Off the Desk:
Waller Creek takes center stage this weekend with a charrette to solicit public input on the city's plans to put the downtown waterway on the map. The conference is set for 7-9pm Friday, Waller Creek Plaza, 625 E. 10th; and from 9:30am-4:30pm Saturday at the Austin Convention Center. Proposition 1 on the May 2 ballot calls for increasing the local hotel-motel bed tax to to fund creek improvements and the expansion of the Convention Center. Registration deadline to participate in the charrette was Tuesday, but call 499-6418 for info... - A.S.
Verner Liipfert Bernhard McPherson & Hand, the lobby firm that employs former Texas Gov. Ann Richards, was by far the biggest recipient of tobacco lobby money in 1997, according to a just-released study by Public Citizen. The firm took in some $10.3 million last year from five different tobacco firms, according to the report, titled "Burning Down the Houses." Verner Liipfert took in six times as much tobacco money as the second place firm, Barbour Griffiths & Rogers, a lobby firm headed by former Republican party boss Haley Barbour, which took in $1.7 million in tobacco monies. All told, Public Citizen reports that Big Tobacco spent $35.5 million in 1997 on 208 lobbyists. You may recall that Richards, who is actively lobbying Congress in an effort to garner support for the tobacco settlement, has predicted that the deal is "going to be one of the greatest breakthroughs in public health in my lifetime." - R.B.
Hoping to narrow the wage gap between men and women, currently 74 cents on the dollar, a group calling itself Austin/Capital City Business and Professional Women will hold a political rally, 11am-noon Friday, April 3, in the Speaker's Committee Room (2W.6) at the Capitol. The theme: "Where's My 26 Cents?" A couple of men-folk, U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett and Texas Rep. Elliott Naishtat, will address the question. - A.S.
Marching for Lacresha
Since August 1996, the Austin-based group People of the Heart have marched on the fourth Tuesday of every month from the Austin American-Statesman to the Travis County Courthouse, to show their support for Lacresha Murray, the 13-year-old girl convicted of killing two-and-a-half-year-old Jayla Belton. Now, a year and a half later, the group will continue to pound the pavement to decry Murray's incarceration, with only one difference: their route.
Now that Murray's case is finally moving to the 3rd Court of Appeals, the group last Tuesday started its march in front of the Price Daniels Building, home of the 3rd Court, and headed down Congress Avenue to the offices of the Austin American-Statesman. The marchers' route is symbolic, said People of the Heart founder Barbara Taft, "that between the justice system, which abandoned her, and the media, which trashed her out, an innocent girl is in jail." Murray, then 11 years old, was accused and convicted twice of killing Belton on May 24, 1996, when the child died after a day in the Murray's house where she commonly received daycare. The case, which made international headlines, was filled with "malicious misinformation," said Taft, who hopes the case will be overturned in the appellate court. "I'm a conservative, okay," she said. "But this is political. Lacresha is a political prisoner."
Taft became involved with Murray's case two months before the trial, when she picked up a Statesman and saw Murray's face on the front page. "I was appalled. I went down there and started picketing, and have been ever since."
Murray's lawyer, Austin-based Keith Hampton, filed a brief with the appeals court on January 2, and now he and Murray's other supporters are waiting for the prosecution to submit its court documents so the case can begin. "We're optimistic, hopeful," said Taft. Until then the group will continue raising money so Murray's grandparents can afford to visit Lacresha at the Corsicana State Home. "We'll march until Lacresha walks," Taft vowed. - J.S.
One Step at a Time
After a night of impassioned pleas at the beginning of the year, the city council decided to rescue the Austin Music Network; but three months later the city still hasn't issued a Request for Proposals (RFP). Why? Well, staff just recently cleared the last big stumbling block and hammered out an agreement for commerciality of the network. Time Warner has granted the network three years of commercial status, meaning that it can sell ads or underwriting time.
After two years, however, Time Warner has the right to - in city Finance Department head Betty Dunkerley's words - "determine the value" of AMN. If the cable provider figures there is little to no value in the AMN, it can terminate the commerciality of the network in six months' time. So AMN, in whatever incarnation it takes, will get at least a two-and-a-half year window to prove itself successful. The city hopes to have the RFP issued by the end of this week. RFP participants take note: Substantial weight will be given to proposals placing the smallest financial burden on the city. In other words, the less money you ask for, the more the city will like you. - M.B.
Misled on Leadbelly
The story certainly sounded plausible. The Texas Observer reported that Gov. George W. Bush, wanting to show that he's not soft on crime, announced March 10 that he was revoking the pardon given to blues musician Huddie Ledbetter, aka Leadbelly, by former Gov. Pat Neff in 1924. Bush said Neff's pardon of Leadbelly "sent the wrong message to criminals in Texas." And Bush reportedly added that Neff "acted outside his God-given authority, and Ledbetter is still wanted by the state of Texas - dead or alive." Lots of people believed the story, including the Chronicle's own Ken Lieck, who included a blurb about Bush's pardon revocation in his column last week. The only problem is that it's not true. The story was an April Fool's gag conceived by Observer staffers in the wake of the execution of Karla Faye Tucker. Perhaps the funniest lines in the story were ostensibly delivered by Democratic political consultant George Shipley, who theorized that Bush decided to revoke Leadbelly's pardon because "The state is running short of high-profile criminals to jail, so unpardoning dead ones certainly ups the ante."
Needless to say, Bush's staffers were less than pleased at the gag. In an Associated Press story that ran in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram on March 26, Bush spokesperson Karen Hughes said, "I like to think I have a good sense of humor. But I'm not entirely sure this is funny because it doesn't make clear to the public that it's not true. I always suspected you couldn't believe much of what you read in the Texas Observer. Now my suspicion has been confirmed." - R.B.