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Police say city must arbitrate terms of investigation

Tuesday, November 26, 2002 by

The City’s attempt to hire the Dallas-based law firm of Bellinger and DeWolf to conduct an independent investigation into an officer-involved shooting this summer will remain on hold for a while longer. The Austin Police Association (APA) has filed a legal challenge to block the investigation into the shooting death of Sophia King on the grounds that the procedures and boundaries of that investigation are not adequately described in the association’s Meet and Confer agreement with the city. State District Judge Paul Davis heard arguments from the city, the police union and the Texas Civil Rights Project on Monday but postponed a decision. All parties will be allowed to submit additional written arguments today as the judge considers whether to lift a temporary restraining order prohibiting the law firm from pursuing the investigation.

APA President Mike Sheffield and Larry Watts of the Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas both testified that the union’s contract, while allowing for an outside investigation into the fatal shooting in June, did not lay out the focus of any investigation or the duties of police officers to cooperate. Sheffield stressed that the officers of the association could wind up being sued by their fellow members if they allow what they consider to be a breach of the contract to go unchallenged. Watts, who helped negotiate the contract that includes a provision for civilian oversight, said that oversight would be threatened if the city pursued the authority to dictate the terms of the investigation. “If the city is allowed to go forward unilaterally, with the vast majority of officers believing they are violating this contract, it will do irreparable harm on our ability to have a contract that has that provision in it,” he said. Since the terms of the contract were in dispute, Watts said, arbitration was in order. “By enjoining this process and allowing the arbitration to go forward, there’s a much greater likelihood that we will be able to ratify a second or third contract that includes this process of civilian oversight.”

The concern of police union representatives is that officers’ rights could be violated if they were forced to participate or answer questions. They also expressed concern that the investigation would focus on the possibility of officer negligence or wrongdoing at the exclusion of broader policy questions.

Attorneys for the city countered that the terms and authority of the independent investigator are clearly delineated in the contract. “The city believes that the agreement is very clear on how an investigation will occur, and what’s happening is it’s been blocked,” said Assistant City Attorney David Smith . And attorneys for the Texas Civil Rights Project (TCRP), who filed to intervene in the case, argued that the request for arbitration by the union was simply a delaying tactic. Under Texas law, an officer cannot face discipline for an incident more than 180 days after the incident occurred. King was shot at an eastside housing complex on June 11th, which means the 180-day deadline will fall in early December. “A lot of what’s going on probably is just to delay the investigation beyond the 180-disciplinary period,” said TCRP attorney Jim Harrington. “It means that any of the officers that actually did misconduct won’t be disciplined.”

The officer who shot King, 16-year-veteran John Coffey, was cleared by an internal affairs investigation. In addition, a Travis County Grand Jury returned a no-bill in the case. Police department officials say King, who had a history of mental instability, was attacking a housing-complex worker with a knife when Coffey shot her one time to protect that worker.

Judge Davis told the parties that he would strive for a speedy ruling in the case after reviewing the additional written arguments submitted today, but did not estimate when that ruling might be. The Temporary Restraining Order issued by Judge Suzanne Covington is set to expire on Thursday afternoon.

Neighbors, church disagree on 1990 plan

Last night the Hyde Park Baptist Church (HPBC) lost the first round in what is likely to be another extended fight to expand the church into the Hyde Park neighborhood.

In September, the church submitted a demolition permit for 3810 Speedway, at one time the Hyde Park branch of the A&P Grocery Store. The one-story brick commercial building, built in 1928, was also used for a number of years as a senior center.

Now HPBC wants to demolish the building and replace it with a four-story structure that would incorporate two floors of parking and two floors of education space. Last month, the Historic Landmark Commission initiated historic zoning on the site in response to the church’s demolition permit.

The church considers the property to be part of the expansion plan agreed to by the church and the neighborhood association in 1990. Neighbors say that it’s just another sign that the church has refused to grow compatibly with the neighborhood.

At last night’s commission meeting, civic leader Susan Moffat argued that the church’s plans are in direct conflict with one priority in the neighborhood plan, which is to prevent the removal or demolition of historic structures. Moffat said the church’s agreement with the plan is a binding contract on the church. Hence, the church intends to violate its own agreement to preserve the neighborhood.

Needless to say, the church does not agree.

Hyde Park Baptist’s plans for a 50-foot structure with two floors of “big blank parking garage at sidewalk level” is a complete negation of all the neighborhood’s efforts, Moffat said. Anyone who has walked Hyde Park, she pointed out, would know that such plans are not compatible with the historic residential nature of the neighborhood.

According to Steve Sadowsky of the Historic Preservation Office, the Hyde Park A&P Grocery Store was typical of the commercial structures of the decade: a duplex retail space with multi-light transoms over the doors and red brick quoins. Sadowsky showed a series of slides of other similar buildings in the neighborhood.

Attorney Richard Suttle, who represents HPBC, made a low-key presentation to the commission on the history of the property, arguing that the agreement between church and neighborhood outlined a path for expansion for HPBC and that path was to the southwest.

At the time, the agreement made it clear the building at 3810 Speedway could eventually be demolished for parking, Suttle said. Zoning on the property even offered surface parking as an optional use. This location was clearly in the agreed-upon “growth corridor,” Suttle told the commission.

Suttle argued that the structure was neither significant nor historic; it was just an older building one Suttle described as he “the Wal-Mart of the 1920s.” Suttle asked why—if the architecture was so significant—the city hadn’t made any effort to rezone all of the other 1920s commercial buildings in the neighborhood before subsequent alterations rendered those buildings almost impossible to restore.

This building and this site, Suttle said, could possibly compete for the most heavily regulated lot in the city. The building has been zoned MF-4, with uses narrowed under two neighborhood plans and now could have a Historic designation on top of that. The site is limited to surface parking, religious assembly or a day care center.

Hashing out just what the site was supposed to be will be left to other commissions. With little discussion, the Historic Landmark Commission unanimously voted to designate the former A&P Store as historic. The final decision on the Historic designation—or the demolition of the building—will be left up to the Planning Commission and City Council.

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

Injunction against Bee Cave continued to February. . . Rep. Terry Keel ( R- Travis County), who was granted a restraining order against the Village of Bee Cave relating to his campaign signs, said yesterday that the TRO was continued by agreement when the court did not reach the case on the docket. The injunction prevents the city from collecting $100 per sign and requiring eight photos or drawings (to scale) of the sign along with a description of what materials would be used to make the sign—all for signs on private property. Keel said the case has been re-set for Feb. 4. As noted yesterday, Keel has already pre-filed a bill that would eliminate those provisions for political signs . . . Council subcommittee meets today . . . The City Council health care subcommittee has scheduled a meeting for 3:30pm today. The Zoning and Platting Commission and other panels are taking this Thanksgiving week off. No other official city meetings are scheduled this week. City offices will be closed Thursday and Friday. In Fact Daily will also take those two days off . . . Boycott Foley’s demonstration planned . . . The Save Our Springs Alliance is urging supporters to demonstrate on Friday—the busiest shopping day of the year—against Foley’s for the company’s apparent plans to be part of the Hill Country Galleria. SOSA claims the mall in the Village of Bee Cave would “ruin the Hill Country and pollute Barton Springs.” The organizers hope that enough pressure can be applied to Foley’s to abandon plans for the mall. Demonstrators will gather at Barton Creek Mall entrance nearest MoPac . . . Fath, Jones, Beall honored . . . The Save Barton Creek Association (SBCA) last night honored Shudde Fath for decades of service to the community, including22 years of service to SBCA . She was surprised the group selected her for the Lifetime Achievement Award, saying, “I’m glad just to be.” Among those attending to honor Fath were Congressman Lloyd Doggett, Council Members Jackie Goodman, Daryl Slusher and Raul Alvarez, former Mayor Frank Cooksey and former Council Member Brigid Shea. Also in attendance were Jack Goodman and Craig Smith, members of the Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer Conservation District Board of Directors and numerous members of the group. Marguerite Jones, a leader in the fight against the Longhorn Pipeline, was honored as Volunteer of the Year. Jon Beall, who has been president of SBCA for the past eight years, also received an award for his service . . . Commissioners to look at RMA Board today . . . Today’s Travis County Commissioners Court agenda indicates that commissioners will review applications for the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority. Rep. Mike Krusee (R-Round Rock) has pre-filed two bills relating to the RMA. One would authorize the RMA to issue turnpike revenue bonds and the other would give it the power of eminent domain. He has filed three bills relating to the authority of the Texas Department of Transportation, one of which would give both TxDOT and the RMA authority to purchase or condemn land for the Trans-Texas Corridor . . . Real estate battle . . . A local real estate broker won a court victory on Monday over the state agency that regulates brokers. State District Judge Lora Livingston granted a Temporary Restraining Order preventing the Texas Real Estate Commission ( from enforcing new rules aimed at brokers offering limited services. Aaron Farmer, who runs a discount brokerage service, claimed the rules were not justified. Farmer is one of a handful of brokers who places homes on the local Multiple Listing Service (MLS) for a flat fee. Under the arrangement, the broker is not obligated to answer questions or help with contract negotiations. “If you’re not comfortable dealing with contracts and negotiations, it’s not for you,” says Farmer. He says his clients can save thousands of dollars in real estate brokerage fees by advertising their homes on the popular MLS. A judge will consider in mid-December whether to grant Farmer’s request for a Temporary Injunction on the same matter.

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

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