News Roundup: A Deadly Shooting, Rick Perry, and City Council

Police kill an armed man, Perry's ready to run, and more

Sawyer Flache
Sawyer Flache

In this week's News Roundup, a man who repeatedly shot at an APD helicopter is taken down by a police sniper; Rick Perry has some interesting members of his RickPAC; the new Council gets going; and more.

A man is dead after being shot by a police sniper late Saturday evening. According to the Austin Police Department, they received several calls reporting that Sawyer Flache, 27, was shooting at streetlights in an Oak Hill neighborhood at around 10:30pm, Feb. 7. When APD sent a helicopter to investigate, Flache fired several times at the aircraft, hitting the rotor blades at least once. At around midnight, a police sniper Officer Luke Serrato, approaching from the ground as part of a SWAT team, saw Flache take aim at the helicopter again and shot him once, killing him. Serrato has been placed on administrative leave, which is standard procedure. Unlike Thanksgiving shooter Steve McQuilliams, it’s unclear what motivated Flache; his publicly visible social media accounts are filled with pictures of his two young children. The Statesman reports that Flache’s neighbors claim “a recent divorce and custody battle had taken a toll.”

Here comes RickPAC! With former governor Rick Perry universally expected to fit a second run for president around his felony trial, he's made the next step by announcing the new board of RickPAC. The advisory body features some Texas political donation regulars, like the ubiquitous Red McCombs, hair care tycoon John Paul DeJoria, longtime Republican sugarparents Dr. Jim and Cecelia Leininger, and Claytie Williams. Yes, the same Claytie Williams that basically handed the governor's mansion to Ann Richards with his famous comments comparing rape and rain, and from whom Sen. John McCain distanced himself during his 2008 presidential run. Out-of-staters* include San Diego property developer Doug "Papa" Manchester and his wife Geniya Manchester.

Perry may need those heavy hitters and their deep pockets. Recent polls by the Drudge Report and the Des Moines Register with Bloomberg New put Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin ahead of all contenders. With no confirmed candidates, the Register asked people to give both first and second choices for president in 2016, and Walker won on both. The really bad news for Perry is that, in the same poll three months ago, he was running a combined 13% as people's first/second choice: Now he's down in single figures at 8%, which is lower than the 10% he polled in the Iowa straw poll back in 2012. However, these are volatile early times: Back in October, Walker was polling where Perry is now.

Last week marked the first meeting of the year of the Texas Jail Standards Commission. The meeting wound up being standing room only, thanks to the efforts of reproductive rights activists Mama Sana, who have been calling attention to what they believe is inadequate care of pregnant inmates. Also concerned is Rep. Celia Israel, D-Austin. In an effort to make sure standards are being met, Israel filed two bills last week that would require more detailed reporting of the care pregnant jail inmates receive. In a statement, Israel wrote, "HB 1140 and HB 1141 will guarantee the state has accurate data and information to assess the standards of pregnant inmate care in county jails. This data will be an invaluable tool for the Legislature as we evaluate how to best ensure quality and equitable care." For more on the story, check out the upcoming issue of the Chronicle.

After sending a threat to Texas lawmakers in a (taken down, recovered, taken down again, and eventually re-salvaged) four-minute YouTube video, Tarrant County gun rights activist Kory Watkins drew national attention. His inflammatory message – pass open carry legislation or be deemed a traitor, “punishable by death” – earned Watkins some predictable censure from legislators, gun control group Texas Moms Demand Action, and Mark Kelly – husband of former Arizona congresswoman Gabby Giffords, shot by a gunman in 2013 – who said in a statement, “No matter where you stand on an issue, no elected leader should be the target of death threats and intimidation. This is a sad, dangerous perversion of what it means to debate laws in our great country.”

Not so predictable is the condemnation Watkins saw from fellow gun rights advocates, who see his controversial remarks debilitating to their cause. “It’s very frustrating because every time we seem to be building momentum, along comes Kory saying something that completely destroys the respect that these bills have,” C.J. Grisham of Open Carry Texas told local news station KTBC. Grisham offered a less graceful criticism to the Statesman: “Kory Watkins is not the face of the open carry movement; he’s the ass. Every time we start regaining momentum, he opens his blowhole and sticks both feet in,” Grisham wrote.

Since the uproar, Watkins sought to mellow the waters by insisting on Facebook that his words weren’t a threat. “Let me make it clear and unequivocal: I was not talking about hurting legislators, or anyone else. I am an advocate of peaceful non-cooperation. When I speak of 'stepping it up a notch' mean within the boundaries of 'peaceful non-cooperation,'" he wrote, in part.

Shove Me in the Shallow Water …: City Council meetings begin to accumulate this week, with a regular decision session on Thursday, Feb. 12, a preceding work session Tuesday morning, and Special-Called Monday morning-and-afternoon policy discussion. Thursday promises the fledgling Council’s first heavy agenda, with 85 items, two dozen zoning matters (including a couple of long-simmering questions), and at least one public hearing. The member-sponsored Items are not particularly expansive (mostly fee waivers for various charitable events), although Item 50 (sponsored by District 8 CM Ellen Troxclair and co-sponsored by Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo (D9), CM Sheri Gallo (D10), and CM Ann Kitchen (D5) would direct city staff to analyze the effect on the city budget of a 20% homestead property tax exemption – implemented over 1, 2, or 4 years – and to return with the results by the end of March. The proposal to enable reallocation of Council salaries to other office uses returns – nominally as a consent item, but likely to generate additional discussion. And District 6 CM Don Zimmerman has announced his intention to pull for discussion this week (initially at the work session) $3 million in proposed funding for art projects at ABIA as well as most or all of the low-income housing tax credit proposals by the Department of Neighborhood Housing and Community Development.

… Don’t Let Me Get Too Deep: Before they get to all that decision-making, Monday’s meetings will continue the “Policy-Workshops-Formerly-Known-as-Deep-Dives.” Today’s morning discussion (9-11am) will consider “Water: supply and business model over the next 10 to 20 years”; the afternoon session (3-5pm) will address “Transportation and Mobility” (including Cap Metro). What happened to the “Deep Dives”? Last week Mayor Steve Adler explained that his was a “bad choice of words” because “it created an expectation that we were actually going to have a ‘deep dive’ and learn everything there was to know about an issue.” Instead, the latest version (scheduled for one or two a week through March, see the Council Message Board) features a plan to consider “three or four policy questions” in a given area. The mayor was calling them “policy forums”; the latest schedule calls them workshops, with two more double sessions scheduled for next week, another five to follow.

*Correction: This sentence originally included, in error, Capitol News Company founder Robert Allbritton, publisher of Politico. He has not contributed to Rick Perry's campaign, and was mistaken for another contributor with a similar name. Newsdesk regrets the error.

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