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Cops gather; Futrell, Slusher urge restraint
Contract expiration will not greatly affect operations, says FutrellSeveral hundred persons, including police officers from San Marcos and San Antonio, attended the Austin Police Association rally at La Zona Rosa yesterday afternoon. Although APA President Mike Sheffield sent a special invitation to the Mayor and Council, only three came: Mayor Will Wynn and Council Members Brewster McCracken and Jackie Goodman. The others cited prior obligations and family commitments in declining the invitation. Sheffield did not follow through on his threat to put seven chairs on the stage with the Council members’ names on them. The APA team walked away from the bargaining table last week after Police Chief Stan Knee suspended Officer Scott Glasgow. The contract between the city and police officers expires one week from today. City Manager Toby Futrell explained that most provisions of the contract would continue through the end of the current fiscal year on September 30. Futrell said officers would not receive pay for certain overtime duties, such as court attendance and call-backs, if the contract expires. However, hiring, promotions and extra pay for some overtime assignments would continue, as would the powers and duties of the Police Monitor. Since Futrell hires the monitor, she said, he would still have access to officers’ files and do the same job. She said she believes the same is true for the citizen review panel, but she said that matter might end up in court. Early in the afternoon, a handful of protestors stood across the street with signs that read “Fire Glasgow,” and “Respect Civil Liberties, End Racial Profiling.” Inside, the crowd cheered Texas Monthly publisher Mike Levy, police booster and City Hall critic, who lambasted the American-Statesman’s series on use of force. “The series wasn’t accurate,” said Levy, “but there was some truth in it.” He said Austin police are living with the legacy of 50 years of unequal treatment of minorities. But that is no longer true, he said. The big fault of the series as Levy sees it is its failure to compare Austin’s police department with any other police department in the country. That, he said, would have shown what a fine group of officers Austin really has. Lyndon Felps, one of those protesting across the street, said he and his friends do not belong to an organized group, but feel strongly that Glasgow should be fired and that Police Chief Stan Knee, District Attorney Ronnie Earle and Futrell should resign. “There’s good and bad officers in the Austin Police Department. The police union allows bad officers to be protected and that reflects badly on the good ones,” Felps said. Council Member Daryl Slusher wrote an email to Sheffield to let him know that he would not be able to attend the rally “due to a previous family commitment.” He wrote, “Since attendance at this rally has been framed as showing whether one supports Austin police officers, I want to say that I hope that my decision to honor a family commitment is not interpreted as a lack of support. I would certainly hope that my record during seven years in office would be enough to establish that . . . (I)n the days since the articles began I have made a number of statements that were supportive of the police, including my statement in the APA newsletter – the Shield.” “In that article I also wrote that although I thought the Statesman exaggerated and put the force statistics in the worst possible light, I still think police officers should be willing to discuss the statistics in those articles. I said that in the spirit of reconciliation because I think reconciliation is what needs to take place in this community right now. In that spirit I must add that I strongly disagree with the part of the invitation letter that reads: ‘Now is the time to decide which side you are on. We would hope you would support the police officers of this great city.’ I do not think it is necessary to ‘choose sides’ in order to support police officers. And, as an elected representative of everyone in this City, I think there is too much choosing sides already, too much digging further into entrenched positions. For example I would put the NAACP refusal to let the Police Chief attend their banquet and the call by some ministers for the resignations of the Police Chief, City Manager and District Attorney into that category.” “If leaders on all sides continue to take hardened, uncompromising positions then the divisions in this community will widen into a chasm that could take years to close. I will work instead to bring this community together. I hope that members of the APA will join in that effort. Austin has one of the best police departments in the country. It is possible to transform this crisis into an opportunity to make APD an even better department and Austin an even better City. That can only be done through dialogue and reflection, not by choosing sides,” Slusher concluded. McCracken, who started his day at David’s Chapel in East Austin, told In Fact Daily he agreed with Slusher that the Council should not choose sides. He said the situation is “volatile right now but its going to get better . . . Time is one factor because a lot of this is being driven by the stories that came out in the Statesman.” He added, “I’ve read the Chronicle’ s critique of (the Statesman series) and to me it’s a very persuasive critique.” To summarize, the Chronicle wrote, “The fact remains that the Statesman report has seriously misrepresented both the extent and implications of racial disparity in police uses of force – and that misrepresentation needs to be understood if the larger issues clumsily reflected in the current community screaming match are to be adequately addressed. It won’t be addressed by mistaking the trees – the cops on the beat – for the forest: the institutional and political culture within which police officers (and indeed all of us) work. Our political institutions, top to bottom, are increasingly making street cops the first resort for virtually every social problem facing the city – from traffic gridlock to family welfare to substance abuse to emergency mental health – and then blaming the cops when the problem explodes in their faces. That’s not right, that’s not fair – and that does not address the real problems.” ( http://www.austinchronicle.com/issues/dispatch/2004-02-13/pols_atlarge.html. and http://www.austinchronicle.com/issues/dispatch/2004-02-06/pols_feature.html) Contacted last night, Futrell said she did not hear the speakers at the rally, although she did attend after riding with police officers in East Austin. She said she was hopeful after talking to 20-30 officers. “I always hear hopeful things when I talk with individual officers,” although that is not necessarily the case when she listens to APA pronouncements, she said. “The real issue is can we avoid polarizing this community and this department. Can we avoid this desire to make it an issue of taking sides instead of realizing that there’s some truth on both sides. “It’s a very emotional and volatile time right now. I think everyone needs to start thinking about their exit strategy. You can storm a hill and sometimes that’s a great thing to do, but then you need to figure out how you get down off the hill….Sometimes you can leave an organization and a community in ashes and I don’t think that’s what anybody intends here,” Futrell concluded. Mueller project moves toward groundbreaking Clearing site for Seton Children's Hospital first chore The city will turn the first earth on the Mueller site next month, starting what will be a 20-year timeline to redevelop the city’s former 700-acre airport. The first step for the bulldozers on the Mueller project will be to demolish the runways that currently criss-cross the northwestern edge of the property. That’s where Seton’s new Children’s Hospital will be located. The hospital will be the first significant development on the Mueller property and anchor much of the site’s commercial development. Once the runways are removed, then infrastructure such as water, wastewater and gas utilities will be brought onto the portion of property where Seton will be located, said Catellus Project Manager Greg Weaver. Four roads would follow the utilities to serve the $200 million children’s hospital and its professional building. Construction of the hospital will run concurrently with the extension of utilities. Next week, Seton officials will see an exterior elevation of the hospital for the first time, Bob Moroz of Seton told the Robert Mueller Municipal Airport Plan Implementation Advisory Commission. If all goes well, Seton will break ground in June and open the new hospital in the first quarter of 2007. Utility work alone will take 18 months and address less than a quarter of the Mueller site. Weaver has no estimate on the cost, but the total price tag for bringing utilities out the entire multi-use site is estimated at somewhere between $80 and $120 million. As Seton’s construction begins, other aspects of the Mueller project are also in the works. Each month for the last four months, the Plan Implementation Advisory Commission has reviewed the evolving land use plan for the Mueller site. At this point, ROMA’s Jim Adams and city planner Pam Hefner are down to tweaking the elements of the plan. Hefner presented the Mueller land use plan to the Planning Commission for the first time last week. A zoning proposal will follow. The current timeline would put have the final approval of the zoning plan for Mueller before the City Council by the end of May. As the project moves forward, other aspects of the project are in motion. Chair Jim Walker appointed a number of liaisons last night to other committees. One commissioner will serve as a liaison to the Austin school district to monitor progress on a school campus on the site. Another will join a group naming the property. And two others will serve on a proposed joint subcommittee with the Planning Commission to make sure that Mueller projects continue to move smoothly through city approvals. Walker also is conscious of the public awareness campaign needed on Mueller. Even though the project has been in the works for eight years, Walker says the first bulldozers on the site will still be a surprise to many of the local neighborhoods. He urged Catellus to put signs, with phone numbers, out on the site to address probable questions. Catellus has been in contact with the community. A recent meeting with the local bike community squashed rumors that bike lanes were “out” at Mueller. A community transportation committee meets with Catellus regularly to address traffic issues, the current chief concern of local neighborhoods. The Mueller Neighborhood Coalition has been revived and will meet monthly to address issues on the property, Walker said. And Walker urged Weaver to meet with the Dellwood II neighborhood to address the issues that neighbors might raise. Dellwood is the only neighborhood immediately adjacent to the Mueller site. Commissioner Matt Harris is organizing a workshop on the various options for land disposition at Mueller. The city can choose to sell or lease the Mueller property, or to choose different options for different portions of the property. Closed today . . . City, county and federal offices are closed today in observance of President’s Day . . . The other battle . . . Texas Monthly publisher Mike Levy and American-Statesman editor Rich Oppel appear to disagree over more than the facts about use of force by Austin police. Levy has consistently supported rank and file officers over the years and naturally rose to their defense when the Statesman’s series, “Unequal Force,” concluded that cops apply force unequally to minorities. Levy’s emails are legendary, frequently emotion-laden, and rarely complimentary. Since Oppel called Levy a racist, Levy has filed back, saying, “Oppel’s way of dealing with his critics is to make them the issue, even if it means permanently labeling them with one of the worst pejoratives imaginable to someone trying to live a responsible life in a civilized society.” For an interesting analysis, visit: http://texasmediawatch.com . . . Goodmans celebrate too . . . Last week, In Fact Daily mentioned that Council Member Danny Thomas and his wife, Janice, were celebrating their 32nd wedding anniversary. Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman and her husband, Jack, observed their 38th anniversary last week also. Jack Goodman is a member of the Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer Conservation District board of directors . . . Coming up. . . The Downtown Austin Alliance offers February Issues & Eggs at 8am Friday with a presentation by Texas Department of Transportation District Engineer Bob Daigh. His talk is entitled, “Regional Transportation Challenges & How They Will Affect Downtown.” For more information, contact the DAA at firstname.lastname@example.org or 469-1766 x 211.
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