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Futrell responds to ministers' charges of disparate treatment

Monday, March 8, 2004 by

Manager acknowledges problems, but lists many city accomplishments

City Manager Toby Futrell disputes an allegation by the Baptist Ministers’ Union that the city has “accepted a status quo of disparity through inaction” in addressing racial problems that arise between the Austin police officers and members of the minority community. In a five-page letter sent to the ministers last week, Futrell responded to statements made by the ministers in letters sent to the City Council on January 27 and February 21. While recognizing “significant frustration and anger among the African-American community,” Futrell outlined steps already taken and those in progress to attempt to address those problems.

“In a time of failed trust,” she wrote, “the time-worn call for more talk or forming a task force falls flat.” Instead, she responded to the charge of inaction by listing 12 “accomplishments and initiatives that have occurred over the past five years under the leadership of Police Chief Stan Knee.” Number one on that list is “safer community. Violent crime is down 12 percent in the Central East Area Command over the last three years, making (it) the second safest area command in Austin.”

Futrell listed accountability second. Officer discipline cases jumped 69 percent in Chief Knee’s first year with APD. Over the past five years, she wrote, discipline rates have risen 35 percent. She went on to cite increased diversity in the department, as well as within APD management ranks, as signs of achievement. In addition, the force has begun “an aggressive program of equipping and training officers with less than lethal weapons.”

Referring to the melee between police and partygoers on Cedar Avenue several years back and the resulting lawsuit by members of the neighborhood, Futrell noted, “All items in the Cedar Avenue settlement have been fully implemented, including the installation of in-car cameras in all patrol cars.”

In addition, the City Manager listed Faith-based policing, training on racial profiling, the walking beat patrol for the Central East Command and the Criminal Justice Program at Huston-Tillotson College as some of the APD’s efforts to address charges of racial disparity.

In the future, Futrell wrote, cadets will spend an additional 40 hours training in de-escalating conflict, professionalism in communication and dealing with persons with mental health and/or drug or alcohol-related issues. The 2004 cadet class will also spend an additional 40 hours training with district representatives in the North East, North Central, South East, South Central and Central East Area Commands, she wrote.

“Given this significant effort, it seems only fair that you acknowledge the level of effort, both past and now under way. I don’t have all the answers. I don’t know that anyone does. But the city clearly hasn’t accepted a status quo of disparity through inaction,” the letter said.

“Disparity is a complex problem with many socioeconomic causes not solely attributable to or controllable by police officers who deal with disparity at the tail end of the problem. Ultimately, the whole community owns a piece of the disparity problem, not just APD.”

Finally, Futrell concluded, “We all face a choice now on how we are going to move forward. We can continue to move forward in a way that divides and polarizes the community and police officers—or we can find a way to heal the rift and press forward. My door remains open to you individually or as a group.”

In addition to the five-page letter, Futrell sent a lengthy addendum attempting to address racial disparity within city government as a whole. For example, she admitted that attempts to recruit minorities into the city Fire Department have not been as successful as she had hoped. Although 40 percent of the upcoming cadet class is minority and/or female, she said, a high percentage of the top-ranking minorities with the department will be retiring within the next six years.

“Most of our diversity was done under a consent decree 20-25 years ago,” Futrell said Sunday. Under that decree, the city had to hire minorities on a rotational basis. She said she was asking the ministers for ideas on how to deal with that problem. Citywide, Futrell said, “We’ve made big gains . . . gains they’re just not acknowledging.” Although African-Americans make up 10 percent of the population, she said, the city workforce is 11 percent African-American.

McCaul emphasizes Austin connections

Congressional candidate Michael McCaul played up his ties to Austin and the Bush administration on Sunday at a campaign rally on the steps of the State Capitol. State Representative Jack Stick and U.S. Senator John Cornyn, both endorsing McCaul, joined the candidate, who is seeking the GOP’s nomination in the new 10th Congressional District.

“I think he stands head and shoulders above the opposition in this contested primary,” said Senator Cornyn. “I can’t think of anybody better than Michael McCaul to work alongside of President Bush and the United States Congress and to help continue to make our country safer against those who would come here to kill us and to harm innocent civilians as they did on September 11th.” During his tenure as Texas Attorney General, Cornyn recruited McCaul away from the U.S. Department of Justice to work for the AG’s office. McCaul later returned to the DOJ to serve as Chief of the Terrorism and National Security Section within the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Texas.

That experience has served as the centerpiece of McCall’s campaign so far, but at Sunday’s rally he also hit on some other GOP hot-button issues during a speech to about three dozen supporters gathered on the Capitol steps. “The first thing we’ll do is stand up and make the President’s tax cuts permanent,” McCaul said. “Then we’re going to move on and we’re going to look at greater tax relief. I believe it’s time in this country to have a fundamental debate on the tax code.” Houston area businessman Ben Streusand has made abolishing the IRS a key component of his campaign, and has said he favors a national sales tax instead of an income tax. McCaul has not focused as much on changing the tax system, but did say on Sunday that funding the IRS is “a tremendous drain on our economy, and I believe it’s time to change the tax code.” His web site indicates he would also support either a flat tax on income or a national sales tax.

McCaul also used the opportunity to establish his conservative credentials on social issues, which has been the focus of both former District Judge John Devine and candidate Dave Phillips. “I want to stand with US Senator John Cornyn to protect our faith and family, to protect the institution of marriage and to respect and protect the sanctity of human life,” said McCaul. On the issue of abortion, McCaul states on his web site, “I am pro-life.” Other candidates in the race, including Devine, have made that their primary selling point to potential voters. Devine has also been endorsed by local abortion opponent Chris Danze and Congressman Ron Paul.

There are a total of eight candidates seeking the GOP nomination. The district leans heavily Republican, so much so that no Democrat even bothered to file. However, the race may not be decided on Tuesday, since the large number of candidates may split the vote enough to require a runoff. Although he has not campaigned strictly as “Austin’s candidate,” McCaul is hoping that turnout from Austin voters will help to balance the strength of other candidates in the suburbs of Houston. “We have a unique opportunity for the first time to elect a Republican Congressman from Travis County . . . the first one since Reconstruction,” he told supporters, “and I want to be that Congressman.”

Teresa Doggett Taylor of Austin is also seeking the nomination, along with five candidates from the suburbs of Houston and one from Brenham. Mortgage company owner Ben Streusand has funneled significant amounts of his own money into his campaign, advertising heavily on both ends of the district to build up name recognition. While McCaul has not spent as much money campaigning, he has been successful at fundraising on both sides of the district and across the state.

Federal election records show that McCaul has the largest number of donations from individuals, including Roy Butler, Ben Bentzin, Commissioner Gerald Daugherty, former Gov. Dolph Briscoe, Kent Hance, Dallas businessman Tom Hicks, both Lowry and Mark Mays of San Antonio’s Clear Channel Communications, Retired Adm. Bobby R. Inman and San Antonio businessman Red McCombs. That fundraising infrastructure and the support of some of the state’s GOP leadership could help McCaul if he is one of the candidates in a runoff.

Single-family home subdivision to replace condo plan

ZAP approves re-subdivision for Avery Ranch

The Zoning and Platting Commission on last week approved a re-subdivision request for land at the Avery Ranch Golf Club in Northwest Austin. The change will allow the developer to build 28 single-family homes on acreage once slated for detached condominiums.

“The were originally going to do a single-family condominium development. Since that time, the market has changed . . . and they’ve decided to go with a traditional preliminary plan and subdivide the lot for single-family houses,” explained David Wahlgren with the Neighborhood Planning and Zoning Department. But that change triggered the need for a variance on the property, which would not have direct access to a public street. Instead, residents would go from a public street to the private driveway of the golf course, then to a private street. While that’s allowed for condo or apartment zoning, Wahlgren said, there’s no provision for that in the city’s code governing single-family residential. “The original approvals were based on one type of application,” he said. “This application is not in the code.”

Because of that, staff was unable to recommend approval of the variance. Since the homes will not have direct access to a public street, they will have to be addressed the same as apartments or condos. “The only problem with the Fire Department is the inability to address each individual lot,” said transportation reviewer Emily Barron. “It would look as though it was a floating street for location purposes if 9-1-1 was called.”

Commissioner Keith Jackson moved to approve the re-subdivision and the associated variance, since there would not be a change in the actual use of the property. “The real difference we’re talking about is we have drawn lot lines,” he said. “We have not changed the intensity of the use.”

The motion passed unanimously.

Tonight’s meetings . . . The Shambala Corp., owner of the parking-plagued school and Casa de Luz Restaurant on Toomey Road, will return to the Board of Adjustment tonight seeking a variance on the number of parking spaces it is required to furnish. One member of the BOA will reportedly be absent, giving the applicant the possibility of asking for another postponement. The Design Commission will hold a special called meeting to consider an amendment to the Commercial Design Code Amendment . . . CAMPO Transportation Policy Board meeting tonight. . . TxDOT and Capital Metro are requesting amendments to the FY 2004-2008 TIP. The board is scheduled to conduct a public hearing tonight on the amendments and consider adopting the amendments on April 12 . . . Firefighters to present petitions . . . The Austin Association of Professional Firefighters say they have collected enough signatures from Austin voters over the past 3 weeks to have their request to do collective bargaining included on the May ballot. Firefighters will be delivering boxes of signed petitions to City Hall at 10am this morning. Although the Austin Police Association has collective bargaining, the firefighters do not. The only way they can gain that right is through a referendum. No City Council seats will be on the May ballot . . . No smoking meetings. . . The modified smoking ordinance passed by the Austin City Council last October will go into effect May 1st. To help club and restaurant owners make sure they’re prepared, the Austin-Travis County Health and Human Services Department is holding a series of community meetings. The first will be tonight from 6:30pm until 8:00pm at the St. Johns Community Center. Subsequent meetings will be held at Waller Creek Center and the South Austin Neighborhood Center. “This is part of our overall strategy of informing the public and bar owners about what’s about to come down the pike,” said Health Department Management Analyst Bob Corona. . . Retiring . . . Dallas Morning News investigative reporter George Kuempel is retiring. He has worked on numerous stories and scandals throughout his long career at the News’ Capitol Bureau, including the current one over possible misuse of money by the Texas Association of Business and Texans for a Republican Majority. His farewell party is at 5pm Friday at 1005 Congress, Suite 930 . . . Doggett plans for Election Day . . . The Congressman will spend the day campaigning in the Valley. He will fly into Austin in the evening, arriving at Signature FSO at Austin Bergstrom International at 9:30pm. At some point, he will attend the Election Night party at Ruta Maya International Headquarters at Penn Field, 3601 S. Congress Avenue, Suite D200. The party will be from 7:30pm to midnight . . . About District 25 . . . Mike Clark-Madison of the Austin Chronicle wrote to tell us that the portion of Hidalgo County in Congressional District 25 “is actually comparable to the portion of Travis in the district.” He notes that 43 percent of Hidalgo, home of Doggett’s opponent Leticia Hinojosa, and 31 percent of Travis is in the district Doggett hopes to make his. There are 253,000 people in that part of Travis County and 247,000 in the district’s portion of Hidalgo County. Most of Hidalgo is still in CD15, Ruben Hinojosa’s district. Clark-Madison also pointed out that while the sheriff's race in Hidalgo is hot, there is also a contested district judge race where the incumbent ( Ed Aparicio) is under investigation by the FBI.

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