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Perry's Push or Family's Call?

Texas Commissioner of Education Shirley Neeley is resigning, but it's unclear whether she jumped or was pushed.

In the official Texas Education Agency press release issued this morning, Neeley said she was leaving to concentrate on her family. She originally intended to stay in the post until 2009 but had reconsidered her life's priorities after doctors diagnosed the return of her melanoma in May this year.

But in a letter to her staff and friends, reported by Jason Embry at the Statesman, Neeley blames Gov. Rick Perry. She cites his refusal to renew her appointment and that she felt like a "superintendent when a school board decides to take no action or not to extend their contract." Read More | Comment »

State 9:31AM Thu. Jun. 21, 2007, Richard Whittaker

A Tale of Training Hours

Two bills about state-approved training passed through the Lege this session and have now become law.

House Bill 2644 raises the minimum hours of training to become a licensed masseur from 300 to 500 hours, reaching the national standard.

Senate Bill 103, the Texas Youth Commission reform bill, mandates that a guard receive 300 hours of training before he or she can work by him- or herself. This was amended down in committee to include on-the-job training.

So let's get this clear – you have to be trained longer to get a crick out of someone's neck than to be allowed to guard at-risk kids, some with severe emotional and behavioral problems? Read More | Comment »

On the Lege 3:40PM Wed. Jun. 20, 2007, Richard Whittaker

More Chair-Shuffling at the Mansion

After announcing his deputy chief of staff, Phil Wilson, as the new secretary of state, Gov. Rick Perry is having to build a whole new kitchen cabinet. But don't worry, he won't have to remember any new names.

Yesterday Perry's people announced that Wilson's boss, Chief of Staff Deirdre Delisi, will be standing down as of July 1. She's been a long-term part of Team Perry from before he took office, having served as his policy and research director in '98 and campaign manager in '02. (If the last name sounds familiar, she's also the daughter-in-law of Rep. Diane Delisi, R-Temple, married to GOP consultant Ted Delisi, and a former advisor to then-Gov. George Bush.

In a press release Perry said this morning that she's being replaced by another loyalist, the governor's general counsel Brian Newby. Meanwhile, Wilson will be replaced as deputy by Perry's senior adviser and former press secretary Kathy Walt and his deputy legislative director Kris Heckmann.

So, internal promotions all round! Read More | Comment »

State 2:36PM Wed. Jun. 20, 2007, Richard Whittaker

Dump the Pump Day: Win $500 in Groceries!

Tomorrow (Thursday) is Capital Metro's Dump the Pump Day, in which the transit agency is encouraging everyone to save some gas money and keep our air cleaner by taking the bus somewhere. And as extra incentive, Cap Metro is offering possible prizes to riders: One lucky rider will win a $500 gift card from HEB. That ought to fill up a shopping cart or two. (Or if you redeem it at Central Market, one bag.) Three others will win six-month Capital Metro passes. That's a lot of free rides, folks.

You have to do three things to enter the contest:
1) Ride the bus on June 21, 2007.
2) Complete an entry form, available either on the bus that day or online. Entry forms must include your route number and bus number (see photo), where you boarded, and a short testimonial of your experience.
3) Make sure your form gets either postmarked or completed online by 11pm on June 24.

I'll be riding: I'm catching the No. 3 godawful early down to my morning swim class at Deep Eddy Pool and then probably the No. 22 a couple of hours later to work. Good time to read the paper and catch up on that book I've been putting off. Read More | 8 Comments »

Local 12:10PM Wed. Jun. 20, 2007, Lee Nichols

Rising Tides on Town Lake

Who needs Schlitterbahn? Lake Austin will be getting its own minirapids for a couple of days as the Lower Colorado River Authority will be opening the floodgates.

Due to the last few weeks' rainstorms, lakes Travis and Buchanan are at or above capacity. So the LCRA will be releasing water through the Buchanan Dam at Lake Buchanan and Mansfield Dam at Lake Travis until at least Friday, raising levels downstream by up to three feet. Additional rains and changing levels in the Highland Lakes watershed could mean more dumping to come.

They've got a quick reminder for residents: Tie up your boats, look out for debris, and don't drink too much of the water. "Be aware that swimming in natural water bodies after heavy rains increases your risk of illness caused by bacteria. Those higher bacteria levels typically return to normal in about a week to 10 days from the time of the peak runoff into the waterways."

So, nose plugs, people! And no cannonballing. But that's just good sense. Read More | Comment »

Local 9:03AM Wed. Jun. 20, 2007, Richard Whittaker

City Council Notebook

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Item 8: $75,000 more for computer forensics work regarding the city auditor's "provision of information … regarding the city's fiscal year 2006 financial statements." Eek! Convention Center party, anyone?

Item 12: $140,000 more in attorney fees for the city's – never ending – eminent domain fight with Harry Whittington.

Item 13: Approving Arturo “Art” Acevedo as the Austin Police Department chief – officially.

Item 15: $275,000 loan to Salvage Vanguard Theater to rehab an existing lean-to on Manor Road into a theatre.

Item 19: Coughing up $67,000 for Envision Central Texas participation. Shouldn't they be paying us?

Items 20-26: Annex-o-rama (some six parcels all over the flippin' place).

Item 27: The much-discussed parkland dedication revision, requiring all new developments pay in – not just subdivisions – and creating standard payments (at $650 per residential unit).

Items 33-48: Buying 15 homes and pieces of land as part of a $6.3 million, Federal Emergency Management Agency-funded program to purchase and demolish up to 118 homes in the Onion Creek floodplain. Glug, glug, glug.

Item 51: Opening up 7 acres in the Balcones Canyonlands Preserve (out of the Reicher Ranch's 820 acres) for bid.

Item 65: A clusterfuck of dueling right-of-way easements and waivers pertaining to Perry Lorenz's Spring condos, coming to Third and Bowie, and his new property at 301 N. Lamar, purchased at council last week. Totally lost here. Read More | Comment »

City Hall Hustle 3:57PM Tue. Jun. 19, 2007, Wells Dunbar

Bye-Bye Roger, Hello Phil!

After searching far and wide to replace Roger Williams as his secretary of state, Gov. Rick Perry has made a radical, outside-the-box choice – his deputy chief of staff and former director of communications, Phil Wilson.

The People for the American Way have already issued a gushing press release, hoping that its constituent members like the American Civil Liberties Union and Texas Civil Rights Project will be able to work with the state's newest chief election officer on voter-rights issues. He may be a little busy for that: He'll also be staying as Perry's appointee on the Texas Enterprise Fund, the Emerging Technology Fund, and the Governor’s Office of Economic Development and Tourism.

Wilson hasn't always been a loyal Perryite: Prior to that, he was state director for everyone's favorite Dem congressman-tuned-Republican U.S. Sen. Phil Gramm – the man about whom seasoned pol watcher Dave McNeely said, "He's got every quality of a dog except loyalty."

Gramm was quoted by Mother Jones in 1995 as saying about the GOP, "We're going to keep on building the party until we're hunting Democrats with dogs." Let's hope that attitude never rubbed off on Wilson. Read More | Comment »

State 3:03PM Tue. Jun. 19, 2007, Richard Whittaker

Craddick and the Never-Ending 80th Session

The battle over House Speaker Tom Craddick's future has rumbled on well after the end of the 80th session: Now two senior House Republicans are dragging Attorney General Greg Abbott into the fight.

On Monday Reps. Jim Keffer, R-Eastland, and Byron Cook, R-Corsicana, asked Abbott's office to make a formal advisory on whether Craddick overstepped his powers by refusing to hear motions to vacate the chair – House-speak for a vote of no-confidence.

The last days of the session descended into bitter conflict after members of both parties tried to remove Craddick. Many called his method of management dictatorial and unresponsive: Craddick shut down the rebellion, saying he interpreted the rules as barring a speaker race midsession and that he didn't have to hear any motion that he didn't want to recognize.

In his letter to Abbott, Keffer challenged Craddick's presumption of "absolute authority," questioning whether Craddick violated the Texas Constitution. In four very technical questions, they ask Abbott to rule whether the House has any way to get rid of a speaker, short of impeachment or waiting for the next session. One of seven representatives to file paperwork with the Texas Ethics Commission challenging Craddick in the next speaker race, Keffer could be setting a new political precedent by reducing the powers of an office that he's seeking.

Cook was unavailable for comment, but Craddick's office issued a statement that he welcomed Abbott's opinion, as he was sure it would back his interpretation. Read More | Comment »

On the Lege 1:41PM Tue. Jun. 19, 2007, Richard Whittaker

School Bus Crash This Morning

Oh noes! Although, there are no reports of serious injury. From the Austin Police Department's Public Information Office:

Media Advisory: APD responded to a collision with a school bus and a Honda Accord at 7:21am this morning at Braker Lane and Ptarmigan Drive. According to the officer on the scene the school bus was at a stop sign on Braker Lane attempting to go North. When the bus pulled out, it was struck by the Accord. There were 12 students and one driver on the bus and a female driver in the Honda. Officers issued a citation to the bus driver (the officer did not have the name when I spoke with him) for failure to yield right of way at a stop sign.
Read More | Comment »

Local 9:44AM Tue. Jun. 19, 2007, Wells Dunbar

Burka Brouhaha

Beware the wrath of the O'Dayists!

Texas Monthly's Paul Burka has run into some serious online flack after dumping on Rep. Mike O'Day, R-Pearland, in his Burka Blog.

The sometime "Dean of Texas Political Blecch, err, Blogs" has been defending himself over mysterious allegations against the coastal GOPer. After releasing his best and worst legislators list, he followed up with honorable and dishonorable mentions. In this, he darkly muttered that O'Day had "engaged in ungentlemanly personal conduct."

When called on this quip, the blogger said, "We know what [O'Day] did and he knows what he did and it is going to stop there" and muttered that the story about O'Day – which he still didn't actually repeat – had passed the highest journalistic standards and even had been passed by a fact-checker.

We at Chronic can discount one rumor that has hit the Burka boards – that "Mike o'day [sic] tried to get into every reporters pants!" We can honestly say he never even bought us flowers. Read More | 1 Comment »

On the Lege 2:27PM Mon. Jun. 18, 2007, Richard Whittaker

Wrong on Right-of-Way?

I don't have too much to add to it; I just wanted to point out AustinContrarian's fine dissection of Brewster McCracken's talking points in the Las Manitas fracas – specifically, the assertion that the Perez sisters had the ability to bring the entire Marriott project to a halt by denying an alley right-of-way the hotel needed. I think this passage lays it out pretty well:

"I am skeptical that the Perez sisters have the right to force the alley to stay open. No, not skeptical: I think Brewster is flat wrong. Cities need to close streets and alleys from time to time. Abutting landowners will not always agree. It would be unreasonable to allow a single property owner to hold the city hostage. (According to Austin's loan program director, the Las Manitas loan is not even conditioned on the alley being closed – a bizarre omission if this was the real reason for the loan.)

The Perez sisters do have a legal interest in the alley. But that does not mean they can force the city to keep it open. The government, through eminent domain, can condemn virtually any property interest, including an abutting landowner's interest in a right of way."


This is also astute:

"Here's my take: Council does not want to obstruct the Marriott project. Marriott's made it clear that it needs part of the alley closed. But this would require Council to close the alley over the Perez sisters' objection. Council can legally do that, but then it would be in the awkward position of battling the Perez sisters publicly over the amount of compensation they are due (with the city's legal staff probably telling Council that the city owes them nothing). Council didn't have the stomach for that fight, so it gave Las Manitas the forgivable loan, which some may have wanted to do anyway for reasons of "icon preservation." The forgivable loan is really just the Council's attempt to buy itself out of a politically awkward spot."

AC also raises a question that has completely managed to sail under the radar: If the loan secured the Perez sisters' compliance with the development, isn't it more of a gift to Marriott than Las Manitas? Read More | 3 Comments »

Local 1:14PM Mon. Jun. 18, 2007, Wells Dunbar

What's a Good Texas Movie?

Academics and film buffs seem to agree – Texas legislators shouldn't act as arbiters of good cinematic taste.

Saturday night at the Alamo Drafthouse Downtown, as part of the farewell to the original site at Fourth and Colorado, Joe Bob Briggs (the man that loved drive-in schlock before Quentin Tarantino made it cool) and UT lecturer/Texas film historian Don Graham talked about the history of Texas films and Texas in film.

The conversation turned to Senate Bill 782, the Texas Film Incentive Program's tax-breaks-for-movie-makers bill. Legislators are talking seriously about not funding scripts that make Texas look bad, and when Joe Bob heard about this, he had some words about trying to define good and bad for Texas.

"The first movie under the Texas Film Commission was Lovin' Molly, which made Texas look bad by being bad. The second movie under the commission was The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, which made Texas look bad by being so good."

Graham had noted earlier that, historically, a lot of Texas movies were about the victory of good, white, protestant folks over, well, everyone. So will the tax breaks mean more Walker, Texas Ranger and less The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada? Read More | Comment »

On the Lege 11:31AM Mon. Jun. 18, 2007, Richard Whittaker

Could the Discovery Channel Sue?

So the Transportation Security Administration has found itself embroiled in what we at Chronic would like to dub Sippy Cup Gate, after an argument about whether passenger Monica Emmerson was trying to smuggle a cup of water through security for her infant. The TSA claims that its staff was following regulations and that Emmerson deliberately poured the water on the floor. Emmerson says that the staff was harassing a woman struggling with a small child and luggage and failed to show basic human decency – in turn creating an Internet cause celebré.

So how does the TSA respond to claims that its staff acted in a high-handed, out-of-control, power-hungry, and unaccountable manner? By issuing a reasoned press release? By launching a full internal investigation? By issuing an apology? By standardizing all its regulations, so they don't vary seemingly arbitrarily (seriously, do the shoes have to come off or not?) between airports?

No – by launching a subsection of its website called (and only press officers and comedians can make this kind of stuff up) Mythbusters, where the TSA puts its security-camera footage and its incident report of Sippy Cup Gate. Yes, Mythbusters. Read More | Comment »

National 10:30AM Mon. Jun. 18, 2007, Richard Whittaker

Big News From Leander

And the winner of Most Superfluous Press Release is … Read More | Comment »

Local 10:04AM Mon. Jun. 18, 2007, Wells Dunbar

A 'Soylent Green' Moment

What kind of person would use candles made from people? Witches? Cannibals? Oil executives?

Seemingly, oil execs. Last Thursday, attendees at an oil-industry convention were fooled into thinking that the solution to peak oil is processing people into premium unleaded.

For those of you that have never come across the work of Andy Bichlbaum and Mike Bonanno, aka the Yes Men, these arch-pranksters have made a reputation exposing the psyche of the corporate world. They call their technique "identity correction": They pose as representatives of business and government, get invited to big conferences, and then propose schemes that are so obviously insane, oppressive, or just flat-out immoral that no one would take them seriously. They then watch as the business community nods sagely and thinks how they can turn a profit on this – not, as most sane people would do, throw up in their own mouths a little bit.

In this case, the Yes Men pretended to be from ExxonMobil and the National Petroleum Council and got themselves invited to Gas & Oil Exposition, Canada's biggest oil-industry conference. They were there to promote a "new product" that would revolutionize energy production – Vivoleum, an oil substitute made out of dead people. The photos of the event reveal oil-industry execs blithely burning candles they think are made from the rendered remains of a dead Exxon janitor.

(Please note, no janitors were harmed in the making of this situationist art prank.) Read More | Comment »

Media Watch 9:01AM Mon. Jun. 18, 2007, Richard Whittaker

Local GLBT Community, Austin Habitat for Humanity Banding Together to Build Home, Looking for Help

On the heels of recent gay pride celebrations, Austin’s GLBT community is banding together with Austin Habitat for Humanity to build a home this fall. The home, in the Montopolis neighborhood, is being constructed for Marta Maldonado, a 64-year-old East Austin resident, who, like all HFH home recipients, will contribute her own sweat equity – 400 hours – to the build. When it’s finished, she’ll live there with an interest-free mortgage. “Austin Habitat is proud to be working with the GLBT community in this partnership to address one of the biggest needs facing all Austinites today – affordable housing. Austin is so diverse in its people and cultures, but we all share the need for shelter,” said Michael Willard, AHFH executive director. To donate or volunteer – they need $60,000 in materials and 1,800 in volunteer hours – call 472-8788 or send an e-mail to info@ahfh.org. More information is available at AHFH's website here. Read More | Comment »

Local 1:26PM Fri. Jun. 15, 2007, Wells Dunbar

Lance Armstrong Bikeway Finally Under Way

The Lance Armstrong Bikeway, proposed in 1999 by local bike crusader Eric Anderson to create a dedicated east-to-west bicycle route across Downtown, is finally under way. After years of delays, even after the project was fully funded, many people were beginning to believe it may have to be dedicated to Armstrong posthumously by the time it was completed. The 6-mile bikeway extends from Veterans Drive at Lake Austin Boulevard on the west side of town to the Montopolis Bridge at Highway 183 on the Eastside. The path consists of a combination of off-street concrete trails, on-street striped bike lanes, and on-street signed bike routes. It will intersect with the planned extension of the Pfluger bike/pedestrian bridge just north of Cesar Chavez, providing a safe passage over Town Lake to the south, as well as hook up with the Roy G. Guerrero Colorado River Park near 183 at its eastern terminus. The bikeway is also expected to cruise through the planned Seaholm redevelopment Downtown. “Studies show that areas with new bicycle facilities experience an increase in bicycle commuting,” said Annick Beaudet, the city’s bicycle and pedestrian project manager in a statement. “The bikeway will likely increase bicycle use to, from, and within the downtown area, helping to achieve City-wide goals such as sustainability, congestion management, and downtown vitality.” Read More | 2 Comments »

Local 1:19PM Fri. Jun. 15, 2007, Daniel Mottola

PBS Dips Into Barton Springs

PBS's weekly news magazine NOW is taking a trip to Austin this week. The topic is The Unforseen, Laura Dunn's lyrical, dreamlike doc about Gary Bradley's plans to develop over Barton Springs Aquifer. Featuring extensive interviews with Bradley and his cabal, and footage from the legendary 1991 all-night uprising at City Hall which birthed the Save Our Springs movement, the film's an intriguing document of the swirling, coalescing forces behind development and environmentalism (if frustratingly noncommittal – Dunn tries her best to present Bradley as some venture-funded Icarus who flew too close to the sun, a move which doesn't entirely succeed).

NOW host David Brancaccio will interview Dunn and show clips from the film, no doubt extrapolating questions about what the rest of the nation can glean from Austin's environmental movement – a question we still haven't answered here definitively. NOW airs locally at 7:30pm on Channel 18/cable Channel 9; the entire episode will also be available for streaming after tonight's broadcast. Read More | Comment »

Local 12:49PM Fri. Jun. 15, 2007, Wells Dunbar

Marriott Gets It up the Alley

The fallout from Brewster McCracken spilling the refried beans on the Congress Avenue Business Retention and Enhancement Fund, aka the Migas Slush Bucket, continues, with Sarah Coppola's reporting in today's Statesman. Reading it, and having caught a replay of last week's council meeting last night while Chronic cooked his frozen pizza in the oven (yes, it's really as sad as it sounds), Will Wynn definitely, albeit obliquely, referred to the alley vacation. It was kind of swallowed up whole on our first listen, buried in descriptors of the merits of the project, but here's the relevant passage:

"But the project would not happen without the cooperation of adjacent property owners, in part because there’s going to be an alley vacation. Alley vacations require the consent of adjacent property owners. Las Manitas at their new location, the corner of Third and Congress, will be consenting to that cooperation to allow this product to even be built. So had we done nothing, more than likely, this project doesn’t happen." Read More | Comment »

Local 10:33AM Fri. Jun. 15, 2007, Wells Dunbar

So What's Next for Ellison?

With today's announcement that the city will be hiring Art Acevedo as Austin's next police chief (see post below), that leaves acting Chief Cathy Ellison – who had applied for the position herself – to ponder her future. City Manager Toby Futrell said in today's press conference that Ellison still has a job at the Austin Police Department, if she wants it. Ellison just released this statement:

"I would like to extend my heartfelt congratulations to Chief Art Acevedo on his selection as Chief of Police for the Austin Police Department. I wish Chief Acevedo the best of luck and offer my total support to him. I believe that the Austin Police Department will be in the very best of hands under Chief Acevedo’s leadership [Ellison's italics].

"I have been honored to serve as Acting Chief of Police and my thanks to all the men and women of the Austin Police Department for their continued good work during this time of transition. Many of you are wondering about my future plans after 28 years of police service to the community. I sincerely appreciate the interest, but I can only tell you that my future plans include going home this weekend, putting my feet up, and giving it a great deal of thought." Read More | Comment »

Local 3:03PM Thu. Jun. 14, 2007, Lee Nichols

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