Fri., Nov. 17, 2006
"He is losing the war. The body armor he supplies to his troops in political warfare money money money is ineffective against the enemy's ideological fervor for better public schools. The more he flouts [sic] his assets James Leininger, Bob Perry the more the enemy regards him as a symbol of decadence and is determined to rise up against him. He is responsible for the largest casualty rate his troops have suffered in decades." Paul Burka on TexasMonthly.com, calling for Republican Rep. Tom Craddick to resign as Texas House Speaker
QUOTE OF THE WEEK
City Council will name the Congress Avenue Bridge today in honor of dearly departed Gov. Ann Richards. Mayor Will Wynn, sponsor of the naming resolution, will hold a press conference on it during today's council meeting.
The gridlock begins: Democratic congressional leaders, now in the majority, called for a phased withdrawal of troops from Iraq; White House spokesman Tony Snow said Bush was open to "fresh ideas" but rejected pretty much every Dem suggestion as a "nonstarter."
Rumblings of a challenge to Texas House Speaker Tom Craddick persist but have yet to take solid form. Texas Monthly Senior Executive Editor Paul Burka, on his blog, called for Craddick's resignation; and Capitol insider newsletter Quorum Report notes that the 109 pledges of support Craddick has collected, supposedly demonstrating his invincibility, are less than what Pete Laney had right before Craddick defeated him. Still, this potential challenger currently has no name or face.
Travis County Republicans are, understandably, a pretty glum lot these days. In the space of two general elections, the local GOP has managed to lose the three seats it gained on the county's west side, handing over Republican seats to Reps. Mark Strama, Donna Howard, and, now Valinda Bolton. Sen. Jeff Wentworth remains the lone Republican representative in the Travis Co. delegation, and he's from San Antonio. Reached at a Monday luncheon of the Travis County Republicans Club, Sally Aiello, executive director of the Travis Co. Republican Party, largely blamed the national front for the current dissatisfaction. Democrats turned out their voters. Republicans did not. Carl Tepper says it's not something that's going to last forever. He says the Travis Co. GOP ran strong candidates Bill Welch and Melissa Goodwin, in particular and that Republicans can expect a rebound two years from now. For more post-election news, see p.18. Kimberly Reeves
City Planning Commission Chair David Sullivan was more than a little disappointed Tuesday night when no one showed up to discuss his proposed iconic preservation ordinance, despite early hoopla over using the idea to save Las Manitas restaurant on Congress Avenue from the wrecking ball. Still, the Planning Commission is pushing forward with a study of the issue in the Codes and Ordinance Subcommittee, broadening the focus from a single landmark designation to a broader investment zone strategy. A handful of local leaders Teresa Ferguson of the Austin Music Commission and John Donisi of the Heritage Society of Austin, along with the Austin Independent Business Alliance have taken an interest in the new concept, and Sullivan says the synergy of a district might encourage overall preservation. Benefits of a district designation could include tax breaks, loan assistance, or prioritization for infrastructure. These "out of the box" solutions are the type of proposals the PC has been encouraged to explore and one of the reasons that it and the Zoning and Platting Commission were split to handle separate tasks. K.R.
At press time, Austin police were still trying to find out exactly what happened to 66-year-old Carl Westly Miller, who was found unconscious at a bus stop at 1700 E. 12th, at 7am on Nov. 8. Miller was transported to Brackenridge Hospital, police said, where he died Friday morning. Police are waiting for the results of a toxicological screening but say that Miller sustained a head injury consistent with a fall. Nonetheless, police have asked that anyone who might have heard or seen anything suspicious near the corner of 12th and Chicon during the evening of Tuesday, Nov. 7, and into the early morning hours of Wednesday, Nov. 8, call CrimeStoppers at 472-8477. Jordan Smith
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation have pledged to give AISD $15.6 million to help the district redesign its high schools. This is huge relief for the school district, which has been making big plans to overhaul its schools, without the resources to do it. The plan closely follows a model supported by the Gates Foundation across the country: Huge high schools will likely be broken into "smaller learning communities," and schools will be encouraged to develop their own academic focuses. The challenge for the district is to follow through on an ambitious program of community engagement. So far, only a small minority of parents and students have engaged in the process. LBJ High School Principal Patrick Patterson said he expects to see significant changes at his school. "It will change the fundamental way in which high schools operate, he said. "At LBJ, these changes will be seen in the way classes are taught, the number of students in each class, how we interact with parents and students, and the overall climate of the school." Johnston High has already been redesigned; the rest of AISD's high schools will be transformed over the next three years. Michael May
In other education news, AISD is accepting applicants for the Ann Richards School for Young Women Leaders, a middle school that will open next fall. The school will accept 115 students in each grade, with 75% of the students coming from Title 1 schools. Ellen Richards, the daughter of Gov. Ann Richards, visited Zavala Elementary School last week to recruit students in the fifth and sixth grades. "The school will help create future generations of strong women leaders," she said. The application process includes a student letter and teacher recommendations. AISD will also consider academic standing and attendance in making its decision and will hold a lottery if there are more than 115 eligible applicants for each grade. The application deadline is Feb. 9, 2007; application forms are available at all AISD elementary schools, as well as at www.austinisd.org. M.M.
Also, the Austin team that made it to the finals in the prestigious Siemens Competition in Math, Science and Technology did not win the regional competition, but we can all hope the team's project outlives the competition. The team, Tiffany Tsang from LBJ High and Kimberly Yeh from Austin High, looked for a method of analyzing and improving traffic congestion in metropolitan areas. A third student, Jim Wang, helped on the project for months but was disqualified because he's Chinese and his green card is still pending; the Siemens Competition is only open to U.S. citizens and permanent residents with green cards. The team was a runner-up at the competition, so Tsang and Yeh both received $1,000 in scholarship money, and each school got $2,000. The top honors went to Elizabeth Monier from San Antonio, in the individual competition, and to Jenny Yeh from Sugarland and Mary Catherine Wen of Woodside, N.Y., in the team competition. M.M.
The consultant hired to evaluate the region's toll road plans finally landed on some concrete numbers in a presentation to the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization's Transportation Policy Board on Monday night. The consultant did say a lot of the obvious toll roads will raise more revenue than managed lanes, and the sooner the projects are on the ground, the more benefits the region will reap from them but Boston-based Charles River Associates also outlined some specific numbers in comparing revenue forecasts between managed lanes and tolled lanes. Council Member Brewster McCracken has been searching for some middle ground between fully tolled and fully free, and these numbers might provide the fodder he needs to suggest managed lanes on those proposed toll roads already under construction, specifically U.S. 183 South and SH 71 East. Obviously, there would be a loss in anticipated revenue associated with those choices, which the CAMPO board would have to weigh carefully. The study also pegged the cost of improvements to Loop 360 at $744 million, a reminder of just why the CAMPO board put the project on hold when the original toll road plan was considered. The only way to make that project work, above and beyond the proposed $2.2 billion toll plan, would be to sign a concession agreement with an operator willing to assume both cost and profit, says Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority Executive Director Mike Heiligenstein. K.R.
The city's Planning Commission stepped in Tuesday night to break an impasse between St. David's HealthCare and the Hancock Neighborhood Association. Hancock must feel a bit beleaguered these days, with massive new developments planned on both the Concordia University and the St. David's sites, plans that dwarf the adjacent neighborhood because of the simple fact that both St. David's and the developers of the soon-to-be-vacant Concordia properties want to take advantage of the I-35 access. Neighbors asked that development be limited along Red River. St. David's, landlocked and in need of a major expansion to compete with the new Seton hospital facilities, requested some amount of height along Red River to add two additional floors to its new acute care facility. A combination of motions passed by the commission limited the height concessions to the footprints of the proposed St. David's buildings, limited the garage height on Red River, reduced overall impervious cover on the site, and suggested a study of the need to expand 32nd Street for increased traffic. K.R.
"It's the most wonderful time of the year!" Yes, boys and girls, the magical season of wastewater averaging has begun. What's that, you ask? Well, once a year, the magic gnomes at the Austin Water Utility take a look at the amount of wastewater your household uses. They do this for three billing cycles, starting as early as November, but ending as late as March. They then set your rates for the rest of the year based on the average of the two lowest billing cycles. Aside from conserving the wet stuff, you'll save yourself some bucks for the next holiday season by saving water now. For more info on determining when averaging begins at your home, visit www.ci.austin.tx.us/water/wwaverage/index.cfm. Wells Dunbar
Sarah Wheat is leaving her job as executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Texas to take over as public affairs director for Austin Planned Parenthood, effective next week. Wheat served as NARAL's Texas political director for five years before taking over as executive director last year. J.S.
School-voucher proponents may have taken a bruising at the polls this election cycle, but don't expect them to throw up their hands and move on to more productive issues. In the first week of bill filings, Rep. Frank Corte, R-San Antonio, wasted no time submitting a voucher proposal that looks identical to the one that House members killed last year. HB 18 would create a voucher pilot program for children attending poor-performing schools in urban districts. In other crapshoots, the casino gambling debate is booked for a return engagement at the Dome when the legislative session opens in January. Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, has filed legislation that would allow casino operations in the state's larger cities and along the Gulf Coast. Opponents of casinos and school vouchers cross party lines. But, while voucher programs threaten to siphon money from public schools, casino outfits would generate an estimated $2 billion. If the latter survives the session, voters would have the final say; casino operations would require a constitutional amendment. Amy Smith
BEYOND CITY LIMITS
As we went to press, more than 60 speakers had signed up to speak at Wednesday's session of the State Board of Education, where the board will consider final passage of what is known as the "four-by-four" program, which would require four years of math and science for an advanced high school diploma. Four years of English and social studies already are required for graduation. The Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce and AISD are among those pushing hard for tougher standards than the ones passed in September in that vote, a more liberal faction of the board prevailed, asking for a longer phase-in and less rigorous math standards but conservatives were expected to make their own proposal Wednesday to toughen up the program. A final vote is expected Friday, Nov. 17. K.R.
Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, sliced the state's Board of Pardons and Paroles Tuesday during an intense hearing to review the Sunset Commission's report covering the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. Whitmire, a member of the commission, took the BPP to task for its parole decision inconsistencies. "If you'd just followed your own guidelines, we wouldn't have a [prison] capacity problem right now," Whitmire told BPP members, reports the Houston Chronicle. According to the commission's report, the BPP has failed to follow its own guidelines when making decisions regarding parolees. "Despite numerous reports citing the [BPP's] lack of adherence to the guidelines, parole panels continue to deviate from the established guidelines," reads the report (available at www.sunset.state.tx.us/80threports/tdcj/tdcj.pdf). Based on a review of parole panel decisions, commission staff found that the board treated similarly situated inmates say, two inmates with the same history who were convicted of the same offense differently. In turn, the board's decisions have helped exacerbate prison overcrowding, in part by keeping parolee-worthy candidates locked up. J.S.
The Texas Attorney General's office and lawyers for the Bexar Co.-based Primarily Primates Inc. agreed Nov. 7 to extend a restraining order, keeping court-appointed receiver Lee Theisen-Watt in place and overseeing the animal sanctuary until the matter of whether PPI, a nonprofit charity sanctuary, has mismanaged charitable donations and/or has failed to provide a safe haven for its animal inhabitants goes to trial in Travis Co. court in January. Meanwhile, on Nov. 3, the 3rd Court of Appeals granted a PPI-requested stay, requiring Watt to notify the court if and when she decides that any PPI animals should be permanently moved to other facilities or euthanized, so that PPI directors may weigh in on, or challenge, any such decision in court. The AG's office in October filed a petition with Travis Co. District Judge Guy Herman, claiming that PPI had mismanaged funds and that living conditions for the animals at the sanctuary were so poor that they amounted to animal cruelty. So far, neither charge has been adjudicated. At press time, the matter was tentatively set to go to trial March 26. J.S.
Voters in South Dakota last week struck down an attempt by state lawmakers to enact a complete ban on abortion, with 56% opposing the draconian measure that included no exception for cases of rape or incest an exception the measure's backers said would unacceptably dilute the law. Back in March, Gov. Mike Rounds signed into law the sweeping abortion ban crafted by state legislators, designed to be a so-called trigger law that would force reproductive rights advocates into court and would, theoretically, eventually force the U.S. Supreme Court to revisit the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that cleared the way for legal abortion. What state lawmakers apparently didn't contemplate was that their constituents wouldn't agree with their plan, and would, as it turned out, secure enough voter signatures to place a referendum on the November ballot and put the question before the people to decide its fate. Voters not only tossed out the ban, but with it also tossed two state senators, Bill Earley and Dick Kelly, who had supported the measure. J.S.