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State District Judge Paul Davis late Tuesday ruled in favor of the Austin Police Association in the union’s dispute with the city over an outside investigation of the shooting death of Sophia King. Davis issued a temporary injunction prohibiting the city from retaining an independent law firm to investigate the death of King, who was shot by Police Officer John Coffey in June. Davis set a date of Feb. 18th to hear arguments over the merits of the case.

Wednesday, November 27, 2002 by

The ruling surprised attorney Jim Harrington of the Texas Civil Rights Project, who’s representing the King family in a wrongful death lawsuit against the police department. “The decision is stunning in the sense that it’s just virtually impossible, it seems, to get anyone to do a good investigation of what happened,” he said. “You take the very process used by the citizens to investigate police misconduct…and the judge interprets in such a way to turn it upside down and it becomes a way of protecting officers. It’s very clear…crystal clear…that the whole agenda here by the police association is to slow down or stop the investigation.” That delay means that if an investigation does turn up wrongdoing, the officer will not face punishment as a result. Texas law prohibits officers from being disciplined for any incident more than 180 days after it occurred.

Austin Police Association President Mike Sheffield pointed out that the officer who shot King was no-billed by a Travis County grand jury and also cleared by an internal affairs investigation. He also took exception to the characterization that the organization was interested only in delaying or preventing an investigation. “We want to see this thing come to a conclusion just like everybody else,” said Sheffield. “We just feel like the officer’s rights have to be protected, and that’s why we did what we did.”

The APA contends that the procedures that would govern an independent investigation are not outlined in the union’s contract with the city. Under the city’s procedures, officers could be directed by their superiors to answer questions from an investigator. Judge Davis, in granting the temporary injunction, agreed with the APA’s claims that allowing the investigation to continue without giving the union an opportunity to help write those procedures would damage the overall process of civilian oversight. Sheffield said those procedures could eventually be worked out through further negotiation. “I think this is about fairness,” he said. “It’s about making the city come back and talk to us about this issue and finish what we started.” Judge Davis’ order prohibits the city from pursuing the independent investigation until the contract dispute is resolved. That could involve binding arbitration as outlined in the contract.

Sonleitner says appointees "the most important"

A Travis County Commissioners Court subcommittee has about 24 hours to cut a list of 19 applicants in half to interview for positions on the Travis-Williamson Regional Mobility Authority. Most of the applicants are white males.

The Travis-Williamson County RMA will be the first to take advantage of legislation passed last session to create regional toll authorities. The RMA will be governed by a board of seven—three appointees from each county and one from the governor’s office. Commissioner Karen Sonleitner called the Commissioners Court’s choice of its three appointees “the most important set of appointments that we may ever make.”

Despite the pressure, Commissioners Court has agreed it must have a board in place by the time the session startsin January. To keep that timetable on track, the court has agreed that Commissioners Sonleitner and Margaret Gomez, with the help of executive managers Joe Gieselman, Alicia Perez and Christian Smith, will cut the list from 19 applicants down to no more than 8.

Once that list is submitted to County Judge Sam Biscoe at 5pm today, the judge’s office will arrange interviews with each of the candidates on the short list. Commissioners Court is scheduled to take a vote on the board appointees Dec. 10.

The Transportation and Natural Resources Department initially wanted to ask each candidate about his or her experience with bond markets, capital budgeting and project risk analysis, as well as their experience with the public involvement process and understanding of Governor Rick Perry’s Trans Texas Corridor.

Interest in the appointment process is so high that the Real Estate Council of Austin has already endorsed its own slate of recommendations for positions on the board. In a letter dated Nov. 15, President Kirk Rudy said the group supported candidates Margaret Moore, John Lewis, Paul Linehan and Rex Gore as appointees. Gore’s name did not appear on the list of applicants.

The applicants:

Linehan – Linehan is a graduate of Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design and is founder of Land Strategies Inc. He was a member of the SOS-RECA 1704 committee and currently serves on the RECA executive board of directors.

Lewis – Lewis is a large landowner with his own real estate development firm. He served as vice chair of last year’s Travis County Bond Citizens Advisory Committee and is a member of the RECA board of directors and RECA’s transportation committee.

Johanna Zmud – Zmud owns NuStats Partners with her husband. The firm conducts social policy studies in the areas of transportation, environment, education and health. She is a member of the Transportation Research Board and serves on the Clean Air Force.

Rebecca Bronson – Bronson is a lawyer in private practice with Hogan & Hartson LLP, representing investors in infrastructure and manufacturing projects. She worked on the Denver International Airport financing package. She also established her law firm’s Moscow office before making her home in Austin.

George Wehling – Wehling served in the US Air Force for 31 years and was commander of Austin-Bergstrom Air Force Base before its closure. He has operated a number of small businesses in the Austin area since his retirement from the Air Force.

Jimmy Dean Jackson – Jackson is the president of Capitol Area Realty and managing partner of GS&J Properties. Jackson built his office from 6 agents to 46 agents.

Michael Bomba – Bomba is a research associate at the Center for Transportation Research at the University of Texas at Austin. Bomba is completing a PhD in Public Policy at the LBJ School of Public Affairs and has served as a consultant and subcontractor on a number of CAMPO projects. He was also an environmental and transportation planner for Hicks & Company in the early ‘90s.

Lowell Lebermann – Lebermann is chair of Centex Beverage. A former UT regent and Austin City Council member, Lebermann served on the executive committee of the Greater Austin-San Antonio Corridor Council and as chair of the State Capitol Restoration Committee in the mid-80s. He is now a partner in the proposed Hill County Galleria project.

Margaret Moore – Moore, who recently served as the interim commissioner of Precinct 3, is the former county attorney and Congressman Lloyd Doggett’ s district administrator. Moore served as one of the court’s representatives in the creation of the RMA.

Henry Gilmore – Gilmore is an attorney specializing in real estate and land use. He is a former member of the Austin Planning Commission and the city’s Smart Growth Commission. He is a board member of the Austin Chamber of Commerce and a former board member of RECA.

Mark Stine – Stine is an active member of the Old West Austin Neighborhood Association. A medic in the Peace Corps in the mid-70s, Stine is now an environmental chemist with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, specializing in air monitoring projects at refineries, chemical plants and out industrial sites.

Robert Cullick – Cullick is the executive manager of communications at the Lower Colorado River Authority and a member of the agency’s Financial Oversight Group. His workload includes organizing regional planning efforts for the agency. He is a former newspaper reporter.

Other applicants include IT analyst Thomas Bradley Bleich, Senior Police Officer Jason Chiappardi, Parks Board Member Clint Small Jr. and government affairs director Randy Lee of Stewart Information Services Corp. and Stewart Title Guaranty Corp. Additional candidates include Luke Legate, a project director at Strategy.gov, Timothy Moltz, chairman of the planning and zoning commission for the City of Pflugerville and manager of client development for Carter Burgess Inc. and business manager Cid Galindo of Cid A. Galindo Inc. Galindo is active in Cedar Park civic affairs.

Commissioner Gerald Daugherty expressed concern that the timetable for picking the board members was extremely short. Biscoe assured him the county would be doing “due diligence” on the short list of candidates but might need an extra week to pick the final three because Williamson County is a week behind Travis County.

Daugherty also wanted to make sure the panel chosen by the two counties would be a good mix of political and technical people. Sonleitner told him the two counties were in contact with each other throughout the process and were using the same application forms. But she added that the two counties use a very different approach. Williamson County leaders are recruiting qualified board candidates by geographic area, picking people who have a special interest in transportation issues from different parts of the county.

New facility would be within 50 miles of Austin

The Texas Department of Transportation has launched an 18-month feasibility study of a new general aviation airport in Central Texas.

The feasibility study, which will be conducted by consultant Wilbur Smith, will include both an assessment of the need for such an airport in Central Texas and the possible location of 500 available acres for such a facility. Last week, TxDOT’s aviation department met with interested pilots and officials from small cities to discuss the process.

“What we’re doing today is announcing that the study has commenced, and we told the public exactly what that process will be,” said David Fulton, head of TxDOT’s aviation division. “We want to give them a chance to ask questions about the study, and we fully intend to include the public throughout the 18-month study.”

The Texas Legislature set aside $500,000 for the feasibility study. The Federal Aviation Administration has supported a new general aviation airport in Central Texas, Fulton told the audience last week. Should the expenditure be approved, the airport would be paid for through the FAA’s aviation trust fund.

Fulton estimated that a similar, but smaller, general aviation airport recently built in Mount Pleasant cost about $5 million. An airport in Austin, in a more urban location, could be substantially more expensive given the cost of the land, he said.

The site that is chosen, wherever it might be, would be within a 50-mile radius of Austin and no more than a mile from a four-lane highway, Fulton said. The site would need to have access to good ground transportation and business areas. Fulton mentioned an airport on or near the new State Highway 130 as a strong possibility.

Consultant Scott Sanders of Wilbur Smith said the location of the airport is likely to be close to where a high concentration of users and pilots live. The consultant will take into consideration where existing facilities are located, where the population is concentrated in the region and how well existing facilities are serving the area. Hence, Georgetown and San Marcos are not likely to be strong candidates, Fulton said.

Once a potential site has been chosen, public hearings will be held to discuss the location, Fulton said. That will likely be about a year into the process. “You can’t build something like this without total openness and public buy-in,” Fulton said.

Fulton welcomed the input of private landowners who might want to submit a proposal for possible sites. A joint venture is not out of the question, he said.

A 10- to 12-person technical advisory committee will also be appointed to provide feedback on possible locations, Fulton told the audience. A number of people in the audience expressed dissatisfaction with the cost of doing business in limited facilities at Austin Bergstrom Airport. General aviation facilities had moved from Mueller to Bergstrom when the new airport opened.

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

Barton Springs zone summit . . . A summit on protecting the Barton Springs zone of the Edwards Aquifer, hosted by Austin and Hays County, is now only 10 days away. Council Member Daryl Slusher and Hays County Judge Jim Powers are organizing the event, which is free and open to the public. Slusher noted that the City of Austin has jurisdiction over only one-third of the Barton Springs zone and must count on regional cooperation to preserve the aquifer. Powers said, “Formulating a plan will be one of the toughest challenges any of us has undertaken. Also, even if successful at agreeing on a plan, the mere fact of having one will not save the aquifer or Barton Springs. There will have to be authority to implement and enforce a plan that requires state legislation.” The summit will be from 8:30am to 3:30pm on December 6 at the Palmer Events Center. To register, call Marie Sandoval at 974-3298 or email marie.sandoval@ci.austin.tx.us by 5pm Monday . . . For the lawyer who has everything . . . Travis County is auctioning off a parking space in front of the county courthouse for a year. Proceeds will go to the Combined Charities Campaign. The auction listing will be posted on eBay starting on Dec. 2 . . . Pitching in . . . New Commissioner Gerald Daugherty’s first contribution to Commissioners Court discussion was something he knows well—ball fields. Daugherty offered his expertise to trim personnel costs at the proposed baseball complex at Northeast Metro Park. Daugherty was a baseball player and later developed and ran the Pleasant Valley Sportsplex. The 410-acre Northeast Metro Park is located in Precinct 2 . . . Results of magistration experiment . . . The two-week trial of offering magistrate services round the clock has had some impact on the prisoner population in Travis County, commissioners were told yesterday. A pilot project for the last two weeks of October showed a 3 to 3.5 hour reduction in the intake process for arrestees . . . Appointments . . . Last week the City Council made the following appointments: Ali Khataw to the Building and Standards Commission, June Smith to the Child Care Council and Chip Rosenthal to the Telecommunications Commission. Horace Carrington and Shama Gamkhar were reappointed to the Community Development Commission . . . Dreams of Congress . . . The city’s Transportation Planning & Sustainability Department will report on progress and take input on plans for streetscape improvements on Congress Avenue from Town Lake to Ben White Blvd. at a meeting from 5:30 to 7:30pm Dec. 4. The meeting is at the Grace United Methodist Church, 205 E. Monroe. The focus will be pedestrian crossings, street lighting and transit system improvements. For more information, call Pollyanne Melton at 974-6459 . . . Happy Thanksgiving! . . . In Fact Daily will return next Monday . . . Texas Bicyclists win grants . . . The Texas Bicycle Coalition this month won two major grants to enhance its SuperCyclist curriculum and measure its effectiveness. More than half a million fourth and fifth graders have taken part in the SuperCyclist training, which teaches students traffic laws, bike safety maintenance, use of helmets and on bike practices. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration gave the coalition a grant to measure the effectiveness of the program. Preston Tyree, education director for the coalition, said if the program can prove its effectiveness, it could be offered in other states. TxDOT also gave the coalition to develop a program for introducing the SuperCyclist program to student teachers.

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

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