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Complaint filed over campaign expenditure report

Tuesday, March 21, 2006 by

APA PAC may have failed to report Kim runoff spending to city

A complaint has been filed in Municipal Court charging the treasurer of the Austin Police Association Political Action Committee (APA PAC) with failing to file a contribution and expenditure report with the City Clerk. A report filed with the Texas Ethics Commission last July—but not with the city–shows that APA PAC spent more than $5,700 in support of Jennifer Kim, now a member of the City Council, in her runoff with Margot Clarke.

Libertarian activist Arthur Di Bianca filed the complaint, a Class C misdemeanor, against James Beck, who was treasurer for the PAC last year. The maximum punishment for violation of the city ordinance is $500. City Clerk Shirley Gentry confirmed that her office did not have the report, which was filed with the state commission in July. If a PAC spends money on a City Council candidate, the group must file the same documentation with the city.

APA President Mike Sheffield and APA PAC’s current treasurer, Val Escobar, told In Fact Daily the complaint was a surprise to them. Beck is currently Vice President of the APA and heir apparent to Sheffield.

Sheffield said, “I don’t remember spending that kind of money for Jennifer Kim’s race. It may be a paperwork error.” Sheffield said he personally carried documents that were filed with the Texas Ethics Commission to the City Clerk’s Office on numerous occasions. However, he said he could not be sure whether he did so in this particular case. “There was no intent to hide anything,” he added.

According to the state filing, APA PAC paid campaign consultant Lynda Rife $5,000 in support of Kim. The group also paid Ty Runyan $550 for automated calls for Kim. The PAC also paid APA, a separate organization that does not support candidates, $195 for use of its postage meter to send out a mail piece for Kim. The expenditures were made in support of Kim but there is no indication she knew about them at the time.

Escobar, who took over as APA PAC treasurer in February, said, “The city ordinance gets quite confusing on what needs to be reported and what has to be filed with the City Clerk and the Ethics Commission.”

Sheffield concluded, “It’s interesting to see the Libertarian Party participate in city politics.” DiBianca has been active in the Travis County Libertarian Party for several years. He is the party’s candidate for State Representative District 51.

DiBianca said the complaint may be the first of its kind filed in municipal court.

Battle heats up over sale of Roy's Taxi

Transportation panel to opposes merger

The Urban Transportation Commission agreed to oppose the transfer of the Roy’s Taxicab franchise to Yellow Cab last night, but the bigger issue that emerged from discussions was a perceived need to revisit the city’s taxicab ordinance.

In his motion, Commissioner Greg Sapire noted that three issues had emerged during the public hearing on the sale of Roy’s Taxicab’s permits to Yellow Cab. First, the field of competition had narrowed so much in the city as to provide no competition at all. When the franchise system began in 1984, the number of local cab companies was six. If Council agrees to the transfer of the Roy’s cab franchise to Yellow Cab, then the number of competing taxicab companies in the city will be down to two: Yellow and American.

A long line of taxi drivers addressed the commission, speaking of the limitations the sale of Roy’s permits to Yellow Cab would mean to them: higher leases and terminal fees and a clear monopoly for Yellow Cabs. Riders talked about the refusal of Yellow Cab to enter East Austin or pick up short-haul or special needs fares.

The three taxicab companies spoke in favor of the transfer of the permits. Robert Velasquez, representing Roy’s Taxi, said the sale was simply the desire of the family members to retire after a 75-year commitment to the city. The taxicab business is hard, Velasquez said, and the Velasquez family felt it had paid its dues.

American Cab Owner Bertha Means said she heard, and understood, the position of both the taxicab drivers and the cab company owners, but that she supported the Velasquez family’s right to try to make a profit off their business, just as other franchises before them made a profit when they were sold off to competitors. John Connally of Yellow Cab made only a brief statement and presented the commission with written testimony that supported the sale and urged the benefits of the transfer of the permits.

The transfer of Roy’s permits would give Yellow Cab three out of every four taxicab permits in the city, which Yellow Cab saw as a possibility and the commission saw as a monopoly. But as Sapire noted, the topic before the commission on Monday night was not the dysfunction of the current system – which needed to be addressed – but the issue of whether the permits could or should be transferred to Yellow Cab.

The UTC unanimously agreed to recommend against the transfer of the taxicab permits, with the intention of a looking at the overall ordinance again. Sapire said the sale could be revisited once the ordinance was reviewed and overhauled. Commissioners Patrick Goetz and Michelle Brinkman spoke favorably of cab drivers, rather than cab companies, carrying the city permits. That would be similar to the medallion system used in New York City.

Such a system would limit the cab companies’ abilities to tax drivers for the privilege to drive a cab, but a permit system would clearly require additional city staff. Morris Poe told the commission it was like dealing with 600 companies, rather than three.

The commissioner also supported the exploration of a possible new third franchise in the city – a cab driver-owned franchise such as one currently being proposed by drivers. The city has slowly been setting aside a portion of new apportioned permits to give to a new franchise but had not generated enough permits or interest to add a franchise.

The balance of cab permits in recent years, which is calculated annually, has gone from too many to a need to add 11 permits this year. Eight of those permits will go to existing operators and three were set aside for a potential new franchise.

Downtown RFQ moves forward

The City Council’s Land Use and Transportation Subcommittee has approved the scope of services for hiring a consultant to implement the city Downtown Austin Plan, a comprehensive map for central city development over the next 20 years.

Planner Adam Smith of the Neighborhood Planning and Zoning Department presented the updated Request for Statement of Qualifications (RFQ) to the subcommittee after gathering input from several stakeholders, including the Downtown Austin Allianc e, Downtown Austin Neighborhood Association (DANA) and others.

The full Council approved the Downtown Austin Plan last December as a way to pull several different plans for downtown development into one, comprehensive strategy. (See In Fact Daily, Dec. 15, 2005) The plan defines downtown as the area north of Town Lake, South of MLK Jr. Boulevard, west of Interstate 35 and east of Lamar Boulevard, with planning consideration for the west side of Lamar, as well.

Andrew Clements of DANA, said the plan was much improved over the first draft presented to the LUT last month.

“City staff did a good job of incorporating the input from the stakeholders into the plan,” he said. “I do have some concern for the neighborhoods that border downtown along MLK, I-35 and south of the river. Somehow the west side of Lamar received special attention here, but the plan will affect neighborhoods on all sides of downtown, including the University of Texas.”

The plan is comprised of four parts:

• A vision of how Downtown Austin should develop over the next 20 years;

• According to Smith, the plan should enable Downtown Austin to remain the financial and cultural hub of the Central Texas region, while creating opportunities for additional housing downtown that provides a high quality of life for residents.

There is currently only $400,000 budgeted for developing the plan, but LUT Chair Brewster McCracken said it will likely cost more than that.

“People in the urban planning business tell us that it will likely cost about $1 million,” he said. “Lubbock spent $500,000 on its downtown. Since this is a multi-year process (18 months), we should have no trouble finding the money we need to get this done.”

The city hopes to lure a “world-class” consultant to the project with the RFQ, who would pull together existing plans such as the TOD Ordinance, the Seaholm Master Plan, Envision Central Texas, Capital Metro’s “All Systems Go” transit plan, and others.

The consultant would analyze the baseline information from existing plans, coordinate input from stakeholders and the public, draft recommendations, getting further public input, the present the final plan to the City Council.

City staffers say they hope to have a consultant chosen for the project by early summer.

©2006 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.

Oops! . . . We apologize to anyone who may have tried to attend a fundraiser for Mayor Pro Tem Danny Thomas last night. The party is tonight at 5:30pm at Nuevo Leon on East 6th Street . . . Also tonight . . . The Austin Lesbian Gay Political Caucus and the Stonewall Democrats will hold their endorsement meeting for City Council candidates at Travis County Commissioners Court at 7pm . . . One less candidate . . . Publicist Laine Jastram has withdrawn from the race for City Council Place 5. A Google search shows that Jastram was one of several "Babes of Broadway" featured in a 1985 Playboy Magazine pictorial. Council Member Brewster McCracken seems likely to hold on to his seat. Others still in the race are software engineer Kedron Touvell, attorney Mark Hopkins and student Colin Kalmbacher. Today is the last day to change your mind . . . Grant application supported . . . The Urban Transportation Commission agreed to write a letter in support of the city's application for federal grant funds to fund the Great Streets projects on Brazos and Colorado. The Great Streets monies did not make it into the current bond issue proposal, and the thought is that the city will seek federal highway dollars to try to pay for the cost of the Great Streets projects, which were estimated to cost between $7 and $8 million . . . . . . Meetings . . . The Residential Development Regulation Task Force meets 7:30am in the Boards and Commissions Room at City Hall . . . The Zoning and Platting Commission meets at 6pm in Council Chambers at City Hall . . . The Travis County Commissioners Court meets at 9am in Commission Chambers at 314 W. 11th Street . . . The Williamson County Commissioners meet at 9:30am in Pct. 3 JP Courtroom on Inner Loop Drive in Georgetown . . . Call me Betty, please . . . Council Member Betty Dunkerley is not happy over a remark by SOS Executive Director Bill Bunch at the March 9 Council meeting. "He called me 'sleazy.' Can you believe that?" she said. During a public hearing over the ballot language for the Open Government charter amendment, Bunch termed remarks by Dunkerley about the projected cost of the amendment as "sleazy." Regardless of the semantics, Dunkerley, who brought the remark up at a meeting of the Community Action Network last night, appears to still be pretty steamed about it.

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