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Wimberley elections still reflect bitter rivalries

Tuesday, May 4, 2004 by

Mayor's job, two council seats up for grabs

By Cody Garrett

The Village of Wimberley in western Hays County, a place of striking natural beauty and intense, growth-induced politics, holds municipal elections May 15. The contest for mayor and two council seats will be the first in the village’s short history that does not simultaneously ask voters to decide whether it should have a government or not.

In 2000, after a movement led in part by the incumbent mayor, Steve Klepfer, 46, voters in Wimberley passed a referendum authorizing incorporation, creating the council. Two years later, opponents of incorporation brought a successful petition and the village held a referendum on reversing incorporation. The 2002 vote resulted in another victory for proponents of city government; village leaders acknowledge that incorporation is here to stay.

Klepfer won the mayoralty in a special election when former mayor Tony McGee, a retired attorney and sportswriter, resigned last May. Klepfer said he is focusing on four big projects right now: the acquisition of Blue Hole Park, completion of the community center, a combination of road upgrades and completion of a bridge in the city center by the Texas Department of Transportation and a nature trail and seven-acre preserve along Cypress Creek. Klepfer said he was proud to be mayor during such “a unique time in Wimberley.”

Challenging Klepfer on May 15 is Allan Kimball, 57, editor and co-owner of the Hill Country Sun. The Sun provides information and reading for the hill country tourists now flocking to the area to see the region’s famous wildflowers and idyllic scenes. The Sun is in its 15th year. “For a publication,” Kimball said, “that is just an eternity.”

Kimball said he is running to give everyone a voice in local government. Kimball said of the incorporation question, “It’s over and done with. The animosity and the alienation that (it) caused . . . is exactly why I am running.” Kimball said the process has been closed to many by the current council and mayor. “They say they are including everybody, but they don’t . . . People are being left out,” he said.

Place 1

In the contest for Place One, incumbent council member and retired electrical manufacturer’s representative Matt Manis, 67, faces a challenge from retired English teacher and former council member Martha Knies, also 67. McGee, the former mayor, withdrew from the race for Place One after Knies filed. A fourth hopeful, write-in candidate Daniel Scales, 49, recently bowed out of the race and endorsed Manis.

Knies caused a stir recently with postcards she mailed that allegedly accuse Manis of not supporting the Blue Hole project. Knies said her card did not say as much, but she said if voters want the city to move ahead on the park, she would be the more effective council member.

The Village plans to purchase the Blue Hole property for $4.3 million. Blue Hole is a private, 129-acre recreational area with a swimming hole in a deep section of Cypress Creek. The park, currently closed, also has a sewage treatment facility that currently serves only one customer, the Deer Creek nursing home and rehabilitation facility. Otherwise, Wimberley residents and businesses currently use septic systems for wastewater. Council members and opponents alike agree on the need for the community to build a sewer system, particularly for businesses on the main square.

A ten-year leader of Keep Wimberley Beautiful, Knies said she supports Mayor Klepfer and gives him credit for getting the Blue Hole project off the ground. “I’m getting in trouble for the card I sent out,” Knies said. “I think I can work really hard to make it happen,” she said about Blue Hole. “That’s the difference between him and me.”

Manis said he was definitely in favor of the Blue Hole project. “Blue Hole’s better than sliced bread,” he said. He explained that he had been cautious only because he wanted to be fiscally responsible. “We wanted to make sure we had maintenance money for it,” he said. Manis said he is known as the person that citizens can go to and have their voice heard. “When the little people have problems, I listen to them,” he said. Manis pointed out that the relatively new city government could be intimidating. “I’m becoming known as ‘Go-to Matt,’” Manis said.

Manis has served two consecutive two-year terms since the city’s incorporation. He said he supported the village having a council and mayor at every turn, but, he pointed out, in 2002, there were “525 people that voted for un-incorporation.” He said that should serve as a warning to city leaders. “All of us can take credit for the good things: the community center, Blue Hole Park, the loop widening,” Manis said. He added that he is supporting Kimball for mayor.

Place 2

In Place Two, a similar battle is being fought between the incumbent, former computer systems analyst for the National Security Agency, John Graddy, 64, and former senior director for Nabisco, Curt Busk, 54.

Graddy ran for the original council in 2000, but lost, only to run again and win in 2002. Graddy said he likes to think of himself as an ally of all the city leaders, but most observers agree that Manis and Graddy work closely together. Graddy said he has worked hard for the village with an emphasis on a few specific areas. “I am pretty well-identified with roads around here,” Graddy said. “I’ve had a lot to do with communications,” he said, adding that he developed the village’s Web site.

Busk co-chairs Wimberley’s Planning and Zoning Commission. Busk said managing growth is a difficult business and requires leadership. Busk said of Graddy, “I think I can accomplish more than he can.” “Obviously, we’re in a transition . . . from no government, no controls,” Busk said. “We need some management of how we’re going to grow.” Busk stressed that without such action, the village could easily come to resemble the suburbs of southern Travis County. “I don’t think anybody here wants Wimberley” to promote development with “strip malls and strip centers,” Busk said.

Busk is closely identified with the city’s development ordinances, including a controversial sign ordinance that originally ran 40 pages. The ordinance has been trimmed to ten pages, but the onset of ordinances—where four years ago there was no local government—has upset many village residents and businesses.

Busk predicts a heavy turnout May 15. He pointed out that Wimberley Independent School District also has a bond issue on the ballot that may get more voters to the polls. The three-part, $45.6 million bond proposal, if approved, would provide funds for a new high school and grade school as well as renovation of existing buildings.

Wimberley enjoys an influential role in Hays County politics. Both the Republican and Democratic county chairs hail from the village, and Alan Askew, the Republican candidate for state representative looking to unseat Patrick Rose (D – Dripping Springs) in November calls the hill country community home.

“It really is an amazing little town,” Busk said. “Even the retired folks tend to be activists.”

Design panel stresses urban elegance for 2nd Street

No theme parks, says commission

The Design Commission provided planner Pollyanne Melton with direct feedback regarding design elements along the 2nd Street Retail District corridor last night. Commissioners are preparing a one-page memo on the city’s plans to distinguish the 2nd Street retail district from other retail areas. But Melton was at the table last night when commissioners reviewed and edited the memo they planned to present to her.

Bids for sign development will go out this week. In its memo, the Design Commission described the retail district as “distinctly urban in nature.” Design elements should be more casually elegant in tone rather than a “theme-park approach,” according to the memo.

The design of the corridor will incorporate “river elements,” highlighting the river cross streets. Pavers and markers will highlight the pedestrian experience. Trees, and occasional trellises are intended to unify the landscape along 2nd Street.

Melton told the Design Commission the city would likely take Art in Public Places funds to create some type of water element at the intersection of Congress and 2nd Street. That element will not be in the center of the street, but at one or more corners. The goal would be a more traditional approach than the spanners or obelisks the city first considered.

Commissioners wanted to encourage a matching grant program for facades along the street. Melton told commissioners that the city had little room for such a program under either its operating or bond budgets. Melton encouraged the commissioners to consider recommending the program to the Downtown Austin Alliance.

Among the recommendations the commissioners made to Melton:

• Simple vertical elements are preferable to other types of elements along the street. Those simple elements create more of an impact than more elaborate elements.

• Congress Avenue should be marked by visual elements, but those elements should not be overwhelming to the pedestrian. The focal point should be “human scale.” Congress Avenue should be a major axis for 2nd Street.

• Edge treatments will be encouraged for parking lots. While trees and trellises will be used for canopy, commissioners were not enamored with the idea of too much screening.

The commissioners were pleased that a maintenance plan was part of the design development for the streetscape elements. The commission also wanted to see an implementation plan that addresses the sequence of construction for private development.

More design talk today . . . Council Member Brewster McCracken, his staff, and a group of stakeholders will be exploring retail design standards beginning at 3:30pm in Room 304 of City Hall . . . Following that meeting, many of the same folks, as well as others, will attend the official unveiling of the Envision Central Texas scenario from 5-7pm on the 10th floor of the CarrAmerica Building, 300 W.6th St . . . Also meeting . . . The Zoning and Platting Commission will meet at 6pm at One Texas Center. The MBE/WBE Advisory Committee is set to meet at 6pm also at the DSMBR Office, 4100 Ed Bluestein Blvd. Meeting tonight and possibly weighing in on Austin’s solar rebate programs, the Resource Management Commission is scheduled to meet at 6:30pm in Room 304 of City Hall . . . Austin gets funds for homeless . . . Austin Congressman Lloyd Doggett and Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson have announced today the Austin Travis County Community Health Centers has received a federal Healthcare for the Homeless grant of $559,692. The centers currently serve about 1200 homeless patients each year. The funding will allow the centers to care for an additional 3,300 homeless patients, according to press releases. Austin was one of 15 cities across the nation—the only city in Texas—to receive such a grant . . . Dialing for voters. . . Dr. Pat Crocker, chief of the Brackenridge Emergency Department, has been dialing Travis County voters with a recorded message. It says emergency room doctors take their duties seriously. “Our community needs you to take creation of the hospital district just as seriously. As we continue the downward spiral of funding for health care, we will not be able to guarantee the level of emergency health care our community needs and expects. Please join me in voting for the hospital district” . . . Already voted . . . Travis County Clerk Dana de Beauvoir reports that 1,128 voters cast early ballots yesterday, with the heaviest vote still coming from Lakeway. The second highest polling station was Northcross Mall. So far, about three-quarters of one percent of the county’s 583,823 registered voters have voted. Early voting continues through May 12, with Election Day on May 15 . . . Sister cities program provides wheelchairs for the needy . . . Council Member Raul Alvarez announced yesterday that the sister cities organizations in Austin and Saltillo, Coahuila, Mexico had each raised $9,000 to match funds from the Wheelchairs for Peace Initiative, which contributed $18,000 to purchase 240 wheelchairs. The wheelchairs will be delivered to citizens of Saltillo who need but cannot afford them. On Wednesday during Cinco de Mayo celebrations donors will be honored at a reception at the University of Texas Club. . . Toll authority wants to talk to public . . . The Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority is planning a series of community and neighborhood meetings to focus attention on plans for relieving congestion in the area. Meeting planners hope they will educate the public on the proposed toll plan. CAMPO will host the first meeting next Monday, May 10 at 6:45pm at the Joe C. Thompson Conference Center. On May 11, the RMA will host a meeting at 6:45pm at the Parque Zaragoza Recreation Center, 2608 Gonzales Street. Meetings continue throughout May and early June. The final meeting is June 14 . . . Barton Springs Art Gallery to open today . . . Austin-Bergstrom International Airport will open the Barton Springs Gallery at 10am today, with exhibiting artists in attendance. Larry Bartsch, regional manager of News and Gift Shops International, LLC, which will operate the gallery, said, “The whole concept is to support local artists.” Art exhibited and sold in the gallery is reflective of the nature and character of Austin, a theme reflected throughout the airport. Exhibits will rotate every 90 days..

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