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By Keith Sennikoff

Tuesday, February 18, 2003 by

Marguerite Jones is the executive director of the Austin Safe Pipeline Coalition (ASPC) a nd a board member of the Save Barton Creek Association (SBCA), which last year named her Volunteer of the Year. Much of that volunteer work was in opposition to the Longhorn Pipeline. Things have been happening fast for Jones, a mother of three; she only began community service five years ago. Jones is personable and quick to laughter, but can be very tough and outspoken when public safety is threatened.

Born in Kerrville, Jones had been living in San Antonio with her husband Bob, a contractor, and two children, William and Julianna, before moving to Austin twelve years ago. The family came here when Bob landed a job at Xerox. They ended up living near the pipeline—two houses away—so their son could get speech therapy at one of the few public schools offering it. At that time, she began volunteer work at the school. One thing led to another and she became a member of the Langford Elementary Campus Advisory Council, then PTA president.

It was through her role as PTA president that she became an environmental activist—about five months after second daughter Lauren was born. She got a call from one of former Mayor Kirk Watson’ s aides looking for a room in which to meet. “They (the city) needed school buildings to meet in, to have town hall meetings, because there are really no community centers in some of the areas. And to get the word out about the pipeline they chose the schools as a way to do that. I helped them organize the town hall meetings, and just facilitate sometimes. I worked with the PR firms; I wasn’t really working for them—whatever they couldn’t get done. That was just as a private citizen. That’s what I’ve always done. I did it as a volunteer.”

Jones has had some solid guidance along the way, however. “Save Barton Creek Association was one of those groups that mentored me. They know the ropes. They know what’s going on. They know what’s gone on. They know who people are. They know how things work. And I didn’t know anything. They’re very laid-back and not abrasive. They’re easy to work with. So I started going to their meetings. Every week they have a board meeting, so I went every week—always talking about the pipeline. They were great; they would listen. And I think some people kind of thought, ‘Why are we talking about this?’ Then they realized, ‘Yeah, it is going to affect the water.’ But they’ve helped me a lot. One of the people who has helped me the most is Shudde Fath,” one of the founders and longtime treasurer of SBCA. “She’s wonderful.”

Jones was one of the founding members of ASPC, put together at the same time former Rep. Ann Kitchen had introduced bills on pipeline safety awareness to committee. Others who assisted in launching the coalition include Rep. Glen Maxey, his assistant Eddie Rodriguez—who has since become the State Representative for District 51—and former AISD Board President Nan Clayton. Jones was able to call on people from a wide variety of backgrounds and affiliations from around the state, including members of neighborhood associations, environmental groups, Mexican-American Democrats, the Austin Neighborhoods Council, People Organized in Defense of the Earth and her Resources (PODER) Sierra Club and Clean Water Action, among others. “It got to the point where I knew so many people that I kept a list, and I kept their cards so I could call them.” She and the others worked to get citizens to show up and testify before the committee looking at the bills. ASPC lost that particular battle as the bills never made it out of committee, but amendments were added as a result of their efforts—enough to galvanize members to stay together and keep going.

Jones further explains the pipeline situation, “ Navajo was the opposition to Longhorn Pipeline. They were an independent gas and oil dealer, and they did not want Longhorn to compete with them in the New Mexico, Utah and Texas markets—really the North Texas market—so they hired PR firms and went out and told people who lived along the pipeline what was going to happen and how dangerous it was. They’re not spotless themselves . . . but they at least warned us. I guess they hired consultants here to help them fight the pipeline company. Exxon had owned that pipeline and let it go dormant, and then sold it to Longhorn Partners. It was a PR war in the beginning. So they helped us; they didn’t actually give me money, but they hired PR people. (Former Council Member) Brigid (Shea) ended up being a consultant for them two years into it. (Environmentalist Mike) Blizzard and (Richard) Fawal were part of the PR firm, (as was) Jeff Heckler . . . that’s what they do you know . . . I worked with Jeff Heckler in the beginning. And there was another company called Hillco, the PR firm that got hired first. They represented (Lt. Governor) David Dewhurst .” Blizzard and Fawal were partners in Grassroots Solutions. After Fawal took a job in Washington, DC, Heckler became partners with Blizzard.

She got to know Shea well during a trip to a national safe pipeline conference in Washington D.C. “I went with her and one of the attorneys who was fighting the pipeline. That’s how I got to know her. When you go on a three-day conference you get to know each other really well. It’s like a pajama party,” she said laughing. “We met people from Bellingham, Washington; they had an accident there and it killed three kids. Washington State has done more to change the pipeline safety laws than, I think, any other state in the country. And that’s because of those three kids. So that was part of the way we got to know each other, Brigid and I. And she’s helped me a lot because she would introduce me to people and tell them what I do. And then, you know, they would connect me with somebody else.”

Jones is serious about holding elected officials accountable for their efforts on the environment. “I’m pretty hard on politicians—especially that are running in our area—about asking them where they stand on issues because it’s going to affect us all. I started looking at that as a mom and I thought, ‘Good God! If we don’t stand up and say something, what’s going to happen?’”

Standing up and saying something has brought her to the point where some candidates for public office seek her endorsement. “I’ve built credibility with people because I’ve never been paid, never taken money for doing this. So people trust me more, and I know that. (But) I can’t endorse anybody just because they’re nice people. I need to really find out about them. I’m harder on people who ask me to endorse them.”

Jones also enjoys going to schools to talk to kids about being active in their communities. “Especially to college students who are going to school just to get through school and get a job, and have no idea what they want to do. I didn’t get to go to school. And I look at them and think, ‘You are so lucky. You gotta use this. Get out and go to a meeting!’ So I’m always encouraging people to come to Save Barton Creek. It’s really fun.”

“Everybody talks about networking. Usually they’re talking about people who have a lot of power. Well, I think the power is with everyday people, not just the people at the top. It’s everyday people who vote, and who maybe don’t vote. We can motivate them and say, ‘you know, I knew nothing, nothing, and I’m doing this. Think about what you could do.’ It’s really cool. That is the fun part: trying to motivate people to step out of their box.” The Longhorn Pipeline has delayed start-up due to financial problems. Dallas Kelly of Martin & Salinas Public Affairs says the company still expects to begin service in October.,

Wednesday, Thursday, Friday.

© 2003 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.

Filing period begins today . . . Today is the first day for candidates for the May 3 City Council elections to file for Mayor, Place 2, Place 5 or Place 6. Brewster McCracken has already alerted the media that he will be at City Hall today to file for Place 5, the seat held by Council Member Will Wynn, who’s hoping to become Mayor. McCracken will probably be the first of many filing for that particular place. No one other than incumbent Council Members Raul Alvarez and Danny Thomas have announced for the seats they currently hold. However, it is a tradition within the Hispanic community for a member of El Concilio to run against who ever is holding that seat. Candidates must be at least 18 years old, have lived in Austin for six months and in Texas for one year . . . Today’s meetings . . . Neither the Zoning and Platting Commission nor the Planning Commission is scheduled to meet this week. The Airport Advisory Commission will meet at 5pm today. The Urban Transportation Commission and the MBE/WBE Advisory Committee are scheduled to meet today. The latter is having a special called meeting at 6pm at the SMBR Office, 4100 Ed Bluestein Blvd. The panel will hear an appeal by a company that failed to receive MBE/WBE certification. The UTC will hear a presentation on the Lance Armstrong Bikeway, a matter of great interest to cyclists and some downtown business owners . . . City Council invited to Real Estate luncheon . . . The Institute of Real Estate Managers/Building Owners and Managers Association will host the City Council at an 11:30am luncheon today at the Renaissance Hotel, 9721 Arboretum Blvd. They have been invited to speak “on issues of their choice which may be of interest to the Austin real estate community”. . . Council briefing this week . . . On Wednesday the City Council will be briefed and discuss budget issues beginning at 10am at Zilker Botanical Gardens. There is no regular City Council meeting this week . . . New Executive Director for Caritas . . . Caritas, which assists area residents in times of crisis with basic needs, has named Julia Spann as its new executive director. Prior to joining Caritas, Spann served as Chief Program Officer at SafePlace for seven years. She has a Masters in Social Work from UT-Arlington and experience with the Salvation Army and the United Way of Ft. Worth. “We are proud to bring a leader of Julia’s caliber to Caritas of Austin,” said Board of Directors President Ed McHorse . . . In case you missed it . . . The Dallas Morning News reported Saturday that the five Republicans on the State Preservation Board had fired Nelda Laney, wife of former House Speaker Pete Laney, from her volunteer job designing Christmas ornaments sold at the State Preservation Board’s gift shops. The board also fired Rick Crawford, executive director of the board. http://www.dallasnews.com/cgi-bin/gold_print.cgi .

© 2003 In Fact News,

Inc. All rights reserved.

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