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Endorsements spell victory for McCaul

Wednesday, April 14, 2004 by

Streusand's expensive negative campaign does not pay off

Austin’s Michael McCaul savored his victory last night and spoke of bringing the Republican Party together within the far-flung Congressional District 10. McCaul took 63 percent of the vote, beating Houston businessman Ben Streusand in every county within the district except Lee—which Streusand won by seven votes out of 255, according to unofficial totals.

Streusand ran an expensive and negative campaign, accusing McCaul of being insufficiently conservative and attempting to link him to Democratic administrations. McCaul worked in the Justice Department under Presidents George Bush, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. He was also Deputy Attorney General under John Cornyn. His years of service paid off and he won endorsements not only from the President and Cornyn but also from Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson and Gov. Rick Perry. McCaul also had the support of Reps. Todd Baxter and Jack Stick as well as former primary opponent Dave Phillips.

“I do want to heal some the divisiveness and some of the wounds that were caused by this campaign,” McCaul said last night. “Part of that’s going to be traveling through the district, spending a lot of time with those who were opposed to me. I think it is very important so that we can win in November.” Not that McCaul has to worry too much about that. It is likely his name will be the only on the ballot. Perennial candidate Jennifer Gale has been trying to collect enough signatures to run for the seat as an independent, but no Democrat announced for the seat until yesterday. Lorenzo Sadun, described as a UT math professor in TV reports, announced his intention to be a write-in candidate for the seat.

While he may not have much in common philosophically with the man who currently holds the District 10 seat, Lloyd Doggett, McCaul and Doggett will both be representing Austin—and a whole lot more. Each will have to serve disparate constituencies, one firmly Democratic and one firmly Republican. While Doggett has 10 years seniority, McCaul will be joining the majority party in the US House. Ironically, the Republican redistricting that appeared to deprive Austin of a representative in Congress may have accidentally delivered the city two.

McNeil wins handily over McAngus for Sheriff nomination

APD Commander Duane McNeill sailed to victory last night in the run-off for the Republican Party nomination for Travis County Sheriff. McNeill convincingly defeated Precinct Three Constable Drew McAngus with 63 percent of the vote in a contest with relatively low turnout—only 15,886 people voted in the race.

“It was a really hard-fought contest. Thornton and ( State Rep.) Terry Keel put together a game plan that we would focus on the Congressional District 10 area, and we executed the game plan,” said McNeill. “We all worked to hit those areas, and we worked extremely hard for them to know who I am as a candidate and who I am as an individual and let them make an informed decision. I want to thank the voters for their confidence and I’ll continue to work hard to move into November’s race.” McNeill received campaign assistance from Terry Keel, a former Travis County Sheriff, and Thornton Keel, who was picked by GOP voters on Tuesday to be the next Constable for Precinct 3. Thornton and Terry Keel are brothers. A third Keel brother, Patrick, serves as a Travis County District Judge.

“I helped Terry Keel get elected as Sheriff…I’ve been behind the scenes on a lot of campaigns before, but this is my first run for office,” said Thornton Keel, . “I ran a grass-roots campaign where I knocked on a lot of doors and didn’t spend a lot of money. It’s old-fashioned democracy.”

In the Sheriff’s race, McNeill will face Democrat Greg Hamilton, a former top official with the TABC. “It’s going to be an extremely difficult and uphill race, and there’s a very formidable and charismatic challenger on the Democratic side,” said McNeill. “We’re looking for a very spirited contest.”

Landfill operators, county agree to wait

Operators promise diligence in seeking new sites

Travis County Commissioners completed a complex series of motions yesterday as a way to create some movement on the Northeast landfill issue.

After three years of talk and negotiations, Travis County still appears to be far from a resolution on the future of the landfills that belong to Browning-Ferris Industries and Waste Management Inc. in Northeast Travis County. But this week County Commissioner Ron Davis put two motions on the agenda.

One item was intended to use the almost $100,000 in reserve funds to help Waste Management and Browning-Ferris move to new locations. A second motion was to adopt a resolution presented by neighborhood landfill opponents. The resolution asked County Commissioners to take a firm position against expansion plans until at least 2006, when a regional siting study could be completed and a site could be picked.

In a countermeasure, County Judge Sam Biscoe offered his own motion, another strategy to try to reach some kind of solution. Biscoe asked BFI and WMI to delay for six months filing a motion for expansion with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, which they have done. The two landfill operators also agreed to put “110-percent effort” in finding suitable sites for new landfills in region.

In return, county commissioners would delay for six months the filing of a siting ordinance covering Type I and Type IV waste facilities. Travis County would also offer its assistance, specifically the power of eminent domain, to find a suitable site.

BFI and WMI hold the trump card in any fight with the county, Biscoe said. Both can file expansion applications faster than Travis County could pass a siting ordinance.

Robin Schneider, executive director of the Texas Campaign for the Environment, said it was time to take a clear stand on the issue, which she did not find incompatible with other efforts by the county to find two sites for new landfill locations.

“If there’s an environmental problem in one district, it needs to be everybody’s problem,” said Schneider, citing Davis’ support for the neighborhood’s resolution. “You need to take a clear up and down motion and take a stand against problem landfills in the Northeast area . . . The problems need to be addressed and addressed firmly. Put yourself on record.”

Other speakers supporting the neighborhood resolution included Lee Leffingwell of the city’s Environmental Board, Hugh Mayfield of the Solid Waste Advisory Commission and Alfred Stanley of the League of Conservation Voters.

Schneider’s comments struck a nerve with commissioners, who returned to her argument more than once. Commissioner Margaret Gomez argued that she represented the entire county and listened carefully to both the neighborhood and the industry. Commissioner Gerald Daugherty said he believed fair was fair, and if that meant every precinct would have to handle its own garbage, he would vote for that.

Commissioner Karen Sonleitner said she found the resolution incompatible with Biscoe’s proposed strategy, which she said was a specific action to move the process forward. Sonleitner said she wished she could make decisions on the number of impassioned emails she had received on the subject because it would make the votes on issues such as Gattis School Road and RMA toll roads much easier. But sometimes the difficult decisions were not what people wanted to hear, she said.

Biscoe had no problem calling Davis’ proposed resolution “symbolic and political,” too non-specific to provide any direction to the Commissioners Court. He also called Davis’ motion to use funds for measures to move the landfills too vague.

Biscoe added that WMI and BFI did not want the county to hunt for sites, as Davis suggested. That could potentially inflate the price of possible sites. Instead, the landfill operators wanted to pick a site, then have the county use eminent domain, if necessary.

At the final tally, Davis could not get a second for his motion on the use of revenue to hunt for a site. On the Davis resolution, the Commissioners Court split, 3-2, after Davis accepted a friendly amendment from Daugherty to limit opposition to Type I permits. Daugherty reminded the audience that the first and foremost concern in his mind was always the odor issue, which the landfill operators have made tremendous efforts to address.

The Commissioners Court split, 4-1, on Biscoe’s strategy. Davis was the lone opponent to the Biscoe approach, but added that he would do anything he could to help the landfills find a new location for their sites.

Fire Department inspection fee plan bites dust

Proposal prompted severe criticism from apartment complex owners

The Austin Fire Department had planned to start charging fees for inspecting apartment complexes to make sure they are up to city safety standards but city officials have changed their minds on the matter. The matter was part of a five-year budget forecast that will be presented to the City Council tomorrow. Fire Marshall Kevin Baum said yesterday that the item about imposing fees on rental units has been pulled from the presentation.

Letters began coming into Council members’ offices last week complaining about the proposal. A letter from Carey and Georgia Leggett, the owners of the Great Oak Apartments and the Grand Oak Apartments, says the city would be considering a fee “for mandatory apartment inspections of 10 percent of the units on a property. Yet, the fee would be charged for inspection of 100 percent of the units. The inspections would be done every other year . . . of all attached rental housing of 3 units or more and would include primarily inspecting the presence of working smoke detectors and fire extinguishers.” They accused the Fire Department of disguising “this tax by stating that the inspections they provide are necessary, are being performed for free, and that all other cities are doing this . . . we find this proposal outrageous and appalling.” The Leggetts were not alone in their criticism.

Baum said the proposal was to charge $1.50 per unit inspected a minimum charge of $30 per building. The average fee, he estimated, would be about $300 but each complex would be inspected every other year for a yearly average of $150. The proposal would have raised between $100,000-$150,000 a year, Baum said, but “For $150 grand a year this is just not worth it. We do not want to damage the relationship between the department and the apartment community.”

“If there’s a story in here, it’s that we have pulled the proposal because of our stakeholder meetings,” Baum said. Although there was a sturdy business basis for enacting the fees, he said, apartment owners viewed the new charge as a tax. One thing Fire Department officials learned was how much money landlords are currently paying in order to meet the city’s fire regulations.

“I was unaware that compliance was as expensive as they claim,” he said. But after he saw a spreadsheet he understood why the landlords were protesting. The average annual cost for compliance for small complexes is around $3000 and for large complexes about $10,000. “Since there was so much disagreement with out proposed fee we decided it was not worth it.”

Austin Apartment Association Executive Director Kristen Aarona said, “We’re actually elated.” She acknowledged that the association has had a good relationship with the Fire Department and that her organization had alerted members to the impending fee proposal. Aarona explained the apartment complex owners pay city fire alarm permit fees as well as fees for pool and spa permits. They also pay independent contractors who perform backflow, sprinkler and fire hydrant inspections.

“We have had a longstanding relationship with the Fire Department and we’ve helped each other over the years,” with things like the apartment manager’s checklist, she said.

Baum said his primary concern is safety, adding “We can demonstrate lives saved and dollars saved” by the inspections and code requirements over the years.

The other primary . . . Only 2,101 Democrats in Constable Precinct 4 bestirred themselves to vote in their runoff election, re-electing Constable Maria Canchola. Canchola won more than 57 percent of the vote and opponent Leticia Lugo 42.8 percent. But there were only about 300 votes separating the two . . . Cap Metro to host business forum for DBE businesses . . . Capital Metro expects almost 200 people to attend Thursday’s forum designed to educate small business owners about certification for the DBE program. The City of Austin and the Texas Department of Transportation will join Capital Metro to provide information and explain the various opportunities that DBE certification could bring. The forum begins at 11:30am at the Joe C. Thompson Conference Center. For more information, call 474-1200 or visit the Web site: . . . Mitigation policy meeting . . . The city’s first meeting on a proposed mitigation policy for development in the Barton Springs Zone drew only a handful of folks last night. Activist and public relations consultant Mike Blizzard, who attended the meeting, said many of his friends were at the Bee Cave meeting. There will be two more opportunities to learn and talk about the policy. A meeting is scheduled for next Monday from 6-7:30pm at Waller Creek Plaza, Room 104 and another meeting is set for May 3 at the same location. The Environmental Board will also hear a presentation sometime in May . . . Tonight’s meetings . . . The Solid Waste Advisory Commission will meet at 6:30pm at Waller Creek Center. They will talk about subjects much on the minds of county commissioners—expansion of northeast landfills. The Art in Public Places panel will meet at 6pm in the 8th Floor conference room of One Texas Center.

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