News Roundup: 10-1, Lawsuits, and Strange Fruit

The end of the year is a busy time

News Roundup: 10-1, Lawsuits, and Strange Fruit

In this week's roundup, Attorney General Greg Abbott leads the charge against President Obama, a PR firm faces a PR crisis of its own, Austin protesters #ShutItDown, City Council gets ready for its very last seven-member meeting, and more.

A boutique public relations firm is out of a company name this Monday after an army of Twitter users informed (reminded?) owners Ali Slutsky and Mary Mickel that naming your agency after a poem about black people hanging from trees is not exactly a good look. Strange Fruit Public Relations, which noted in Jan. 2013 that it has "no affiliation" to the iconic Abel Meeropol poem and Billie Holiday song from the Thirties, endured a hailstorm of angry tweets Saturday evening, and eventually deleted the company’s Facebook and Twitter accounts Sunday morning, in addition to shutting down its website. Before doing so, partners Slutsky and Mickel issued the following multitweet apology: “We thought the term ‘strange fruit’ really could stand for someone who stood out in a crowd, a talent that was different and remarkable in a good way. Again we were wrong. This past behind the name does not convey the mission we have for our company, or our personal beliefs and we are taking the immediate and necessary steps to change our name.” Since 2012, Slutsky and Mickel have done work for such restaurants as Barley Swine, Odd Duck, and Jack Allen’s Kitchen.

On Friday morning, after several months of delays, former APD Det. Charles "Trey" Kleinert was arraigned on a charge of manslaughter for the 2013 killing of Larry Jackson Jr. Kleinert shot Jackson, an unarmed black man, in the back of the neck after what he claims was a scuffle. A trial date has been set for April 20, 2014.

That evening, a rally calling for "Justice for Jackson" attracted over 300 people, many of whom may have learned about Jackson at another recent rally to protest the failure to indict the killer of Ferguson, Mo. teenager Mike Brown. Organized by the People's Task Force, the rally featured speeches by UT prof Snehal Shingavi, Jackson's sister LaKiza, and Rodney Reed supporter Lily Hughes, among others. Jackson's parents were also in attendance. The gathering at the Travis County Courthouse morphed into a march - most of the attendees traveled through Downtown, at one point shutting down the Congress Bridge. APD was on hand to escort the march, which remained peaceful throughout its journey, despite the large number of people involved.

Equality Prep: In the event that U.S. Judge Orlando Garcia agrees to the recent wishes of Texas’ same-sex marriage suit plaintiffs and lifts the stay he placed on his February ruling in favor of marriage equality, county clerks around the state are more than ready to issue marriage licenses for gay and lesbian couples. That includes Republican Bexar County Clerk Gerhard C. “Gerry” Rickhoff, Democratic Dallas County Clerk John Warren, and Democratic Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir, according to the Texas Observer. DeBeauvoir is gearing up by setting the Travis County database to be able to switch “bride” and “groom” with “Person 1” and “Person 2.” “I’m hoping for this day,” DeBeauvoir told the Observer. “I’m very much looking forward to marriage equality.” (DeBeauvoir echoes her past support for LGBT marriage rights: After Orlando’s ruling, DeBeauvoir, describing the decision as “joyous,” said her office could not at the time issue licenses and would have to, “wait a little longer to actually deliver the justice and equal rights gay couples so deserve.”) However, not all counties are on board: Tarrant and Harris counties say they’re deferring to Texas law and the A.G.’s opinion. The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals is expected to hear oral arguments for the case – filed by two couples, including Austinites Nicole Dimetman and Cleopatra De Leon – on Jan. 9.

After making the rounds on conservative media outlets, Attorney General and Governor-elect Greg Abbott is leading the multistate effort to sue the Obama administration over its executive order on immigration, slated to prevent deportations for roughly 5 million people. "The President is abdicating his responsibility to faithfully enforce laws that were duly enacted by Congress and attempting to rewrite immigration laws, which he has no authority to do," said Abbott. Texas joins 16 other states, including Alabama, Georgia, and Louisiana, in denouncing an order they claim is a defiance of federal law and a threat to the safety of their states. This marks Abbott’s 31st ideologically motivated suit against Obama and adds to the more than $2.6 million tab in taxpayer funds already spent to fight the president’s administration on everything from environmental regulation to the legality of Texas' voter ID law.

In the second mayoral run-off poll sponsored by the Austin Monitor, Steve Adler retains a strong lead over Mike Martinez, at 56-39%. Martinez improved by four points from a similar poll in mid-November, and led among the poll's Democratic voters (57-38%). But Adler showed commanding leads among Republicans (89-7%) and Independents (62-28%). The phone survey was performed Dec. 2-3 by North Carolina-based Public Policy Polling, of 942 likely voters: 55% Democrats, 25% Republicans, 19% Independents.

On Dec. 4, at a meeting of the City Council Committee on Austin Energy, Austin Energy presented an updated proposal for the Austin Resource 2025 Generation Plan. The intent of the proposal is to increase AE’s renewable energy goal in the from the current 35% to 55% by 2025. Within that goal, the plan includes retiring the Decker natural gas plant by 2018, and to begin a phase-out of the Fayette Power Plant in 2020. The current target of 200 megawatts of solar power would increase to 950 MW by 2025. The new AE plan does call for a new 500 MW natural gas plant, but it must fall within the city’s affordability and climate protection goals. Council Member Mike Martinez released a statement reading in part, "This historic agreement will not only make Austin a national clean energy leader, but will also protect our rate payers by maintaining affordability. Once again, Austin is paving the way for other cities to follow when it comes to clean energy.” At a mayoral environmental debate that night, Martinez questioned whether the natural gas plant will prove necessary, but in his statement he said that he would urge his Council colleagues to support the plan. The Sierra Club’s Cyrus Reed also praised the proposal, saying in part, “Sierra Club is pleased to have worked cooperatively with Austin Energy, City Council, and many others on crafting a plan that we believe would be among the most ambitious, environmentally and fiscally responsible generation plans in the nation. … We look forward to working with City Council on December 11 to maintain broad support for these goals and approve this groundbreaking plan.”

The AE update to the 2025 Generation Plan is Item 10 on the Dec. 11 Council agenda (work session Dec. 9), which also happens to be the last regularly scheduled meeting of the current, seven-member Council. Among the other matters pending before the historic session (the agenda features 201 Items):

The return of the Decker Lake golf proposal, now contentious both for potential water use as well as alleged violation of the “no contact” rules with city staff concerning proposals under review.

The return of the Springdale Farm zoning case, for second and third readings.

The return for third reading of the ordinance that would prohibit “source-of-income” discrimination in housing rentals, aimed at making apartments more available renters with Section 8 vouchers.

A resolution to include transgender-inclusive health benefits for city employees in the 2015 budget.

A resolution to initiate the creation of an “Innovation Zone” in the northeast section of Downtown, in collaboration with Central Health (and the hospital district), and to begin to establish land use regulations for the zone.

A resolution for an ordinance to prohibit the use of cruel instruments on circus animals (e.g., “bullhooks” employed to train elephants).

A resolution supporting President Barack Obama’s executive action on immigration.

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