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Short signatures, recall group to focus on Wynn

Tuesday, February 15, 2005 by

CAMPO refuses McCracken's motion for toll audit

The Austin Toll Party, faced with a self-imposed deadline on its recall petition, has announced it is dropping its campaign to recall Council Members Brewster McCracken and Danny Thomas and will focus its efforts solely on recalling Mayor Will Wynn.

The announcement by ATP leader Sal Costello followed a grueling four-hour meeting of the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization’s Transportation Policy Board. Much of the meeting – a rather light agenda – focused on whether the board should create an independent panel to review the second phase of the Central Texas toll road plan. McCracken, along with Rep. Terry Keel, called for the independent review.

McCracken asked a long list of questions, primarily of CAMPO Executive Director Michael Aulick and T exas Department of Transportation District Engineer Bob Daigh. When McCracken called for the motion to create the review panel, he said enough questions had been raised about the Central Texas toll plan to create the committee.

“Rep. Keel and I are offering this as a productive way to address some of the huge problems that you have heard here tonight,” McCracken told his colleagues, who later added,” We need information we as a board can use when making decisions.”

McCracken listed a number of points that he considered red flags to the CAMPO board:

• Toll collection rates on portions of the toll road system that showed little or no profit.

• A 300 percent mark-up of proposed toll rates, which the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority attributed to a conservative feasibility study.

• Totals showing the toll road plan would cost $100 million more than “free” roads and that the State Highway 71 project would not be built any quicker as a toll road than a “free” road.

• If the plan is completed, toll roads would make up about half of the highways in Austin, a point that led a number of people in the audience to call Austin the “toll road capital of the state.”

The audience, many from the Austin Toll Party, shared McCracken’s skepticism. One speaker called the continuing opposition akin to “waking up the 600-pound gorilla.” Another said it was rushing into toll roads “where there’s a lot of smoke and not a fire.” A third said it was time for those who voted for the plan to update their resumes. And a long line of speakers insisted the toll road system would not ease congestion.

The lone voice for the toll road plan was road advocate Bruce Byron, who used citizens’ communication at the end of the meeting to say people didn’t understand the options.

“People don’t understand the options that we have to face realistically,” Byron said. “Either we have toll roads and funding or no roads and no funding. If we continue to do what we’re doing, we’re going to have growing congestion and no roads.”

McCracken’s discomfort, however, did not appear to extend to the CAMPO board, which still appears to vote along similar pro-toll and anti-toll lines. The final vote was 8-14 against the motion, with the real surprise being a “yes” from Mayor Will Wynn. Those voting to create the independent panel included Reps. Terry Keel (by proxy), Todd Baxter, Elliott Naishtat, Mark Strama (by proxy), Eddie Rodriguez, Council Members McCracken, Daryl Slusher and Wynn. Thomas and his proxy were both absent from the meeting. Thomas’ aide, Sandra Frazier, told In Fact Daily earlier that her boss would be taking his wife out since it was their anniversary.

Commissioner Gerald Daugherty cast the other surprise vote when he voted against the independent panel. In an impassioned speech, the pro-roads commissioner said he had continued to fight to improve the toll road plan and that fight had led to the removal of the projects that were “abhorrent to most of us” while still preserving the region’s ability to pull down the most transportation dollars.

“I have marching orders from the people that supported me to do something about mobility and transportation,” Daugherty said. “It would be hard to argue that the toll roads do not enhance mobility and transportation.”

Daugherty said his bottom line question on the issue was whether a four- or five-month study would put state funding in jeopardy. Daigh said it would. That led to Daugherty joining the side opposing the creation of the committee, although Baxter questioned why Austin would lose funding from a delay to study the situation while what appeared to be a similar vote in El Paso led to no delay at all. Daigh had no answer for the question, except to reiterate he believed the delay would impact the state funding.

Outside the meeting, Costello said he was nonplussed by Wynn’s vote, saying Wynn “already knew how the vote would go” when he cast his vote. Costello, who was joined by petition consultant Linda Curtis, said the recall drive had fallen short on the necessary number of signatures but that over the next couple of weeks, it would focus solely on Wynn.

The Austin Toll Party is in a rush to get those signatures in because they must be collected within a six-month time frame to be counted and the deadline to put the recall on the May ballot is only a couple of weeks away. According to Costello’s statements to reporters, it appears the Austin Toll Party will create new petition forms with only Wynn’s name on them. When the collection is completed, the group will make sure it has collected enough combined signatures to call a recall election for Wynn but not the others. The number needed, as of earlier this month, was more than 36,700 or 10 percent of the registered voters in the City of Austin.

Notes from the campaign trail:

Knaupe wins Central Labor; firefighters pick Kim

This weekend, the Austin Central Labor Council voted to endorse Gregg Knaupe to take the seat of Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman on the City Council. The council includes the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), which voted last week to endorse Knaupe over other Place 3 contenders Margot Clarke, Mandy Dealey, and Jennifer Kim. Other unions in the group are the Communication Workers of America, the teachers’ union known as Education Austin, and the I nternational Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.

The Austin Association of Professional Firefighters also belongs to the Central Labor Council, but has decided to endorse Kim. They will be holding a news conference this afternoon to make that announcement. The Austin Police Association Political Action Committee and the EMS Employees PAC have also endorsed Knaupe.

Knaupe’s campaign stressed the candidate’s blue-collar background and the fact that the organizations represent more than 15,000 union members. Taken by itself, the labor endorsement would not seem very important in a mostly white-collar and professional community such as Austin. However, when viewed in conjunction with endorsements from the police and EMS PACs, it may weigh heavily on the other Place 3 candidates.

Louis Malfaro, president of the Austin Central Labor Council, said, “The Central Labor Council believes Gregg Knaupe is the right choice for Austin’s working families, and we are excited to endorse his candidacy for Austin City Council, Place 3.”

Firefighters will be facing their first election since their successful bid to force the city into collective bargaining last May. Mike Martinez, president of the AAPF, said he did not participate in his PAC board’s vote but believes that both gender and minority status were issues for firefighters. But most important, he said, was the fact that Kim successfully addressed issues that are important to firefighters. Kim, 32, has a number of graying advisors, including David Butts, who assisted the firefighters in last spring’s election. Without diminishing Kim’s abilities as a politician, it is easy to imagine that Butts helped her shape a message that resonated with the firefighters.

For many years, city employees were prohibited from participating – except as voters—in city elections. But during the mid-1980s, Jorge Zapata, who died recently, took the city to federal court and won a ruling that allows all but those in the highest management positions to advocate for, contribute to, and work for the candidates of their choice on their own time. Arguably, city employees have a more direct interest in electing the City Manager’s boss than the majority of Austin citizens. So, AFSCME, the police and the firefighters could be the strongest forces in an election unless one of the candidates, or a PAC making independent expenditures, decides to throw a lot of money into the race.

City Manager Toby Futrell said that only department directors, assistant directors and division managers are currently prohibited by city rules from campaigning for Council candidates. Of course, the manager and assistant city managers are not allowed to engage in political activity, other than voting, either. Futrell said she remembered that the Law Department wrote a memo on such questions when Council Member Betty Dunkerley first ran three years ago because so many city employees were interested in helping her campaign.

Martinez was optimistic about Kim’s chances yesterday, saying that firefighters had learned a lot last year about the impact they could have through direct contact with voters. He promised that they would be out in force for Kim this spring because “overall she is the best candidate.” Martinez hastened to add that, in his opinion, Jackie Goodman is irreplaceable.

Firefighters, the police PAC and the Central Labor Council have also endorsed Lee Leffingwell for Place 1 and Betty Dunkerley for reelection to Place 4. The firefighters, the Building Owners & Managers Association PAC and the Small Business PAC are hosting a fund-raiser for Leffingwell from 5-7pm tonight at 219 West, 219 West 4th St.

©2005 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved

Hill Country neighbors to protest

. . . The Hill Country Alliance plans to protest the LCRA’s proposed water line along Highway 71 West, claiming that that homes it will service will pollute Bee Creek and Lake Travis. The protest begins at 11am today at the Bee Creek BBQ, Hwy 71 West and Bee Creek Road, four miles past Hamilton Pool Road. The LCRA board is scheduled to vote on the matter on Wednesday . . . Tonight’s meetings . . . The Zoning and Platting Commission will meet at 6pm in the Council chambers at City Hall. One of their first items will be a presentation and discussion of Commercial and Retail Design Standards. They also have a dozen or so zoning cases, as well as subdivision considerations . . . The Codes and Ordinances Committee of the Planning Commission will meet at 6pm in Room 2017 of City Hall, and they too will talk about design standards . . . The MBE/WBE Commission will hold a special called meeting at 6pm to hear about cash flow and prompt payment programs for future city projects. They will meet at the SMBR office, 4100 Ed Bluestein Blvd . . . City holiday . . . Next Monday is President’s Day, which the city, county, and federal governments will observe by closing their offices. However, Council Member Brewster McCracken, his staff and city planners involved in developing design proposals plan to hold a public meeting to get input on their plans. . . A sensitive subject . . . Commissioner Gerald Daugherty made a temporary exit from last night’s CAMPO meeting, angry with an oblique reference to Sen. Gonzalo Barrientos’ and County Judge Sam Biscoe’s prior drunk driving convictions. Daugherty said a comment from an audience member—that Barrientos and Biscoe required “designated drivers”—was out of bounds, having nothing to do with public policy. Daugherty later returned to the dais.. . . Taxi lobby appears . . . Hannah Riddering, chair of the Airport Advisory Commission, was on hand at last night’s CAMPO meeting as a private citizen. Riddering, a local taxi driver, lobbied for the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority to put toll policies in place to make sure those who ride in taxis actually foot the bill if toll roads are used as part of their fare. Brian Cassidy, who serves as general counsel for the RMA, said he was uncertain whether the toll policy would address the issue. . . CAMPO Board changes . . . Outgoing CAMPO Vice Chair Greg Boatright got a warm sendoff from the board at his final meeting last night. After some both lighthearted and serious comments about his eight-year tenure, Boatright nominated (and the board elected) Alliance of Cities Mayor Dwight Thompson to be the new vice chair, introduced fellow Williamson County Commissioner Frankie Limmer as his own replacement, then announced he was taking his wife to dinner and would find out what happened at the meeting on the 10 o’clock news. . . Technical difficulties . . . A recent move to a new server (necessitated by our old server going out of business) has apparently caused some problems for some In Fact Daily subscribers. If you have difficulty logging onto the daily report, or have forgotten your login, please contact pam@infactdaily.com and she will straighten out the problem. We apologize for any inconvenience the changeover may have caused, but we look forward to serving you better with our new server. And, as always, we appreciate our loyal subscribers here at In Fact Daily .

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