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Speaker on the Scales of Justice

The war over the powers of the House speaker has moved into the realm of legal deliberation. Now Attorney General Greg Abbott has been given the evidence by both sides over whether Speaker Tom Craddick violated the Texas constitution to stay in office.

Back on June 18, Reps. Jim Keffer, R-Eastland and Byron Cook, R-Corsicana, asked Abbott for a formal advisory on the limits of Craddick's powers. Abbott then gave all interested parties until July 20 to make any submissions. Basically, this gave Craddick a month to make his written defense.

So, at the very last moment on Friday, Craddick made his submission, authored by his new parliamentarian Terry Keel. More than a few lege-watchers had wondered why the speaker had appointed the Austin-based ex-rep and criminal attorney to a position normally held by a career civil servant, but this document makes it clear. If you're going to defend a radical interpretation of House rules, it's probably a good idea if you keep the author of that interpretation on-staff to explain it.

However, Abbott's opinion could still take months and, as noted earlier today, Gov. Rick Perry is threatening a special session. Depending if and when he calls it, the House could return with this pivotal issue unresolved. Read More | Comment »

State 2:00PM Mon. Jul. 23, 2007, Richard Whittaker

Star Dreck

We'd be remiss not to share this city e-mail highlighting the Employees' Choice Awards. When Toby Futrell first wheeled out the much-mocked Star Trek analogy in relation to the city budget (abridged version: all the development we're seeing is putting staff into full-on Scotty, "She can't take any mooooooooore!" mode), she tried to pin it on Brewster McCracken (who, growing up in Corpus Christi in-betwixt what was most likely killer waves and bong rips galore, almost certainly followed the Enterprise's adventures). But as the e-mail bearing Toby's imprint makes clear, once you go Trek, you never go back. There's no tying this back to Brewster:

The countdown isn’t over yet! There’s still two weeks left for you to seek out and recognize Austin City employees who deliver service, quality, and satisfaction to the people of Austin.

If your crewmember or captain is working at warp speed, transmit an Employees’ Choice Award nomination to ACE by Aug. 3.

For more information and a nomination form, program the following coordinates into your Web browser: inside.ci.austin.tx.us/ace/eca.cfm. There you will discover more information and a nomination form that will let you identify the brightest star in you sector.

And remember — I want everyone to beam up to the gala awards ceremony and breakfast to publicly honor these employees on Oct. 23.

Live long and prosper,

Toby


Also, check the Trek insignia above. Wow. And as the author of "Beside the Point," I thought I knew something about beating a metaphor to death! Read More | Comment »

Local 1:34PM Mon. Jul. 23, 2007, Wells Dunbar

Bug Watch '07

There's good news and bad news for entomologists (that's bug watchers to the rest of us). With the warm, wet summer, there's lot of insects around.

Good News: There's bumper populations of dragon flies to see in the day, and fireflies at night. Also, the moisture means lots of late-blooming flowers, which means lots of butterflies.

Bad News: The dank and moist weather is ideal for mosquitoes, and some of them carry West Nile Virus. So the city of Austin is advocating the four D's:
Dusk to Dawn - try to stay indoors during daylight, when mosquitoes are most likely to be out and biting.
Dress - try to stay covered up.
DEET - apply insect repellent with DEET in it.
Drain - try not to have any still or stagnant water around. That's where mosquitoes like to make more mosquitoes.

Good News: Only 1% of mosquitoes tested in the state carry West Nile Virus, and only 1% of bites from infected mosquitoes result in infections.

Bad News: Mosquito bites still really itch. Read More | Comment »

Local 1:28PM Mon. Jul. 23, 2007, Richard Whittaker

Perry vs. Ahmadinejad

With roads crumbling, schools underfunded, and border and immigration issues far from being settled to anyone's satisfaction, there are rumors Gov. Rick Perry might be calling a special session.

What's the burning topic? Investments in Iran.

The question of whether to engage or ring-fence Iran (or any other country) has always been a thorny one, especially when it comes to business contracts. Ten states, including Texas, have considered Iran divestment laws this year alone. The governor has said he'll see whether he has the power to order the Employees Retirement System and Teacher Retirement System to get rid of any investments in companies doing business in Iran. If he can't, then he might be forced to call the Lege back to get the job done.

But a special session? After the infighting that characterized the end of the last regular session, it will be interesting to see whether besieged Speaker Tom Craddick is in favor of that. There's also the question of what other legislation might crop up in a special session. Is there something more to Perry's sudden interest in international affairs, especially after his trips to Israel and the Bilderberg group meeting in Turkey? As Ed Sills, director of communications for the Texas AFL-CIO, puts it, "Does this sound like a man not interested in the vice presidency or the U.S. Senate?" Read More | Comment »

State 12:53PM Mon. Jul. 23, 2007, Richard Whittaker

Time to Grab your Life Preservers

More good news for Austin boaters: the city has announced that most of Lake Austin, Town Lake and the Colorado River below Longhorn dam have reopened. However, for safety reasons, there's still a boating ban in effect on Lake Austin from downstream of Oyster Landing boat docks to the Tom Miller Dam, and from Tom Miller Dam to Red Bud Trail on Town Lake. The city is hoping to be able to re-open this stretch by noon on Monday.

All the Highland lakes managed by the Lower Colorado River Authority have now re-opened. As of this morning, they've even closed the last floodgate on Mansfield dam, at the end of Lake Travis.

Still, don't get too close to it: even though the floodgates are closed, there's still 7,000 cubic feet of water per second flowing through the hydroelectric turbines. Plus, if there's more rain, the LCRA may have to open the floodgates again with no or little warning. Read More | 1 Comment »

Local 1:47PM Sun. Jul. 22, 2007, Richard Whittaker

Hold-Up in Hyde Park

Crime update from one of the city's usually sleepier neighborhoods: The Pronto Food Mart on Duval Street in Hyde Park was the scene of an armed robbery around 4pm on Saturday. Eye-witnesses said there were two robbers, one acting as a look-out. More details when they become available.

Good news for fans of late-night convenience: The Hyde Park institution had re-opened by early evening. Read More | 17 Comments »

Local 12:33AM Sun. Jul. 22, 2007, Richard Whittaker

Hide the Red Button!

President Cheney! Quick, people, this is not a drill!

Friday afternoon, White House flack-in-chief Tony Snow announced that President George Bush will undergo a routine colonoscopy to look for benign polyps sometime Saturday at Camp David. What makes this very noteworthy is that he'll be under full anesthesia, so this means there will, briefly, have to be a fill-in commander-in-chief. Under Section III of the 25th Amendment, he has appointed Vice President Richard B. Cheney as acting president while he's incapable of making cogent presidential-level decisions.

However, for anyone who thought that getting the big gig would finally draw the invisible vice-president out of seclusion, he shall, like an unshakable quail, not break cover. Snow informed the press corps that Cheney will not return to D.C. but will remain at his home on Maryland's Eastern Shore, right through the transfer of power. Read More | 1 Comment »

National 10:26PM Fri. Jul. 20, 2007, Richard Whittaker

Former Vet Tech Files Grievance on WilCo Animal Shelter (Updated)

On Friday, July 20, Kathy (Lopez) Abdella, represented by the law firm Deats, Durst, Owen & Levy, filed a formal grievance alleging violation of the Texas Whistleblower’s Act after she was terminated on Monday, July 16, from her job as vet tech at the Williamson County Animal Shelter. The filing appeals the decision to terminate her, requests a hearing, and demands that she be given her job back with full benefits. A formal notice to this effect was sent to Judge Dan A. Gattis; commissioners Lisa Birkman, Cynthia Long, Valeria Covey, and Ron Morrison; Human resources director John Willingham; and County Attorney Jana Duty. Abdella’s firing was a “terrible injustice” and violated state and federal law, according to the notice written by attorney Philip Durst. “Kathy was fired very shortly after she spoke to representatives of appropriate law enforcement authorities and after she spoke out to the press about the dangerous and truly heartbreaking conditions at the shelter,” the notice states, as it encourages county officials to work for an “amicable” solution and not force the issue any further.

UPDATE: Due to an editing error, the original headline stated Ms. Abdella had sued the animal shelter. To clarify, she filed a grievance to exhaust all administrative remedies, and if not satisfied, will then pursue a lawsuit. Chronic regrets the error. Read More | Comment »

Local 4:02PM Fri. Jul. 20, 2007, Patricia J. Ruland

To-To-Totally Dude

Party like a bank robber: The Public Information Office at the APD just sent out this photo of the bank robbery suspect from the Wells Fargo Bank on July 10. And dude wasn't just looking for the short cash, he's thinking longer-term. Like endorsements. The PIO crew says the robber was clad in a "skateboarding clothing line that we would like for the public to review." Well, that just narrows it down to the entire Warped Tour, doesn't it?

Click on the picture to your right and you'll see a vision of felonious dudeness clad in Quicksilver and DC Skateboarding gear. (Having not ventured into a Journey's since the Clinton administration, we're not sure what "Cirro's Raymondetta shoes" are.) Read More | Comment »

Local 3:46PM Fri. Jul. 20, 2007, Wells Dunbar

Former Congressional Candidate Harrell Hits TV, Radio Waves

The adage that politics makes strange bedfellows is certainly coming true for former District 31 congressional candidate Mary Beth Harrell lately. During last year’s race for the Central Texas district (which includes all of Williamson County), the Democrat quite rightly screamed bloody murder when Killeen PBS affiliate KNCT refused to air a documentary that focused specifically on her challenge to Rep. John Carter (a decision later reversed). Now, she is on KNCT every week with her own public affairs program, Insight With Mary Beth Harrell. The program airs Thursdays at 7:30pm. Harrell has also been on the radio recently, doing a three-day stint filling in for far-right radio host Lynn Woolley on Temple’s KTEM (1400-AM). Now that’s definitely an odd matchup: Harrell’s opposition to the Bush administration’s Iraq policy was a centerpiece of her campaign, while Woolley steadfastly supports the war. But Harrell and the arch-conservative bonded over the issue of animal welfare: “He’s into greyhound rescue and he helped to get the new million-dollar city shelter built in Temple … Lynn and I actually get along quite well.” If you’re too far south to get KNCT, each week’s episode gets archived at InsightTexas.com. Read More | Comment »

Local 3:42PM Fri. Jul. 20, 2007, Lee Nichols

Party Planning Experience a Plus

Don't look now, but the city's finally gotten around to advertising the vacant job of Convention Center Director. Not that there's been any controversy about unposted job openings as of late or anything. Still, think of the cush benefits – free parties and golf balls galore!

(To apply, go here, click Search Postings and look under Convention Center in the Department field. Tell 'em Chronic sent ya – if you want to have absolutely no hope of landing the gig.) Read More | 5 Comments »

Local 12:02PM Fri. Jul. 20, 2007, Wells Dunbar

Perry Plus-One for Bilderberg

For years, the infamous Bilderberg Group has met in secret, the great and the good(?) assembling to allegedly carve up the future of the world. Their cloak of secrecy has been almost perfect for decades, the list of attendees the subject of myth and speculation. Well, it would be, if it wasn't for the fact that Gov. Rick Perry's press people had told everyone he was going. But now some details of the trip have been clarified, courtesy of Texas electoral law.

According to campaign finance documents filed with the Texas Ethics Commission, our very own governor flew out on May 30 from Austin to Istanbul, Turkey. Under "purpose of travel," it reads "Guest speaker at Bilderberg conference." D'oh! That's no way to keep a secret organization secret. Perry then flew back to Austin on June 4.

For those of you with a taste for campaign finances, don't worry, the cash didn't come from the governor's office. Nor, although it's on their paperwork, did his PAC Texans for Rick Perry cough up the travel expenses. The flight came courtesy of American Airlines, as an in-kind contribution.

And don't worry that the governor would have gotten bored on the 20-something hour flight: he had company. In the same document, there's also records of a free trip to the Bilderberg conference for Phil Wilson – Perry's former deputy chief of staff and director of communications, who since their summer jaunt has been appointed secretary of state. Read More | Comment »

State 10:16AM Fri. Jul. 20, 2007, Richard Whittaker

Lake Latest: Floodgate Closed

After 23 days of flooding, the Lower Colorado River Authority has finally closed the last floodgate on Mansfield Dam on Lake Travis.

With the lake now at 683 feet above mean sea level, 18 feet down from the recent highs, and yesterday's rains having no significant effect on the water table, they've decided it's safe to end the emergency dumping. All LCRA-run sections of the lake system have now re-opened, but those bits run by the city of Austin – Lake Austin, Town Lake, and the river below Longhorn Dam – are still closed.

The city had said that they were waiting until after the last floodgate closed before re-opening the waterway. With levels still high, and water still flowing through the hydroelectric plant at Mansfield Dam, they haven't issued the all-clear yet. Austin Fire Department said they'd hold off on any decision until Friday.

"We appreciate that there's lots of people that want to get back into the water, and that there's businesses that are losing business every day the lake is closed," said AFD pubic information officer Michelle DeCrane, "but we're sure there's no one who would put profit ahead of lives." Read More | Comment »

Local 3:19PM Thu. Jul. 19, 2007, Richard Whittaker

Crush on U

Sounds like a one John Morgan's got a thing for a certain city employee:

Toby Futrell is an example of the American Dream. Young, attractive and armed with true intellectual gifts and remarkable drive, she wielded those weapons to benefit every position in Austin city government she applied for and achieved.

We'll back off to give him some alone time with Toby. Catch all our reportage of l'affaire Futrell in this week's issue here and here. Read More | 2 Comments »

Local 10:47AM Thu. Jul. 19, 2007, Wells Dunbar

The Return of Mary Beth Harrell

The adage that politics makes strange bedfellows is certainly coming true for former District 31 congressional candidate Mary Beth Harrell lately. During last year’s race for the Central Texas district (which includes all of Williamson County), the Democrat quite rightly screamed bloody murder when Killeen PBS affiliate KNCT refused to air a documentary that focused specifically on her challenge to Rep. John Carter (a decision later reversed). Now, she is on KNCT every week with her own public affairs program, Insight With Mary Beth Harrell. The program airs Thursdays at 7:30pm.

And tomorrow (Thursday) morning, Harrell wraps up a three-day stint filling in for far-right radio host Lynn Woolley on Temple’s KTEM (1400AM, 8-11am). Now that’s definitely an odd matchup: Harrell’s opposition to the Bush administration’s Iraq policy was a centerpiece of her campaign, while Woolley steadfastly supports the war. But Harrell said she and the arch-conservative bonded over the issue of animal welfare: “He's into greyhound rescue and he helped to get the new million dollar city shelter built in Temple … Lynn and I actually get along quite well.” If you’re too far south to get KNCT, each week’s episode gets archived at InsightTexas.com. Read More | Comment »

State 3:46PM Wed. Jul. 18, 2007, Lee Nichols

Doggett and Dems at Midnight Iraq Debate

Just got these photos from Rep. Lloyd Doggett, taken last night as he and Dem legislators tried to force a simple up-or-down vote on Iraq redeployment from a filibustering Republican senate:

Obstructionist tactics can only delay the inevitable redeployment of our troops from Iraq and a day of reckoning for the deadly blunders of the Bush-Cheney Administration. Tonight we light candles, in hopes that those who employ obstructionist tactics will see the light and allow a vote to bring our troops home.


Click on the picture to see the rest of the photos. Read More | Comment »

National 3:28PM Wed. Jul. 18, 2007, Wells Dunbar

Hammering, the Natural Way

Green builders, remodelers and DIY'ers, get out your calendar: The City of Austin has announced its last one-day Green by Design Workshop of the year. It will be held Saturday, October 27 (very fittingly) at the Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center. There you'll spend the day with the city's Green Building Program staff and local green building experts, getting instruction on how to improve water and energy efficiency.

The $35 per person fee includes a free workbook, plus breakfast, lunch and snacks. There's even green door prizes. The city advises booking now, because these things sell out fast (anyone hoping to make the August 11 session at The Crossings who hasn't already booked is out of luck.) All applications and payments must be received by Wednesday, October 24, and you can download the form at their website. Read More | Comment »

Local 2:59PM Wed. Jul. 18, 2007, Richard Whittaker

RG4N Lawsuit Meeting This Evening

Finally all can be told!

Well, no big buildup there! Responsible Growth for Northcross is holding a community meeting tonight at First Unitarian Universalist Church, 4700 Grover Ave., from 7 to 8pm. And they're promising release from the major case of legal blue balls they've endured:

It's been so frustrating that we've been working on this lawsuit for months – and you've known we've been working on this lawsuit – but we haven't been able to discuss details. Now that the lawsuit has been filed and the petition is public, we finally can talk about all the bad things — possibly illegal things — the City and Lincoln Property Company did.

Ruh-roh! More info on the meeting here. We're sure M1EK will fill you in on all the details. Read More | Comment »

Local 12:53PM Wed. Jul. 18, 2007, Wells Dunbar

Queen Lo-La Update

The controversy over Nubian Queen Lozina Stephens's pending banishment from the Royal Palms trailer court is getting more media attention: News 8 Austin has been running a report on the story starting yesterday – which unfortunately makes it look like Lo-La's relocation is all but certain.

In the interest of fairness, here's the Royal Palms management's response to Lo-La's complaints, unavailable at the time of our initial post yesterday:

Royal Palms’ owner, Sidney E. Lanier, says that Stephens was never formally asked to leave but that Jani did post a notice on her door informing her that while Royal Palms appreciates the efforts she has made to improve her home and lot, she needs to paint her RV by July 21 because the current paint job does not comply with community rules. Stephens maintains she hadn’t been informed of this rule when she signed the agreement; Lanier explained that the rules presented to her were abridged … This has nothing to do with color anymore; it has to do with someone who draws all these forces together to get her way,” said Lanier.

A reminder: pick up the Chronicle tomorrow for the full report from Diana Welch. Until then, let's hope cooler heads prevail. Read More | 3 Comments »

Local 12:19PM Wed. Jul. 18, 2007, Wells Dunbar

Safe to Swim? Yup!

Earlier in the week, reader Ben posted this on the blog: "Went to Hippy Hollow over the weekend and the gate-guy said to swim at your own risk (of catching some bacterial infection), that it was a bit like swimming in a toilet. Unfortunately he was underestimating the situation. Anybody have an idea how long it takes the lake to get itself clean again?"

Well, we asked Lower Colorado River Authority spokeswoman Krista Umscheid, and she spoke to their staff bacteriologist, and he said that bacteria levels along the lakes are down to preflood numbers: There are still some pockets of rancid water left, but they should start to clear up soon. "You're always at risk when you're swimming in a river or pond or anything except a chlorinated pool," said Umscheid, "but if you weren't worried about bacteria before, you shouldn't be worried now."

Chronic: You Ask, We Answer. Read More | 1 Comment »

Local 11:42AM Wed. Jul. 18, 2007, Richard Whittaker

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