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Futrell puts off loan vote, asks feds to review police

Wednesday, March 23, 2005 by

The City Council will not have to vote this week on whether to extend a controversial loan to an East Austin nightclub that burned to the ground and prompted celebratory email comments among several Austin police officers. City Manager Toby Futrell put out a memo Tuesday explaining that she would postpone the item and report back to the Council in 60 days with recommendations for strengthening Austin’s cultural attractions for African- Americans.

In Fact Daily reported yesterday, demographer Ryan Robinson will present the African-American Quality of Life Scorecard during a Council briefing Thursday. His report is intended to start a “facilitated community discussion” about that quality of life in Austin.

Futrell also released a letter she signed asking the U.S. Department of Justice to do an independent review of “the policies, procedures and practices” of APD. Police Chief Stan Knee also signed the letter. She explained that the request was a result of events that have caused community concern about race relations and tensions between the African American community and the department.

APD put out its own public statement, which said in part: “The Austin Police Department believes that trust is the cornerstone of building a solid community policing program. Recent incidents have created tension and in some instances eroded the trust of APD within the community. The department has worked diligently to improve training and policies and will cooperate fully with a review that would help continue to improve while rebuilding community trust. The department believes that the federal investigation will insure the community that the department operates in accordance to local, state and federal law. “

Council Member Danny Thomas, a retired police officer, said, “I have no problem with it,” when asked whether he agreed with the decision to ask for the Justice Department review. He added “I think it’s a smart move, if that’s what she wants to do,” Thomas’ office staff has been besieged with phone calls from angry citizens, some of whom were rude and blunt in their assessment of the loan proposal. “I have heard all kinds of crazy stuff,” Thomas remarked. For example, he said some people suggested that the $750,000 loan was “hush money” or to keep the bar’s owners from filing suit against the city over police comments.

Some emails to Council Members projected images of events at Midtown Live, even though it seems unlikely that the writer had ever been there. Thomas received an irate phone call that referred to the bar as “a den of iniquity.” Council Member Daryl Slusher pointed out that Midtown Live ranked fifth in total calls between May 26, 2004 and October 16, 2004. The club generating the most complaints was Club Carnival, 2237 East Riverside Drive, with 164 calls. Paradox at 311 East 5th Street was second with 156 calls and Club Latino, 1907 East Riverside Drive, was third with 139 calls. Another southeast area bar, Extreme, at 2538 Elmont Drive, logged 138 calls and Midtown Live was fifth with 129 calls. Not all calls generate a written report. Less than half of the calls to Club Carnival generated paperwork. The same was true for Midtown Live. Only 50 reports resulted from the 129 calls, according to data provided by the city. “It appears that that club is not out of line with other non-African-American owned clubs in terms of calls, “said Slusher.

Slusher said that he supports the idea of studying cultural opportunities for African-Americans and postponing a decision on the loan. Asked whether he thought one result of the study might be a decision not to make the loan or to open up competition for such a loan to other venues, he said, “I think all of that is possible.”

Council Member Brewster McCracken, who had publicly criticized the Midtown Live loan proposal, said, “I think it is very wise to postpone the Midtown item.” McCracken said he thought it would be appropriate to learn more about what cultural venues are available for the African-American community.

Notes from the campaign trail

Knaupe gets rough ride from Democratic questioner

Candidates ran from one forum to another Monday night, hoping to impress voters and add an endorsement to their list. Place 3 candidate Gregg Knaupe faced hostile questioning at a joint meeting of Capital Area Progressive Democrats (Cap D’s) and Texas Environmental Democrats.

Susan Daniels, who was asking the questions for Cap D’s, asked Knaupe if he were elected, would he refrain from voting on items relating to the Texas Hospital Association, where he is a lobbyist. Knaupe replied that he would recuse himself if there were a conflict—if he were still working for THA. Then Daniels asked how long he would wait if he stopped working for the group. Knaupe said he would follow any ethics requirements. But that did not satisfy Daniels, who seemed to believe that the hospital association job would present frequent conflicts. She then asked Knaupe if he had supported Proposition 12, which amended the Texas Constitution giving the Legislature authority to set limits on non-economic damages awarded to plaintiffs in lawsuits. Knaupe’s employer, of course, supported the proposal, which won rather handily in November. However, Knaupe said he personally voted against Proposition 12. Daniels then berated Knaupe, saying, “Cap D’s ferociously opposed it. How can you ask us to vote for you?”

Alfred Stanley, who was asking questions for Texas Environmental Democrats (TED) asked Knaupe if he had been endorsed by the Real Estate Council of Austin. Knaupe replied that he had not. RECA has not made any public endorsements in several years. Stanley then outlined a scenario about RECA members interviewing Knaupe and Jeff Trigger but none of the women running for Place 3.Trigger withdrew his candidacy after that interview and rumor had it that he had been convinced to drop out by RECA members. Knaupe said he was not aware of any of that. Stanley also asked Knaupe—as he did every candidate—how he would vote on the smoking referendum. Knaupe said he planned to vote against it. He also said he thought it was inappropriate to ask candidates whose names would appear on the same ballot as a proposition how they would vote.

But Knaupe was not alone in his reluctance to answer the smoking question. Margot Clarke, who enjoys widespread support among environmentalists, said it was “a weird question,” but said she would vote in favor of the initiative. Mandy Dealey said she too would vote for it but stressed that it was “appropriate that the city let the voters decide.” Jennifer Kim tried to tell the questioners “I am not taking a position on this.” However, when pressed hard, she said, “I’m going to vote for it.”

The Cap D’s endorsed Lee Leffingwell in Place 1, Clarke in Place 3 and Council Member Betty Dunkerley in Place 4. Stanley said the Texas Environmental Democrats endorsed Leffingwell and Dunkerley but since no Place 3 candidate reached the 60 percent needed, TED did not endorse in that race.

North by Northwest Democrats endorse only Dunkerley

Similarly, the North by Northwest Democrats ( were unable to reach a consensus for either Place 1 or Place 3 City Council races. That group's bylaws also require at least 60 percent to support a candidate for endorsement, so they endorsed only Place 4 candidate Dunkerley. The group heard from Dunkerley, Wes Benedict, Phillip Byron Miller, and Jennifer Gale, all of whom are running for Place 4.

Miller, who has missed several other candidate forums, touted his health-care background as a medical librarian at Prairie View A&M University. Health and human service spending, he said, would be his top priority. "I want to make sure that not only will fire and EMS continue to be funded, but also our human services such as day care and adult day care and health services, so that funding is not being cut," he said. His lack of experience in dealing with city-related issues, Miller said, would not be a problem. "This is my first time running for the office. I bring, to be honest with you, no experience to this candidacy," he said. "I believe it would be best as an elected official not to go into an office saying 'this is what I want to do' but to reach out to you and say 'what is it that you want?’"

Dunkerley, as the incumbent in Place 4, stressed her experience in dealing with the city's financial matters. She also told the group she would make spending on basic infrastructure for neighborhoods a priority. "In Northwest Austin, like some of our other communities, you can always use more recreational activities," she said, "whether it's additional neighborhood parks for your children, getting those libraries back open an extra day, or looking at open space or trails. I think also trying to restore the maintenance money for our streets should be a priority. We try to maintain 10 percent of our street lane miles each year. In the last three years we've been doing 8 percent. We certainly need to add that back so we don't have a developing pothole problem."

In the Place 3 race, the group was unable to decide between Mandy Dealey and Margot Clarke. Those two candidates did speak before the group, as did Jennifer Kim, but candidate Gregg Knaupe did not attend. In the Place 1 race, both Andrew Bucknall and Lee Leffingwell answered the group's questions, but neither was able to gain the 60 percent majority required for an official endorsement.

Two candidates in different races brought up the proposed Austin Water Treatment Plant No. 4 (see In Fact Daily, Thursday, March 3, 2005), saying it should be an issue of concern for Northwest Austin residents. "We are contemplating building a huge new water treatment plant in Northwest Austin," said Place 1 Candidate Lee Leffingwell. "It's going to be very controversial for environmental reasons. We might not even need that plant if we had more conservation. We could convert the Green Water Treatment Plant into a small-sized osmosis operation and still produce five million gallons per day, and that facility could be used for other purposes."

Place 3 Candidate Jennifer Kim also criticized the proposed new water treatment plant. "My concern about that is three-fold. First of all, it's in an environmentally-sensitive area. Secondly, it is going to be incredibly expensive to have transmission lines from that plant clear across our city to where growth is happening, which is in the Desired Development Zone in East Austin," she said. "The cost of the lines would be more than the cost of the plant itself, to the tune of probably $300 million. That's something that I don't think is a good use of our taxpayer dollars. The third reason why it shouldn't be there: water is a growth generator, and East Austin has not been the beneficiary of that like West Austin has."

©2005 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved

Slusher seeks changes to CAMPO plan . . . Council Member Daryl Slusher is hoping to change the CAMPO proposed 2030 Transportation Plan in order to better protect the Barton Springs Zone of the Edwards Aquifer and the Hill Country. Slusher sent a memo to fellow CAMPO board members asking that they commit to “greatly improved water quality controls on highways…commit to purchasing land over the Barton Springs Zone; and eliminate some road expansions.” In particular, Slusher suggests reducing Loop 360 from eight lanes back to its current size and begin eliminating red lights . . . Today’s meetings . . . The Council Committee for Telecommunications Infrastructure will hear an update on Austin Music Partners’ plans to take over the Austin Music Network . . . The Environmental Board will meet at 6pm in Room 240 of One Texas Center. They will concentrate on commercial design standards . . . The Environmental Board will also meet at 11:30am Thursday to talk about Travis Water Treatment Plan No. 4. That meeting will take place in Room 240 of One Texas Center . . . Candidate forums . . . The Austin Neighborhoods Council will meet at 7pm at the Austin Energy Building, 721 Barton Hills Rd., for a candidate forum. . . The Greater Austin Chamber will co-host a City Council Candidate Forum on Wednesday, April 13, at the Four Seasons Hotel, 98 San Jacinto Blvd. Registration begins at 11 a.m. . . . Town Hall meeting on disabilities. . . The Austin Mayor's Committee for People with Disabilities (AMCPD), in partnership with Enable America, will host a citywide Community Conversation Town Hall meeting from 10am to 2:30pm on March 30 to address disability issues in Austin and Travis County. The meeting will focus on employment, housing, transportation and health and human services. The meeting will be held at the Marriott at the Capitol, 701 E. 11th St. Registration is through Friday, March 25. Sign up at . . . Issue and Eggs . . The Downtown Austin Alliance’s monthly Issues and Eggs forum will feature Bob Daigh and David Plutowski from the Texas Department of Transportation on the agency's efforts to determine the feasibility of a managed lane on MoPac. Peter Marsh from the City of Austin Public Works Department will also talk about a study the city is initiating to determine appropriate places for HOV or reversible lanes on City arterial streets. The meeting begins at 8am Thursday in Room 111 at 211 East 7th Street, Southwest Tower.

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