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Posted Tuesday August 24, 2010 1:24am
Updated 12:28pm
Updated 4:25pm
Georgetown City Attorney
Ready for the Firing Squad

Sokolow Increasingly Viewed
as a Problem to be Solved

by Ken Martin
© The Austin Bulldog 2010

Mark SokolowMark SokolowThe Roman orator and philosopher Cicero once wrote, “The good of the people is the greatest law,” and that seems to be a guiding principle in how the Georgetown City Council deals with the fate of its chief legal counsel, City Attorney Mark Sokolow.

None of the four council members interviewed would speak on the record about how they intend to vote in tonight’s council meeting, and no one but the council members can decide whether Sokolow keeps or loses a job that pays $130,000 a year.

George GarverGeorge GarverMayor George Garver cannot vote except to break a tie and says his focus for action this week has been to establish an orderly and discreet process for considering whether Sokolow goes or stays, and under what conditions.

Nevertheless there is a possibility that Sokolow will be terminated just over 10 months after he started work last October 19 with the responsibility to establish a new in-house legal staff.

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Posted Thursday August 19, 2010 9:40pm
Georgetown City Attorney Sues to
Keep Performance Reviews Secret
by Ken Martin
© The Austin Bulldog 2010

Greg AbbottGreg AbbottMark SokolowMark SokolowGeorgetown City Attorney Mark Sokolow has sued Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott to contest a decision made by the Attorney General’s Open Records Division.

The lawsuit stems from an open records request filed by The Austin Bulldog on May 16 to obtain copies of Sokolow’s written performance evaluations that had been delivered to him by the Georgetown mayor and city council members during closed-door executive sessions.

The Attorney General’s open records decision, rendered in a letter dated August 3, states that the city may withhold a portion of the information in the performance evaluations that is protected by the attorney-client privilege. But, the letter states, “...we find you have failed to demonstrate the remaining information is protected by the attorney-client privilege...and it must be released.”

Sokolow filed the lawsuit, The City of Georgetown v. Greg Abbott, Attorney General of Texas in Travis County on Friday, August 13. The lawsuit requests that the court find that the remaining information in his performance evaluations is also protected and should be excepted from disclosure under the Texas Public Information Act.

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Posted Sunday August 15, 2010 1:41pm
Human Trafficking and Slavery in Central Texas

Investigative Report by Shelley Seale
©The Austin Bulldog 2010

The boy was 16 years old. His sister was 14. They had run away from an abusive home in Oregon and somehow ended up in Texas. The siblings first came to the attention of authorities when “David,” the brother, was arrested for prostitution and drug possession. Severe health problems required him to be transferred from jail to the university hospital in San Antonio.

There, David’s attending physician was appalled by the extent of injuries she discovered. In addition to being malnourished and exhibiting multiple old injuries that could only have resulted from years of chronic abuse, he suffered from significant fresh, internal injuries that required surgery to resection his bowels. Once he was treated and stabilized, David was scheduled to be reincarcerated, but the doctor couldn’t, in good conscience, send him back to prison. She knew David’s injuries were not self-inflicted or accidental—all the signs showed he had been brutally victimized.

Leticia Van de PutteLeticia Van de PutteThat day in 2006, the telephone rang on the desk of State Sen. Leticia Van de Putte (D-San Antonio). The senator, who is currently serving her fifth term, was aware of human trafficking related to border smuggling and she was already working on legislation to address it when she took the call that would forever change her perception of the issue.

“I don’t know who else to call,” David’s doctor told the senator, who revealed details about the boy’s life leading up to his arrest. He and his sister had both been targeted by exploiters who coerced them into prostitution through psychological manipulation, physical violence, and forced drug use. The trump card was his sister; the abusers threatened to hurt her if David resisted or tried to flee.
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Posted Wednesday August 4, 2010 10:51pm
Community Newspapers Locked in Fierce
Competition for Readers and Advertisers

Independents Survive Against Cox-Owned Papers,
Upstart 'Community Impact' Carving a New Niche
Investigative Report by Rob Patterson
© The Austin Bulldog 2010

At first glance, Austin seems the typical modern American two-newspaper town: a mid-sized city with a daily newspaper, the Austin American-Statesman, and an alternative newsweekly, The Austin Chronicle. Focus more closely and a different newspaper landscape emerges.

The greater Austin area also boasts 15 community papers published from one to three times a week, and a five-year-old rapidly expanding chain of monthly papers, Community Impact Newspaper, that target seven local areas. Also in the mix are two weeklies for the African-American community, three Spanish-language weeklies, a South Asian community monthly, and a center city weekly, The Austin Times, that seems to largely fly under the radar.

Community Newspapers MapCommunity Newspapers MapIn dire times of flagging circulation and sagging advertising dollars for print dailies, community newspapers remain one bright spot for print journalism. With 22 general audience community non-daily newspapers, and one small daily in Taylor, the Greater Austin area appears, by the numbers at least, to be rather well served by such publications.

Nine of those papers are owned by the same Cox Media Group as the American-Statesman, a subsidiary of the Atlanta-based Cox Enterprises Inc. Operating these 10 Austin-area newspapers under the same corporate roof raises obvious questions the editorial independence and local commitment of the nine community papers. These concerns first surfaced in 2000 when Cox purchased six of them—the Bastrop Advertiser, Lake Travis View, North Lake Travis Log, Pflugerville Pflag, Smithville Times, and Westlake Picayune—from Westward Communications. Concerns were elevated when Cox’s Austin Community Newspapers Group later bought the Round Rock Leader and started the Leander Ledger and Cedar Park Citizen.

Any fears that the Cox community papers might eschew or significantly compromise their local news mission under the same corporate umbrella as the Statesman have proven largely unfounded, though some observers do say the news coverage provided may not be all it could be.

The acquisitions and launching of papers by Cox has not created a juggernaut to destroy the area’s community media. Independently owned papers include the Oak Hill Gazette and West Austin News, both weeklies, and the twice-weekly Williamson County Sun. Also on the list of community papers are the twice-weekly Hill Country News, which covers Cedar Park and Leander, its Four Points News edition for the Lake Travis area, the Hutto News, and Taylor Daily Press. All four of these are part of the Taylor-based Granite Publications chain of 22 Texas community papers.

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Posted Friday July 30, 2010 12:42pm
Are Austin's Property Taxes Fair and Equitable?
That Depends on Who You Ask
Investigative Report by Greg M. Schwartz
© The Austin Bulldog 2010


fuel-tank-containmentfuel-tank-containmentIt's property tax protest season in Austin, where more than 70,000 property owners have filed protests with the Travis County Appraisal District (TCAD) in an effort to lower their property valuations. The outcome of the protests will directly impact the amount of property taxes due. Residential property owners comprise the vast majority of the formal protests.

The flip side to the equation reveals increasing controversy over whether commercial properties are being undervalued and unfairly shifting too much of the property tax burden onto homeowners.

The folks at, a group of local activists and businesses, cite a 2006 study from the Texas Association of Appraisal Districts (TAAD) that indicated commercial properties in Texas are undervalued by a whopping 40 percent.

Brian RodgersBrian's Brian Rodgers, who has been involved with the local real estate business since 1983, last year called for an investigation from the Austin City Council and Travis County Commissioners Court to challenge the appraised values. But after a year of activism on the matter, he's come to a different conclusion.

“Obtaining accurate appraisals is a strictly local problem between the appraisal district, the appraisal board, and the taxing jurisdictions they serve. No amount of complaining to the state comptroller or pushing for an investigation will yield any result other than what we already know: the system is broken and any solutions must be found at the local level. The state offers no help. We are on our own,” Rodgers says.

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Posted Thursday July 22, 2010 3:26pm
Georgetown Resident Files Complaint
with Travis County District Attorney

Complaint Names District Attorney,
City Attorney, and Council Member

by Ken Martin

On July 13, eight citizens told the Georgetown City Council they wanted an investigation into numerous matters reported by The Austin Bulldog and the Williamson County Sun.

As reported by The Austin Bulldog July 18, the matters of concern include a $13,600 payment made to Council Member Pat Berryman that was facilitated by City Attorney Mark Sokolow; Sokolow’s hiring as the city attorney involving a violation of the Open Meetings Act and working under a contract that was never legally executed; Sokolow’s violation of the Georgetown City Charter by hiring of an assistant city attorney without getting city council approval; and the city’s ongoing resistance to releasing public records requested by the media.

At that meeting, Georgetown Council Member Patty Eason’s motion for such an investigation was not even discussed by the council, because no other council member would second the motion.

John BradleyJohn BradleyJohn Bradley, the Williamson County district attorney, looked into a request for an investigation—filed by The Austin Bulldog May 11—concerning the payment made to Council Member Berryman. Bradley dismissed the matter without prosecution, as reported by the Williamson County Sun July 18.

But, like the famous baseball player and manager Yogi Berra said, “It ain’t over ’til it’s over.”

And one Georgetown citizen just can’t let it go.

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Posted Sunday July 18, 2010 7:54pm
Updated Tuesday July 20, 2010 4:08pm
Georgetown City Council Gets an
Earful from Concerned Citizens

by Ken Martin

Last Tuesday night’s meeting of the Georgetown City Council had its tense moments, as several motions died aborning, without even winning the second needed to open a discussion.

Patty EasonPatty EasonCouncil Member Patty Eason’s Agenda Item Q drew about a dozen citizens to the meeting:

“Discussion regarding public concerns relating to press reports about improprieties in the conduct of certain city business over which the Council exercises authority and for which Council is responsible.”

Early in the meeting, under action from the council’s executive session discussions, Eason offered a motion to direct city staff to hire independent counsel to research City Attorney Mark Sokolow’s employment agreement to determine its validity, who wrote the agreement, and the timeline and sequence of events leading up to its execution.

Eason’s motion would have further tasked the independent counsel to investigate the hiring of Assistant City Attorney Bridget Chapman.

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Posted Sunday July 11, 2010 2:54pm
Updated Monday July 12, 2010 12:12pm
City Attorney Sokolow Ignores City Charter,
Waives Requirement for Assistant
City Attorney to Have Municipal Experience

Is Hiring Council Member Pat
Berryman’s Friend That Important?

Investigative Report by Ken Martin

When it comes to hiring attorneys, the City of Georgetown just can’t seem to get it right.

First it violated the Texas Open Meetings Act in hiring City Attorney Mark Sokolow and failed to legally execute his contract.

Mark SokolowMark SokolowSokolow himself violated the Georgetown City Charter by hiring Assistant City Attorney Bridget Chapman without the City Council’s approval.

Section 5.06 of the Georgetown City Charter states that both the city attorney and assistant city attorney serve at the will of the council. The charter authorizes the city attorney to appoint his assistant but requires the City Council’s approval.

Chapman was hired effective April 19, 2010, at an annual salary of $76,907, according to the Personnel Action Form obtained by The Austin Bulldog through an open records request filed under the Texas Public Information Act.

City Attorney Sokolow did not respond to two messages left with his office on Friday, requesting an interview about this matter.

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Posted Friday July 2, 2010 5:35am
Sarah Weddington
Interview by Gwen Gibson

Sarah WeddingtonSarah WeddingtonIn your trailblazing career you have been an attorney, state legislator, women’s rights activist, general counsel to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, adviser to President Jimmy Carter, and a sought-after speaker and writer. In addition, you teach at the University of Texas and mentor promising students. But you will always be best known as the attorney who successfully argued Roe v. Wade before the Supreme Court at age 27.

Q. This landmark decision, which legalized abortion, has been controversial since it became law 37 years ago. These days opponents seem to be gaining ground as more and more states pass laws that restrict or regulate abortions. The latest Gallup Poll, meanwhile, shows 47 percent of adult Americans are anti-abortion while 45 percent support a woman’s right to choose this procedure. What do you think of these developments? Is Roe v. Wade in serious trouble?

A. First I’ve written several press reports and newsletter documents indicating that one poll you’re citing was not accurate and was a misrepresentation. More people have always said a woman should have the right to choose. But if you get down to asking, “Should she have to consult somebody?” or “Should she have to do it before a certain period?” then you get some real variety.

Q. You think these polls are too nuanced?

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Posted Wednesday June 30, 2010 8:31am

Broadband Internet Is a Sure Way
to Help Spur Economic Growth

But Do All Texans Have Access?
Commentary by Luisa Handem Piette

Luisa Handem PietteLuisa Handem PietteThe long-awaited broadband map of Texas was released to the public on June 16—well over a year since the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (Stimulus Package) was signed into law, with $7.2 billion in funds earmarked for broadband expansion. The map boasts the use of new interactive broadband mapping platform, BroadbandStat, which allows a street-level view of broadband availability. It also provides the ability to continually enhance and upgrade the data, and gives users the ability to search by address and see the type of technologies used in their service areas, as well as their choice of providers and costs.

The Texas broadband map was created by Connected Texas, a subsidiary of Connected Nation, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit based in Washington, D.C., that was hired a year ago by the Texas Department of Agriculture and the Public Utility Commission of Texas.

A fundamental requirement for the distribution of stimulus funds has been the determination of need and the geographical location of those who lack broadband access, particularly in rural and remote communities. Connected Texas says that the Texas broadband map—which includes data from 123 state providers—indicates that 3.5 percent of Texas households, approximately 257,000 residences, mostly in rural regions, do not have access to home broadband service. This, says Texas Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples, hinders opportunities for business development and access to telemedicine, higher education and e-government.

Broadband mapping errors

The much-anticipated findings are, at best, inaccurate and, in the worst case scenario, may be deceptive, due to multiple errors. One of the problems the map presents is that, in some instances, it shows coverage where there is none, and lack of coverage where there has been broadband presence for quite some time. Another difficulty the map presents is that it indicates wireless presence where there has never been any known provider, as is the case in Hood and Somervell counties.

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Posted Monday June 14, 2010 7:01pm
Georgetown City Attorney's
Competence Called Into Question

His Contract Never Legally Executed,
His Support Nearly Nonexistent
Investigative Report by Ken Martin

Mark SokolowMark SokolowThe municipal legal career of Mark Sokolow has seen its ups and downs:

Up: In 1991, Sokolow was hired by the City of League City, Texas.

Down: In February 1996 he was fired as city attorney of League City; he returned the favor by suing the city.

Up: Despite getting canned by League City, he was hired the very next month as city attorney for the City of Port Arthur; a council member in Port Arthur when Sokolow was hired said the council wasn’t aware of what had happened in League City.

Down: Sokolow's lawsuit against League City was so flimsy it was dismissed without getting a trial.

Up: When Sokolow resigned last October to take the job of Georgetown’s city attorney, the Port Arthur city council handed him a hefty bonus.

Up: Sokolow was hired by the City of Georgetown and started work last October 19 for $125,000 a year.

Down: He is working for the City of Georgetown under a contract that was never legally executed.

Down: The Austin Bulldog reported on May 4 how Sokolow facilitated the illegal payment of $13,600 for Georgetown Council Member Pat Berryman last December.

Down: He screwed up a deal to buy property for city facilities, hacked off the school district and embarrassed the city he represents.

Up: After six months on the job the city council evaluated his performance and gave him a $5,000 raise.

Down: He has alienated numerous colleagues. Examples abound, as detailed below.

Down: City staff is rooting for his ouster, though they fear being fired if they speak up.

The defense rests: Sokolow declined to be interviewed for this story.

Hardball tactics blow up in his face
The city wanted to acquire land where it could build a new fire station, police station and storage yard. The most critical element was the new fire station, which was needed to meet response times on fire alarms on the west side of I-35.

The negotiation process for the targeted site had been underway for almost a year when Sokolow got involved. It had taken that long because of the necessity to coordinate the location of the city’s new fire station with an Emergency Services District, which provides fire protection outside the city limits. Settling the terms of a purchase agreement for the city’s tract was to be the final step in closing the deal.
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Posted Tuesday June 1, 2010 2:47pm
A Perfect Storm for Austin Transportation?
Commentary by Roger Baker

Roger BakerRoger BakerThe announcement that Capital Metropolitan Planning Organization (CAMPO) Executive Director Joe Cantalupo is leaving to go back to his old private consulting firm after only two years may be a telling sign. This comes only a few months after Senator Kirk Watson (D-Austin), a smart and persuasive politician who supported many toll roads, stepped down as chairman of CAMPO and was succeeded by Travis County Judge Sam Biscoe.

Depending on how you might define a perfect storm, when you look over the recent news and transportation funding situation, it is getting hard to find grounds for optimism. It seems wherever you look—federal, state or local—the Austin area is facing worsening transportation funding troubles. Let us count the ways.

TxDOT is almost broke
Funding prospects look bleak for the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT). State Senator John Carona (R-Dallas), chairman of the Texas Senate Transportation Committee, and
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Posted Thursday May 27, 2010 1:25pm
Bad Planning or Magnificent Deceit?
Commentary by Bruce Melton

Bruce MeltonBruce MeltonCAMPO, the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization that coordinates regional transportation planning for Bastrop, Caldwell, Hays, Travis, and Williamson Counties, has committed our region to a transportation development plan that, for the second time in ten years, assumes excessively aggressive traffic growth.

How do we know that CAMPO was overly optimistic with its projections for the 2030 and 2035 plans? The 2035 Plan projects future growth in traffic almost identically to the 2030 Plan. But actual traffic counts and total miles traveled, on average, are flat or actually falling. (See accompanying chart, “TxDOT Traffic Counts.”)

Why have trends changed?
Data from the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT), indicates that traffic volume has not increased since the turn of the 21st century. This has occurred even in the face of significant
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Posted Tuesday May 4, 2010 2:39pm
Updated Wednesday May 5, 2010 10:56am
Georgetown Council Member’s
Pay Violates Texas Constitution
Investigative Report by Ken Martin

Pat BerrymanPat BerrymanPat Berryman, who is serving in her second term as a member of the Georgetown City Council, was paid a lump sum of $13,600 by the City of Georgetown in an apparent violation of the Texas Constitution.

The payment was requested by Berryman as reimbursement of expenses from July 2008 through December 2009.

The payment is reflected in a copy of Council Member Berryman’s city payroll record obtained from the City of Georgetown using the Texas Public Information Act.

During the entire period for which Berryman claimed reimbursement, she was a state employee working for State Senator Steve Ogden (R-Bryan), according to state payroll records obtained from the Secretary of the Texas Senate through an open records request.

Section 40(b) of the Texas Constitution prohibits a state employee who is a member of a governing body from drawing a salary. A state employee serving as a council member may be reimbursed for actual expenses but must prove that the expenses equal or exceed the amount reimbursed.

Council Member Berryman has not met that requirement.

How it happened

Mark-SokolowMark-SokolowIn a December 15, 2009, e-mail to Georgetown City Attorney Mark Sokolow, Berryman requested reimbursement of expenses from July 2008 through December 2009.

The $13,600 she was paid represents 17 months at $800 a month.

Berryman’s e-mail to Sokolow lists 16 items, or types of expenses. The e-mail provides no indication of the amount of expenses incurred for any or all of these items. Berryman provided no receipts for the stated expenses.

Reimbursement previously refused

According to the minutes of the Georgetown City Council Meeting of April 8, 2008, under Agenda Item T, the council voted 7-0 to approve a change to the compensation schedule for the mayor and council members.

The new schedule was based on recommendations of a compensation committee appointed by the council to study the matter.

The compensation schedule authorized:

• “Base compensation” of $450 a month for the mayor and $300 a month for each of the seven council members.

• An “optional stipend” of $800 a month for the mayor and council members.

The minutes of that council meeting do not fully explain the compensation, but the minutes specify—as the compensation committee recommended—that the mayor and council members “would not be required to explain their reason for accepting the stipend.”


To facilitate these payments, the city devised a form that provided boxes to be checked, to either accept or decline each form of compensation

A warning was printed on the form:

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Posted Wednesday April 28, 2010 5:31pm
Updated Friday April 30, 2010
Georgetown City Attorney Hired In Secret
Investigative Report by Ken Martin

The City of Georgetown has legal problems.

On September 8, 2009, the Georgetown City Council made the decision to hire a new, in-house city attorney, Mark Sokolow, in a closed-door executive session. That appears to be a violation of the Texas Open Meetings Act.

James HemphillJames HemphillAttorney Jim Hemphill of the Austin law firm Graves Dougherty Hearon and Moody, serving as a volunteer attorney on behalf of the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas, described the nature of such a violation.

“While the Open Meetings Act allows deliberation of personnel matters to be held in executive session, it does not have any provision authorizing hiring decisions to be made in executive session,” Hemphill said.

Hemphill pointed to Open Records Decision No. 605, issued by then Texas Attorney General Dan Morales, that states:

“Although deliberation may take place in an executive session, the board may take action to hire an employee only in an open session properly noticed in accordance with section 3A of the Open Meetings Act.”

Strike two
A possible second violation of the Open Meetings Act is also connected to the hiring of Mark Sokolow. This one relates to the description of an agenda item for the executive session. The notice did not adequately describe what the city council was to discuss behind closed doors. The posting for the 6pm session of the September 8, 2009, agenda stated for Item BB:

“Sec. 551.074 Personnel Matters — City attorney.”

Patricia CarlsPatricia CarlsPatricia “Trish” Carls of the Austin law firm Carls, McDonald and Dalrymple had served as Georgetown’s city attorney for years. She was present and acted in that capacity at the September 8 council meeting. (It is common practice for small cities to contract with outside law firms for legal services rather than hire the staff necessary to provide such services.)

The wording of the agenda item for the executive session is unclear. It could be construed by the public to mean that a discussion of Carls would be undertaken.

What actually occurred, however, was revealed in the minutes of the September 8 council meeting, which under “Action from Executive Session,” reads as follows:

“Motion by (Council Member Pat) Berryman, second by (Council Member Gabe) Sansing that the Human Resources (sic) have the authority to continue his discussions with the
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Posted Monday April 19, 2010 2:36pm
Terri Burke
Executive Director of the Texas ACLU

Interview by Gwen Gibson

Terri BurkeTerri BurkeQ. You have tackled many controversial issues during your two and a half years as chief executive of the Texas ACLU. Your ongoing efforts to protect the rights of immigrants and to guarantee religious freedom for all seem to stir up the most debates. How do you explain your stand on these contentious issues to your supporters and to your detractors?

A. One of the first things I stress is that we are talking about immigrant rights, we are not talking about immigration reform. The Constitution doesn’t have those words in it. The Constitution talks about people; it doesn’t talk about citizens. The way we treat our immigrants is a reflection of who we are as a people and whether they’re here legally or illegally, whether they’ve broken the law or not, they deserve the due process that everybody in this country gets according to the Constitution. I don’t ask you to believe that immigration policy should be changed. I don’t ask you to believe that 12 million people ought to be thrown out of the country or 12 million people ought to be let in. I just ask you to think about who we are as a people and what are our very most fundamental American values. When we don’t afford these folks the basic constitutional rights they are entitled to, we diminish ourselves as Americans.

Q. How do you respond when people say you are defending criminals when you defend the rights of illegal immigrants?

A. I say it’s no different when you have an American accused of committing a burglary. In this country we believe that every person is entitled to an attorney and a trial and a jury of his or her peers. Am I coddling a criminal when I say that? Maybe you think I am. I think it’s about basic rights. My answer is, “What part of the Constitution is it that you don’t like?”

Q. And what about religious freedom?
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Posted Monday April 5, 2010 10:26am

Austin’s Road Building Plan
Costs Too Much, Does Too Little

Commentary by Roger Baker

Roger BakerRoger BakerThe Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (CAMPO) recently unveiled its new 2035 long-range draft transportation plan, “People, Planning and Preparing for the Future: Your 25 Year Transportation Plan,” plus a separate appendix with important details. The comment form to accept your feedback on the plan will be open until 5pm April 13.

This long range plan is the result of a federally mandated planning process required of all large U.S. metropolitan areas. The federal rules mandate that CAMPO's long range plan must be updated every five years.

On the federal funding level, the fate of the big new federal transportation funding bill, the successor to the current “SAFETEA-LU” legislation, is bogged down in Congress. The current legislation is being kept in force with periodic emergency extensions. Federal Rescissions, or take-backs of previously promised funds, has stalled many state projects, even while a roughly equal amount of federal stimulus funding has been added.

In the absence of more fuel-tax revenues, the current federal stimulus spending for roads is unlikely to be sustainable for long because it is based on a troubling level of debt in competition with entitlements. Further, the U.S. Treasury at some point will face higher interest rates as the price for continuing deficit spending. 

Nobody can accurately predict federal transportation funding, and how that might affect the CAMPO plan. The long-range vision of the CAMPO plan is based on speculation about federal funding decades from now, whereas the reality is that we can't even predict it for next year.

The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) is claiming it will be broke in a year or so, its options are limited to building no more new big roads at all. State Sen. John Carona (R-Dallas), who chairs the Senate Transportation Committee, explains why. Carona said, “Today, the state's transportation revenue is almost equal to the maintenance costs for our current system. Texas can barely maintain the roads it has, let alone build new ones.”

TxDOT is running out of money because its motor-fuels tax revenue—which netted the agency more than $2.2 billion in the fiscal year that ended August 31, 2009—is declining rapidly with overall driving. This mirrors the sharp drop in national driving over the last few years. As if this were not enough, the Texas

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Posted Wednesday April 3, 2010 9:48am
Extreme Summer Heat and
Irreversible Ecosystem Demise

Commentary by Bruce Melton

Bruce MeltonBruce MeltonThe U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) coordinates federal research on environmental changes and their implications for society. The program began as a presidential initiative in 1989 during the Reagan–Bush era and called for “a comprehensive and integrated United States research program that will assist the nation and the world in the understanding, assessment, prediction and response to human-induced and natural processes of global change.”

The implications of this report are beyond extreme. Austin (Central Texas) normally has 12 days of 100-degree-plus heat per summer based on temperature records that go back to 1854. In the next 80 to 90 years, Austin is projected to average between 90 and 120 days of 100-degree plus heat every year. (See accompanying chart, Number of Days Over 1000F.) The Sonoran Desert Museum in Phoenix, Arizona, only averages 87 days over 100 degrees.

The Sonoran Desert is a traditional thorn and gravel desert with little to no water, blistering temperatures and, except for the natural inhabitants of the desert, is totally inhospitable to life. Austin's summers will be a third more extreme than those of the Sonoran Desert and about ten times more extreme than the normal Texas Hill Country summers.

Most life, as we know it in the Hill Country, will be dead by mid century. The transition to a thorn and gravel desert will be well underway. Today the changes have already begun.

Two things complicate the issue. There is a simple scientific concept that says scientists are conservative in their work. This is the “publish or perish” concept. Simply put, a scientist must be absolutely certain about the results of his or her discoveries or they will not be able to publish their papers in the academic journals. If a scientist is found to be wrong after their results are published, the journals will be much more cautious about publishing that scientist’s work in the future. A scientist’s work is therefore conservative to minimize the risk of being wrong.

The second complicating factor is that the rate of change has increased. Not long after the turn of the century, impacts of warming started increasing faster. A quote from the USGCRP Report states the obvious “Some of the changes have been faster than previous assessments have projected.”

The next graphic shows the atmospheric load of carbon dioxide (as carbon) in gigatons, from the USGCRP Report. The colored lines are the computer model’s projections. The black line with the circles shows actual
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Published Monday April 1, 2010 9:08am
Updated Wednesday April 14, 2010
Who Protects the Texas Environment?
Hint: It Isn’t the State Agency That’s Supposed To
Investigative Report by Greg M. Schwartz

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality’s mission statement says the agency “strives to protect our state’s human and natural resources consistent with sustainable economic development. Our goal is clean air, clean water, and the safe management of waste.” But the agency’s numerous critics charge that the environmental protection of Texas is repeatedly trumped by politically motivated management decisions concerned only with the economic development part of the equation.

Neil CarmanNeil Carman“There is so much dirt on the agency and most of it has never been investigated,” says Neil Carman, clean air director for the Sierra Club’s Lone Star Chapter, based in Austin. From 1980 to 1992, Carman worked as an investigator and inspector for the Texas Air Control Board, a predecessor agency that was merged into what is now the TCEQ. Carman says he has a list of criminal cases against the TCEQ that have never been pursued, compiled from trading war stories with other investigators around the state. One of the primary areas of malfeasance Carman cites is the TCEQ’s air permitting system.

“TCEQ issued more than 150 state flexible air permits from 1995-2009 to major industrial plants by using an illegal permitting program that circumvented the Clean Air Act,” Carman says. These plants include many large industrial sources of toxic air pollutants, particulate matter, ozone-forming compounds, acid rain-producing gases, and haze-forming chemicals. The U.S. EPA Region 6 headquarters listed 142 plants in Texas in a September 25, 2007, letter that was sent to companies. The letter indicated the need for grandfathered, industrial plants that hold so-called “Flexible Permits” to reduce pollution and comply with the Clean Air Act.

Carman authored a 1999 report on behalf of the Sierra Club and the Galveston-Houston Association for Smog Prevention. The report identified about 1,070 Texas plants partly or totally grandfathered under the state law known as the Texas Clean Air Act.

“We have a permitting system that creates enforcement nightmares,” Carman says. He said the TCEQ has issued somewhere around 86,000 permits for industrial plants and facilities since 1971, and only denied about 15. Eighty-six thousand permits over 40 years averages out to 2,150 a year—more than eight every single day. Carman says the incredulous number comes directly from the permit numbers assigned by the TCEQ.

“People are shocked when they hear about all the air permits being more than 86,000—and that is a dated total. But that is good for ‘bidness’ in Texas. They issue this stuff like candy, every day, state

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The men who would be mayor deserve close public scrutiny

by Ken Martin

By the time this edition of The Good Life was going to press February 23, 2003, eight men (and no women) had declared their intentions to compete for the honor of succeeding Gus Garcia as mayor of Austin. Not all of them had actually filed a formal application for a place on the general election ballot, but we felt confident enough of their intentions to spend time interviewing the best and brightest among them. It's likely that before the filing period closes March 19, others will venture into the arena to offer their services. If so, we will examine their qualifications and if any latecomers seem worthy, we will publish their profiles in the April edition.

Under the  Austin City Charter, to run for office, candidates shall be eighteen years of age or older on the commencement of their term, shall have resided within the city for at least six months and within the State of Texas for at least twelve months, and shall be a qualified voter of the State of Texas. That's it. Those are the minimum qualifications. Obviously the city needs someone who has considerably more than that to offer as mayor, the point person for city policy and the de facto leader of the Austin City Council, despite the fact that the mayor has no more voting power than the six other members of the council. We need to elect someone who not only envisions what needs to be done but also possesses the political skill to persuade the other city council members and garner their support.

These are tough times. The economy is lagging. Sales taxes are down. And next year promises to be worse for city revenue because commercial property values are expected to fall. Austin needs a decisive leader. Do we have a candidate who can pull us together like Churchill during the blitz? Who can challenge and inspire us to compete like Kennedy during the race for outer space? Someone with a cool head and a clear mind who will stand up not to the ravages of war (though a war may soon be raging on foreign soil) but a ravaged economy? These are high standards, indeed, but from among those willing to try we need to discern who best measures up.

While anyone who meets the minimum qualifications can get on the ballot, we are exercising our right under the First Amendment to focus primarily on those who have something substantial to offer. Which is why we direct your attention to the four candidates profiled in our cover story: Marc Katz, Brad Meltzer, Max Nofziger, and Will Wynn.

For the record, four other people have stated their intention to run for mayor. These are Leslie Cochran and Jennifer Gale, both of whom have filed for a place on the ballot; William Dyson, who has appointed a campaign treasurer; and Dale Reed, who published a campaign ad in the Valentine's Day edition of The Austin Chronicle.

Both Cochran and Gale are homeless persons with whom the public is already well acquainted, as they are perennial candidates who have added nothing substantive to the public discourse.

Dyson is a new face in local politics. He is forty years old and says he was born in Norfolk, Virginia, is the son of an African-American minister, and has a degree in political science from Norfolk State University. He has lived in Austin since 1993, he says. After being laid off for eight months, he says he recently got a job at a software company in Round Rock, but couldn't provide the company's address. He says he has never been to a city council meeting or watched one on television. When interviewed, he exhibited no grasp of local political issues and was hesitant to provide the names of anyone who could be asked about his qualifications. Hence, he was not profiled.

Reed, along with Cochran and Gale, ran against Mayor Kirk Watson when the incumbent sought reelection in 2000. Watson got 84.03 percent of the vote, Cochran got 7.77 percent, Reed got 4.69 percent, and Gale got 3.51 percent. The telephone number Reed provided to the city clerk's office has been disconnected and he could not be reached for interview, but we noticed that his campaign ad in the Chronicle solicits donations in various categories ranging from $100 to $10,000, despite the fact that donations of more than $100 are prohibited. Mike Clark-Madison reported in the Chronicle last month that Reed is a cab driver who in the 2000 election called "for more, not less, development in western Travis County and for building a water treatment plant to purify Barton Springs."

Getting to the meat of the matter, as the field now stands, voters may choose the next mayor from among four men who will undoubtedly run strong campaigns. Two of these have council experience (Nofziger, a veteran of nine years on the council, and Wynn, who is finishing his first term). The other two, Marc Katz and Brad Meltzer, have strong business backgrounds and have never before run for office.

That's the introduction. To get a good sense of the candidates, check out the profiles.

And don't forget to vote. The early voting period runs from April 16 to April 29. May 3 is the general election day. You must be registered to vote at least thirty days before casting your ballot.

Wynn poised to jump from council seat to mayor

MAYOR-WYNNMAYOR-WYNNWilliam Patrick Wynn was born in Beaumont on September 10, 1961, while just down the Texas coast Hurricane Carla was battering the shoreline with winds gusting to one hundred seventy miles per hour. Now Wynn faces the whirlwind of Austin politics as he seeks to become Austin's next mayor.

"I have this significant itch that I want to scratch," says the Austin City Council member. He holds up a thumb and forefinger separated by an inch of air, and says, "I happen to think this is going to be a very defined period of my life. I would be very surprised if I'm in public office or attempting to be in public office in my fifties."

Professing no ambition to rise politically beyond the office of mayor, Wynn says, "This really does come down to my self-serving goal of my kids having the option to come back to their hometown as young adults."

Wynn felt he didn't have that option in Beaumont, a city of slightly more than 100,000 people that hasn't grown much, if at all, since his childhood. Even as a boy he knew he would leave and never come back to live in what some folks think of as the armpit of Texas. "It's not a coincidence that my children were born in Austin," Wynn says.

Like all candidates, Wynn faces significant financial obstacles in trying to get his message to the public. Austin's restrictive campaign-finance rules—which were approved by seventy-two percent of voters in November 1997, and which narrowly survived repeal by voters in May 2002—limit a candidate's acceptance of contributions to $100 per donor. That the contribution limits are overly restrictive is illustrated by the fact that it would cost about $110,000 to send a single postcard to each of Austin's 425,000 registered voters, according to Wynn's figures. Hence Wynn's vocal disdain for the contribution limits, which he more than once referred to as "anti-democratic" and "unconstitutional."

"Two classes of people benefit from the $100 limits," Wynn says, "incumbents and the people who have access to money, and I happen to be both." Yet Wynn points out that he led the charge to get repeal of the donation limits on the ballot. While voters chose to retain the limits, if elected mayor, Wynn says he will try again. "Every time there is a charter election, I will be challenging my colleagues and the citizens to once and for all, let's correct the problem we have."

"I spent all day, every day for seven weeks on the phone," Wynn says of the 2000 council campaign. His effort netted more than seven hundred contributions totaling $70,000, a fair sum, but still not enough. Which is why he ponied up more than $90,000 of his own money in running for the council position he now occupies. (It was only last year that he finally settled a $91,400 loan outstanding from that campaign.)

For the mayoral campaign now underway, Wynn hopes to raise about $175,000. That's a mere fraction of the $750,000 that Kirk Watson raised for his 1997 campaign against Council Member Ronney Reynolds, before donation limits were imposed. Wynn had raised just $8,750 through the reporting period ending December 31, but he did not formally kick off the campaign until February 4. For that event, Miguel's La Bodega downtown was crowded with more than two hundred supporters, many of whom presented checks.

Wynn will use part of his campaign budget for consultants David Butts and Pat Crow, and campaign managers Mark Nathan and Christian Archer. Nathan and Archer worked in the ill-fated 2002 Texas gubernatorial campaign of Democrat Tony Sanchez.

While Wynn seems genuinely outraged by the current campaign finance laws that govern Austin elections, these rules undeniably give wealthy individuals like him a big advantage over less affluent candidates. His wealth allows Wynn to live in a West Austin home valued at more than $1.3 million, while giving his council duties full-time attention and earning little or nothing from business endeavors.

"I like to say that I made my money the old-fashioned way—I married it," says Wynn. Wife Anne Elizabeth Wynn is the daughter of Melbern G. and Susanne M. Glasscock, who endowed the Center for Humanities Research and a number of other academic activities at Texas A&M University. Her father is president and chief executive officer of Houston-based Texas Aromatics LP, a firm that markets byproducts from refineries and petrochemical operations. Anne Elizabeth Wynn is part owner of that company, says Will Wynn.

To avoid a conflict of interest while on the city council, within six months of taking office Wynn had sold his interest in Block 42 Congress Partners Ltd., the entity under which Wynn and partner Tom Stacy assembled the land in the 400 block of Congress Avenue, and where a thirty-three-story office building is now under construction. That transaction netted Wynn capital gains of $500,000, according to his financial disclosure statement filed with the city. Wynn is still involved in two other partnerships, both involving ownership of buildings in East Sixth Street's entertainment district.

Wynn left Beaumont at the age of eighteen and never looked back. He lived with an older brother in northeast Austin and earned a degree in environmental design from Texas A&M University's College of Architecture on a work-study program, in which he alternated between classes in College Station and interning with Austin-based Shefelman & Nix Architects. While at Shefelman & Nix, located at Eighth and Congress, he often observed the construction of the twenty-story office building at Ninth and Congress. As it turned out, a decade later he would come back as project manager to rehabilitate that structure's crumbling façade.

In the interim, he spent three years in Chicago with a commercial real estate firm, enjoyed a short stint as a graduate student at Harvard University, and even spent a summer working in Governor Bill Clements' budget office. In 1988, he moved to Dallas to work for R.D. Stone Interests (later Faison-Stone Inc.). In 1991, he became project manager for the renovation of what would become Frost Bank Plaza, and moved to Austin in 1994. In 1997 he left Faison-Stone to form his own company, Civitas Investments (civitas being Latin for citizenship), and restored two historic buildings on East Sixth Street.

While serving as chair of the Downtown Austin Alliance, Wynn launched his campaign for Place 5 on the city council, and nudged out four competitors to win the May 6, 2000, election with 50.53 percent of the votes, narrowly avoiding a runoff.

Now a council member for just shy of three years, Wynn has punched practically every possible ticket en route to the city's top elected post. Much of his energy goes into finding regional solutions to Austin's problems. Wynn currently chairs the Greater Austin-San Antonio Corridor Council, a private, nonprofit corporation that seeks to manage growth from a regional perspective. Wynn helped to found Envision Central Texas, a body that seeks to build a public consensus for regional planning in Central Texas; he now sits on the organization's sixty-six member executive committee. He is a member of CAMPO's (Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization) Policy Advisory Committee of twenty-one members; CAMPO coordinates regional transportation planning and approves the use of federal transportation funds within the Austin metropolitan area. Wynn also chairs the Coordinating Committee for the Balcones Canyonlands Conservation Plan, whose mission is to complete and manage the Balcones Canyonlands Preserve, more than thirty thousand acres of habitat for endangered species.

A more recent initiative that Wynn chairs is the Mayor's Task Force on the Economy, whose recommendations for re-booting business activity in the wake of the dot-com bust are scheduled to be presented to the city council this month. For Wynn, the bottom line, is "We have to make Austin a business-friendly environment. That scares people, but it shouldn't."

One way to make the climate for business better is to ease the red tape that businesses encounter, Wynn says. He ran the city's gauntlet himself in rehabilitating properties on East Sixth Street. Now he's involved in helping to facilitate the reopening of The Tavern at Twelfth and Lamar. Rather than trying to revise the city's massive development regulations—an effort that foundered under its own weight the last time around—Wynn says the city staff must change its mind-set. Mike Heitz, director of the Watershed Protection and Development Review Department, is personally overseeing The Tavern project to boil down the complexities to a few manageable variances, Wynn says. That project could provide a template for other projects to follow through the regulatory maze.

A friendly business environment must be balanced with protecting the natural environment, Wynn says. This would be done by stopping development where it is inappropriate. He says his message to land developers in environmentally sensitive areas is, "How can I help you be successful someplace else?" He wants to continue offering incentives to build downtown to balance the differential of what it costs to build elsewhere.

As a city council member, Wynn has been vocal about cutting expenses in the face of revenue shortfalls caused by shrinking sales taxes and declining commercial property values. He cut his council staff in half (from two positions to one) and tried to stave off an additional $500,000 allocation for the Austin Music Network. None of the other council members followed his lead. No one else reduced their staff. No one else opposed the funding.

While cutting his staff saved a few bucks it also cut Wynn's responsiveness to constituents. E-mails have at times stacked up, unanswered, especially when hot-button issues hit the council agenda, such as the anti-war resolution the council passed (with Wynn and Betty Dunkerley abstaining). Those who try to reach his office by telephone are sometimes frustrated because Wynn's voice-mailbox is full and can't accept a message.

Regarding the Austin Music Network, Wynn made no effort to visit with other council members in advance. He instead used the council dais as a soapbox to argue that with the city facing a $60 million budget shortfall, it was time to pull the plug. While his cause was just—the Austin Music Network was supposed to have become self-sufficient long ago, and despite getting $4 million in city funding over the years hasn't even come close—his tactics were an abject failure. "Privately, I believe all my colleagues knew what my position was going to be. I didn't try to persuade them…My colleagues had made up their minds long before my argument."

Wynn points to other instances in which he has exercised what he views as fiscal prudence, despite lack of support from his colleagues. He came out on the short end of the vote in March 2001 when the council voted 5-2 to pay Browning-Ferris Industries (BFI) about $600,000 for property it had purchased in South Austin for a new recycling facility. The motion also granted BFI $200,000 in credit to use the city's recycling center. The council majority's position was to support neighborhood opposition to that site. Ironically, BFI had purchased the South Austin site only after the city forced it to abandon a recycling center in East Austin, and had paid the company $3.9 million for the East Austin site. Ultimately, BFI wound up putting its recycling facility in Manor. Wynn says the city still owns the South Austin site and it's worth about a third of what the city paid for it. "We need that $800,000 now," Wynn says.

Wynn says the city must do more to save funds by cooperating with other governmental entities, such as it did recently by agreeing to let Travis County run city elections. If elected mayor, Wynn promises to reduce the mayoral staff, as he did his council staff.

While he laments the lost opportunities to save taxpayers money, Wynn also thinks the council has fallen short in other areas. Noting that he is including himself in this criticism, Wynn says, "We all give lip service that we want to fight suburban sprawl, yet the council is pretty damned consistent at fighting density. Sprawl has one enemy and one enemy only, and that's density. We say we're out to fight suburban sprawl yet we tend to fight density even where in my opinion density is appropriate…I looked it up, density is a seven-letter word, not a four-letter word."

A trait that Wynn readily acknowledges is that he sometimes loses his temper. "I react stronger than the situation calls for occasionally. I won't try to make excuses for that for anybody, but I think there's always going to be some of that when you're out trying to accomplish a lot and you get frustrated, whether it be with a bureaucracy or a rule or constraint that you think shouldn't be there."

The overriding issue in this campaign, Wynn says, is the city's budget deficit. "We have to work on the budget and that will be painful," he says. The budget ax may chop city jobs that are currently occupied. "It would not surprise me to see true layoffs," Wynn says.

Wynn and his wife chaired the 2002 fund-raising campaign for Planned Parenthood, and he supports city funding for women's reproductive healthcare.

Once past the budget crisis, Wynn wants to work on long-term goals including a new downtown library and converting the defunct Seaholm Power Plant to civic use. He wants to complete a number of transportation initiatives including a commuter rail district, regional mobility authority, and construction of State Highway 130 to include rail freight. To ease traffic congestion and reduce air pollution, Wynn advocates installing high-occupancy vehicle lanes on both I-35 and MoPac Expressway and promoting an aggressive campaign to encourage carpooling.

Wynn, who endorsed the light-rail proposition that was narrowly defeated in 2000, says he still supports it, along every other form of mass transportation possible.

Wynn says he supports the concept of a hospital district that would make funding of healthcare more equitable within Travis County. "We have a very inequitable public healthcare financing system and we've got to begin to fix it. I think the first rational step is a countywide system," he says.

Regarding Mayor Gus Garcia's proposal to stiffen the city's no-smoking rules, Wynn says he has not seen the details but has two concerns. First, it would be inequitable to treat bars differently from bars and grills, he says. "It seems to me that if it's a health issue, it should be a health issue whether you're a bar or a restaurant." Secondly, he says, many restaurants have opened recently and followed the city's existing ordinance, "spending tens of thousands of dollars" on ventilation systems. "If we change the ordinance, the recent additional investment would be made worthless. Fair play tells me that we should have an objective analysis and discussion about that."

At root, Council Member Will Wynn is well connected to a number of heavyweight organizations and wealthy enough to run a strong campaign, but seems to have more going for him than the typical candidate from the business sector. He says he moved to Austin permanently because of singer-songwriter Guy Clark—even claims he knows the lyrics to all of Clark's songs—and was a "quiet, dues-paying member" of the Save Our Springs Alliance before joining the council. We will find out May 3 whether Wynn's healthy dose of self-effacing Aggie charm laced with a penchant for fiscal discipline will play well with voters who pick Austin's next mayor.

Nofziger confronts ninth gate in eternal quest to become Austin's mayor

MAYOR-NOFZIGERMAYOR-NOFZIGERPolitical warhorse Michael Eddie "Max" Nofziger, a fifty-five-year-old (this month) former Austin City Council member, has heard the bugler's call to the starting gate and he is once again charging after the votes needed to become Austin's mayor. This is Nofziger's ninth run for a seat on the council dais—and his fourth bid to be mayor—since he began running for political office in 1979.

In each of his three previous mayoral campaigns (1983, 1985 and 1997) Nofziger garnered enough votes to force a runoff between two other candidates. "This time, of course, the goal is to get in a runoff, not just create one," he says.

After finishing far behind Kirk Watson and Ronney Reynolds in the 1997 mayoral election, Nofziger chose not to run for mayor in 2000, when Kirk Watson was reelected in a landslide against feeble competition, or in 2001, when former Council Member Gus Garcia won the special election to succeed Watson. By June when the new mayor is sworn in, Nofziger will have been out of elective office seven years. During that time, he made a television commercial for Chevrolet trucks and helped to find a buyer for the Cinema West porn theater on South Congress, which led to the building's renovation as an office building. From April 1998 through December 1999, Nofziger was employed by the Austin Police Department to help stop prostitution on South Congress Avenue, earning $20,425 per year in a job funded by a U.S. Department of Justice grant for community policing.

Despite his years away from the council dais, Nofziger can claim far more experience in governing than other candidates in this race; he spent nine years on the council before stepping down in 1996. Nofziger says the city's current fiscal crisis and downbeat local economy are similar to conditions when he first took office in 1987. "I have the experience to do this. I've done it before," he says. "I'm willing to offer my knowledge and my experience to the citizens of Austin and tell them that I'm the best one to help us get through these difficult times."

Nofziger's credibility as a political strategist got a boost from his role in defeating the light-rail initiative in November 2000, a campaign in which he acted as a consultant to longtime rail foe Gerald Daugherty and retired high-tech executive Jim Skaggs. Although vastly outspent by rail advocates, their slogan, "No Rail: Costs Too Much, Does Too Little," proved unbeatable. The proposition failed by fewer than two thousand votes out of more than a quarter-million cast. Daugherty used that victory as a springboard to win the Precinct 3 seat on the Travis County Commissioners Court last November, despite bad press over numerous tax liens.

Nofziger continues to consult for those who oppose light rail. His new client is the Save South Congress Association. The group formed a year after the light-rail referendum failed, voicing concerns that Capital Metro has continued planning for a Rapid Transit System that members view as potentially detrimental.

In the mayoral campaign, Nofziger knows he will be outspent by several other candidates and hopes to pull off the same sort of upset that defeated the light-rail measure. Noting that Council Member Will Wynn is the most formidable opponent he faces in this campaign, Nofziger says, "If this race is about who has the most money, then Will is going to win, no doubt. On the other hand, if it's about who has the best and most experience, I obviously have the most experience. So it's going to be a contest as to which criteria is most pressing for the citizens and voters."

Nofziger says he hopes to raise between $50,000 and $100,000 for this election, far less than viable mayoral candidates typically spend. His relatively cheap campaign may be effective because he's already well known, eschews spending money on consultants, and runs a mostly do-it-yourself operation. His campaign manager, Christine Buendel, is a paralegal who's never before run a campaign, but Nofziger says she's detail-oriented and organized, which is all he needs.

Nofziger says his roots run six generations deep in the tiny town of Archbold, Ohio, a Mennonite community where his ancestors arrived as early settlers in 1834. But like many a young man who came of age during the Vietnam War, he had a yen to wander. He moved around the country, living briefly in Florida, Denver, and Houston. He first hit Austin when he was hitchhiking through in 1973 and moved here permanently the next year, supporting himself by peddling flowers at South Congress and Oltorf.

"I was looking for my place, and as soon as I got to Austin I knew this was it…For me it was the music—the first night was unbelievable—and then we went out on Barton Creek skinny-dipping and Lone Star sipping, and I recognized immediately, this is paradise…It's interesting how my first two influences, music and the water, Barton Creek in particular, have informed my politics over the years and have been a key part of what I'm trying to do here in Austin, preserve the water and preserve the music."

By 1979, Nofziger had joined the movement to oppose voter approval for the South Texas Nuclear Project—a power plant that got built anyway, suffering enormous cost overruns in the process—and began campaigning for city council. It would be eight long years and five tries on the ballot before he finally got elected in 1987, upsetting business candidate Gilbert Martinez in a runoff. That a flower salesman could get elected to our governing body is part of Austin's "weird" past. (Actually for years we had two flower peddlers as perennial candidates for city council. What differentiated Nofziger from "Crazy" Carl Hickerson-Bull is that Nofziger had a degree in political science from Adrian College in Adrian, Michigan, and spoke to the issues.)

As a council member, Nofziger claims credit for a long list of environmental accomplishments. Among these are introducing the first nondegradation water-quality ordinance, backing the defense of the Save Our Springs Ordinance all the way to the Supreme Court, appointing Earth First! activist Tim Jones to the city's Environmental Board (he's still there, by the way), and creating the city staff position of pedestrian coordinator.

While hoping that voters will recall his own contributions to environmental protection, Nofziger says, "A disadvantage that Will has is, I think, Austinites want an environmentalist to be leading the city at this time. I think that people realize that after six years of the 'green' council, our air quality is worse than ever and Barton Springs is in grave jeopardy."

Nofziger says, "The council didn't do enough to protect the environment and Barton Springs, and this latest round of publicity about the threat to Barton Springs illustrates that." He contends that the city council made a "huge mistake" in not strengthening the Save Our Springs Ordinance after the Supreme Court ruled the city had the right to protect the people's water.

Despite Nofziger's record on environmental issues, environmental activists abandoned him in the 1997 campaign in favor of Kirk Watson, a situation Nofziger attributes to entering the race late. This time, Nofziger hopes for more loyalty from his former allies, and challenges them not to be complacent.

"This election is going to separate the real environmentalists from the lip-service environmentalists," Nofziger says. "The environmentalists who have been content to sit back the last six years and watch the air get dirtier and watch Barton Springs become more and more threatened, they're going to support Will Wynn. The real environmentalists who realize that we better do something or it's going to be gone, those are the ones who are going to support me, because I've done something…Every big environmental issue over the last twenty-five years, I've been involved with."

Nofziger claims to have played a key role in getting voter approval for building the Austin Convention Center, a move spearheaded by then-mayor Lee Cooke, and notes that the Convention Center makes money and boosts the economy. Nofziger wants some of the credit for getting the city's airport moved to the former Bergstrom Air Force Base. He also notes that both the convention center and new airport were well managed projects that came in at or near the approved budget—in contrast to some of the current city construction projects like the new city hall, which is neither on time nor on budget.

In support of the music business, Nofziger says he played a role in forming the Austin Music Commission, starting the music industry loan program, and branding Austin as the live music capital of the world. Had he been on the current council, Nofziger says would have voted to continue funding for the Austin Music Network, although he faults the council for awarding contracts to operate the network without taking bids.

"If I'm the mayor I will wean the Austin Music Network within three years," Nofziger says. First, it would be put out for bids, he said, and then other funding sources would be developed. Noting that music is a big attraction for Austin's tourism industry, Nofziger says, "I'm going to make music a priority."

Nofziger says if he was on the current council he would have voted for the resolution opposing war in Iraq.

Noting that Council Member Will Wynn cast the only vote to stop funding the Austin Music Network and abstained from voting on the anti-war resolution, Nofziger stretches the point, saying, "He's against music and for war." (For the record, Wynn says he abstained on the Iraq resolution because it's a matter outside the council's jurisdiction.) Don't be surprised if you hear Nofziger on the campaign trail accusing Wynn of wanting to "Make War, Not Music."

Like Wynn, Nofziger believes that Austin's rules for financing council and mayoral campaigns are unsatisfactory. Nofziger advocates raising the $100 contribution limit to $500.

"My campaign is geared to increase voter turnout," Nofziger says. He says the meaty issues facing the city ought to generate more interest, including the cost of living, the city's spending, and the need to revitalize the economy, protect the environment, improve transportation, and keep Austin weird.

Nofziger criticizes the current council for giving the Convention Center Hotel project $15 million after the project's backers had already agreed to build it without city assistance.

"Smart Growth was a disaster," Nofziger says, noting the loss of such icons as Liberty Lunch, Ruta Maya, Steamboat, and Waterloo Brewery, not to mention the looming skeleton of the Intel building. If elected, Nofziger says he will move to stop giving incentives for development. "My approach will be on small business…the backbone of the Austin economy."

If elected, Nofziger says he will seek to sit on Capital Metro's board of directors, on which two council members now sit. "The twin issues of transportation and air quality are at such a crisis point in Austin that it demands the time and attention of the mayor." He says that Capital Metro's sales tax of one-percent should not be reduced but the money should not be stockpiled. Instead, it should be used to improve the mass transit system, reduce traffic congestion and improve air quality.

Regarding other transportation issues, Nofziger says that Governor Rick Perry's strong support of State Highway 130 will move its construction forward. Nofziger thinks commuter rail makes more sense than light rail.

Nofziger's own ideas for transportation are in a package called Affordable Clean Air Transit, improvements that would be cost-effective, minimize street interruptions for construction, and can happen quickly, he says. This would involve replacing "Capital Metro's diesel fleet with smaller, cleaner, quieter buses, some battery powered, some turbine powered." (Capital Metro is already pilot testing turbine-powered buses.)

"My approach to make Austin the center for clean vehicles…is for Capital Metro to offer a rebate of $5,000 to people who buy one of those (Toyota) Prius or Honda (Insight) vehicles that get better mileage. That would be a substantial enough amount of money to spark some interest…We should introduce to Austin clean vehicles and educate our populace that you can have a clean vehicle—you're not limited to these gas-guzzling, exhaust-belching polluters." Nofziger says he drives a small Chevrolet pickup truck.

On the subject of regional planning, Nofziger says, "We need to talk to our neighbors, obviously, and pursue a hospital district." But he is wary of Envision Central Texas, a regional planning organization that Will Wynn helped to form. "Envision Central Texas is basically Phase One of the next light-rail campaign…I'm sure the result is going to be, 'we need to build light rail.'" Nofziger says as mayor he wants to be part of the regional planning effort that Council Member Daryl Slusher has initiated with Hays County, which could lead to a blueprint on how to develop the Barton Creek watershed.

Nofziger plays up the fact he has lived in South Austin for nearly thirty years. "In trying to keep Austin, Austin, and recognizing that the true Austin is slipping away, we need a true Austin mayor. I embody that. What's more 'Austin' than having a former flower seller who is a musician be the mayor of the Live Music Capital of the World, who also happens to have the most experience? That's what keeps Austin weird—the weirdest guy has the most experience."

Regarding Mayor Gus Garcia's intention to further restrict smoking in public places, Nofziger says that while he does not smoke, "That's not something I'm really going to push…I think the current situation is pretty good."

To address the revenue shortfall in the city budget, Nofziger says, "There's no escaping layoffs this time around. The city hired a lot of people the last several years, during the boom, and the city pegged its spending and hiring to the boom economy. And of course we have to adjust back as we're in a bust now. We have to lay people off and there's a substantial savings in that. And we have to stop hiring all these consultants…We're going to have to get down to all the things we did in 1987 and 1988, which is (to cut) travel, magazine subscriptions, all those things. It's going to be a real belt-tightening time."

Because the city has incurred so much debt, Nofziger says it may not be possible to balance the budget without a tax increase, but that's something he would study after taking office. If elected mayor, Nofziger says, "I am going to take a voluntary pay cut and reduce the mayor's staff."

On the subject of funding for women's reproductive healthcare, Nofziger says he does not foresee reductions, "but we'll look at all the funding that we do. We won't start with a zero-based budget like the state is doing, but we've got to look at every place we can save some money."

Nofziger thinks that the financial problems caused by the city paying for healthcare of people from surrounding counties is an issue that the federal government should help with. The city should continue to work with the Legislature to create a hospital district as well. "We have to have a regional approach to healthcare."

In this election, we can count on Max Nofziger, who still sports the trademark "Buffalo Bill" facial hair that makes him instantly recognizable, to offer us a blast from the past about why he's the best person for the job.

I gotta tell ya, Marc Katz wants to be Austin's mayor

MAYOR-KATZMAYOR-KATZThe man who carved a good life out of pastrami now wants to get a new life—as Austin's top elected official.

While Marc Katz's unmistakable New York accent will be with him always, he has been an Austin resident for more than a quarter-century. He was born in Far Rockaway in the borough of Queens, and graduated from Manhattan's rigorous Stuyvesant High School. His formal education ended when he dropped out of the University of Oklahoma. Back in New York, Katz grew unhappy with the expensive, crime-ridden city that had a sub-par educational system and incredibly high taxes. He says the crowning blow came when the New York Daily News headline blared, "New York Drop Dead," which had been President Gerald Ford's initial answer to the Big Apple's request for a financial bailout. After the city itself raised taxes and cut spending, Ford relented, signing legislation extending $2.3 billion in short-term loans, enabling the city to avoid default. Katz nevertheless decided that Austin would be a far better place to raise his two children, daughter Andrea born 1969, and son Barry born 1971. He sold his eatery, Meyer's Restaurant in Jackson Heights, and moved here in 1977. He was thirty years old.

Having been in the restaurant business all his life—indeed he was the fourth generation in a family of kosher butchers and deli owners—Katz nevertheless tried a new career in Austin, selling Ford automobiles for Bill McMorris. But when the restaurant property just down the street from the car dealership became available, he pounced on it, and In 1979 opened Katz's Deli and Bar. Since then he's made a name for himself running the place and advertising "Katz's never kloses." In time, he would add a nightclub upstairs and buy a couple of properties adjacent to the Sixth Street eatery. Together these three properties are now on the tax rolls for $2.3 million. Katz also has an ad agency, Synergy Associates, that handles advertising for the deli, other restaurants and a few other clients. His son Barry cloned the deli with a second restaurant in Houston.

The family's business squabbles made newspaper headlines in late 2001, when Marc Katz sued, alleging his son was siphoning money out of the Austin eatery for the Houston operation. The legal wrangling ended last summer, leaving Barry with full ownership of the Houston operation and Marc likewise in possession of the Austin original, which he says today is grossing more than $4 million annually.

It was during this father-son dustup that Marc Katz's former narcotics addiction came to light. Not that it was exactly a secret. Katz had already made a full confession, so to speak, on national television. In 1999 he was profiled on the PBS program Small Business School. In that interview, Katz said, "I was in rehabilitation for fourteen straight months, and it took every minute of it. And I think my life is going to be spent in rehabilitation now." Katz says he completed rehabilitation programs in Maryland and Florida about a decade ago.

His "dark past" made running for public office a hard sell for Melanie, his fourth wife, Katz says. He claims that kind of past is shared by many others who are prominent in the community. "I am surrounded with people you know very, very well, you will recognize very, very well, who are also in recovery." He says these supporters gave him the courage and the insight to admit his defect. "I have a tremendous opportunity here to set an example."

One thing going for Katz in the mayoral contest is huge name recognition reaped from decades of heavy advertising, for which he says he spends about seven percent of gross revenue. Hence his claim that polls in recent years show he has "the most recognizable voice and face in Austin."

That presents a challenge in its own right. "People say to me, 'Are you really going to do this?' That's what we have to overcome…I'm really doing this not as a restaurant owner, I'm doing this as a citizen of Austin…I'm identified strongly with the restaurant, as it should be. However as mayor, I'm not the pastrami king."

Katz says he has built a brand that people recognize and he believes that the City of Austin has done the same, but the city's image has lost some of its luster.

"Since the high-tech bust, the Austin brand is hurting," he says. "We need to raise the bar on the Austin brand. The people that live here need to have a better city to live in, so other people want to live here—that's controlled growth—not incentives to corporations to move here. If your product is good enough, you don't have to give incentives."

Carrying the analogy between running a deli and running a city a step further, Katz says, "It's simple enough to know what makes the product good enough; ask the taxpayer what do they want, rather than telling them what's good for them. I don't think the City of Austin has it's ear to the people."

Katz says the city is in financial trouble and he can help. "The way business handles debt and the way politicians handle debt are two different ways…We cut costs. We have urgency. The buck stops at us." With the city, he says, "I believe the buck stops at the taxpayer," thumping the table with a finger. "I don't think the taxpayer, the citizen of Austin, is being represented properly from a financial standpoint."

He claims he's never laid off an employee due to hard times, and he doesn't think that the city needs to, either, despite the budget crunch. But vacancies should not be filled and attrition should be used to trim expenses.

"Really the only thing we have to do right now is address the financial position of the city. We can't afford the luxury of entertaining performing arts centers that say they're going to come up with the money after we gave them the land, and then come up short and ask for bond money from elsewhere. We can't afford consultants to tell us whether or not streets need to be two-ways...Although probably one of the three top issues we have is transportation and traffic, there's nothing we can do about it right now anyway, until we get our money settled.

"We need to be pulling back and addressing the debt…If I had (the city's) debt ratio, I'd be getting a letter from Visa that said, 'Don't leave home with it.'"

For Katz it's a matter of priorities.

"We are addressing things that don't matter, and it's ironic to me that the city council has a stance on Iraq, while there's potholes. And as (Statesman columnist John) Kelso said the other day, we broke the Guinness Book of Records for red cones on Barton Springs Road, not only the number but the length of time that they've been up. I don't feel like I'm qualified or that I'm talking to the people of Austin about (Secretary of State) Colin Powell's job. I'm talking about running the city…Our problem as a municipality is not Iraq."

While acknowledging that the possible war with Iraq is hampering the local economy, Katz says, "We need to face our very specific, solvable problems and do nothing else. It's going to be painful. We have to be dogmatic. And we have to use a tremendous amount of expertise that's available to us."

Underlining his intent to actually run for the mayor's job—and not just treat the race as a way to further boost his restaurant's visibility—Katz has hired veteran political consultant Peck Young of Emory Young & Associates. While the firm has in recent years focused on helping candidates elsewhere, it played a key role in local elections for many years. Katz's campaign manager is James Cardona.

Claiming to have no original thoughts of his own, Katz says he would do for Austin what former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani did for Katz's old home town. "He made New York an attractive place to be. He dressed it up. He raised the brand." Katz says Giuliani created a strong, positive environment. "Right now, that's the job that Austin needs, and I have the roadmap from Mayor Giuliani."

Katz was not familiar with the Austin Fair Campaign Ordinance, which sets limits on contributions and expenditures for candidates who voluntarily abide by it, and would be deciding whether to comply. He said the decision would be based on how much money it will take to win the election and how his personal funds may be used to achieve that. He says he plans to run campaign ads on television.

Asked what issues he will stress in this campaign, Katz says, "We need to make Austin a better place to live, to make Austin viable, to make Austin grow, to make Austin progressive. We need to cut what Austin does to the essentials." While he thinks that police, firefighters and EMS are already performing at a "very high level," he wants to raise performance higher still.

"What does it take to make a better police department? I think the police know that. I need to talk to the police…I need to talk to the top brass. I need to talk to the guys on the street. I need to talk to the firefighters…I do know a better job could be done if those departments were given more of a say in how to run this thing. I'm not a cop. Neither was Giuliani, and he created the greatest police force New York's ever seen."

Katz is on record opposing Mayor Gus Garcia's proposed ordinance to further restrict smoking in public places. "I don't smoke," Katz says. But in his own restaurant, he allows smoking when the law allows it, and has separate ventilation systems as required. "It's really a much bigger issue to me than the smoking…The city does not need to get into supply-and-demand in a business. We need to set up a business environment that makes it attractive to do business…The market will bear what the people want."

Katz agrees with the Tobacco-Free Austin Coalition, made up of organizations concerned with health matters, that second-hand smoke is harmful, but adds, "My job is not surgeon general of Austin…I have the right to run my business. You have the right to come in or not come in."

He says he operates Katz's Deli however need be to attract the most customers. "I have my life tied up on Sixth and Rio Grande," he says, "the city council does not." Katz says he employs one hundred twenty people in good times and eighty in bad times, using attrition to shrink the numbers when necessary. Small businesses, collectively, are the city's largest employer, he says. "We don't get tax incentives. We don't want tax incentives. We want an environment where we can do business…The more money I take in, the more people I employ, the more taxes I pay, the better off the city is."

Despite the city's reported $60 million budget shortfall, Katz says, "I don't think we need city layoffs." He says that a temporary freeze on hiring should suffice if the business environment is enhanced.

"For example, we're the 'live music capital of the world,' and now we have a sound ordinance about the amount of noise that can come out of a club. If you have a music district, you need to play music…If someone moves in downtown next to a nightclub, that's what they're going to expect."

Katz praises the city's building inspectors, yet calls the regulatory system a disaster. "It is so counterproductive that it hinders growth." His argument is not with the inspectors but with a code that he feels is overly restrictive, beyond what's needed for public safety.

"I think keeping Austin weird is great," Katz says. "I think legislating to keep Austin weird is a contradiction in terms." He says the way to do it is to strengthen existing businesses, not legislate to keep other businesses out.

"I could take the Austin Music Network off the air tomorrow, and the only people who would be affected are the talented people who work there," Katz says. "The city keeps coming up with more and more money and throwing it into a well that has nothing to do with being the live music capital of the world." Katz says this is symptomatic of what's wrong. "Austin Music Network is a great luxury for Austin—not now. The council did nothing that I know of to promote Austin City Limits and it's an international brand."

Will a tax increase be necessary to balance the budget? No, says Katz. "I think we would be chasing more and more people out of Austin and hurting the economy for the people who stayed in."

Katz voices perhaps the bluntest idea any politician has ever espoused to address traffic congestion: "Nothing. Nothing. The problem is so huge and so pressing and we don't have a solution…Just to do something for the sake of doing it is not the answer," he says, thumping the table again. "What's needed is a comprehensive plan," he says, "and on top of that, even if we had a solution today, we don't have the money."

Carpooling should be increased, Katz says. "(The) one man, one horse day has got to end." Mass transportation is the solution to clean air in the long run, he says, and that should involve getting more people to ride the buses.

Katz says the city shouldn't have paid $15 million to help build the Convention Center Hotel when it was not part of the original agreement. "A deal is a deal is a deal," he says.

Katz opposes cutting Capital Metro's sales taxes, but he says the agency should be run in a more businesslike manner. He said he was glad that light rail failed in the November 2000 referendum and conditions are not right to go forward with the project now.

The mayoral candidate says he has been to council meetings "embarrassingly infrequently; maybe I've been to five." One that he recalls was a zoning case many years ago involving land he owned in South Austin. Nor does he watch council meetings on television. "They're too long and they're frustrating," he says. So why would he want to preside over that? "I see a lot on the agenda that's unnecessary," he says. Pounding the table lightly, Katz says, "I think meetings like that need to be sharp and to the point." He would eliminate "fanfare" such as music and proclamations. "We would just sit down and meet…If a council member wants to give someone recognition, he should do it on the council member's time, not on council meeting time…I would cut the agenda and limit the amount of time we talk on each issue."

Public forums where anybody and everybody is allowed to speak, Katz says, should not be held at council meetings. Instead a city council member or two can hold separate meetings on the issues and then brief fellow council members. "We've put together council meetings and town meetings under one roof. It makes (meetings) so long it's counterproductive."

Regarding protection of water quality, Katz says, "There may be issues as important, but I don't know that there's anything more important."

He was not familiar with Smart Growth incentives the city has used to promote certain types of development. "I don't know enough about it" he says, "but the general concept is not one which is attractive to me. If this is smart growth—what we've experienced in Austin the last few years—I need another label, 'cause I'm unimpressed with how smart we're looking right now. I see half-finished buildings. I see farm land on Sixth and Lamar."

Katz says municipal government overreaches. "I maintain as a general rule if you create the right environment—that's smart growth. People will want to be here. When we're 'buying' people to be here, that's a whole 'nother deal…If I make a better city for the people living here now…other people will come and go, 'God, I want to live here,' and that will be growth."

He opposes incentives for development in general and particularly for development at Sixth and Lamar that might hurt existing businesses. But he adds that the city should not legislate against any particular business locating there. "The free market must prevail," he says. "We are in a capitalistic system."

Regarding women's reproductive healthcare at Brackenridge Hospital, Katz says, "I don't have enough information." Nor does he know whether city funding for such healthcare might need to be reduced due to the city's financial crunch.

In view of his past problems, is Katz up to the pressure that an Austin mayor faces? "I can't imagine anybody being more capable to stand up to economic and political pressure. I've been trained for this my entire life. The restaurant industry is closer to WW II on a daily basis than anything else…I don't see the city's problems that different than any businesses' problems."

"Whoever is elected mayor on May 3," Katz adds, "the primary goal needs to be 'Austin never forecloses'—and we're close."

Brad Meltzer touts experience in business as asset in mayor's job

MAYOR-MELTZERMAYOR-MELTZERBrad Meltzer wants to be your next mayor, but don't confuse this Brad Meltzer with the best-selling young novelist of the same name.

Bradley Charles Meltzer says he was born in Brookline, Massachusetts, and graduated from nearby Needham High School before earning a bachelor's degree in accounting from Bentley College in Waltham, Massachusetts. Citing Austin's quality of life as the main attraction, Meltzer says he left a management position with theatres and an ad agency in Boston and moved to Austin in 1987. From 1987 to 1992 he was executive vice president of Lexus Laboratories in Austin, a company that produced generic birth-control pills and a number of other pharmaceuticals. Today he owns and manages fifteen northeast Austin apartment complexes totaling more than six hundred fifty units, which he collectively calls Westheimer Apartments, plus Benihana Restaurant franchises in both Austin and San Antonio.

Although the forty-eight-year-old Meltzer has never before run for public office, he is serious about this campaign. That's signified in part by the fact that he has established a campaign budget estimated at $150,000, he is willing to spend his own money in the campaign, and he has hired Ron Dusek, who for thirteen years was a spokesman for attorneys general of Texas, most recently for Democrat Dan Morales. The campaign manager is Carlos Espinoza. Meltzer's daughter Lauren, twenty-two, and son David, eighteen, are both active in the campaign.

Meltzer was the first candidate to launch television commercials in this campaign. He has been running spots several times a day on KTBC Fox 7 since mid-February. But don't expect to see him attacking his opponents.

"I'm sick and tired of seeing all this negative campaigning and how people are trying to destroy other people's reputation," he tells The Good Life. "I think it's about time that we stopped, and I want to take a leadership role in that. I want to stop this negative campaigning and people-bashing…I want to show the nation that we don't have to be bashing this candidate…and looking for their Achilles' heel, hurting them, hurting their families, hurting their friends."

No council-meeting junkie, Meltzer estimates that he has attended perhaps fifteen city council meetings in as many years, drawn by issues such as education and affordable housing.

In explaining why he thinks he's best qualified to lead city government, Meltzer touts his diversified business experience and says the mayor's job is analogous to the chief executive officer of a business.

"What I can offer is to take the lead as a successful businessman in very difficult businesses…I know how to put a budget together. I know how to negotiate. I know how to lead. And we're now in a very tough fiscal time and I feel that with those kind of qualities I can do a success for the City of Austin."

The city's financial crunch is Meltzer's foremost concern.

"My message is we've been taxed and taxed and taxed. I've never seen it since 1987 go down…What I've heard is that we've got an $80 million shortfall as far as taxes are concerned, so some difficult decisions are going to be made, and…I'd like to bring forth my leadership to take care of it."

As an example of his leadership skills, Meltzer claims he was the first person to develop a direct-to-consumer marketing plan for a prescription drug (a generic birth-control pill, N.E.E. 1/35). With no previous experience in the pharmaceutical industry, he says, he won approval for the plan from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and convinced the American Medical Association. He says the program established a new paradigm for directly educating consumers, instead of the marketing drugs through doctors and pharmacists. Meltzer says his experience in marketing would work to the city's advantage.

"The City of Austin is the best place to live in the United States," Meltzer says, "and part of my campaign is to market the city more, to give more budget to the Austin Convention and Visitors Bureau." As a private citizen, Meltzer says he has participated in a panel discussion with the Bureau regarding the Greater Austin Tourist and Entertainment Guide, a magazine that Meltzer supports by purchasing paid advertising for his Benihana Restaurant.

Meltzer is a member of the Mayor's Affordable Housing Committee established after Gus Garcia was elected mayor. The group is chaired by Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman, and operates less formally than the city's boards and commissions. Meltzer defines affordable housing as a good, safe place for low-income people to live. To increase availability, Meltzer says he wants the city to provide affordable loans to support profit-making companies that provide affordable housing, so they can keep their properties in good shape. The overriding goal is for low-income people to be able to afford to stay in Austin and not move outside the city. At present, Meltzer says, "We have plenty of affordable housing as far as apartments are concerned, because we have overbuilt."

Two of Meltzer's own apartment complexes, totaling one hundred sixty units, were rehabilitated with money from a city loan. He says he borrowed $500,000 in 1991 on a fifteen-year note and repaid it in only five years, a claim substantiated by Paul Hilgers, the city's Community Development Officer.

Meltzer opposes any change to the city's no-smoking ordinance. "I'm opposed to it because I want Austin to be a successful city for business. What this ordinance is trying to do is control and inhibit its businesses…I don't think we need to burden the consumer. I don't think we need to burden the businessman by hurting him, because of the fact he can't have in his bar someone who wants to smoke and drink." Meltzer says his own restaurants in Austin and San Antonio are non-smoking facilities, but adds, "I want as an entrepreneur to be able to make the decision, not as the mayor to make that decision." He says if the people of Austin want smoking to be further restricted, then citizens should be bring a petition to be put on the ballot; it should not be put on the ballot by the city council.

In a similar vein, Meltzer says, "If we show people outside the community that the City of Austin is very business-friendly, I think that would attract other businesses to come into Austin to fill up this gap of all these empty apartments, empty office buildings, empty industrial buildings, and increase our tax base."

As a current member of the Lieutenant Governor's Business Advisory Board, Meltzer says he will learn from the state's recent initiative with zero-based budgeting, and use that knowledge to improve the city's budgeting methods.

A photograph of Meltzer and his campaign treasurer, Frank Ivy Jr., appeared in the Austin American-Statesman's coverage of Governor Rick Perry's inaugural ball. Both men were courting support among the revelers by wearing "Meltzer for Mayor" buttons. It was no accident that Meltzer was celebrating the Republican Party's second straight sweep for statewide offices, as he has been a steady contributor to GOP causes. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, between August 1999 and February 2003, Meltzer donated more than $8,000 to the National Republican Congressional Committee, a figure that Meltzer confirms.

Meltzer says he is also on the Citizens Task Force of U.S. House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Illinois) which advises the speaker on entrepreneurial and tax issues. He says he received the National Leadership Award last October from the Republican National Committee for suggestions he has made on a wide range of tax issues, and for traveling to Washington to participate in meetings several times a year since 1998.

On the local political scene, Meltzer says he has contributed to Mayor Gus Garcia and Council Members Betty Dunkerley and Raul Alvarez. "I believe in the political processes and I believe that (candidates) need to be funded," he says.

Meltzer opposes a tax increase to balance the city's budget. "I believe that we should not be able to tax the citizens, particularly when we're in a recession. When everyone is tightening their belts, the city should be tightening its belt. I think we need to start off with no new taxes and see where we go from there." Asked if jobs might be cut from the budget, not just vacant positions, Meltzer replies, "Everything is on the table."

One of Meltzer's more controversial ideas is to give a property tax break of "ten-to-fifteen percent" to city employees, as an incentive for them to live in Austin. "While they live in the city they would be going to the grocery stores…churches…schools (and) restaurants." Asked why other property taxpayers should carry the burden of paying higher taxes to make up the revenue lost through this benefit for city employees, Meltzer says the loss would be offset by the higher sales taxes the employees would pay shopping in Austin. "I think we'll get more than the money back," he says.

On the topic of traffic congestion, Meltzer says the city needs to better coordinate road and lane closures necessitated by construction projects, such as sewer repairs and cable installation, and to better synchronize traffic lights in areas such as Congress Avenue downtown.

On the community service front, since 1997 Meltzer has been a member of the American Red Cross board of directors for the Austin area, and he currently chairs the committee on disaster fund-raising. In that role he has responded to fires to assist displaced residents, using Red Cross funds to pay for such things as clothing, furniture and deposits. He has housed dozens of disaster victims in his own apartments, he says.

Meltzer says he opposed the light-rail initiative that voters narrowly rejected in 2000 and would need to hear "convincing arguments" to support it in the future. He says he would like to explore the possibility of monorail, such as the project being built in Las Vegas. (That project is scheduled to start carrying passengers over a four-mile route adjacent to the Las Vegas strip in 2004; it is privately funded, with revenue bonds tied to farebox and advertising revenue, according to

Regarding air quality, Meltzer says, "I encourage people to use smaller vehicles and I've taken a leadership role and started using cars that (give) more miles per gallon." Asked to amplify, Meltzer adds, "Instead of buying the big Cadillac Escalade, which is beautiful, I bought a car that has high mileage, a Chrysler Concorde." (For the record, the Chrysler Concorde is rated at nineteen miles per gallon city, twenty-seven mpg highway, according to While not exactly miserly, the Concorde's not quite as thirsty as the Cadillac Escalade, a sports utility vehicle rated at fourteen mpg city, eighteen mpg highway. For comparison, Mayor Gus Garcia purchased a Toyota Prius rated at fifty-two mpg city, forty-five mpg highway.) Meltzer supports Ozone Action Days and would like to see heavier promotion of the free bus fares on those days.

Meltzer was not aware of the Smart Growth incentives that have been given primarily for downtown development projects. "I have to get educated," he says.

Regarding the Austin Music Network, Meltzer says it should be marketed to make money instead of losing it.

Asked if he would seek support of environmental groups, Meltzer says, "I'm looking to seek the support of everybody who has the same mission I have, which is to make the government run like a successful business, but I'm not looking to hurt our environment. I want our environment to be here for our children, our grandchildren and our great-grandchildren." And as for courting environmentalists? "I'm going to discuss my issues and discuss their issues and see if we have common ground for them to support me."

Asked for his views on women's reproductive healthcare at Brackenridge Hospital, Meltzer says, "I have no comment about it, because I really haven't thought about it." In view of the city's budget crunch, does he foresee any reduction in city funding for women's reproductive healthcare? "I have to look at every line item and discuss them with my fellow council people…

"I don't know all the issues," Meltzer adds. "I know what the major issue is right now and that is budget deficit. We cannot print money here and we can't magically get it from the state because they have a huge budget deficit."

Summing up the key issues that he will campaign on, Meltzer named ensuring no new taxes, reducing traffic congestion, supporting public safety, making Austin business-friendly, and providing affordable housing.

Ken Martin is editor of The Good Life. He has been covering politics locally since 1981. He wrote the cover story for Third Coast magazine's March 1983 edition about Ron Mullen's first campaign for mayor.

These articles were originally published in The Good Life magazine in March 2003

Historical footnote: The detailed results of the May 3, 2003, mayoral election are posted on the City of Austin's election history web page. The four candidates profiled here netted:

Will Wynn: Won the election with 58.26% of the votes

Max Nofziger: Placed second with 15.97%

Mark Katz: Placed third with 13.16%

Brad Meltzer: Placed fourth with 8.26%
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