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Top cop complained about police front group to DA

Wednesday, September 29, 2004 by

Sheffield says LEAA never helped Texas law enforcement

Austin Police Association President Mike Sheffield said Tuesday he wrote a letter to Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle complaining about the political activities of the Law Enforcement Alliance of America (LEAA) in September or October of 2002. Former candidate for Texas Attorney General Kirk Watson sued the LEAA and Republican fundraiser John Colyandro on Monday, alleging violations of Texas campaign finance laws during the 2002 General Election. The claims in the lawsuit involve alleged illegal spending of corporate cash to fund television and print advertising attacking Watson and Mike Head, who was the Democratic candidate for the Texas House of Representatives from Henderson County (District 11) at the time.

The civil suit, which was filed in Travis County District Court, alleges that Colyandro “coordinated (LEAA) expenditures of corporate funds with representatives” of their opponents’ campaigns — including Greg Abbott, who ultimately won the race for state Attorney General. Although a civil suit is far less potent than a criminal charge in terms of ultimate consequences – it involves no possible penalty of incarceration — the civil suit could open more avenues of investigation for Earle, who has already brought forth criminal indictments of three associates of US House Majority Leader Tom DeLay. DeLay himself is not known to be a target of a new grand jury considering further campaign finance indictments. However, the indictments already released evidently led state House Speaker Tom Craddick to make a deal with Earle—to extend the statute of limitations in return for a promise of no indictment before the November 2 election.

Last week’s indictments—against Austinite Colyandro and Washington, DC residents Jim Ellis and Warren RoBold, as well as eight corporations—are related to raising and spending money through the political action committee Texans for a Republican Majority. Colyandro and Ellis were charged with money laundering, a first-degree felony. Colyandro, as well as RoBold, was also charged with multiple counts of unlawfully accepting corporate contributions. The indictments have shaken the Republican fund-raising establishment and have caused some reconsideration about raising funds from corporate donors.

“As far as I know, they haven’t done anything to help law enforcement and their families in Texas,” Sheffield said of the LEAA. “I have never seen any direct support for police officers or their families in Texas during the time I've been in law enforcement." The veteran policeman indicated that he had been a sworn officer for more than 25 years.

Referring to the indictments, Sheffield said the of the LEAA, “They were doing all those things.” The advertising paid for by LEAA “was not informational, but directly supported a candidate, in my opinion,” he said.

Neither the LEAA, which is based in Falls Church, Va., nor the organization’s attorney, Richard Gardiner, returned calls requesting comment.

Watson was Mayor of Austin from 1997 through 2001, when he stepped down to run for state Attorney General against Abbott. On Tuesday, the Democrat said there is ample evidence that LEAA involvement had nothing to do with who was law enforcement’s side. The largest law enforcement organization in the state, Combined Law Enforcement Association of Texas (CLEAT), had endorsed Watson “as a result of my pro-police and pro-victim’s rights stance,” he said. In addition, the Austin police chief “gave me Badge Number One and honorary rank of colonel, something they had never done before.”

The purported law enforcement organization LEAA was not involved in the Texas election to further the interests of police organizations, Watson said. Instead, they ran ads attacking the Democrat as a big-money plaintiff’s attorney and praised Abbott, who favored tort reform. “This was a different agenda, trying to influence the outcome of an election,” Watson concluded.

Records from Texans for Greg Abbott show that Colyandro, who is accused of unlawfully coordinating expenditures of LEAA with those of the campaign, show Colyandro was paid during the months of August 2001 through January 2002 and again between August and mid-November 2002. .

City, ACTV close to signing deal on Ch. 15

Producers say they plan to take board to court this afternoon

A committee of Austin City Council members has authorized staff to ink an agreement with Austin Community Television (ACTV) to continue running the Austin Music Network for the next three to six months. After a marathon meeting last Thursday, the Committee on Telecommunications Infrastructure agreed that ACTV should continue to run Austin Music Network (AMN) on Channel 15 without commercials.

For the past year, the Kenneth Threadgill Music Project has operated Austin Music Network, but financial difficulties led the city to a short-term partnership with ACTV. That relationship will end on Thursday, unless the city and ACTV reach agreement in the meantime.

But ACTV still faces two possible problems: lack of funding, and a challenge to the hiring of its new creative director, Louis Meyers, by the ACTV board of directors earlier this month. Meyers has served as general manager for AMN. His hire appeared to be a violation of ACTV's charter, according to a group of ACTV producers who have dogged the non-profit since it became clear that the music network would move to ACTV.

After receiving a letter from the producers on Monday indicating that his employment had been done illegally, Meyers was at a loss as to his status. However, on Tuesday Meyers said ACTV Executive Director John Villarreal had assured him that he, Villarreal, had also been involved in the hiring, making the producers ' complaint moot.

Budgetary matters are likewise murky. Council Member Raul Alvarez, a member of the committee dealing with Austin Music Network matters, said, "I assume if ACTV is signing this letter agreement, they have identified the funds they would need" to operate the music network. Meyers explained that the only money ACTV has for the initial budget, as far as he knows, is $30,000. Those funds were being used for an intra-city Internet setup that was not being utilized.

Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman and Council Members Alvarez and Betty Dunkerley instructed the staff to use a contract very similar to the one the city had with the Threadgill’s group, according to Assistant City Attorney Sonny Hood. ACTV would be a caretaker of the music channel until Austin Music Partners (AMP) or some other group can take over running the station on a permanent basis. The matter does not need to go to the full City Council because the Council has already authorized staff to enter some form of agreement with ACTV to continue operating the station.

Committee members were especially concerned about the possibility that Channel 15 would go dark, Alvarez added. “We're in a situation where if we don't keep programming on Channel 15, we would lose that hybrid." Even though the city believes it has the right to run commercials on Channel 15 because it is a hybrid, Council members said they would urge the ACTV board to run the station along the broad guidelines set forth for access television. However, ACTV will be expected to screen music videos and other programs for quality and content.

Goodman said she wanted to make sure that the city's contract protected ACTV’s non-profit status. “It's the reason we're still here…trying to make sure every conceivable impact or technicality is looked at and provided for,” she said. “The reason that the access channels in other cities are going away is not because the cable providers are so trustworthy… I'm not interested in giving anything back to Time Warner that was fair and square negotiated in the beginning in return for public right-of-way. The people of Austin got all of those channels fair and square, and I don't think Time Warner needs one back.”

However, Meyers said that he cannot afford to run the station on the funding the city allocated—especially since Channel 15 will not be able to generate any funds from advertising. The city has allocated $13,000 in cultural arts funding to Channel 15 to run programs for children, less than one-third of what Meyers requested for two shows. That means a show for young children will air its final episode Thursday, Meyers said. However, Meyers promised a new show called “Hi-Fi High School” will begin next Monday. McCallum High School will produce a daily one-hour show live from the high school, he said. “It’s a major tie-in with AISD, and it’s the only high school fine arts program,” Meyers said, “so it’s critical to me that it gets on the air.” He said some kind of children’s show would run in place of the current one, but it would not be interactive.

Nevertheless, Myers indicated it is his intention to run the station 24/7. “We’ll keep running something as close to what we’ve been doing as possible.” He added: “I’m also very excited about the possibilities with ACTV, and the jury is still out on whether AMP will come up with a real channel. Everybody has to admit that this is risky—giving a contract to somebody who has proven nothing at this point.”

Producers still not convinced of board's trustworthiness

ACTV producers came to last week's meeting once again to voice their concerns about losing any access television channels, and emphasize their right to freely express themselves on those channels. ACTV currently operates Channels 10, 11 and 16. The community organization had planned to introduce a more formal structure to the programming and create one channel dedicated to arts and music. However, producers were outraged that this structure might lead to loss of freedom that the ACTV board decided not to implement those changes this year. Those producers who have sued ACTV still expect to be in court asking for an injunction this afternoon if they cannot convince the board to add language to their oath of office that the producers have suggested.

An email from ACTV Board Member Detine Bowers said, “We are still in process with collaboration and negotiation of resources for AMN, that keeps everything in integrity with the legal requirements, ACTV Articles of Incorporation and Bylaws, and the City's will.”

The Council committee reached no decision regarding the contract offered by Austin Music Partners. It seems likely that the committee will send the contract to the entire Council without a recommendation. On Monday Goodman said the committee had proposed some changes and additions to contractual language for the contract with AMP. She added that there were some "slightly complex technical issues" that she and other council members need to see and writing before they can agree to the contract. Once that contract is approved, Austin Music Partners would have 90 days to secure funding for the new station. If they find that money, AMP’s Connie Wodlinger has promised to give $100,000 to ACTV to continue the music network until AMP can take over.

Alvarez said that the Council still has questions about the proposal from Austin Music Partners, in particular concerning what safeguards the city would have if the new group did not have sufficient funds to run the station. "It's not a nice and clean transition like we had hoped for," he concluded.

Commissioners approve hospital district contract

District sets tax rate at promised level

The Travis County Commissioners Court Tuesday put its final stamp of approval on the new county Hospital District, which becomes fully operational on Friday. But one member of the court—Precinct 3 Commissioner Gerald

—remains dubious about the district’s relationship with the City of Austin. Despite the fact that other members of the court have apparently made peace with the notion that the City of Austin isn’t going to cough up $33 million in disputed funds for the Hospital District, it still sticks in Daugherty’s craw.

Daugherty and other county officials believe that the $33 million the city held in its health care reserve fund should have been transferred to the new hospital district, but the city instead moved the money to another department. City attorneys have ruled the move legal.

“It is no secret that I continue to have a huge question in regards to the $33 million that was taken out the city’s budget that was in a health care reserve account,” he said. “I still think that the reserves that we have set up – about $13 million – are just too small.” The city contributed $10 million of that, with the county putting in the remainder.

Daugherty’s comments came as commissioners voted to approve the hospital district’s first budget and tax rate, and an interlocal operating agreement between the district and the city. No one on the court appears to be happy with what they see as the city’s budgetary sleight-of-hand, but Daugherty refused to let the matter die. “I guess someone just needs to tell me to get over this,” Daugherty told the court last week.

On Tuesday, County Budget Director Christian Smith made that exact point. “I guess if someone needs to tell you to get over this, I’m that person,” Smith said. “Other than that, this deal [the interlocal agreement] makes sense for the district and the county. If you can’t get over it, I suggest you vote ‘no.’ "

Commissioners approved both the district’s budget and interlocal agreement, with Daugherty dissenting.

Commissioners also approved their own budget for 2005, and set a final tax rate of 0.4872 cents per $100 valuation. That rate includes 0.1022 for debt service and 0.3850 cents for maintenance and operations. The figures show a small net increase over last year’s rate of 0.4918 after subtracting the hospital district’s tax rate. The district pledged—and did—set its tax rate to the exact amount the city and county had been charging to pay for health care, 0.0779 cents.

Shifted one day of the mobile voting van’s schedule from Lago Vista to Jonestown in order to accommodate requests from residents during the early voting period for the November 2 election.

• Postponed action for two weeks on a comprehensive study of the salaries of law officers in the county that is aimed at developing a long-term pay plan.

• Unions to comment on recall . . . The Austin Central Labor Council intends to hold a press conference at 1:30pm today at AFL-CIO offices, 1106 Lavaca, to discuss the recall petition started by folks angered over CAMPO’s vote on toll roads . . . Executive Rap Session? . . Shortly after the Travis County Commissioners adjourned into executive session on Tuesday, the call came out that they could not confer with their lawyers because the tape recorder normally used in those sessions was not working properly. Staff members made several calls around county offices to find a substitute, and after a while, an employee headed into the commissioners’ boardroom with a large chartreuse and silver boom box that had been commandeered from an unnamed office. We’ll be curious to see if the minutes show up in next week’s Billboard Top Ten . . . New historic zoning recommendations . . . The Historic Landmark Commission approved historic zoning on the Dickinson-Hannig House in its new location on East Fifth Street and the art deco Del Curto House at 102 Laurel Lane. The commission did not approve plans by developer Colby Denison to build a house in the Old West Austin National Register Historic District on West 32nd Street. Commissioners were concerned that Denison’s plans for a new house were out of scale with the surrounding one-story historic district. They asked him to come back with something more compatible with the neighborhood . . . More fun with corporate funds . . . Yesterday Texans for Public Justice reported that the mainstream media had overlooked $8,900 of corporate money given to Stars over Texas (SOT), the successor to TRM-PAC, by “eight predatory lending companies that contributed to the PAC on the same day.” Because the $100,000 got all the attention, “no one mentioned that groups with names like ‘ Fast Bucks,’ ‘ Check’n Go’ and ‘ Mister Money’ teamed up to jointly bankroll a PAC started by Christi Craddick, daughter of the House Speaker,” according to the Lobby Watch Report. Follow this link for the whole story: . . More Banned Books … this evening the ACLU of Texas holds its second read-a-thon of the week at BookWoman, 918 West 12th St. (12th & Lamar). Featured speakers include local Attorney Denise Brady, UT Law Professor Jack Getman, NAACP Austin chapter leader Nelson Linder, and many other noteworthy Austinites. The PG-13 fun begins at 7pm.

Copyright 2004 In Fact Daily

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