Van de Putte Goes to Denver

Seems that someone at a national level has been paying attention to the career of Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio. Democratic National Committee chair Howard Dean announced today that, along with Kansas governor Kathleen Sebelius and mayor of Atlanta Shirley Franklin, she's been nominated as permanent convention co-chair for the Democrat National Convention, to be held in Denver this November. With US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi getting the nod to become the convention's permanent chair, that's a female-heavy slate (what the "barefoot and pregnant" brigade will make of that boggles the mind.)

There were repeated rumors in the Lege early last session that the San Antonio Dem and president of the National Conference of State Legislatures was contemplating standing down, but those faded fast as the clocked ticked down to sine die. Now it looks like she could become the national face of Texas Dems. Read More | Comment »

On the Lege 5:11PM Mon. Jul. 2, 2007, Richard Whittaker

Cleanliness Is Close to Confession

In the trial of Laura Hall for her role in the death of Jennifer Cave, don't look for prosecutors to be holding a smoking gun. They're looking for a squirting fabric freshener instead.

The case is built in part on the theory that Miss "That's just how I roll" Hall gave self-confessed killer Colton Pitonyak a shopping list of what was needed to clean up the grisly crime scene before they fled to Mexico.

Pitonyak's lawyers have always tried to put the blame for the brutal dismemberment on Hall, saying she was responsible for planning the mutilation of Cave's body, while their client did the murder. Part of their argument for putting Hall in the frame depends on the idea that men are just too plain slobby and slothful to really clean up a crime scene. The shopping list included a saw, garbage bags, cleaning agents, and, most damning of all, some Febreze odor eliminator.

Yes, reports the Statesman, Pitonyak's defense thinks they've found an answer: "What guy is going to think of Febreze?" said Pitonyak's lawyer Sam Bassett. Read More | 2 Comments »

Local 12:08PM Mon. Jul. 2, 2007, Richard Whittaker

Bombings and Business

While the rest of the world tries to work out whether the latest terror attacks in the UK were the work of an organized cell or just some goobers with bad intent and no clue, the elves at Fox News have been looking for the upside.

Amazingly, they think they've found it. On Saturday's financial lovefest Forbes on Fox, host David Asman ran a discussion segment entitled "London Bombings: Good for GOP and Stocks?"

The bastions (we said bastions) of classy analysis then talked up the rarely discussed pros of investing in dictatorships. It seems business ethics are about as much their strong point as comedy. Remember, this is the channel whose parent company, News Corp., is trying to buy out the Wall Street Journal. Read More | Comment »

National 9:51AM Mon. Jul. 2, 2007, Richard Whittaker

There's a Not-So-New Parliamentarian

It's Friday afternoon, so it's the perfect time to sneak out bombshell press releases. Guess what? Speaker Tom Craddick has just launched a doozy.

At 3:17pm, Craddick finally announced his new parliamentarian. His selection? Former Austin Rep. Terry Keel. The same Terry Keel that became the temporary parliamentarian when the last one quit over Craddick's management style. The same Terry Keel who provided Craddick with the questionable constitutional advice that he was basically immune to removal by a rebellious House. The same Terry Keel whose advice is now being examined by the attorney general. The same Terry Keel that rapidly became one of the most hated figures in Texas politics.

However, there are probably sighs of relief among the reps that the man that served as his deputy, Ron Wilson, won't be back. The former Houston Craddick Dem, who didn't look like he was having much fun by the end of the session, is being replaced by Craddick's policy analyst, Kate Huddleston. That will give him time to work on his burgeoning rap career. Read More | Comment »

On the Lege 4:04PM Fri. Jun. 29, 2007, Richard Whittaker

Austin Energy Ain't Gonna Get Enroned

Back in January, most Texas electricity consumers woke up to a bright shiny future of energy deregulation, where competition meant prices magically dropping and big electric firms like TXU producing power by stroking kittens. Low-emission kittens, at that.

Austin Energy, like every other municipal utility in the state, decided not to get involved in what many market-watchers feared would be a race to price increases. Even so, the new deregulated retail policy has affected all the municipalities through changes to the wholesale electric market. So it looks like AE is bringing in some outside help.

According to a press release issued today, they're teaming up with the Alliance for Cooperative Energy Services Power Marketing (or ACES Power Marketing, or APM for acronym buffs), who are experts in reducing risk on the energy markets. Anyone who tried to keep track of the labyrinthine complexities of the Enron scandal will know how mind-bogglingly complex and perilous longterm contracts and on-the-margin power buying can be.

And before there's concerns about city cash going on predatory consultants, it's worth noting that APM is actually owned by other power co-ops and municipalities around the nation. Read More | Comment »

Local 3:21PM Fri. Jun. 29, 2007, Richard Whittaker

More Dam Facts

With the continuing rains and the already saturated soil meaning water levels continue to rise, the Lower Colorado River Authority is saying local river and lake levels could stay high for weeks. This means they'll have to keep opening floodgates across the Colorado dam system well into July.

The river is still below flood levels, although it has reached "bank full" status at several points, and the LCRA is balancing river and lake levels around the clock to keep it that way (even their press officers are working 'round the clock to keep people up to speed). To manage this, they're using Lake Travis as storage and managing the levels upstream by controlled floodgate usage at the Buchanan, Mansfield, Tom Miller, Wirtz and Starcke dams. The water dumping over the Inks Dam spillway, just for context, is now four to five feet high.

Recreational boating bans remain in effect on Inks Lake; lakes Travis, Marble Falls, LBJ, and Austin; Town Lake; and the Colorado River downstream of Longhorn Dam. However, check the LCRA site, since they'll be updating the bans daily. (And just before this was posted, the city of Austin further extended its watercraft ban. See press release under "continue reading.") Read More | Comment »

Local 12:14PM Fri. Jun. 29, 2007, Richard Whittaker

Futrell Administrator of the Year: 'Get the Hell Out' Accolades up Next

To be followed by the prestigious "Don't Let the Door Hit Your Ass" honors. But in all seriousness, this certainly reads like a golden handshake, doesn't it?

State association honors Futrell as Administrator of the Year

The Texas City Management Association (TCMA) has recognized Austin City Manager Toby Hammett Futrell as “Administrator of the Year.” The state award honors one city management professional who has made significant contributions to the field of local government management in the previous 18 months.

Futrell received the award for her long and distinguished career in public service that has made a positive impact on the greater Austin area.

“I love Austin, and I’m proud of the vital role City Government plays in fostering and preserving Austin’s quality of life, carefully tending economic growth and urban change, while nurturing Austin’s unique culture and green environment,” Futrell said.

As in the past, last year was filled with national honors for Austin and its municipal workforce.

“Her achievements have been the result of strong leadership and an unwavering vision to help make Austin the most livable community in the country,” said Mark McDaniel, Deputy City Manager of Tyler, Texas, and TCMA President. “As the largest local government association of public managers in the United States, TCMA is very proud of her efforts.”

As Austin City Manager, Futrell oversees a 12,000-person workforce larger than some Texas towns, more than 30 directors and a budget of more than $2 billion. Austin is a fast growing city in Texas with a population of more than 700,000.

TCMA announced and presented the honor at its annual conference June 22 in San Antonio. TCMA is an organization of local government professionals dedicated to promoting the highest standards of governance, service, leadership, ethics, and education while embracing individual and regional diversity for the benefit of our membership and the cities of Texas.

Congratulations. Next up: the Platinum 2X4 award to commemorate the construction boom Downtown she presided over – and to pry her outta her office. Read More | 1 Comment »

Local 10:50AM Fri. Jun. 29, 2007, Wells Dunbar

Alamo's Last Stand

Farewell to the Alamo Drafthouse on Colorado. Wednesday night was the big bye-bye to the site that launched QT Fest, Butt-Numb-a-Thon, Weird Wednesday, Terror Thursday, etc., etc., etc.

Already the last signs of the Downtown icon are going – literally. By this morning, the big light-up Alamo sign (featured very briefly, if eagle-eyed cineastes recall, in the opening credits to Quentin Tarantino's Death Proof) had already been stripped from the outside wall.

Tickets for last night's final blow-out at the Colorado location included a free wrench so the lucky attendees could take their seat home with them. But we at Chronic doubt that someone staggered home with 20 foot of neon after the goodbye screenings. Read More | Comment »

Local 3:45PM Thu. Jun. 28, 2007, Richard Whittaker

AG: State's Pension Books Don't Balance

Attorney General Greg Abbott released a report this week that showed that 82 of the 96 government-related defined pension plans in Texas were carrying liability on the books. Basically, these funds carried $23 billion more in anticipated debt than current funding. Abbott estimated 1.8 million Texans have counted on retirement funds with liabilities that exceed their assets. Of those 82 funds, 17 were considered to be seriously “at risk” because current liabilities would take more than 40 years to repay. Abbott suggested independent actuarial calculations, better financial expertise from board members, and greater transparency of conflicts of interest. Read More | Comment »

State 3:28PM Thu. Jun. 28, 2007, Kimberly Reeves

CWS Capital Properties Project Update

Attorney Richard Suttle continues to make concessions on the CWS Capital Properties project at 222 and 300 E. Riverside to gain the support of boards and commissions, and he continues to get a skeptical reception. The two, 200-foot tower project, the subject of Save Town Lake’s ire, would be the first variance to the Town Lake Waterfront Overlay, if granted. On Tuesday night, Suttle tried to sweeten the pot with additional land and amenities for the Town Lake Trail. Development plans have been configured to avoid breaking the 150-foot, overlay-required “primary setback,” in which development is not allowed. The project will go through a subcommittee hearing process before it makes it back to the full commission next month. Read More | Comment »

Local 3:00PM Thu. Jun. 28, 2007, Kimberly Reeves

More on RG4N's Northcross Lawsuit

Below, the press release just sent out by Responsible Growth for Northcross regarding their lawsuit over the recently approved second site plan for the Northcross Wal-Mart:


AUSTIN, Texas, June 28, 2007 – On Tuesday, June 26, the City of Austin approved Lincoln Property Company's second site plan for Northcross Mall. Today, Responsible Growth for Northcross (RG4N) filed a lawsuit in Travis County District Court against our City and Lincoln to invalidate the site

RG4N concluded in December 2006 that Lincoln's first site plan was illegally approved by the City. The developer implicitly acknowledged its agreement with our conclusion by filing a second site plan. Unfortunately, our City has once again failed to follow several of its own laws in approving the second plan.

RG4N and others in the Northcross area sought for months to reach a mutually-acceptable resolution with the developer. However, the developer made it clear that our concerns and our vision for our neighborhood are at best secondary to its desire to make a quick buck. And to the shock and dismay of thousands of us across Austin, our City cynically made a show of sympathizing with neighborhood concerns while proceeding with business as usual in a city management environment that operates as a rubber stamp for
the development community.
Read More | 8 Comments »

Local 2:38PM Thu. Jun. 28, 2007, Wells Dunbar

More Bad News for Boaters

After yesterday's boating ban by the city, and the Colorado River reaching banks-full status in Austin below Longhorn Dam, the Lower Colorado River Authority has announced its own restrictions further upstream and warned about the river possibly bursting its banks.

Due to the heavy rains overnight, the LCRA has temporarily closed lakes Inks, Travis, Marble Falls, and LBJ to recreational users. Contractors and property owners are still allowed to use the waterways for "needed" repair work. Buchanan is open but with a big warning about debris, so sail carefully.

The river agency obviously will be keeping an eye on conditions and will try to post updated decisions about navigability by 4pm each day while the high levels last. They're also warning that they may still have to keep opening floodgates on dams to keep the waters under control, with little or no warning. As of 8am, they have two gates open on Buchanan, four at Starcke dam on lake Marble Falls, one partially open on Wirtz on lake LBJ, plus the water on the spillway on Inks Lake is 3-feet-deep. Read More | Comment »

Local 11:41AM Thu. Jun. 28, 2007, Richard Whittaker

RG4N to Sue City Today

Responsible Growth for Northcross is filing its lawsuit today against the city of Austin and Lincoln Property Co., asserting that the city's Tuesday approval of a second site plan for the redevelopment of Northcross Mall was illegal.

Grounds for the lawsuit include claims that a conditional use permit process should have been followed, that the city prejudicially failed to enforce a plat note requiring a higher standard for water quality (rainwater runoff) for the redevelopment of the site, and other allegations regarding the city's failure to follow its own ordinances and processes.

"We are dismayed that the City once again has approved a site plan for Northcross in violation of several of its own laws," said RG4N President Hope Morrison in a statement. "We have tried for months to resolve this situation without litigation, but the City, the developer and Wal-Mart have made it clear that they won't listen unless someone sues them."

"This has been a very tough issue," said Assistant City Manager Laura Huffman, sounding discouraged about the impending lawsuit. The ACM noted that the developer's promised voluntary upgrades to the project, brokered by city staff, are not in the site plan that was approved. "We're still waiting for their changes to be submitted, in the form of a site plan amendment that will confirm what they presented," said Huffman. She added, "I'm hoping for that immediately." Read More | 5 Comments »

Developing Stories 10:47AM Thu. Jun. 28, 2007, Katherine Gregor

Public Forum Tomorrow on Local Immigrant Population

Even if you haven’t been following Congress’ struggle to pass an immigration bill, which died in the Senate today, you’re probably aware that a large chunk of all those immigrants about whom everyone keeps talking reside in Texas, many in the Central Texas area. According to the 2006-2007 Travis County Immigrant Assessment report, released earlier this month, Travis County’s immigrant population swelled 230% between 1990 and 2005, to about 148,000 people, or 17% of the county’s population. In response to this and other report revelations, Travis County Health and Human Services and Veterans Services Department, the Community Action Network, and the Immigrant Services Network of Austin are hosting a public forum about the assessment, as well as ways the community can respond to the influx in its foreign-born population, tomorrow, Friday, June 29, at St. Edward’s University, beginning at 8:30am. According to a press release, “From 9:15am - 10:15am the key findings of the report will be presented[.] From 10:15am - 10:45am individuals familiar with the report will be available for questions[.]” Those people include Travis County Commissioner Margaret Gomez and the report’s writers. To view the 2006-2007 Travis County Immigrant Assessment, check out, and to register for the forum, see Read More | Comment »

Local 10:21AM Thu. Jun. 28, 2007, Cheryl Smith

Boating Ban Expands

Press release from the city of Austin:

Area rainfall contributes to flooding; increased waterway restrictions

City of Austin officials have expanded a boating ban for all of Lake Austin, Town Lake and the Colorado River below the Longhorn Dam through noon Friday, June 29.

The expanded ban is necessary due to the Lower Colorado River Authority’s opening of four flood gates at Mansfield Dam and three gates at Tom Miller Dam, creating very swift, debris-filled waters and unsafe conditions.

Persons with interests along these waterways should contact the City of Austin Parks Police Headquarters at (512) 974-7707 during business hours to receive written authorization to secure or remove property in the Flood Ban Area. Proof of ownership or occupancy is required.

Watercraft illegally operated on waters in the Watercraft Ban Area is a Class C Misdemeanor, punishable by fines up to $500 and boats may be impounded. Crossing barricades put in place on roadways or boat ramps for public safety can result in a Class B Misdemeanor, punishable by jail time up to 180 days and fines up to $2000.

City officials urge residents to “Turn around, don’t drown.” Residents can ensure their safety by avoiding low-water crossings. If water levels are unknown, turn around and use an alternate route. Never attempt to drive, swim or walk through water that is flowing in a roadway, ditch or storm drain. Six inches of water can cause most cars to lose control or stall. A car can literally be swept away in as little as one foot of water.

For current flood ban and roadway closure information, visit the City of Austin’s Emergency Conditions Web page at Read More | Comment »

Local 4:48PM Wed. Jun. 27, 2007, Lee Nichols

A Healing Place

Visitors at the Dell Children's Medical Center grand opening gaze out at a central open-air Healing Garden. The new children's hospital officially opens for care on Saturday. So remember not to take little Jim Bob with his broken arm to the old one – drive to the emergency room at Mueller off I-35 (51st Street exit) instead.

Back to that Healing Garden – for wellness and all, Dell Children’s is supplementing the pharmaceuticals with views of native Texas plants. The truly wow-kazow beautiful new hospital was designed by Seton and its architect, Karlsberger, to lift the spirits of sick children and their families. In addition to state-of-the-art medical care and facilities, the new children's hospital features sustainable building materials that include native sandstone and limestone. With its ample natural light and views, the hospital is distinguished by a handsome interior design, oodles of original artwork in nearly every space (selected by my mom, no less), landscaped courtyards, loads of family-friendly features, and even a swank eatery. Every little amenity counts for children and parents who must endure the long-term stresses of hospitalization for illnesses like pediatric cancer or brain surgery.

Setting a high green-building standard for the surrounding Mueller, Dell Children’s is due to become the first LEED Platinum hospital in the U.S. – the top status awarded by the U.S. Green Building Council. Cool like Austin! Read More | Comment »

Local 1:25PM Wed. Jun. 27, 2007, Katherine Gregor

Liberal Fascism, Conservative Idiocy

Here's a strange one: National Republic Online editor, dim star of the right-wing wankosphere and heir to a wing-nut dynasty Jonah Goldberg has finally finished his long-anticipated literary masturbation, err, masterstroke, Liberal Fascism. (Goldberg's toils in pursuit of the tome are documented here, here, and here.) Only the subtitle of the book has changed – from the oh-so-proactive The Totalitarian Temptation From Mussolini to Hillary Clinton to The Totalitarian Temptation From Hegel to Whole Foods. Huh?

Goldberg must not get out much from behind his Cheetos-encrusted keyboard in the front lines of the Glorious Global War on IslamoFascistNaziVeganism, because if he did, he'd know Whole Foods' John Mackey is a hardcore, dyed-in-the-wool libertarian. Not exactly shot-caller of the granola mafia.

We can only hope Goldberg's third subtitle will cover the Totalitarian Temptation from, say, Chuck E. Cheese to public libraries. Don't get me started on them … Read More | Comment »

National 12:16PM Wed. Jun. 27, 2007, Wells Dunbar

Waving Sen. Norm Coleman's Freak Flag

It’s always nice to start out the day with a steaming cup of sweet irony. So, you can imagine how pleased I was to find the following letter from the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws Executive Director Allen St. Pierre in my inbox this morning, along with an open letter to U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn., written by his former college smoking buddy Norm Kent, a NORML board member.

It seems that Kent was a tad ticked off by a form letter sent by Coleman’s office, explaining the senator’s anti-pot position – a regurgitation of tiredass lies proffered by the White House Office of the National Drug Control Policy, including that pot is a “highly addictive” substance and that using pot makes our “schools and workplaces … more dangerous.”

For Coleman, it seems, pot has had one negative effect: memory loss.

Read below St. Pierre’s introduction and Kent’s open letter to his old buddy Norm:

NORML's open letter to Sen. Norm Coleman

Minnesota Senator Norm Coleman acknowledges on his website that he was a "campus organizer in the '60s" when he attended Hofstra University in Hempstead, NY. His Wikipedia entry states: "He ran for student senate and opined in the school newspaper that his fellow students should vote for him because he knew that 'these conservative kids don't fuck or get high like we do. … Everyone watch out, the 1950s' bobby-sox generation is about to take over.'" Several photos show the then longhaired Coleman speaking through a bullhorn and unfurling an anti-war banner with other students.

Since that time, the Brooklyn, NY-born politician graduated from the University of Iowa Law School and stayed in the Midwest, where he worked as a prosecutor in Minnesota for 17 years before his two terms as mayor of St. Paul. In 1996, he switched parties – from Democrat to Republican – and in 1998 he lost the Minnesota governor's race to Jesse Ventura. In 2002, Coleman was elected senator by a 2% margin. He benefitted from the sudden death of the state's incumbant Paul Wellstone, who died in a plane crash 11 days before the election.
Read More | 1 Comment »

Reefer Madness 10:26AM Wed. Jun. 27, 2007, Jordan Smith

No Love for Ron Paul

The presidential primaries seem to be causing ructions in the Republicans. First, one of their strongest candidates turns out to be Fred Thompson, someone who hasn't formally declared and therefore hasn't actually had to come up with any of those tricky … what do you call them? … oh, yeah, policies. Now they're arguing about who gets to join the debates.

It seems that the Iowa Presidential Forum, scheduled for June 30, has left someone off their guest list. Let's see, there's Rep. Tom Tancredo, Sen. Sam Brownback, Rep. Duncan Hunter, Tommy Thompson, Mike Huckabee, and Mitt Romney, but John McCain, Rudy Giuliani and Jim Gilmore RSVPed and said they were busy. Hang on, that's only nine – where's Texas' own U.S. Rep. Ron Paul?

Yup, the anti-Iraq war libertarian was deliberately not invited. According to reports, Ed Failor, executive vice president of event sponsors Iowans for Tax Relief, said they did not regard him as a credible candidate, so it wasn't worth inviting him. Surprisingly, Tancredo is demanding the event let Paul attend. Meanwhile, some sharp-eyed Iowans have already noted that, while McCain won't be there in person, he'll still be represented: Failor also happens to be a big McCain donor and a senior adviser to his Iowa campaign. Read More | 1 Comment »

National 12:43PM Tue. Jun. 26, 2007, Richard Whittaker

Rain, Rain, Go Away

Damp isn't the word for it. The consistent rain showers hitting the area for the last two weeks have saturated the soil and sent water levels rising, so the Lower Colorado River Authority is opening more floodgates on the swollen river. This time it's the Tom Miller Dam at the bottom of Lake Austin, and more dumping could follow.

After opening the floodgates on Buchanan Dam at Lake Buchanan and Mansfield Dam at Lake Travis last week, the LCRA thought the problem had been dealt with, but they didn't count on the continuing downpour. By 5pm Monday, most areas had received an inch of rain, although meters at Mary Quinlan Park recorded three inches. According to National Weather Service stats, that's more than Austin's total rainfall for the whole of June last year.

LCRA meteorologists expect the same levels every day through Thursday. They warn that, if the weather keeps up, they could have to open the Wirtz Dam on LBJ and Starcke Dam on Lake Marble Falls with "little or no warning." Residents are reminded to keep an eye on flood levels and tie up or beach anything that could float away: They're also recommending drivers do the sensible thing and not risk going through a puddle that could really be a pond.

On the somewhat positive side, this deluge has meant the LCRA could fire up the hydroelectric turbines in the dams fitted with them – unusual for this time of year. Read More | Comment »

Local 11:50AM Tue. Jun. 26, 2007, Richard Whittaker

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