Colored drawing by Anthony Jensen

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Item 51: A Primer on Public Input

Item 51 on this week's council agenda has caused some concern, based solely on what one uninformed activist has been publicly saying about it. It's important, as always, to actually analyze the language and to put it in legal and historical context for full comprehension.

Texas law (the Texas Open Meetings Act/"TOMA") allows for governmental entities to provide the public opportunity to give input on items on their meeting agenda. Entities may also grant a citizens communication (or "open forum," "open mic" etc.) portion of their meeting, to allow the public to speak on any issue of concern, apart from what's on the agenda. There are categories of items the entity will define as qualifying for public comment, such as public hearing items, items pulled from the consent agenda for discussion by either councilmembers/legislators OR the public - but not usually for things like presentations given by staff or third parties, or for "consent agenda" items. All these stipulations and processes are spelled out in the entity's policy (as in our City Charter/Code of Ordinances).

To be clear: TOMA doesn't MANDATE that entities give the public opportunity to speak on any matters on their agenda. It ALLOWS for it. "The Act does not entitle the public to choose the items to be discussed or to speak about items on the agenda." (TOMA handbook, pg. 40). Most, if not all, entities do make these allowances; some are more liberal with input than others. The fact that almost all entities do -or to the degree in which they do- is a product of how engaged each particular constituency is. That engagement is key to maintaining a transparent, accountable government. Let's hear it for democracy!!

The "consent agenda" consists of items that are thought by the chair of the meeting to be simple/non-controversial/housekeeping, etc. such that they can get those out of the way, by voting on them favorably in one fell swoop, in order to get to the items that qualify otherwise. Council members/board members/legislators are allowed to "pull" items from the consent agenda to be put on the table, so to speak, for further discussion. They can do this on their own accord (entities decide whether it takes only one member to request it or more than one member) or sometimes they do so in response to a constituent's -or a multitude of constituents- request prior to the meeting such that it avoids being placed on the consent agenda in the first place. The law allows (not 'mandates') entities to devise a process for the public to pull has the City of Austin.

Before Leffingwell was Mayor, it was not standard practice to allow speaking on consent agenda items unless enough people signed up on it to get pulled for discussion. Mayor Wynn did make exceptions if one speaker really wanted to, but not consistently, and Leffingwell picked up on this exception as a matter of habit. Again, this is not something he has to do by law - but is allowed to do in his capacity as the chair of the meeting, so it's considered a "courtesy," not a given.

Despite this gimme towards public input beyond mandates in the law, Leffingwell began curbing citizen input in other respects, most notably by limiting how many times a person can speak on agenda items (his limiting how many meetings a year someone can sign up to speak at citizen communication is concerning, too, but not as legally questionable) and his actions are debatable as to whether they fully comply with our ordinance in place prior to this change, and more symbolically, whether they comply with the "spirit" of the 1st Amendment.

In response to the controversy, Councilmember Morrison (with Councilmember Spelman's assistance)* led the charge to codify some of these questions around citizen input. The Mayor has been somewhat resistant to this effort, as he feels like he gets to run the meeting the way he sees fit; which, frankly, he does as Mayor from a legal standpoint--but it could theoretically cost him politically, if only a smidgeon considering things like F1 and WTP4 will weigh much heavier at the polls.

Item 51 provides for more opportunity for public input during council meetings than we've recently had. The Mayor's changes limited people being able to sign up to speak on more than three items on the consent agenda - and limited speaking on those items to a total of three minutes (instead of three minutes each). To his credit, soon after he became Mayor, he lowered the number of people it took to pull items off the consent agenda for discussion from five to two (five was the standard before his administration). Item 51 improves this slightly to include counting a person who signed up not wishing to speak, but wanting to donate time to another speaker, as the 2nd person which would trigger it getting pulled for discussion.

The ordinance clarifies what the Mayor's practices have been by codifying that a member of the public, along with a second person, cannot participate in pulling more than three items from the consent agenda (those three items pulled would be the first three items that appear numerically on the agenda; i.e., if you sign up on consent items #4, 9, 18 and 42, you will only get to speak to 4, 9 and 18). But where it really improves on the Mayor's changes is that a person is not limited to speaking on items pulled from the agenda otherwise. That can happen by council members pulling items (remember, one can lobby a council member to do that) and by others signing up in pairs to get additional items pulled.

So no longer will the rule apply that you can only speak on three items at a single meeting. Between items pulled otherwise (other than yourself pulling three from consent), and items not on the consent agenda already, the potential to speak on items is essentially back to where it once was before the Mayor imposed his questionable rules. So if you really like hearing yourself talk and want to speak on 25 items at a council meeting, you can again. Is that an effective way to influence policy-makers and make change? Well, that's another blog...

On the items that get pulled from consent, speakers get a full three minutes to relay their concerns on each opposed to items NOT pulled (where you are the only person signed up on a consent item), where you get a combined three minutes to speak on those items. But remember, by law, they don't have to let you speak on these items at all...or anything, for that matter, as strange as that may seem in a free society and since we take for granted we are given the opportunity to do so.

The last piece of this policy attempts to deal with a housekeeping issue: where the City Clerk has been having a hard time administering the speaking list due to a 3rd category in which you can sign up on an item. There's the "Yes, I wish to speak" choice, the "No, I don't wish to speak" (but wish to be on the record as for, against or neutral) and "No, I don't wish to speak unless Council has questions" option. It's made for a little confusion at meetings, so the proposal was to scrap the second "no" option, and Council can simply ask any "no" person to the dais if they feel the need to.

I attribute the confusion to a technical/programming issue - Council doesn't know how to distinguish between the two "no's" while at the dais. I think they simply haven't formatted the system to that level of detail--they're just looking at a compiled spreadsheet of the sign-in system. I spoke with Councilmember Morrison's office about the importance of keeping what seems an innocuous third in my experience as a school board member, I recently called up a teacher to answer a question on an item he had first-hand experience with (he uncomfortably obliged me), and was corrected by another later that his unplanned speaking might have raised some eyebrows by his superiors, putting him in a tenuous position. We as policy-makers should be sensitive to these issues and not put people on the spot like that. Lesson learned.

Since we don't have the the final version yet, I'm not sure what they did exactly, but I think they were set to just get rid of it and have the Clerk find a technical solution to allow for less confusion. It really didn't need to be codified.

I mention that last, mostly unimportant piece mainly because as part of the rich rumor mill this week, it was put out there that this bit allowed the Clerk to go into the meeting's database and change what people actually signed up on. I.E., if you signed up "yes" to speak on an item, she could change you to a "no" (or perhaps the rumor-monger thought she could also change which item you signed up on-it was hard to tell where the conspiracy ended). That's simply not what the language says...and yes, that would be illegal if that were the case, but it's not. It's merely about changing the format of the system people sign up on before the next meeting in January.

And to the last odd issue of thinking that the 1st is impacted by having a rule that people sign up prior to 15 minutes before the meeting starts...huh? How can you run a meeting if you don't have time to organize what is/isn't going to come off consent, since that's done at the top of the meeting? Seems someone's never facilitated a meeting.

The catch in all this is that it is a pilot program, so to speak, an "interim rule." The resolution puts these rules in effect for only two month's worth of Council meetings. The Mayor will decide if it works for him, with Council's input, before considering codifying it "permanently." Even if that happens, the next Mayor/Council can come in and change it all don't get too used to it!

*Click on Item 51 -at 7:20 in- to watch the sponsoring Councilmembers' comments explaining the policy.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

The Buck Stops Here

Below is my unedited speech today to Austin City Council (go to "Citizens Communication" 14:25 in/watch my friend Richard Franklin following me too); three minutes is just never enough time to relay all the concerns!:

Twelve years ago, we formed a task force to develop a civilian oversight system for APD…in trade for having accountability…as if there NEEDS to be a trade-off. We agreed, not the task force, but behind closed doors where the task force recommendations were watered down…to pay our officers top dollar; in fact, the highest pay grade in the nation, per capita. While monetary reward should have been granted AFTER accountability had been achieved, it was expected that APD would follow suit.

This high pay grade was supposed to relieve officers from taking moonlighting jobs for extra income, so they wouldn't be working so much overtime and wouldn't be tired and prone to mistakes on the job, making them a public safety hazard. Take the recent example of one Officer Mark C. Lakes who attacked and punched a young woman in the stomach while she was already laid out on the ground at Barton Creek Mall last Saturday in their effort to break up a peaceful demonstration (people "freezing" in place holding bags with messages on them for 5 minutes) and prevent people from filming the action and incidents occurring in the police riot (filming in public/filming police activities is perfectly legal). This officer works full time at APD, part time (perhaps 20 hours/week) at CapMetro, and was working on APD overtime during this incident.

Since the implementation of civilian oversight, we’ve continued to have unjust police use of force. In 2007, we hired Chief Acevedo who brought to the department new life…new policies and many promises of further change. While we’ve seen improvement on some levels, we’re not in two important aspects: profiling and lethal use of force. We continue to beg for the Preservation of Life standard to be implemented in policy – to which you are all aware of the details. It says, in part, "[o]fficers will plan ahead and consider alternatives which will reduce the possibility of needing to use deadly force."

We further continue to call for accountability in individual lethal force cases. Under Chief Acevedo, we hoped that we’d get VALID and VERIFIABLE information as quickly possible after a police shooting. Instead, we get false information at the get-go that then drives the investigation and disciplinary action. (MEANWHILE: the Chief tells the community not to make unfounded assumptions until all the facts are in!).

Sanders – there was no struggle with a gun; Contreras – he did NOT fire his gun; Carter – the car was NOT used as a weapon.

There was no struggle in the Sanders case as we know from expert testimony filed in the civil suit, which follows what KeyPoint extrapolated. The Chief, hours after this shooting, said it was a “good shooting” as he did after Contreras – going on camera to say Devin shot the gun and when I posed the question in front of media at the scene, “did you see the video yet?” he said no. He simply believed the officer’s tale. The Grand Jury did not see fit to indict the driver in the Carter shooting – and the story changed from using the car as a weapon to the car hitting a parked car…which the driver likely didn't see, much less have time to consider, the officer being on the other side of.

The Department of Justice left here three days before the Carter shooting-death, claiming there wasn’t a pattern of abuse under APD (under Acevedo, it is insinuated). It only took them 4 and a half months to return – three cases now does make a pattern.

We all suffered through KeyPoint Gate where y’all claimed you couldn’t interfere, you couldn’t have access to the report that was meant for the public. We can’t do that again. The buck stops here at council. You DO have the authority to advise the City Manager –who you are the boss of - to advise the Police Chief –who the Manager is the boss of. You have a responsibility to do that. We need to know PUBLICLY that you are doing so.

The Chief claims he must wait for the Grand Jury to decide how he should respond from an administrative standpoint. Remember after the Sanders shooting he promised a quick resolution, that he wouldn’t take 180 days, and in fact, sped it up to half that – now he wants to drag it out. Meanwhile, both officers have been returned to duty and are on the streets with no resolution as to whether they are a public safety threat or not.

LET’S NOT SEE THE QUINTANA SLOW MARCH AGAIN. Check out the chief’s new policy he wrote last August – after the shooting. In 902.5.3 (see the Policy Manual), he expands on the meet and confer contract about his right to ask the AG for an extension beyond the 180 days. In the contract, that only applies to cases of arbitration. In the policy, however, it is said he can only do so IF he is planning on indefinitely suspending an officer and if the prosecutor asks him to. Is he planning on firing the officers? His comments in media say no – he’s still sticking to the “car as a weapon” story.

This would mean if he doesn't fire the officers, he is in violation of his own policy.



The buck stops here.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Acevedo's Body Count

Byron Carter, Jr.'s unjustified homicide by APD is a make or break case for Acevedo's reputation as a change agent.

How many more young African-American and Hispanic men must die before our city leadership acknowledges that we –still– have a problem in our police Department?

How many more contentious, community-splitting debates and public payouts to bereaved and injured families must occur before our Police department changes its shoot to kill policy?

How many more complaints, protests, speeches, community coalitions, letters, feature stories, resolutions, town hall meetings and memorials must occur before the demands of our citizens are finally acknowledged and acted upon?

I say not one more. Let Byron Carter, Jr.’s unnecessary death finally be the catalyst for real change.

Acevedo must decide within the next 72 hours whether Carter’s killer will be held accountable from a departmental standpoint (a Grand Jury has not yet considered whether legal charges will be brought). Will he fire him for unjustifiably shooting an unarmed youth, or fire both officers for lying…as it’s becoming clear that both are? Acevedo is on record - before he was hired - saying he would fire any officer for lying.


The Department of Justice (DOJ) came here four years ago to study why we had proportionately high unarmed youth of color dying at the hands of our police. They closed their use of force investigation three days prior to this shooting, but this incident may well have made a distinct difference in their response. Instead of breaking down critical incidents and assessing which were and weren’t justified, as the community understood they were going to do, in addition to a few final recommendations, they closed out the last segment of the inquiry by specifically noting the improvements at APD.

It’s likely the DOJ thought that between the one very questionable shooting death (Sanders) and the somewhat “cleaner” one (Contreras had a gun even if he wasn’t aiming it at anyone), there wasn’t enough evidence of a pattern under him, although, we thought, their charge was to look at the past 15-20 years of shootings. It’s likely that because he was so responsive to the policy recommendations, they granted him something of a pass…or a vote of confidence. Much like Obama getting the Nobel Peace Prize as an “incentive” to end a war or two.

Unfortunately, much like the Nobel committee’s charge isn’t to award peace prizes based on the potential for peace, the DOJ’s charge isn’t to judge excessive force by the potential for it’s curbing.

As it stands, for all the good brought to APD, we still have unarmed youth of color being killed by police officers.


Art Acevedo swooped into town in the spring of 2007 and charmed us all. Upon his hiring that summer, he gave us our long-sought disciplinary matrix! He got rid of some dead weight. He made policy changes. He made improvements in training and set a new tone for a more responsive, less brutal department. He got out and about in the community at every opportunity. The gains were measurable; the signs, hopeful.

Kevin Brown was shot by Michael Olsen just prior to Chief Acevedo taking leadership, but he did get charged with disciplining Olsen, and did the right thing in firing him. Had Stan Knee earlier fired Olsen for the 2002 brutal treatment of Jeffrey Thornton, as captured on the Texas Lottery videocameras on 6th St., Brown would still be alive today. It seemed clear with the 2007 firing of Olsen that unlike Knee, Acevedo wasn’t going to put up with excessive force under his watch.

But since then, there’s not been one firing for unjustified lethal force, much less excessive force – in his four and a half years of leadership. There was his public exposing of video of an officer unjustly tasering an African-American motorist he pulled over on Mopac, admonishing him and setting an “example” for all to follow…but the Chief considered that humiliation his discipline.

There’s been firings for lying, investigative failings, drugs, alcohol/DWI and hanging out with prostitutes, but none related to abuse of power/racial profiling or unjustified force, and that’s what still pervades the force and continues to foster distrust with the community. Profiling and force have not decreased under Acevedo.

There’s been four incidents in his tenure where it isn’t disputable someone pointed a gun at officers, although one or two of them might have been averted had key family members been brought in to talk someone down or specialists (psychologists or conflict resolution experts) to mitigate the situation before SWAT bust in. When someone is holed up in a home alone with a gun…time is on your side, but patience is not APD’s greatest virtue.

The point is that, under his watch, Chief Acevedo hasn’t disciplined any officer over, or even questioned circumstances around, any lethal force. He has yet to see a shooting death he didn’t like.

He wants so badly to have a “clean” record as Chief as far as the dead bodies go, that he can’t fathom a lethal mistake….except the one that happened just before he got here…where it was Knee’s fault.


And while I’m getting my Psychology 101 on, his bigger problem is that he makes up his mind from the get-go. Before seeing all the evidence…before seeing how eventually-revealed evidence completely undermines his officers’ initial stories, he decides exactly what happened, and by God, he sticks to it.

Hours after Nathaniel Sanders died, Acevedo said, on camera, it was “a good shooting;” that there was a struggle for the gun. There was not, as expert opinions via KeyPoint and civil suit discovery shows—there were only 4 seconds between his waking and the first bullet that took his life; it took that long for Quintana to stumble back behind the car. Also, there were no fingerprints on the gun. But the “struggle” scenario would be the story forevermore, despite the evidence and the City’s first-ever wrongful death settlement where the officer wasn’t fired for it.

Hours after Devin Contreras died, still at the scene, Acevedo said the officer did the right thing and when I asked if he had seen the video yet, he said, “no, I haven’t made it back to the station yet.” My jaw dropped. He simply took the word of the officer that Contreras shot his gun first and went on camera saying such. So that became the public story…but it was too late, despite the evidence that showed Contreras didn’t shoot his gun.

Byron Carter is another victim of his faulty, prejudiced when it comes to lethal actions by his department.

Of course, all these fictions APD creates include loudly touting any criminal history of the deceased. If they paint them “thugs,” people won’t care if they died. It’s de-facto justified, so they think. Too bad for them that’s not the way the law works…hence the civil lawsuits – and the settlements.

Ace’s boss, Marc Ott does nothing to correct this, much less our elected officials who are the boss of Ott. In fact, there’s much evidence, especially in Ott’s case, that they enable it by not disciplining him, and going so far as helping him, if not leading him, to cover it up. Keypoint-Gate, anyone?


This time, there's no excusing the death because of any gun in the car, much less in the hand, much less an excuse of previous wrongdoing/probable cause – despite what was initially put out in the media, yet again…

The officers said they saw the victims, 19-year old Byron Carter, Jr., and his 16 year old friend, "casing cars," but lost them and then supposedly found them later getting into a car--which was their own—despite what APD reported to media in the days following.

But, as always, the truth seeps out well after the false story is planted in the public consciousness.

According to the lawsuit, it looks as if the officers saw two African-American youth, mistook them for the earlier car casers and tried to stop them from leaving by shooting up their car. Then they crafted a tall tale realizing how seriously they just screwed up. (It should be noted Austin police have a union contractual right the rest of us don’t enjoy: they don’t have to answer to investigators for 48 hours following a critical incident.) But it seems 48 hours is still not enough to cover your tracks…see below the story, “FACTS AND HOLES.”

What’s not in question is that either one officer or both fired four shots into Carter’s body.

Now that the truth is coming out, it certainly looks like these young men saw two guys in the dark (in dark clothes) running toward them, guns pointed at them, right after they got in and started their car. There is no evidence that officers identified themselves. The young men, naturally, high-tailed it out of their parking space as gunfire poured into their car—whether they did that before gunfire started or after is irrelevant, they thought they were in danger. Whether they hit a car that rolled into one of the officers that they couldn’t see at that point (being that the parked car was obscuring his position), is irrelevant too, as officers are trained to position themselves safely in these situations. They were trying to simply stay alive; they didn’t have TIME to use the car as a weapon.


The Grand Jury DROPPED CHARGES on the surviving 16 year old, the driver. This is frankly remarkable – Grand Juries do not fail to find fault with African-American youth charged with attempted murder of a police officer, EVER.

Funny thing is, His Chiefness loves to call me on the phone or get in front of news cameras to gloat when Grand Juries fail to indict his officers over something, as if that means something. It doesn’t when the reason for that is the D.A. withholds key evidence that would allow them to legally indict – so she can get her next police union contributions. Yet in this particular case, he’s gone on record to paint the Grand Jury as either incompetent or biased towards the 16 year old (as if there is any precedence to that) by saying they had plenty of evidence to do so, but chose not to.

This, of course, insinuates HE has plenty of evidence to defend his officer…hence the concern he isn’t planning to do the right thing and fire him (or both).

But the Grand Jury hasn’t addressed the officer yet, and they almost always have him cleared well before the police Internal Affair report is done (don’t ask how they can judge something not yet investigated—that just seems to be accepted across the board).

But if the Grand Jury doesn’t indict the officer (Lehmberg hasn’t met an officer she wanted to indict in her tenure as District Attorney), then we have a serious problem. There’s a dead body with 4 bullet holes in it and no one’s at fault? It was an accident???

And similarly, if the Chief doesn’t fire the officer(s), but the officer(s) gets indicted, then what? How will he explain that away?


No matter what these young men were doing prior to getting in the car, and no matter what they were doing as the car was moving, shooting the passenger 4 times all over his body was in no way, shape or form justifiable. Shooting the passenger neither prevents the car from hurting an officer or prevents the car from leaving the scene (although shooting to prevent someone leaving is not justifiable, by law, unless the person poses an imminent threat to the public safety and casing cars doesn’t).

Nelson Linder of the NAACP-Austin told the Citizen Review Panel a week ago, the officers “should be fired, no questions asked.” He said the shooting was indefensible and the most disturbing case of police brutality that he'd seen in a decade.

Bryon was going home to Grandma. He called her 15 minutes prior to being shot (while he was “casing cars”?) and said he’d be home soon, having no idea what was about to prevent that from happening. No idea, of course, because he wasn’t doing anything that would threaten his own demise.



Basic Facts:
--5/30/11: 2 APD officers on foot shot at 2 African-American youth in a car that belonged to the driver
-- Byron Carter, Jr., 20, was an unarmed passenger and was shot dead with 4 bullets to his body from a wide range of angles
--the 16 year old driver (name not released) was shot in the arm, and survived
--the 16 year old drove to Disch-Faulk parking lot and walked home where he was apprehended

(read III.B “Night of the Shooting” in the civil lawsuit)

Officers’ Version:
--they say they thought the youth were casing cars earlier; that they tried to follow them but lost them
--they then spotted and ran towards two African-American suspects getting into a car, and were certain these were the same two casing cars earlier, in fact, they were certain that the car they were in was stolen (it wasn’t) and that was the sole reason they were attempting to detain them in the first place

--they said they were attempting to escape and used the car as a weapon against the officers
--the police said one of the officers got pinned between two cars (and this is where it gets fuzzy: at first the story was between the suspects car and the adjacent parked vehicle…then the story was that it between the adjacent parked vehicle and the parked vehicle adjacent to that
--the officer that got hit got hit fell to the ground

--Officer Rodriguez hurt his ankle…suffering a “ruptured Achilles tendon” –one account said both officers were injured, but didn’t mentioned how Wagner was inured


--Rodriguez getting hit by this parked car and falling to the ground was actually rarely mentioned in the media stories…it is unclear if the car made physical contact with him at all or if he just fell on his own trying to get to safety or trying to get to a better shooting position

-- it’s clear by the statements Wagner didn’t see Rodriguez fall, he just saw him after he was already on the ground, as Acevedo noted in the press conference: “Wagner heard Rodriguez scream as he fell;” Wegner said about Rodriguez he “feared he was pinned” or was “afraid he was trapped”; it’s unclear what Rodriguez reported himself – that has not been mentioned in media - conveniently.
--there’s no explanation of how Rodriguez would have been "pinned and being dragged under the car" when the car he was supposedly “pinned” by was a parked car in between him and the moving vehicle. If Rodriguez was hit so hard by this parked vehicle, such that Wagner thought he’d be drug along the street by a parked vehicle, then why are there no other injuries to Rodriguez above his ankle where a fender would make contact?
-- the uninjured officer shot at suspects "through the windshield" – so how did Carter get a bullet to the back of his head? Did only Wagner shoot at the “suspects” or did Rodriguez shoot too? If so, why was this not reported? If Rodriguez was shooting, then how did he do it while on the ground, being drug by a parked car?

--where is mention of training issues where officers shouldn’t try to apprehend suspects in a moving, or a soon-to-be-moving vehicle by placing themselves in danger of being hit by the car? OR training about stopping a moving vehicle and aiming for the DRIVER?

Monday, November 14, 2011

F1: Gentleman, Stop Your Engines

Don't Say We Didn't Tell Ya So

We were duped. At least many racing fans who never questioned the public subsidies and the decision-makers were, sans the two dissenting members.

It wouldn't be the first time Richard Suttle strutted into City Hall on behalf of out of town developers and promised the moon, the sun and the stars and city leaders became all googly-eyed, only to find out not a sunspot, a moonbeam nor a starlight were actually on the table.

But in this case, where the public actually got wind before Council voted on the "risk free" deal, we had a couple of shots to convince them that supporting F1's lust for public monies was not the best thing since sliced bread. Many, many people brought many, many well-researched facts before Council showing there was plenty of reason to slow the train down.

Council, except for two (Cmbrs. Morrison and Tovo), chose not to listen to the public. $250 million of Texas public funds are on the table, spread out over 10 years (plus $4 million in a local contribution, which Circuit of the Americas, "COTA," says they'll pay--we'll see). With $15 billion in budget cuts this past legislative session, one would think the City of Austin wouldn't so foolishly jump into an arrangement putting all Texans in harm's way.

Besides some community members dismantling many of F1's "facts" and figures, it should have been evident something was going to blow up in our face based solely on who we were dealing with: Bernie Ecclestone, for one, who loves him some "efficient" Hitler --and is fond of bribing folks to avoid paying taxes. Local attorney and former Judge, Bill Aleshire, said: “Those of us trying to convince our state comptroller not to pay the $25 million F1 Texas tax kickback recognize the sad irony that Mr. Ecclestone testified that he bribed a German bank official with $23 million in order to avoid a tax audit.” Painful irony.

Hiring Richard Suttle as their local go-to man should have been Clue #2 this was a shady deal, and that all their "hurry hurry hurry! offer ends soon!" b.s. was just that: b.s. to get their hands on public monies before anyone was the wiser.

Jabs from Jersey

As we are finding out, a New Jersey race in 2013 had long been secretly in the works and that it was being negotiated for June that year. We were never going to have a June race in 2012 or any year thereafter (yet that was the reason Council had to quickly approve contracts that weren't yet written), and it's now questionable we are going to have a 2012 race at all, as noted by Autoweek: "There might not be an F1 race in Texas in 2012, and there might not be a track for the series to race on."

With the internal strife in COTA and Hellmund's bitter departure, delays in construction, rumors of construction workers going unpaid, the track may not just be delayed - it may not be built. If I were an investor, I'd be pulling out right now. (If it goes unfinished, should we rename it the "Intel Memorial Racetrack"? Maybe we can turn it into a dirt bike park.)

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is laughing at us right now...laughing all the way to the bank...for our promising millions in public funds to these people. He knew he didn't need to offer any giveaways to get his race, and pointed that out in his F1 announcement as a not-so-subtle jab at Texas. So unlike the deal we agreed to, NJ isn't using any public money to pay F1 fees and they are getting reimbursed for public expenses and they are keeping any and all sales tax proceeds.

If only we had skilled policy makers like that around these parts.

Meanwhile, we were negotiating investing much-needed state dollars under the false premise that we'd have the exclusive rights to the only F1 race in the US, such that we'd be rolling in tourist dollars. Ooops!

Don't Worry!

Steve Sexton said their "funding is secured..."

Ehhh...not so much. The METF money isn't in the bank quite just yet. They haven't turned in their application to the Comptroller's office. They can't, as they have to do it within a year before the event (November 18th would be the earliest they could, IF anyone still believes at this point the event will happen at this time next year).

It will be in December that the World Motor Sports Council votes to formalize the dates of races - so they shouldn't apply until after that happens.

All that aside, it may not be legal for the Comptroller to grant them the METF money if there's a competing event in the US - which there now is. If they go after it, and Combs grants it, and somene sues over it, that too will cost us all money we don't have.

Never Too Late to do Right

Although we spent $13.5 million on water/wastewater (and were duped on that too), and we spent a good deal of staff time and energy on this deal with the devil, it's not too late to fix this.

The City has not yet signed, that we know of, the "events support contract" (it should have been in a publicly announced COTA meeting) that would officially sanction F1 being eligible for funds from the state coffers, as they need a local host. That doesn't address other requirements, however.

Now is the time for us to cut and run. Cancel the interlocal agreement we signed, and let COTA figure out how to pull this off. This should not be on the public's back.

Now is the time for LEADERSHIP. Wipe the egg off your face, Austin officials, before it hardens into a permanent, smelly mask.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Del Valle ISD: Let the Healing Begin...?


The huge swath of a district that exists between Austin ISD and Bastrop ISD, Del Valle ISD, has gone unnoticed by many Austinites for quite some time. With nearly 50,000 residents and 11,000 students spread across 14 schools, it's often ignored by entities from HEB, who still hasn't built a grocery store, to law enforcement, who can't decide which entity should respond to many calls.

Del Valle is built off of historically rural communities now incorporating those gentrified out of east Austin or families related to jail residents (some languishing in County lock up for years at a time). Most are working class, lower-income and minorities.

DVISD is the only governmental structure covering this territory, shy of the Travis County Commissioners Court who hasn't exactly funneled our share of resources eastwardly. There are small community local government entities, like Creedmore, but as a whole, DVISD has long been the sole entity looking out for the entire region.

With no real oversight as overarching governmental entities pay little attention and until the last two years, there was only a small cadre of community activists since many families are working two to three jobs to make ends meet and many parents in the district don't speak English...the board has been ripe with issues, spawning complaints filed with the County, State and Feds (none of which have been acted on to date). Then came the board denying the community formation of a PTA. Well, that did it. If you ever want to organize a community quickly, deny them a PTA. Many were pleased when some major housecleaning was conducted.


Dr. Kelly K. Crook. She's smart as a whip...cute as a bug...inspiring in her work ethic...savvy politically and administratively. I already consider her a trusted colleague, even a friend, but can I be sure she's the best choice for leading the 5-A district of 11,000 students that I just became the newest board member of?

I wish I could say I am...but by no fault of her own, I can't be entirely sure since I don't know what the competition looks like.

Following is a statement I sent out to the community explaining my position on this.

Trustee statement on Dr. Kelly Crook's appointment as DVISD Superintendent

Thursday night at the DVISD Board meeting, a split board named Dr. Kelly Crook our new superintendent (or the effective "lone candidate" to which we wait 21 days for formal appointment), after failing to pass a motion to conduct a superintendent search. The board voted against a search, 5-4, and voted for Dr. Crook to be appointed 5-3-1 (I was the abstention).

Several of us thought we owed the community & the students a search, despite the positive gains made under Dr. Crook's leadership since last June. A search would cost less than $1/student (around $9,500) and is the most important decision a Board of Trustees makes - and could have served to bring both the board and community together in light of recent issues. While experts over at the Texas Association of School Boards say that many districts choose not to conduct a search, but hire within the ranks, they say that's usually smaller, less-accredited districts, not 5A districts like Del Valle.

Some individuals and groups, like LULAC, contend that because our district is heavily minority-based (+/- 93%), we had a duty to open the search to people of color.

Some in the district are concerned about some past problems not being resolved by someone who was part of the "old" administration. Some are concerned about continuing on too much longer in "limbo" and that the search would undermine the positive changes in the works under our interim. We are all ready for healing to begin, but some question that the lack of a search, a lack of looking at other qualified candidates, in and of itself, will negatively impact that.

Personally, I wanted the search, but abstained to appoint Dr. Crook, not because I don't have faith in her abilities, but because I don't know if she is or isn't the best person for the job for lack of a search. Despite this, I offer my congratulations and want to publicly state she will have my full support as we move forward. I expect she will continue, as she has proven to date, to bring more transparency to the district, make structural improvements and build trust and cohesiveness amongst board, staff, students and community alike.

In community,

Debbie Russell,

member, SMD2, Del Valle ISD Board of Trustees

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Got Districts?


Austinites for Geographic Representation will hold a kickoff rally Saturday, Oct 22nd at Mexitas Restaurant at 12th Street and IH-35, from 3-5 PM. Free food will be provided and there will be a cash bar. Everyone in Austin, from across the political spectrum, is welcome.

Why Districts? Why Now?

Did you know Austin is the largest proportionally representative municipality in the country? Each "at-large" Councilmember represents all 812,500 Austinites - more constituents than most US Representatives answer to! Having to appeal to all of the elected leaders to see who might help you with an issue in your part of town, where no one is specifically accountable to you, has caused a major democracy gap in our City. It has eroded trust.

At the City of Austin's Charter Revision Commission meeting last week, former state Senator Gonzalo Barrientos and chair, quipped that "there ain't a lot of faith right now" in our local council government. While this commission's still developing what plan to recommend our Council, and considering this Commission's recommendation can be easily ignored by them (it has on this matter in the past), the community is moving forward as they don't trust politicians protecting their own interests to "do the right thing."

At a noon press conference Wednesday at City Hall, the broad-based grassroots coalition Austinites for Geographic Representation announced a petition drive to amend the Austin City Charter to elect 10 Council members by geographic districts and the Mayor citywide. The proposal would also create an Independent Citizens Commission to draw the Districts.

"We have worked with over 30 organizations and dozens of individuals since March to devise a plan that is fair, reasonable, legal and in the case of the commission, one that will be free of political manipulation," said Charlie Jackson, an AGR spokesman.

"We are initiating this petition now," Jackson pointed out, "because of the Council's vote for a May election. We would prefer a November Charter vote. However whenever the City Council asks the voters to decide on amending the Charter, May or November, this proposal for 10-1 and an Independent Citizens Commission will be on that Ballot!"

Jackson went on to point out that since 1971, the idea that Austin has elected Mayors and Council members by "at large" elections has been an illusion. "In fact we have elected our City officials from two Super Districts" he stated, " We've had one Super District (West and Downtown) that has about 10% of the population but has elected 50.5% of the councilmember and 15 of 17 Mayors and a second Super District to represent the rest of the City (about 90% of the population and has elected 49.5% of the Councilmember and 2 Mayors)."

Most mid to large cities around the nation, with the exception of four others, have geographic representation, as do almost all our school boards, county commissioner courts and state and US representatives. Many cities in our size range have 9-11 districts.

Roger Borgelt, Vice-Chair of the Travis County Republican Party stated, "After seven months of work our coalition has a 10-1 plan that is far more equitable than the super district system we have now. The plan we have also will meet Department of Justice scrutiny in that it will provide the opportunity to elect an African-American and therefore does not commit retrogression as other plans will." Further Mr. Borgelt pointed out that, "the independent commission we propose will avoid City Hall politics, provide an open process and have members who are informed and interested but who are not tied to City Hall faction or interests."

This independent commission, tried successfully in other states and locales, will be the major difference from our previous ballot measures, likely being the key factor in garnering enough support for it to pass this time around. Understandably, people were wary about voting for it before because our heavily influenced politicians, or their hand-picked representatives, did draw or would have been drawing the maps after the vote.

Stan Coleman, who serves on the Board of the NAACP-Austin, reminded everyone that two federal judges have said we are the only city in Texas and the nation that lets at least one African American and one Hispanic get elected under current two Super District system. However, Mr. Coleman pointed out, "too often the minority Councilmember is is chosen by non-minority voters. Therefore, in reality the minorities are represented in appearance only, not in fact. It is time to end the two Super Districts system ratified by two judges that has condemned Austin minority voters to four decades of apparent, but no real, representation."

Eliza May, Democratic Party leader and former Hispanic Chamber of Commerce President, pointed out that Austin is one of the largest cities in the nation without geographic representation. May pointed out that "every level of government from the school board to the legislature to the U.S. Congress, has geographic representation except Austin. "You have to remember," she concluded, "that geographic representation was the original idea of such 'ward healers' as James Madison, Ben Franklin and George Washington, so we are hardly the first to support it."

Thanks to Richard Franklin for contributions to this post.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Austinites for Geographic Representation, PAC
6705 Hwy. 290, West, Suite 502, #173, Austin, TX 78735

Monday, October 17, 2011

Nine Steps to Occupy America

Occupy Austin website, calendar, forums: here.

My friend and mentor (and former employer during his 2006 campaign for Texas Atty. General), David Van Os, has developed some hard-hitting proposals that should definitely be considered by the Occupy Movement. While some of these are admittedly not easily attainable, if we don't call for radical change, we'll be left with a few nominal legislative band-aids that won't serve to mend the very cultural fabric that has been ripped to shreds in our country.

While we have such language in the Declaration of Independence, in Texas, the expression of our right to "alter, reform or abolish" our government is folded right into our Constitution. But this right is inherent. It's just been lost on us in the propaganda machine.

Many have expressed the lack of coherent solutions being offered in the Occupy movement - which has taken hold across the world. It's time for us to bravely assert that We, The People, expect much more than power brokers listening to our grievances. To that end, I offer the following piece by David.

And as David is famous for saying, "fight them until hell freezes over and then fight them on the ice!"


By: David Van Os

(Note: every person who reads this is hereby granted permission to forward, quote from, re-publish, or re-post this article by any means and in any forum desired. I would appreciate your citing my authorship if you repost or quote directly.)

The young people who started and grew the Occupy Wall Street movement have given their country and the world an incredible gift. We should all thank them a million, billion, trillion times. I’ve participated in Occupy Austin several times at the Austin City Hall Plaza where the Austin branch of Occupy Wall Street has its nerve center. It is inspiring to experience people of all backgrounds coming together through their natural human rights to speak freely and assemble in public places because they hold common grievances against an unresponsive political-economic system and have decided in common that enough is enough. It is especially inspiring to experience the horizontal decision-making processes of the movement, showcasing full participatory democracy without ego-tripping leaders or control hierarchies.

The right to revolutionary change is deeply rooted in the American psyche. For example, the Bill of Rights of the Texas Constitution (Article 1, Sec. 2, TEXAS CONSTITUTION) states that “all political power is inherent in the people”, and that the people have “at all times the inalienable right to alter, reform or abolish their government in such manner as they may think expedient.” This inalienable right is subject only to “the preservation of a republican form of government”, i.e., self-government by the people. Various other state constitutions contain similar confirmations of the inherent sovereignty of the people.

Respectfully, I submit that the articulated mission statements, demands, and goals of the movement need to call for change of a more revolutionary nature. The movement should demand not reform of the established order, but its downfall. I submit the demands should deliver a message that the entire oligarchy controlling the unresponsive political-economic system has to be peacefully removed and replaced to give the people a fresh new start. Listed below are some demands that I suggest. (My endnotes are simply commentaries. They are not part of the demands themselves. A mass movement’s demands must be basic and plain. The final details evolve in the people’s ongoing self-government of the movement in response to the fluidity of situations.)

1. That every member of the U.S. Congress resign and new elections be held in every state and district, with open access to the ballot and equal access to free airtime on broadcast media.[1]
2. That every director and officer of every Wall Street bank permanently resign.
3. That every Wall Street bank’s charter to do business be revoked.
4. That the banks be broken up in order to get new charters.
5. That the new charters place strict caps on executive compensation.
6. That every corporate charter be amended to prohibit corporate contributions to political parties and candidates.[2]
7. That the old usury laws be restored: absolutely no interest greater than 10% per annum can ever be charged on any transaction.
8. That the Federal Reserve Board be abolished and no individual private bank or group of private banks ever again be given a monopoly over the issuance and control of the nation’s currency.
9. That the president and vice president resign and the replacement elections take place through a speedy election process that reduces the influence of money. [3]

In other words: Replace the government, Break up Wall Street, Disarm the bankers, End the power of money in politics, End corporate contributions, and End the Fed.

A mass movement’s demands must be continuously repeated and the mass occupation and peaceful street action and guerrilla theater must continue, grow, and escalate until the demands are met. The established order will not fall overnight. But if we stay true to ourselves and resolve ourselves to fight till hell freezes over and then on the ice, it will fall.

Power to the people.
Revolution now.


David Van Os
Texas Patriot

[1] Here is an example of how the election process could be opened up. Candidates run in open primaries so that the political parties would not control ballot access. No monetary filing fees. Each candidate who can present 250 signatures of support to run for a House district or 1,000 signatures to run statewide for a Senate seat gets on the ballot. Each candidate on the ballot gets an equal amount of free airtime on every FCC-licensed broadcast carrier that broadcasts in the election district. No single change would diminish the influence of money more than free equal access to free airtime. Current members of Congress would be able to run for the new Congress so that the voters would have the opportunity to elect them again if the voters choose to do so.

[2]This is a simpler way to overturn Citizens United than amending the U.S. Constitution. Every state has laws governing how corporations get chartered and what the requirements are for getting chartered. It is a matter of state law that the Supreme Court can’t touch. This change is simple, but would require legislation in every state. But amending the Constitution would also require demanding it in at least ¾ of the states, and passing simple-majority legislation is procedurally easier in every state than passing a resolution to amend the U.S. Constitution. Nationwide state-focused action would focus and grow the Occupy movement even more. From the occupation of Wall Street, to the occupation of America.

[3]For example, with each political party selecting its nominee either through all primaries being held on the same day in the states where the party has ballot status, or through a national convention; with each candidate in the nominations races given an equal amount of free broadcast media airtime on FCC-licensed carriers in each state; and with each general election nominee of each party given an equal amount of free broadcast media airtime on FCC-licensed carriers in each state where the party has ballot standing.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Occupy Austin: "Why Are You Not Here?"

Call to Action: OCCUPY AUSTIN! Thursday, Oct. 6, 2pm - ?? (overnight/bring your own water/food/creature comforts-no sleeping though, that's officially illegal), City Hall "Free Speech Plaza," Cesar Chavez and Lavaca. Join the 99%!

The Occupy Wall Street General Assembly, in solidarity with the recent movements ranging from the Arab Spring to actions in Wisconson, has codified a list of grievances along with a call to action:

"To the people of the world,

We, the New York City General Assembly occupying Wall Street in Liberty Square, urge you to assert your power.

Exercise your right to peaceably assemble; occupy public space; create a process to address the problems we face, and generate solutions accessible to everyone....

Join us and make your voices heard!"

People are joining around the nation and world and the Occupy Austin General Assembly, through a time-consuming (true democracy is!), consensus-based facilitated process involving hundreds of voices over the course of daily community meetings in the past week, and recognizing "that our system of economics is badly broken," developed a mission statement last night: "to assert our rightful place within the political process, and take the reins of power away from profit-driven interests."

A few days earlier, the assembly invited all "to participate in the return of our Democracy and to add to the problem solving that must come from We the People, now. Our political leadership on all levels, has failed the People of America." Occupy Austin stands "in solidarity with our brothers and sisters who occupy Wall Street and occupy around the world. We are dedicated to non-violently reclaiming control of our governments from the financial interests that have corrupted them. We demand that our public servants recognize that the people are the supreme authority."

So join in and become part of the people-driven problem-solving.

Solutions, you ask? Yes - we need to discuss the many ideas and decide on a common platform. We don't need people complaining that a brand new organizing committee isn't presenting a complete menu of solutions. Join the movement to insert your voice to get us there. It's a process. It's democracy. It takes work. This isn't a button on a website where you can just join/support notions developed by others on your behalf. A true movement starts in the streets...not in cybersphere.

An opinion-editorial written by Travis Heights resident and local businessman, Carl Lindemann, and recently submitted to the Austin American-Statesman for publication (hopefully tomorrow or Friday) makes some good observations about this point:

"Critics claim they don’t see any specifics here. This is all just a childish, incoherent gripe. Get over it! Apparently, they need polished corporate public relations messaging to legitimize this. Instead, we have this rising generation finding its voice. How can they get on point without focus groups?"


"Those questioning Occupy Austin would do well to remember a legendary exchange between Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson. Thoreau had been jailed for refusing to pay the poll tax, and Emerson visited him along with some skepticism of his wisdom in this. 'Henry, why are you here?' Emerson asked. Thoreau answered, 'Waldo, why are you not here?'"

Photo courtesy of Reagan Hackleman:

Friday, June 17, 2011

Formula One: Robin Hood in Reverse

F1 Subsidy - Now You See It, Now You Don't!

The Statesman twittered, "NO TAXES FROM AUSTIN!" and Wells Dunbar at the Austin Chronicle tweeted it was "a great sounding F1 agreement." We're off the hook, it seems. We're not investing $40 million of local public monies into the Formula One race after all, right?

"Nothing up my sleeve...look! No subsidies!" is the subtext to Mayor Pro Tem Martinez' FaceBook announcement Thursday afternoon. "No Austin taxes at all will be used, leveraged, borrowed….what ever. It’s all private funding. But we still get the huge benefit of the sales tax from the site."

Wow! OUR HERO! Right?

Hold the parade..."it's all private funding"??? NOT so much. There's still the little matter of the state coughing up $250 million, and we, in Austin, have the responsibility and the power to stop that.

Us Austinites, along with the rest of our fellow Texans, fed the Major Events Trust Fund (METF) trough that almost got re-routed back into the general fund at the end of the regular legislative session - thanks, ironically, to Sen. Watson who lined up right behind Rick Perry to bring us F1 in the first place. Our money is in that pot and could be used for something else, like schools or healthcare, as was discussed on the Senate floor May 23, IF, in the special session-education budget conference committee happening this week, someone puts that on the table again.

What Does 25 Million of Our Tax Dollars Pay For?

Remember when the Comptroller's office once said this money would not go to the promoter, but to the local entity to reimburse it for costs? Well, they did. Then, we found out that's not true (*gasp...they lied!*). It is, in fact, planned to go to the promoter to "pay the sanctioning fee London-based Formula One Group charges for the privilege of hosting the first of 10 annual F1 races planned for Austin beginning in 2012.”

It's going to Bernie Ecclestone, one of the richest men in the world that runs one of the most profitable entities on the planet.

We Get Nothing Now Via the METF

There are still costs to make this thing happen that F1 expects us to pay for - things normally these METF funds pay for - and we won't get any of the METF dollars from F1 since it all goes to their sanctioning fee. We will have to invest local public monies. Martinez said, "no Austin taxes at all will be used"...yet Austin taxpayer dollars will be spent (besides our portion already paid into the METF and the $13.5 million for water/wastewater lines out to the track). Disingenuity is not exactly a "heroic" trait.

There's roads (construction then REconstruction after getting torn up by 100,000+ vehicles), police, water, etc. We haven't determined them all yet. We haven't seen the contracts. We haven't seen the studies. We haven't seen the analyses. There aren't any to see, Assistant City Manager Sue Edwards confirmed last week. Last fall, F1 representative Richard Suttle promised Del Valle residents they'd pay for several impact studies for them - on which he has not delivered, much less mentioned again.

The Mayor tried to tell us we won't have to budget for it--but how we going to pay for the supporting costs for the first race, or any subsequent race if we're no longer eligible for any of that state pot?

$4 million being off the table changes nothing about how we still aren't anywhere near ready to vote on whether we should be on the hook for these costs...on whether we should unlock the METF floodgates from the state. How will Austin justify it to the rest of Texas?

Besides the fact that the METF is an incentive fund -- but they're already here...building out the track right now.

Texans Who Go To F1 Will Pay For It Twice

This money was allocated to the METF and it can be re-allocated right back into something more worthy than providing welfare to a few very rich international folks to entertain other rich folks. Of course, what's not being mentioned is that the majority of folks coming to the races will be Texans - the ones that don't have to spend gobs of money to travel here (and aren't likely to spend $1,500 each person/day as the Comptroller "predicts"). The trend for F1 in less exotic spots like Great Britain is that only a handful of spectators come from out of country.

So you like Formula One racing? Great. While I'm a little "NIMBY" myself on the matter (it will be a nightmare in terms of numbers, traffic, public safety, environmental hazards/non-attainment, lack of water resources, etc--for a full month, not just 3 days a year, as 1000s from the teams are here prior preparing), just realize that your taxes are subsidizing it even before you buy a ticket. Then most of the tax from what you spend while in Austin will go back into the fund, to go back to F1 - not the local entity. We merely get any leftover, if there is any.

This is not a deal to tax 100,000-300,000 out-of-state visitors -- for 'free money,' this amounts to making Texas race fans pay twice for the "privilege" of having it in their backyard. A vicious cycle considering there's no need to offer welfare to some of the richest people in the world at all. You're already stuffing their wallets, why do it twice?

Petra Ecclestone, daughter of the F1 magnet, is buying the most expensive mansion in the United States as a second home.

Formula One Updates tweets: "Ferrari have extended their contract with Marlboro which is set to be worth $480,000,000 in 3 years."

These people and their sponsors are rolling in it. Why are we scraping the bottom of the Texas barrel to help them make more money? Is it because F1 is costing more every year and making less which means Petra might have to downgrade to the 2nd most expensive home in the U.S.? Which also means we aren't going to see the local riches we're being promised. So we have to double-question the trade-off in costs - which we don't know yet.

They suggested in their commercial that one event will generate $5 BILLION; that the local economy is supposed to reap $400 million: they said 8% was our portion of their take, which would be $5B. But listen closely to the commercial. It's double-speak. It seems more like they will make $400M (a still-inflated, but more reasonable, figure), so that we get $32 million--but what are our costs? No event in the country has ever generated $5 billion. Ask Jerry Jones.

North Texas cities brought in paltry numbers during last year's Super Bowl. Comptroller projections were $31.2 million...but it looks like they brought in less than half that, depending on which source you use and whether they isolated taxes from just game goers or not. Some cities saw no increase in sales tax revenue from January to February: game month. Granted, ice and snow storms hurt attendance and sales, and perhaps F1 will bring a few more people with fatter wallets, but $5B?

We simply don't have the capacity to support that many people or sell that much stuff (Dallas, maybe: see #7), whether we're talking $5B or $400M. We have no 5 star hotels or restaurants. We don't even have near enough high class call girls that will be in demand (of course, we can't tax that), much less enough limos for hire.

Austin's "cool" but not "fa-fa-shi-shi." We're "weird;" not "money."

Welfare Reform Now! (For the Rich)

What do our Mayor, Mayor Pro Tem and Councilmember Shade have in common with Governor Perry? They're all very much in support of subsidizing F1 however they possibly can...even if it's "only" locking the state into doling out $25 million/year -of our money- for 10 years.

Our Guvnah told a crowd recently in New York City ("NYC?"), as he wrote in his book, the federal government "spends too much." Meanwhile, he was the first to promote F1 subsidies. The trumpeting trio on Council are a bit schizophrenic as well...Mayor Leff says we gotta "tighten our belts" and Shade's all "meat and potatoes," but playing host to a luxury sporting event? No prob.

What's in it for Martinez to play "hero"? $25,000 at least for his next run. Shade got that this run-off just from Suttle's firm, plus some, as we don't know what businesses -under individual names- contributed that will directly profit from F1. Nor do we know who the private investors are who may have also (33% of her contributions were from out of town) - more information we lack to make an informed decision next week.

We Can't Vote This Thursday

We can't vote on their application ("accept" it, according to statute) prior to one year before the race is scheduled. While June 17, 2012 has been penciled in by Full Throttle Productions/F1, it has not been confirmed by the The Federation Internationale de l’Automobile who is the governing body for F1. First Ecclestone pipes in and then the World Motor Sports Council votes to ratify the entire year's calendar. If ratified, the date becomes official. This vote is not scheduled to take place until the "the September or December WMSC meeting."

Todd Wroblewski explains in a letter to council: "The date of the race is significant not only to the application, it is also the key to determining the economic impact of the race. The statute requires the comptroller to determine the incremental tax receipts 'for a one year period that begins two months before the date on which the race will begin.' If the date of the race changes, the economic impact study would have to be redone if the statute is to be followed."

Also according to the statute, we have until 90 days prior (perhaps March, 2012) to decide if we want to buy in...and it's still "buying in" no matter how you look at it. We can wait, and actually HAVE to wait, several months before deciding. Just because F1's in a hurry doesn't mean we are.

Survival of the Richest!

Spending $40M to make $250M? A no brainer! These F1 guys are no dummies.

It became too politically hot for them to continue to try and pressure Austin into picking up their 'privilege fee' tab. It helped that activists and the Tovo campaign helped bring the issue to light, but we still have to sign off to unlock those state funds.

It's up to us in Austin to save Texas from itself.

PS: VOTE SATURDAY! Call 238-VOTE, option 2, to find out your polling place.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Unnecessary Democracy

When is it okay for an activist wholly dedicated to democracy to say "enough's enough?"

When the people have already spoken at the ballot box, and a run-off election is merely a waste of taxpayer dollars. That's exactly what's happening in Austin right now, in our City Council Place 3 race (all registered Austin voters weigh in on this race as we still have an antiquated at-large system - more on that later). If we had implemented instant run-off voting long ago, we'd have already cast that second vote at the same time we cast our first, and not even be in this mess...but that too, is another story for later.

Randi Shade, the incumbent, fielded 3 tenacious challengers in Kathie Tovo, Max Nofziger and Kris Bailey in the first round. Tovo came up through the City Planning Commission and more recently, received significant community praise as an Austin ISD task force member who challenged the District's plan for cutting the budget. Nofziger is a former councilperson with a populist bent and significant grassroots support and Bailey is a young up-and-comer libertarian who garnered the coveted Willie Nelson endorsement for his pro-legalization stance which he successfully packaged as re-routing local police resources.

All this to say the challengers' collective take in the general election was as much in support of them as it was for unseating the incumbent for her consistent votes in favor of big-monied interests and against the community. That total exceeded 67%, so a plurality of voters said "we won't be needing your services any longer, thankyouverymuch."

None of those votes will go to Shade as the challengers all very much ran against her platform, and their supporters were rabid anti-Shade. I'll concede there is a small handful of Nofziger supporters that are purely anti-rail that may be bent more Shade than Tovo, but Shade's not really committed one way or the other on rail - and we're only talking about a 100 or so voters that may not be motivated to show up again anyway.

All logical predictions were that Tovo would be the runner-up and that we'd surely see a run-off, but no one predicted Tovo would actually come out ahead - and by 14 points at that: 47% to 33%. The voters CLEARLY don't want Shade in office, and clearly favored Tovo as the best person to replace her. Most political gurus say, too, that going into a run-off more than 5 points behind is insurmountable.

Based on voting and election result patterns - and on who did and who didn't concede a run-off in the past, most thought Shade would concede. I, myself, predicted as much, providing examples of why that would make sense.

She didn't (in time for the withdrawal deadline). Which shows precisely why she's such a bad representative of the people.

So we traipse on, committed to spending $528,400 to determine a pre-determined outcome. Is it the heavy-handed monied interests that believe she still owes them on deliveries or pure ego? I, myself, have a hard time understanding that her large ego would allow for such smashing humiliation to befall her, so it must be the muscle behind our police union and chamber folks.

On top of trying to keep her base and re-energize them to vote again, she will have to get 1000s of new voters to the polls just to vote for her AND seek to prevent the wholly-dedicated Tovo supporters from showing up again (unlikely as Tovo's ground game is tops). Meanwhile the indications are that more people who didn't vote prior may show up this time, but to vote against Shade for the mere fact that she's wasting our money.

I predict a 75-25 outcome/70-30 at worst, but I'm alone in that steep of a prediction. Morrison, in 08, with the same base as Tovo, beat a formidable opponent in the run-off with the same politics as Shade, 65-35. He wasn't a despised incumbent (it was an open seat) so he wasn't additionally getting punished for costing us a half million dollars, and with the almost-guaranteed plurality of Tovo as a starting point, she should exceed 70%, in my mind. We shall see.

In Shade's first week of the run-off campaign, as in her general election campaign, every trick she tried blew up in her face and set her back even more. She got caught removing parody signs from the polls ("Shady the Clown" - I understand they are gaining even more traction now by her bringing attention to them!) and failed in her ethics complaint against Tovo.

Stay tuned...the election is June 18.