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Endorsement meeting shows fierce infighting among Democrats

Monday, March 14, 2005 by

A recent Capital City Young Democrats’ endorsement meeting resulted in no endorsement for any City Council candidate and some sore feelings all the way around Place 3. Most local Democratic clubs are hearing from candidates this month and many are making endorsements. In the past, some candidates have attempted to pack club membership with their own supporters, leading some groups to enact rules about which members may be allowed to vote and when dues must be paid.

Elliott McFadden, a political consultant with the Margot Clarke campaign, said that even though he is a member of the Capital City Young Democrats (CCYD) “the first I heard about this meeting was on Wednesday. There was no other notice sent out to members, and candidates were called the same day. Now, I'm a member of most of the other Democratic clubs in town, and they all give several weeks if not a month's notice about endorsement meetings to members as well as candidates. This appears to be an attempt by the Gregg Knaupe campaign to railroad an endorsement through without the rest of the membership knowing what is going on. "

Mark Littlefield, the consultant to the Knaupe campaign, said his group was abiding by the rules. He said he and other Knaupe supporters had been attending CCYD meetings for “about three months straight.” His sense was that the group was evenly divided among supporters for Knaupe, Mandy Dealey and Jennifer Kim during that time. But when the endorsement meeting rolled around,“ about 20 Margot people showed up. They couldn’t vote, because they hadn’t been members 30 days ago.”

The candidate forum was polite but once the candidates finished, the meeting turned heated. There was a disagreement over who should and shouldn’t be allowed to vote, with political professionals doing the arguing. Rick Cofer, who works for Knaupe, said he made a motion to “follow the constitution,” which would have meant that those who had not paid their dues recently could not vote.

Because of confusion over who should and should not be allowed to vote and short notice of the meeting to the membership, McFadden made another motion. He proposed that the group make no endorsements in the City Council races and that the president appoint a committee to review the rules. His motion carried 22-10.

Haley Greer of Mandy Dealey Campaign said, “I think there was kind of a misunderstanding between old members, new members and people who had been in the past.” She said, “We were disappointed,” about not having the endorsement, she said, but added that it was more important to her that the endorsement be legitimate.

Club president Brooke Heller said, “I was surprised that we weren’t able to come to a different conclusion and that there was still some animosity because of the things we worked hard for,” which she described as seeking cohesion among different factions of the Democratic Party. She said she had not realized “the degree of tension that was there.” Heller said she would appoint a committee to make suggestions about changes to the club’s rules.

Central Austin Democrats are set to meet Wednesday at the Marimont Cafeteria from 6-8pm. Their endorsement meeting will be on April 2.

Downtown trash prompts argument

Some businesses want city to take over service outside current area

Some parts of Downtown Austin are a mess, according to complaints by many business owners. But city officials are finding that solving the problem is turning out to be more complicated than they thought.

Reports of alleys full of overflowing trash, bottles and papers have prompted many owners and their customers to complain about the problem, calling it unsightly, unsanitary, and in some cases, embarrassing. In addition, they say it is hurting property values and making it difficult to recruit new businesses into the area.

A solution to the problem is proving elusive for a stakeholder committee formed by the city’s Solid Waste Advisory Commission (SWAC). Some businesses blame “illegal dumping” by unauthorized parties for causing their trash bins to overflow. Many of the waste hauling firms that service the businesses say that many do not purchase enough capacity for the amount waste they produce. The Downtown Austin Alliance (DAA) says it’s a product of too many private waste haulers operating in the same area, providing uneven services.

The area of primary concern is that outside of the downtown service area known as the “ T,” which includes the alleys of businesses between I-35 and Guadalupe, running from 11th to 4th streets, spreading to a wider area east of San Jacinto Blvd. The area gets its name because it is shaped like a large block “T.” Businesses inside the area are served by the city, while downtown businesses outside the area are generating the most complaints.

Late last year, the DAA sent a letter to City Manager Toby Futrell and City Council members requesting that city services be expanded to a larger area of downtown, extending west to Lamar Blvd., and south to Cesar Chavez. City Solid Waste Manager Willie Green said that, at the request of Futrell, he has done some preliminary work on what would be needed to make the changeover.

The commission has held talks with the parties involved to see if they can resolve the problems. In February, after Bill Brice with the DAA addressed the commission on the matter, the panel was formed from SWAC members and various stakeholders to try and find an answer. However, after two meetings, the sides appear no closer to a solution everyone can support.

Commission Chair Gerald Acuna, who attended a meeting of the stakeholder committee last Wednesday, said that the DAA is still pursuing its recommendation that the city expand its services into a larger area of downtown and take over providing services. “They still believe that having single-source service provider is the answer to the problem,” he said at Wednesday’s night’s SWAC meeting. “They have not changed their position on expanding the service area beyond the “T.”

Commission Member J.D. Porter countered that it seemed to him to a matter of properly enforcing the laws that are already on the books. “All we need to do is have the city hand out a few citations, and I promise you, they will resolve the problems in a hurry,” he said. “This is a case where enforcement is the solution to the problem.”

Some of the waste haulers involved were also at Wednesday’s meeting, and they remain concerned. “While we are aware of cases of illegal dumping, our people tell us that in most cases, the problem occurs when a business contracts for less waste capacity than they actually produce,” said Dennis Hobbs, manager of Texas Disposal Systems in Austin. “Without enforcement of the regulations, there is nothing to prevent them from continuing to purchase fewer services than they really need. There’s no incentive for them to change.”

Bob Gregory, owner of Texas Disposal Systems, raised another concern. “Once the city begins taking over areas that we now serve, where does it stop?” he asked. “We are aware that, if it decides to, the city can take over all the waste collection services and franchise it to the lowest bidder. But we don’t think that is the best solution for our customers. We think competition benefits everyone.”

Porter agreed. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen a situation where a group has asked a city to step in take over a service that is being properly provided by private enterprise,” he said. “It’s usually the other way around.”

Noting that DAA has set a tentative deadline of March 30 to make a formal request to the city for the change, Commissioner Rosemary Wyman suggested that an ad hoc group from the commission gather information on which agencies are empowered to enforce the city’s solid waste regulations, and how they could be convinced to take enforcement action against businesses that violate the trash ordinance.

Acuna said he would consider calling a special meeting of the SWAC prior to March 30 to attempt to work out a solution before DAA’s call for changes in the collection program.

©2005 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved

CAMPO board meets tonight . . . Tonight’s meeting of the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization’s Transportation Policy Board has been moved to the LBJ Auditorium on the U niversity of Texas campus in order to accommodate the public hearing on the CAMPO 2030 plan. The board, which has a brief agenda, also will consider minor amendments to the 2004-2008 Transportation Improvement Plan from the City of Round Rock and TxDOT . . . More on Strayhorn audit . . . Expect to see some fallout from Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn’s audit of the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority in the Senate. Riders may be attached to some bills that would require fact-based, objective reporting from state agencies – with the implicit understanding that Strayhorn’s report was not – and possible Senate confirmation of Regional Mobility Authority members. Stay tuned for further developments . . . Angry teachers expected today . . . Today is lobby day for the Texas Federation of Teachers. Organizers are expecting 1,000 Texas teachers at the Capitol today. The TFT says the current school finance package that offers their members “a sham pay raise and woefully inadequate funding for education.” TFT President John Cole released a statement, which said, “Teachers and other public school employees will be at the Capitol in droves Monday to let their legislators know that the current proposal for school finance–House Bill 2–doesn’t come anywhere close to meeting the needs of Texas schoolchildren” . . . Holly plant closure ceremony today . . . Residents of the Holly neighborhood and community organizations are expected to gather at the Holly Power Plant site at 10am today along with Mayor Will Wynn, Council Member Raul Alvarez and City Manager Toby Futrell to celebrate closure of Holly Units 1 and 2 . . . Tonight’s meetings . . . The Board of Adjustment and Sign Review Board will meet at 5:30pm tonight in the Council chambers. The Design Commission will hold a special called meeting at 5:45pm in Room 1029 of City Hall. They will consider general recommendations for Block 21, but will not recommend a specific design to the Council. In addition, the panel will talk about proposed commercial design standards . . . Wednesday’s meetings . . . The Environmental Board meets Wednesday at 6pm in the City Council chambers. They will discuss variances requested for a proposed Wal-Mart at Rock Harbor on FM 620, among other items . . . The Downtown Commission will meet in the Boards and Commissions Room (Room 1101) of City Hall at 5:30pm . . . Spring Break . . . Local schools and universities are observing Spring Break this week. In Fact Daily will also take off the rest of the week. We will report this week’s events when we return on March 21 . . . Other school action . . . Members of the Austin Building Trades Council will hold a press conference and demonstration at 5pm Tuesday at AISD Headquarters, 1111 W. 6th Street. The AISD board will be meeting in executive session to discuss Superintendent Pat Forgione's annual evaluation. A press release from the labor group says they disagree with the superintendent recommendation concerning wages and benefits for construction workers.

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