In this week's News Roundup: Ken Paxton undergoes the legal equivalent of falling down a rising escalator; Council gets conceptual; movie theaters take note from the TSA; and more.
• Paxton Problems Proliferate: If Attorney General Ken Paxton didn't have enough legal woes, last week he was re-indicted on three felony charges relating to alleged fraud at McKinney-based IT company Servergy. Special prosecutors Brian Wice and Kent Schaffer got new, more precisely worded indictments handed down against Paxton on Aug. 18, to counter claims by his lawyers that the original charges were too vague.
However, that's not the only Paxton lawsuit raising eyebrows. The San Antonio Express-News reports that questions are emerging about his handling of the estate of the late Tanner Hunt, son of Dallas oil billionaire Ray Hunt. Tanner Hunt's daughters should have inherited their father's entire $2 million trust; however, while serving as probate lawyer on the case, Paxton put forward a settlement that gave them less than half that, and forced them to relinquish any further claims to the Hunt estate. The girls' mother, Crystal VanAusdal, rejected the offer and negotiated a better settlement. Reviews of the documentation by Handbook of Texas Lawyer and Judicial Ethics author Robert Schuwerk, and retired senior district Judge Kathleen Stone raise serious concerns about Paxton's involvement, from his failure to protect the girls' best interests to how the case was heard in Paxton's native Collin County, rather than Williamson County where Hunt committed suicide – Richard Whittaker.
• Clear on the Concept?: In anticipation of finally beginning to make decisions on any changes to proposed FY 2016 budget – i.e., "budget amendments" – Mayor Steve Adler and City Council members have been adding proposals to a "Concept Menu" as a working list of potential amendments to consider, few fully baked (e.g., many still require "costing out" by staff), and not all carrying the same level of member enthusiasm. The proposals, listed as "Budget Increases," "Budget Reductions," and "Changes in Revenue," run the gamut from the mayor's suggestion to time-split the proposed 3% wage increase to civilian staff (one-half now, one-half at mid-year), to a litany of cuts offered by District 6 CM Don Zimmerman and D8 CM Ellen Troxclair, to a similar list of proposed additions from D1 CM Ora Houston, D5 CM Ann Kitchen, and others. The list has changed daily, and under a principle adopted by Council, requires additional co-sponsors to add items as time goes by. All proposals are tentative and subject to further Council review.
The Concept Menu can be found online at the Budget Office website. – Michael King
• Work Like Amazon: Simultaneously, Council members have been peppering city staff with budget questions, from A to Z – 225 as of Friday, Aug. 21. Some of these overlap with the "Concept Menu," although the standard for inclusion is a little lower: You got a question? Put it on the List. Staff buzzes through the "pending" list as quickly as they can and then posts the responses. Question No. 1 (from D3 CM Pio Renteria to Watershed Protection): Please provide background and current process of determining drainage fee. Question No. 225 (Kitchen to EMS): Please provide patient numbers, status, results, budget association with the Community Health Paramedic Program. Most questions through No. 137 have been answered by staff; from there through 225, the "pendings" start to pile up. … – M.K.
• Cinema Bag Check: Expect to have your bag examined if you attend a screening at a Regal-branded movie theater. Stating that "security issues have become a daily part of our lives in America," the Regal Cinema chain has introduced a new policy that "backpacks and bags of any kind are subject to inspection prior to admission." It is still unclear when exactly the mandatory inspections started, but Jette Kiernon, founder of the Slackerwood movie blog, reported that the policy has been in place at the Austin Regal Arbor location since at least Aug. 12. The policy seems to have been introduced in response to recent cinema shootings in Nashville, Tenn., and Lafayette, La., plus the conviction of James Holmes for the 2012 killing of 12 people in a cinema in Aurora, Colo. – R.W..
• Meet the Challengers: A press conference is scheduled for this morning, Aug. 24, 9:30am at City Hall, for an "announcement" concerning the City of Austin's challenge to Travis Central Appraisal District commercial appraisals (suspended/rejected at TCAD Citizen Advisory Board pending an appeal to state district court.) No further details released at press time, but scheduled to be present are Mayor Steve Adler, Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo, TCAD Chief Appraiser Marya Crigler, TCAD Board Chair Dick Lavine, and Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt. – M.K
• Texans for Trump: The home field advantage seems to have disappeared for both Sen. Ted Cruz and former Gov. Rick Perry, with the rise of billionaire Donald Trump finally catching hold in Texas presidential polling. In the latest Gravis poll of 976 likely Republican voters, Trump currently leads the pack for the GOP nomination on 24%, followed by Cruz on 16%, and surgeon Ben Carson on 12%. Even Bush name recognition seems to hold little sway anymore, with former Florida Gov. John Ellis "Jeb" Bush trailing on 9%. Meanwhile Perry is stuck on 4%, in a statistical tie with former AT&T CEO Carly Fiorina, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee. – R.W..
A previous version of this article incorrectly listed Tanner Hunt's place of death as Dallas County. Hunt died in Williamson County. The Chronicle regrets the error.
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