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Thomas announces, preaches inclusion

Tuesday, November 29, 2005 by

Mayoral candidate disagrees with APA on Chief Knee

Mayor Pro Tem Danny Thomas officially launched his 2006 mayoral campaign Monday with an announcement outside City Hall, calling for more inclusiveness in city government while offering some carefully-worded and subdued criticism of Mayor Will Wynn, who is seeking re-election to a second term.

“I am not running against the Mayor. Rather, I am running against maintaining the status quo,” said Thomas, who was joined by his wife and a few close friends. “It is time for a change. We cannot afford to do business as usual, because business as usual does not address the dynamics of this great city of Austin.”

Thomas promised to rise above special interest politics and provide a voice for the entire community, including neighborhoods and groups which he said were not adequately represented.

“Not just east (Austin), there’s parts of the northwest are not included, there’s parts of southwest that are not included…parts of northeast and southeast and central east and central west. What I want to do as Mayor is include everybody. And how we do that, we have to start out bringing everybody to the table, letting them have a voice, and then we would be clear.”

Ensuring affordable housing downtown, supporting social services and the arts, and addressing quality of life issues would all be top priorities, Thomas said, should he be elected Mayor. He also indicated he would work to improve police-community relations, which were affected this year by the shooting of Daniel Rocha and the subsequent firing of APD Officer Julie Schroeder.

“When incidents like this happen, that’s when the association, the police department, the Mayor and Council have to be behind the community, because if the Chief makes a decision we have to stand by that decision,” he said.

Police Chief Stan Knee’s decision to fire Schroeder for violating the department’s guidelines on use of force has drawn harsh criticism from the APA, which is now running radio ads blasting the Chief for failing to support Schroeder.

“We have to bridge that gap between the Austin Police Association and the community, and also the Austin Police Department and the APA,” Thomas said. "I feel that the association has a right to support their officers to make sure their due process is done, but I feel that when you come with that strong of a voice—of wanting to terminate a Chief—on grounds of disciplinary action—there is a problem with that. I will be open to sit down with the association and discuss how I feel about that, because being a part of the association for some 27 years, it troubles me a little bit that they would come out and want to fire the Chief when he’s making a disciplinary decision. And I think there’s a limitation to everything—when we go over the boundaries of voicing our opinion as an association it does put us in the political arena . . . enough is enough.” (see Whispers below)

Thomas is only the second African-American to run for Mayor of Austin. He is the first to run for a full term.

In 2001, Eric Mitchell, who had served on the Council from 1994 to 1997, came in second to Gus Garcia in a crowded field to fill the mayoral seat when Kirk Watson left to run for higher office. Garcia, a three-term Council Member, took 60 percent of the vote. Mitchell, who did little campaigning, got 16.6 percent.

Even though he is financially at a disadvantage, Thomas said he feels confident he will raise enough money to run a good race—and that he will ultimately prevail. He said he has known that he would run for Mayor since 1999.

Thomas has not yet hired a political consultant or a campaign manager. He indicated Monday that he may ultimately hire a consultant from another city since no Austin consultant has seemed willing to go up against the incumbent. Mark Nathan and his partner, Christian Archer, helped the mayors of both San Antonio and Houston in their election bids. Nathan is working for Wynn, as he has in the past.

New central library still viable at $90 million

Austin can still build a viable Central Library if the City Council chooses to limit the budget to $90 million, the library system’s facilities planning manager said after last night’s Library Commission meeting.

Two weeks ago, the Bond Election Advisory Committee took a straw vote that trimmed the proposed budget on a Central Library from $124 million to $90 million. A firm vote on a library proposal could be taken as early as tonight. At last night’s commission meeting, Facilities Planning Manager John Gillum said the $90 million figure is still workable when it comes to putting together a library plan.

“For us, $90 million is still a viable project,” Gillum said. “If people were saying $60 million, we couldn’t support it. The library department has a fairly unique history. The voters have always approved our referendums, and we’ve never walked away from a project. That’s not true of every city department. We’ve been fortunate. We don’t want to get set up for failure in this bond issue.”

The $90 million budget, if it makes the final list on bond projects, makes the new Central Library the biggest ticket item on the upcoming city bond issue. That budget, pared down as it is, could still work, says Gillum, although he anticipates a round of Austin Library Foundation fundraising if Council chooses to limit the total to any total less than $100 million. The full build-out of the proposed downtown library branch would be $125 million; the department proposed a partial build-out at $106 million.

Last night, the Austin Library Commission approved a draft letter, authored by Chair David Mintz, that will be sent to Council, encouraging city leaders to support a new Central Library. The commission supports the possible relocation of the central branch to the Green Water Treatment Plant site and has encouraged Council to use a portion of the profits on the sale of Block 21 to pay for the library. At one time, Block 21 was the city’s intended home for a future downtown library. Mintz said it only makes sense that some of the profits from the $15 million sale go to support the library.

Two weeks ago, the Bond Election Advisory Committee made a number of suggestions to try to defray at least a portion of the costs: finding a partner in the county or the University of Texas; tapping a proper donor to try to share the burden of the library’s budget; or even paring the budget to a more manageable total.

Gillum says the city’s library department hasn’t worked hand-in-hand with the county since the mid-‘70s, when the city still shared the cost of a bookmobile program. The county pulled its funding from that venture and hasn’t worked with the city since, Gillum said. In fact, the county has no library facilities. To compensate, the city has offered liberal policies for library users, especially those under the age of 18.

Working with the University of Texas has been even more difficult. Gillum is at a loss to say why, but both he and bond advisory committee members agree the university has shown little interest in sharing either the cost of a library with the city or even in sharing its library system beyond those who are enrolled in the university.

“The city doesn’t have a close relationship with UT,” Gillum admitted. “The university is its own entity. They may be located in Austin, but that doesn’t matter to them. Their students come from everywhere, and they’re only interested in taking care of their students. Their interests don’t extend beyond that to the community surrounding them.”

The land on which the Faulk branch sits could one day be valuable downtown real estate, but Gillum says the library system has no plans to part with the property. The land on which the Austin History Center sits was deeded to the city by the Republic of Texas and must always be used for the purposes of a library. The land next door, where the Faulk Library is, was purchased by the city and has no such restrictions.

Even though the two lots are separate, the two buildings are tied by their utilities, Gillum said. The heating, air conditioning and electrical systems of the Faulk Branch actually power the Austin History Center. To duplicate those systems for the older building would likely be cost-prohibitive, Gillum said.

Even though the Faulk property has limited parking and may not add more floors because of the Capitol View Corridor, it provides a valuable expansion option for the Austin History Center, Gillum said. Already, the Austin History Center is cramped and the space next door could provide much-needed space, especially for African-American and Mexican-American history collections.

©2005 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.

APA vs. Chief Knee, continued . . . The Austin Police Association is running a radio ad on two local stations this week harshly criticizing Police Chief Stan Knee in the wake of his firing of Officer Julie Schroeder. In the commercial, APA President Det. Mike Sheffield says Austin’s police officers are going through hard times with firings and suspensions: “Every time there is a police crisis, we hear from those who gain notoriety and unscrupulously make money by calling us names and creating discord and hate within our community.” Sheffield adds: “Remember, just because our Police Chief is scared of the criminals and their sympathizers, that doesn’t mean that we are.” Sheffield said APA hopes to run the ad over the next two weeks on KLBJ and KVET. Sheffield also responded to Mayor Pro Tem Danny Thomas’ comments on the situation (See above): “While I understand Mayor Pro Tem Thomas’ position on this, we have a keen sense of the facts here. We believe this firing was not justified and after reading the 12-page letter, we find it (the letter) full of obfuscations and embellishments and we don’t believe anybody in a position of leadership in the city would condone that kind of conduct. We look forward to the arbitration.“ Sheffield added that, “If Chief Knee was Pinocchio, his nose would stretch all the way to Dallas.” No reaction yet from City Hall . . . Todd’s condition . . As reported in several media outlets yesterday, former Mayor Bruce Todd remains in the intensive care unit at Brackenridge Hospital after a bicycle accident Sunday afternoon. His wife, Elizabeth Christian, issued this statement on Monday: “Bruce is in ICU at Brackenridge Hospital following a bicycle accident in Lockhart yesterday. He suffered some broken bones and is being monitored for brain swelling, though no swelling has been detected at this time. He is heavily sedated, but the family is cautiously optimistic that he hasn’t suffered any long-term brain injury. As a big proponent of bicycle safety, Bruce would want people to know that he was wearing his helmet. The emergency room physician told the family that the helmet saved his life.” . . . Meetings . . . The Bond Election Advisory Committee meets at 6pm in room 1101 at City Hall . . . The Travis County Commissioners Court meets at 9am in Commission Chambers at 314 W. 11th St. . . Williamson County Commissioner meet at 9:30am in the Pct. 1 JP Court Room on Inner Loop Dr. in Georgetown. . . . Film fundraiser . . . The Manor Education Foundation, Austin Community College, Pflugerville Independent School District and the filmmakers of “Christmas in the Clouds” are teaming up to support higher education in Austin. Film writer/director Kate Montgomery and select cast members will host a private screening of the romantic comedy at 7pm Saturday at the Regal Arbor Cinema, 9828 Great Hills Trail. Proceeds will benefit the Manor Education Foundation, PISD and ACC’s Radio, Television and Film program. . . . Night of the First . . . On Thursday, the "Night of the First" party will introduce the Austin community to its first annual New Year's Eve Celebration of the Arts called First Night Austin. The invitation-only event will preview select visual and performing artists who will help transform downtown Austin into a canvas for the community. The party begins at 5:30pm at Capital Ballroom in the Intercontinental Stephen F. Austin Hotel, 701 Congress Ave. For more information, visit http://www.firstnightaustin.org

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