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Unions oppose Council recall effort

Thursday, September 30, 2004 by

AFL-CIO joins other groups opposing recall, but takes no position on toll roads

The Austin Central Labor Council is joining the coalition of groups and civic leaders opposing the recall effort organized by Sal Costello and the " Austin Toll Party.” The Council represents 25 different unions, including the Austin Professional Firefighters Association and AFSCME, and is asking its members to refuse to sign the petition seeking an election to remove Mayor Will Wynn, Council Member Brewster McCracken, and Council Member Danny Thomas from their seats over their votes in favor of a toll road plan.

"The people's right to democratically elect their leaders is the bedrock of American democracy … and the ballot box is the appropriate place to elect and un-elect officials," said Labor Council President Louis Malfaro of Education Austin. A recall election, he argued, was a drastic step to be reserved only for extreme cases. "Those cases fall under the categories of individuals who have committed acts which render them ineffective in continuing to serve the public office, or for those who have abused their power in public office," he said. "The mayor and the two City Council members have done neither of those things."

He also urged those supporting the recall effort to consider its impact on public debate. "We have tough issues to deal with in this community, like transportation. We don't want elected officials who are afraid to talk and take tough stands," Malfaro said. "The point is that our public officials should be able to openly debate the issues of the day without fear of a recall. We don't want Austin to become the next California."

The Labor Council is not directly taking a stand on the toll road proposal, and is not likely to either endorse or condemn the measure, Malfaro said. That's a similar stance to the one adopted by the Austin Police Association and the Austin-Travis County EMS Employees Association when they announced their opposition to the recall. It also means the 13,000-member labor group is on the same side of the issue as a collection of business leaders who formed their own political action committee, Citizens for Responsible Leadership, in order to oppose the recall.

Producers not allowed to depose ACTV board

Judge says plaintiffs should simply make decision on lawsuit

Yesterday District Judge Lora Livingston quickly rejected requests from a group of access television producers who wished to compel the ACTV board to give depositions prior to the filing of any lawsuit. The producers, who have vociferously argued that the board intends to violate the ACTV charter as well as their constitutional rights, now must decide whether to file suit or wait for the board to take further action indicating their intentions.

Attorney Steve Gibbins was apparently surprised when Livingston announced that she had already decided to reject the plaintiff producers' request without hearing arguments from each side. The judge said she had read documents presented and was ready to announce her ruling, but Gibbins decided to argue. "Insofar as the court has made its feelings known—there is a suit imminent for violation of constitutional rights of the producers."

"Why do you need a presuit deposition in a suit you know is going to be filed?" Livingston asked. Gibbins replied that he had received mixed messages from the board about programming changes that had previously been announced. He cited a June 8 board resolution indicating that “programming that is submitted to Channel 11 will be assigned to the POV (point of view) block if it attacks/ critiques other faiths/religions.”

On the other hand, Gibbins said, defense counsel had presented a sworn affidavit stating that no changes were contemplated.

Livingston indicated that the plaintiffs should be able to rely on the affidavit, but Gibbins said his clients would prefer that the board approved another resolution indicating that they no longer intend to enact the changes forecast by the June resolution.

"If you don't like what they have said, then file your lawsuit,” Livingston said. “The purpose of a presuit deposition is to find out whom to sue, like in a medical malpractice case. Who was in the room and when the patient died?" Livingston explained that such cases allow for presuit depositions because the plaintiffs need to discover who they should sue. However, this is not that kind of a case, she said.

Producers also objected to plans to group programs with similar themes on separate channels, reserving one channel for arts and music, one channel for news and "free speech" programs, and one for religious shows. The one change about to occur—transference of Channel 15 to ACTV as an arts and entertainment channel—is expected to happen as soon as the city and ACTV sign a pending contract. Today is the final day for ACTV to run the station under its temporary agreement with the city.

As for making the other changes, ACTV Executive Director John Villarreal said yesterday, “Well, it's on the shelf for right now. We decided to shelve it so we're going to regroup and find out if its open for discussion or not. I can't tell you 'yes, we are' or 'no, we're not.’”

After the hearing, Gibbins said, “I believe we're going to go ahead and proceed to suit and file an injunction, in all probability.”

Last night, plaintiff Stefan Wray said he and other producers had decided to move forward with legal action, but have also gotten calls to see if mediation, aided by representatives from the non-profit community, is possible. Wray said that he personally was open to the suggestion, but that he needed to contact the other plaintiffs to see how they stood on the matter.

The City Council is scheduled to make a decision today on whether to authorize the manager to negotiate and execute a contact with Austin Music Partners (AMP). AMP has offered to take over running Channel 15 if the investors can obtain the funding within 90 days of signing the contract. A 26-page draft contract was sent to the Council sometime late yesterday afternoon.

CTRMA starts on mission to sell toll roads

Tate Austin hired to do PR

The Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority has decided to ask the public for help in developing its policies on tolls. Staff of the RMA is preparing a series of informational meetings, focus groups and a public hearing to gather input on how, and to whom, tolls are charged, according to a report the board heard Wednesday.

The search for a toll policy stems from a resolution tacked onto the Regional Mobility Plan when it was passed by the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (CAMPO) board stipulating that social and economic factors be taken into consideration when setting toll rates.

“We will be looking at a number of the factors that will go into deciding how to formulate the toll policy, said RMA Executive Director Mike Heiligenstein. “We’ll look at things like people who make multiple daily trips, low-income neighborhoods, and other factors. We want to make sure the tolls we charge are fair to everyone.”

RMA Communications Director Shuronda Parks outlined the process to be used in developing the policy. Between October 6 and 21, there will be a series of public meetings with a variety of stakeholders, such as transportation businesses, neighborhood groups, environmental groups, safety groups, community leaders and the public. After gathering and analyzing all the information, a draft version of the tolling policy will be presented to the board. There will be a 30-day comment period during November, with the board scheduled to vote on a final version December 8.

Board Chairman Bob Tesch said the Authority was going above the letter of the CAMPO resolution in developing the policy. “We are going to make sure we get a wide range of community input,” he said. “We want the final policy to reflect the spirit in which the resolution was passed. We take this very seriously.”

Heiligenstein said the tolling policy would have to strike a balance to be effective. “We want to make sure that tolls are not a hardship for anyone,” he said. “We also have to keep the bond houses confident that we will generate sufficient revenue to pay off the debt.”

A list of meetings will be posted on the agency’s website ( next week.

The board also voted to retain the Tate Austin public relations firm for a marketing campaign to convince commuters to use the EZ Tag system of paying tolls. Board members looked at proposals from several agencies, and after narrowing it down to the top three, voted to hire Tate Austin.

EZ Tags are an electronic way of charging commuters for each trip on a tollway, without their having to stop and pay first.

The board also announced that bonds for building of the US 183A toll road will be sold in either January or February, depending on market conditions, with the groundbreaking held shortly thereafter. The bond sale was originally scheduled for November, but a delay in an environmental study by the Texas Department of Transportation pushed the date back.

Today's Council meeting . . . As noted earlier, the City Council will consider whether to authorize the city manager to negotiate and execute a contract with Austin Music Partners, if the company can secure financing to run Channel 15 within the next 90 days. Although most council members seem eager to release the station, ACTV producers may come to talk about their constitutional rights, whether the two issues are related or not . . . The Council is also likely to spend some time talking about a deal with the Austin Revitalization Authority, which is requesting a one-year contract worth $275,000. Some council members may want assurances that the ARA is doing enough to help small business owners along the 11th and 12th Street corridors. The contract is also subject to the city receiving a final approved audit of the ARA's previous year . . . Zoning ought to take up more than the hour and a half routinely allotted such cases—including the second and third reading of the Walgreen’s/Maria’s Taco Express case on South Lamar. The Council will also consider purchase of a conservation easement on approximately 2,288 acres in Hays County through the Hill Country Conservancy. The price tag on that easement is less than $1.5 million, and comes from the capital budget for the Parks and Recreation Department . . . Attorneys with the law firm of Thompson & Knight, which represents the city in negotiations with Catellus Development Corporation, expect a hefty increase in their contract for negotiating and drafting documents related to redevelopment of the Robert Mueller Airport. The total contract amount with Thompson and Knight would then reach up to $916,500. Of course, Catellus has already agreed to pay for Thompson & Knight’s bills as part of an earlier agreement . . . Speaking of Catellus . . . The company seems to be doing very well with its San Francisco development known as Mission Bay. Catellus announced yesterday that it had entered into a contract to sell land for development as residential and retail space for a total of about $119 million . . . Job creation webcast today . . . Tune in at noon today for a webcast that features “critically important information about the assets of the Greater Austin region,” according to those behind the effort to create 72,000 jobs in the five-county area over the next five years. To see the 10-minute show—

part of the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce's plan to educate the community on why Austin is such a great site for business—click on . . . Commuter rail campaign seeking volunteers . . . The All Systems Go Campaign, which is being coordinated under the Right Track PAC, has set up shop in the 8th Floor Hughes and Luce Suite of the Wells Fargo Building at 111 Congress, and is open for business. According to Volunteer Coordinator Corinne Price, callers are needed to identify voters most likely to vote in favor of commuter rail in November. For more information, call 472-4435 or visit the web site, . . Best of Austin Awards . . . Last night, the Austin Music Network received the Austin Chronicle’s awards for “Best Local Programming” and “Best Local High School Program.” The latter was for “Frankie Goes to High School,” a show that will be replaced — assuming the city and ACTV get a contract signed by Monday — by “Hi-Fi High School,” to be produced by McCallum High School students. Austin Music Network’s producer Louis Meyers said he thought it highly ironic that the network should win the awards just as the city is finally kissing Channel 15 goodbye (or kicking it out the door, depending on who you ask).

Copyright 2004 In Fact Daily

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