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Notes from the campaign trail

Tuesday, February 8, 2005 by

" in one place.

Tuesday, February 8, 2005

Notes from the campaign trail:

Recall petitioner accuses mayoral aide

The group working to recall Mayor Will Wynn and two Council members yesterday accused Mayoral Aide Matt Curtis of offering a petitioner $200 to turn over his list of names and quit collecting signatures. The mayor’s office said the allegations were false.

Petitioner Jimmy Gardner told a news conference yesterday that Curtis approached him on Friday at the downtown Book People, first arguing with him about whether the northern part of MoPac is part of the toll plan and then offering to bet him that it is not. According to Gardner, Curtis called someone he identified as a “female member of the CAMPO board” and asked her to talk to Gardner about MoPac. “I said this gentleman here said that northern MoPac is not part of the plan. Is that true? She said ‘Not exactly.’“

Gardner said after lingering another 10 to 15 minutes, Curtis came back to his table and asked the petitioner how many signatures he had on the petitions in front of him. Gardner estimated he had about 10. At that point, Gardner claimed Curtis offered to give him $200 if he would turn over the signatures and go home.

According to Gardner, he refused, saying, “The reason I’m out here collecting signatures is because I’m trying to put a dent in the corruption . . . I said ‘Look, you political types who walk around with, you know, a stack of 100 dollar bills and think a lot of people are going to fall at your feet when you whip out the cash on them—I told him ‘Look, I’m not for sale.’’”

Although representatives of People for Efficient Transportation PAC, which is associated with the Austin Toll Party, said they are not sure if Curtis broke any laws, they reported the matter to both the District Attorney’s office and the City’s Ethics Review Commission.

Assistant District Attorney Patty Roberts said, “Some information has come to our attention regarding an alleged irregularity,” surrounding the petitioning. Roberts said they are interviewing witnesses but could not comment further.

Richard Arellano, the Mayor’s Chief of Staff, released a statement yesterday, which stated, “Matt Curtis is a good person and great employee. These allegations are completely unfounded and it is disturbing to see them being given the status of news coverage. I am confident that the facts will reveal that this situation is just another attempt to gain publicity.”

On Monday afternoon, it was apparent that recall opponents were stepping up their efforts. A volunteer with Citizens for Responsible Community Leadership (CIRCL-PAC), a political action committee formed by Tim Taylor (see In Fact Daily, August 19th, 2004), took up a position outside the Travis County Clerk's Office on Airport Boulevard a few feet away from a volunteer with the Austin Toll Party.

The toll road opponent recruited people to sign the petition to recall Mayor Will Wynn by asking "Would you like to save $1,000?" telling them they would pay that amount or more if the toll road plan becomes a reality. The recall opponent urged people to "get informed on the issue," offering his own flier which pegged the cost of a special recall election and a second election to replace the recalled Council members at $1 million.

Until now, the CIRCL-PAC ( ) has kept a fairly low profile, although the group did file a Contribution and Expenditure report with the Austin City Clerk's office showing contributions of $12,100 through the end of 2004 and expenditures of $10,051. Of those expenses, $6,090 went to Archer-Nathan Consulting, with other significant payments going to the Envision Creative Group and Kelly Graphics.

Candidates announcing, filing for May ballot

Place 1 frontrunner Lee Leffingwell will officially kick off his campaign at 5:30pm tonight at Nuevo Leon on East 6th St. Incumbent Place 4 Council Member Betty Dunkerley will hold her campaign kick off at Threadgill’s South at 10am on Wednesday.

Jennifer Kim and Gregg Knaupe both filed for the Place 3 spot on the May 7 ballot yesterday. Margot Clarke and Mandy Dealey are also expected to run for the seat being vacated by Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman. Filing for the May election will continue through March 7. Knaupe also announced a list of supporters including: former Mayors Roy Butler and Bruce Todd, former Sheriff Margo Frasier, former Land Commissioner Garry Mauro, Jesus Garza, Kirk Rudy, Diana Zuniga, Scottie Ivory and Dr. Mitchell Wong.

Managers far from agreement on executive director

The Travis County Hospital District’s Board of Managers, apparently deadlocked over hiring its first executive director, is taking a short break in its deliberations this week, according to Board Chair Clarke Heidrick.

The full nine-member board spent several hours on January 29 interviewing the four final candidates, who were filtered down from an initial pool of 88 applicants. In addition to a short deliberation session on the 29th, the board met in executive session on Monday, Wednesday and Thursday last week to discuss the finalists, but emerged each time with no decision.

“There is an item on the agenda for our regular meeting this Thursday to discuss hiring a director,” Heidrick said. “We are going to give ourselves a little time to think about the candidates. I don’t want to be predictive, but by then, hopefully, we can either decide on one of the four candidates, or move on in some other fashion.”

Heidrick did not elaborate on the meaning of “move on,” but the options might include reconsidering some of the other applicants, re-posting the position to get a new slate of applicants, or hiring another interim director to serve until a permanent director can be found. Jim Collins, a staff attorney with the Travis County Attorney’s Office, has been serving as both the interim director and legal counsel for the district since its inception, but has made it known that he would like to get back to his regular duties.

Board members have been tight-lipped about what is causing the deadlock. Presumably, the board would need only five votes to hire a director, but Heidrick, or possibly Vice Chair Carl Richie, who chaired the Personnel Committee that reviewed the applications and chose the finalists, is looking for a broader consensus among the managers before a public vote.

Managers have been divided at several recent meetings over the issue of funding “program enhancements” to the county’s indigent healthcare system, and some observers believe that could be playing a role in the deliberation deadlock.

Tom Coopwood, the board’s only practicing physician, has strongly advocated that the district begin spending the $5 million it set aside in the current year’s budget for such “enhancements” or programs that deliver services above and beyond the current operations at Brackenridge Hospital and the city-county health clinic system.

Others on the board have been reluctant to begin spending that money until the district can do some longer range planning, and “develop a vision” for how to best use its resources to improve indigent health care. Managers Rose Lancaster and Donald Patrick have both expressed concern over funding programs before they district has developed a set of performance standards for funded programs. There has also been concern that the board could tie the hands of the district in the future, by funding programs now that will need continued funding in order to continue operations.

They did vote two weeks ago to begin funding two programs, Project Access and Community Care, on a limited basis. The board has also scheduled a planning retreat in early May, with long-range planning and developing a vision statement on the agenda.

The four finalists currently under deliberation are Norman Andrews, a nurse and a consultant with Arthur Shorr & Associates of Lancaster, Calif.; Robert Prehn, consultant with Cawley-Johnson Group of Atlanta who lives in Mandeville, La.; David Small, health care consultant with his own Connecticut company, D.R. Small & Associates, of Meriden, Conn.; and Patricia Young, Chief executive officer of the City of Austin Community Care Services Department, of Austin.

The district’s choice of finalists have been criticized by some, who point out that three of the four finalist have been terminated from or quit the last jobs they held, and that a fourth candidate did not meet the posted educational requirements. There has also been criticism that the district did not seek the assistance of a personnel consulting firm, or “headhunter,” to help locate and vet qualified applicants.

However, Heidrick has defended the board’s choice of finalists, saying all of them were well qualified for the position. He also defended the board’s decision not to engage the services of an outside consultant in the hiring process, but to utilize the services of Travis County Purchasing Agent Cyd Grimes, to help evaluate the applications.

Commercial guidelines continue to be tweaked

Planner Katie Larsen reviewed the latest draft of the proposed commercial design guidelines with the Design Commission last night, a draft that also will go to the Planning Commission tonight for additional comments.

The proposed commercial design guidelines, guided by Council Member Brewster McCracken and still under review by city staff, will not go to Council until March 3. The first Council hearing would be March 10, at the earliest. The Design Commission will take an additional meeting to draft input on the 44-page proposal for code amendments.

Last night, Larsen presented the task force’s recommendations for commercial design changes in areas such as development orientation, landscaping, exterior lighting and allowable signs, stormwater management and building design.

Larsen admitted the key to the ordinance – a point system to measure the success of site planning and building design – was far from perfect. “It needs work,” Larsen candidly told the commission. “We’ve found that on certain sites, there aren’t enough options to get to the 100-point minimum threshold because of size or site constraints… What you see here is definitely going to be changing.”

Chair Richard Weiss, who served on the task force with Commissioner Girard Kinney, said a number of options were possible. City staff could allow a developer to pursue a less-desirable-but-acceptable development option in exchange for doing better work in other areas. If a developer does “y,” then he would have to do “x” number of positive things to compensate for the option he selected.

“It might be a better system because it would allow for some of the things that the developer may want to do but force more of the things we wanted to do,” Weiss said.

Larsen said the staff might also divide the different subgroups into categories and ask a developer to pick one or multiple options in each category. The goal is to provide as much flexibility as possible to the developer while still encouraging better design.

The Design Commission also made some points about orientation of development at the intersection of different types of roads. Commissioners played out some scenarios, such as narrow freeway lots, that may take further thought from city staff. In addition, commissioners showed some interest in further direction for urban roadways, specifically citing the commission’s strong desire to see Whole Foods at Fifth and Lamar orient itself to Lamar Boulevard instead of Fifth Street;

After reviewing the landscaping portion of the ordinance, Commissioner Ellie McKinney, a landscape architect, expressed her strong desire to make sure that portion of the ordinance was vetted to the city staff members who wrote the city’s original landscape ordinance. After some discussion, McKinney agreed to approach some of the key players in the landscape ordinance to make sure everyone had a chance to offer input.

Also, Commissioner Phil Reed said he didn’t mind setting some commercial design standards for parking garages but indicated he didn’t want to force developers to design garages that looked like their accompanying buildings. Both Reed and Kinney did support sharing some downtown design ideas, such as first-floor retail and flat-floor garages that could one day be converted for other uses.

Larsen also reviewed other aspects of the ordinance that are likely to warrant further discussion, such as the end of poll signs in new development and maximum parking limits. Larsen said some big-box retail had twice the parking spaces recommended in a recent study on parking completed by the Urban Land Institute.

©2005 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved

Hill Country activists attack Beal . . . Armed with an unflattering photo and some sharp words, such as, “Armed (with too much power) and dangerous (to other humans and other species),” and “Approach with caution, likely to slip through revolving door back to private sector,” the Neighbors in Paradise have set up a website devoted to ousting Joe Beal as General Manager of the LCRA. The rural residents of Hamilton Pool Road are particularly upset by LCRA’s plans to provide water to Rocky Creek Ranch, Lazy 9 and the Formby tracts. The website is . . . Today’s meetings . . . The Council Audit and Finance Committee will meet at 10:30am in City Hall, room 1101; the Council MBE/WBE Committee will meet in the same room at 6pm. At 5pm the Airport Advisory Commission will meet at ABIA, room 160. The Planning Commission will meet in Council Chambers at City Hall at 6pm . . . McCann takes new job . . . Urban Design Officer Jana McCann is leaving the City of Austin to open an Austin office for San Francisco-based ROMA Design. ROMA, of course, is the company behind the Mueller and Seaholm master plans. McCann’s last day at the city is Feb. 25.

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