, if everybody had the same educational level as Anglos, you know, or if it was all totally leveled out, who’s going to do the menial work?”

After the tape was played yesterday, Cox said, “In my haste to make a point that everybody doesn’t need a college education, I made a gaffe. I made an absolute mis-speak that was totally uncalled for and I believe everybody should have an equal opportunity to a quality education. That’s just the way I truly believe. And I’m not speaking that just minorities should be doing the service work. Absolutely not. I’m saying that there are people out there that don’t need to go to college. That’s all that I was trying to get a point across. And in doing so, I really am totally sorry that some people took offense to what I said because that is not the way I feel.”

Caesar also apologized for failing to challenge Cox at the time the remarks were made. “It sounded bad. Now that I hear it again, it sounds bad.”

Mayoral aide Paul Saldaña said the letter to KLBJ station manager Scott Gillmore was started on Tuesday but sent out on Wednesday. He said the three Council members still want to get a copy of the tape or a transcript of Monday’s show. The remarks are currently available at www.590KLBJ.com .

“They’re still refusing to give anybody a copy of the tape,” he said. But perhaps more importantly, Garcia, Thomas and Alvarez wanted to stress the vital role of the media in eliminating barriers to education for all groups. The letter says, “Our economic stability and future as a city is in jeopardy if we do not work toward real plausible solutions to prepare our young people to enter a competitive workforce. Without a well-educated workforce, Austin will fail to be competitive in attracting and maintaining high-paying jobs as well as maintaining the quality of life that all of us have come to expect in Austin, Texas.”

Garcia is at a transportation conference in Irving. But Saldaña said the Mayor is especially cognizant of the need to take a strong stand. “Especially since we have the first minority mayor in Austin, he felt he needed to take a leadership position to send a very strong message that in Austin, Texas we pride ourselves on diversity and we are not going to tolerate any kind of racist rhetoric.”

Fred Butler of CAN, an invited guest on Wednesday’s show thanked his hosts for playing the tape and talked about findings from the CAN report.

The Mayor’s office was still receiving calls on the subject Wednesday afternoon, but the number had diminished. In Fact Daily received an email calling Cox “a bad poster boy for Austin PD—he is consistently racist . . . This guy is really doing damage to the image of policemen in this town. There should be some way to keep him from using his title of Sergeant—and call him plain old Sam ‘Bubba’ Cox.”

Mike Sheffield, president of the Austin Police Association, said, “Sam Cox is a retired Austin police officer from the Austin Police Department. He has not represented police officers in that department for over 10 years. His remarks absolutely do not reflect the views of the APA, which represents over 98 percent of the rank and file police officers in that police department.” Cox was president of the APA in the early 1990s.

Commissioners say water quality zone variance moot

Last week, members of the Environmental Board went against a staff recommendation and voted in favor of a variance because they deemed it “moot” and determined that granting the variance would result in a “superior environmental result.”

The Board debated the ramifications of its actions and seriously considered the result of potential problems from setting a precedent, but voted unanimously to support the variance after determining it to be invalid due to a technicality.

The variance is one of three requested by Bury and Partners for Nalle Woods, a proposed 238-unit condominium project to be built by the Larry Peel Company off of Loop 360 near Lake Austin. The 45.7-acre site sits on the west side of the Capital of Texas Highway between Lake Austin and the Riverbend Church.

Twenty-two acres of the site have been deeded to the Hill Country Conservancy (HCC) to remain undisturbed. George Cofer, executive director of the HCC, told the Board his family and the Nalle family have been friends for generations, and they asked if the HCC would like some of the land as a gift for a bird sanctuary, since it’s near a Balcones Canyonlands Preserve tract.

Part of the tract would be developed to pay property taxes, Cofer said, and the rest would remain undisturbed. “This was a very, very generous gift. I’ll just say the appraisal was in the realm of millions of dollars,’ he noted. “We have a five-year plan that’s about three inches thick and we’re actively pursuing it.”

As the HCC got involved it looked for a good developer, Cofer said, eventually asking Larry Peel if he would do the project. When Peel agreed to be the developer, the men walked the land to determine the placement of buildings and the HCC gave Peel a “wish list” for the project, Cofer said.

According to City documents, 70 percent of the entire site would remain as an undisturbed natural area.

Out of three variances sought, the only one that didn’t meet staff’s findings of fact was the one requesting approval to build in a Water Quality Transition Zone (WQTZ). Peel wants to put the clubhouse for the condos in the WQTZ and a variance is required.

Cofer said even though the clubhouse would be in the WQTZ, the proposed location is definitely the best. “It truly is a better outcome to grant that variance,” he told the Board.

Vice-Chair Tim Jones pointed out a crucial bit of information that had not been mentioned in the City’s documentation on the variance. He noted that runoff water in the proposed location for the clubhouse would not drain into Lake Austin, thus rendering invalid the reason for it being designated a WQTZ.

“The intent of the WQTZ is moot . . . because water flows the other way,” he said, noting that the findings of fact were not in alignment with the intention or the purpose of a WQTZ.

Cofer agreed, saying that was an important point.

Board Member Ramon Alvarez concurred. “This variance is not really a variance because of that,” he said.

Chair Lee Leffingwell said it was clear that the findings of fact had not been met on this variance, so the Board voting in favor of it anyway would set a precedent. However, it was also clear that approval of the variance would result in “superior environmental results,” and if the clubhouse were forced to be located elsewhere, it would result in an “inferior environmental result.”

After discussing the matter with city staff, he determined that “the precedent has already been established; we won’t be breaking new ground here.”

The Board voted unanimously to recommend the first two variances, with staff conditions. Jones then made a motion to recommend the third, also with staff conditions.

The vote to recommend was 8-0 for all the variances. Board Member Matt Watson was absent.

Sparks does not want to retain jurisdiction over case

All of the parties involved in a lawsuit over the water pipeline that the Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA) is building to serve Hays County have reached a settlement, but Federal Judge Sam Sparks wants some clarifications written into the proposed judicial order before he signs it. The Save Our Springs Alliance (SOSA), the Save Barton Creek Association and the Hays County Water Planning Partnership sued the LCRA, US Army Corps of Engineers and the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), claiming that the governmental agencies weren’t taking adequate steps to protect water quality and endangered species. (See In Fact Daily, July 29, 2002 and Dec. 04, 2000.)

As part of the settlement, the parties agreed to water quality measures for future development. Additionally, the Corps and FWS agreed to consult on projects where the Corps determines that construction may affect endangered species.

But Sparks told attorneys for the plaintiffs, the LCRA and the US Department of Justice last week that he would be opposed to giving his stamp of approval to some of those provisions. “I have no objection to the parties reaching an agreement,” Sparks said. “But I have a problem with the proposed order. It has findings in it that I haven’t sufficient knowledge of to place judicial blessing on. I dismiss cases all the time that are based on settlements that I never see, but I’m not accepting them into my order.” The findings include numerous technical provisions, which are understood by the parties to the settlement but might take considerable time to explain to the judge, according to LCRA Associate General Counsel James Rader.

Sparks said he specifically wanted to make sure that other groups or individuals not involved in the case would not have their rights abridged if he were to incorporate the settlement findings into a judicial order. “What I’m concerned about is third parties. I don’t know what the future’s going to hold. I’m reluctant to make findings that bear on parties that are not involved in this case,” he said.

Attorneys for both SOSA and the LCRA had questions about the judge’s instructions. “This (order) asks the court to retain jurisdiction for the purposes of enforcing the settlement agreement,” said Rader. “Is that a problem?” Sparks replied that it was. SOS Executive Director Bill Bunch told the judge that both sides were comfortable with the agreement and wanted to move forward quickly. “We didn’t intend for these to be findings that you felt would be attributed to the court,” Bunch said. When Sparks said the language of the proposed judicial order would need to be revised, Bunch asked for additional direction as soon as possible. “It took several months to get here. In the meantime, the clock’s ticking,” Bunch said. “We’ve got to protect the species.”

Rader told In Fact Daily he believes Sparks was not necessarily thinking about future developers in Hays County who might file suit over the building restrictions contained in the agreement. He predicted a fairly speedy resolution to address the judge’s concerns. “We may just change the order itself and not change the settlement agreement,” he said. “There’s just too much in the settlement he didn’t want to be nailed down to . . . and he didn’t want to retain jurisdiction for purposes of enforcement.” The two sides will meet with Sparks again on August 23rd for a status conference.

Sixth + Lamar variance returns . . . After several postponements, the Board of Adjustment is scheduled to make a decision tonight on whether to allow the developers of Sixth + Lamar an extra 12 feet in building height. The matter was postponed to allow Richard Suttle, attorney for Schlosser Development, to work out an agreement with neighborhood advocates. The Board of Adjustment will also have the opportunity to reconsider a variance given to the controversial El Taquito Restaurant on East Riverside Dr. over the objections of neighbors . . . Money for new courtroom . . . The Travis County Commissioners Court approved a $120,000 transfer to finish construction on a visiting judge’s courtroom at the Del Valle annex. The operating cost of the proposed court will come to the Commissioners Court next week for approval. The new court—dedicated primarily to drug cases—would take 43 cases off the docket of other county courts and is intended to alleviate jail overcrowding . . . Bentzin fundraiser Saturday . . . Supporters of Ben Bentzin, Republican candidate for State Senate District 14, will gather from 6 to 9pm Saturday at the Jourdan Bachman Pioneer Farm, 11418 Sprinkle Cut-Off Road. Bar-b-que and politics are on the agenda . . . Clarification . . . In Wednesday’s story about raises for Travis County officials, the sentence reading “ Commissioners Karen Sonleitner and Margaret Gomez, on the other hand, wanted their raises” was incorrect. The story went on to say that Sonleitner and Gomez had declined all raises since 1996. Sonleitner wrote In Fact Daily to say, “At no time did Margaret nor I make that statement. In fact, we went to great lengths to say that it was about respecting the work of the committee, which was formed to take the politics out of the process. As the committee stated, they set out to give recommendations about what the OFFICE should be paid, not the individual. Last year, we had what I believed was a workable solution—adopt the committee report and then leave it to the individual to give instructions to the County Auditor about their individual pay level. On paper, the offices receive the same compensation level. Last year, Commissioners Gomez, Sonleitner and Baxter all declined the maximum set by the court. Judge Biscoe took his raise, as did Commissioner Davis. Commissioner Moore chose to accept the higher amount set for the OFFICE when she came on board. If Todd had been allowed to get the lower salary officially incorporated into the budget, Commissioner Moore would have had no choice but to take the lower salary—it could not be adjusted mid-year. Margaret Gomez and I have turned down every attempt to raise our salaries since 1996. The court voting to set the raise at zero ran contrary to our desire to have the committee's work speak for itself and then let the electeds speak for themselves. We never said we would take the raise—we wanted to make that choice for ourselves and not have that choice imposed upon us by others.”

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

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