Edited By Lauri Apple, Fri., Feb. 1, 2002
$50 mill to clean school mold.
Vote on Feb. 2, please.
The fifth annual Sixth Street Mardi Gras parade has been canceled -- though other Mardi Gras events along Sixth Street will still take place. APD officials say they declined to authorize a parade permit for Friday night, Feb. 8, for Sixth Street. They offered to let the parade occur at a different time and place -- during the day, on Congress -- but Sixth Street organizers declined the offer, said APD Assistant Chief Jim Fealy. For the past two years, the Mardi Gras parties have ended in fisticuffs -- or, to quote Fealy, "lawlessness." Last year's celebration ended in a melee with police donning riot gear and revelers throwing rocks and bottles at officers; in all 35 people were arrested. Does this signal the end of Sixth's Mardi parties? "If we can get one good year behind us, then we can go from there," said Commander Harold Piatt.
This week was a biggie for election lawsuits. In addition to the Austin Police Association's suit challenging term limits, proponents of instant-runoff voting have sued to reverse a secretary of state opinion that such systems are illegal in Texas. The IRV system allows voters to rank candidates in order of preference; if none wins a majority, the second-choice votes (and so on) are tallied to determine the winner.
APD Sgt. Wendell Poindexter, who once headed the department's sex crimes division, was fired Thursday after an internal investigation concluded that he had committed an "attempted sexual assault" against an adult family member. The 14-year veteran will go before a civil service arbitration hearing some time later this year. Meanwhile, the APD has forwarded the results of its investigation to the district attorney's office for further review, and the case could end up before a grand jury.
The City Council this week will have the rare (well, not all that rare) honor of seeing Jennifer Gale officially launch another bid for office. The former rival of Mayor Gus Garcia will kick off her campaign to unseat Rep. Lloyd Doggett in the Democratic primary during citizens' communication. Assuming Gale is unsuccessful in the March 12 primary, Austin's most politically active homeless transvestite will still have eight days to file for the May council election.
Speaking of council elections, Council Member Daryl Slusher told the online newsletter In Fact Daily that if he is "thrown off the ballot" -- i.e., if he doesn't manage to collect his 20,000 required term-limit-busting signatures -- he doesn't want a situation "where citizens would get to choose between Jennifer Gale and Marcos De Leon." That hardly seems fair to De Leon, a former Travis County commissioner now running for the District 51 seat being vacated by Glen Maxey.
In other Slusher news, the city's Charter Revision Committee declined to recommend any alternative campaign-finance measures for the May charter-election ballot. The Austin Fair Elections Act public-finance proposal will be there, but citing concerns about that measure's cost to the city, Slusher asked the committee to look at other options. The committee is also still considering proposals to let the City Council -- rather than the city manager -- hire Austin's police monitor and appoint its civilian review board, a charter amendment being promoted by the ACLU's Police Accountability Project. Also on the table is a proposal to let the council hire the head of Austin Energy and a plan from the Electric Utility Commission to replace itself with an independent board to hire, fire, and oversee AE management.
Travis County Commissioner candidate Jeff Heckler heads to court Thursday to have a 1995 misdemeanor assault charge expunged from his record. Ordinarily, this would be no big deal, except Heckler happens to be in the middle of a heated campaign against Pct. 3 incumbent Karen Sonleitner. The arrest stemmed from Heckler's attempt to break up a fight, and the charge was ultimately dismissed, said Heckler campaign consultant Mike Blizzard. Not wanting the charge to be used as ammunition during his run against Sonleitner, Heckler requested to have the arrest record eliminated, and a hearing date was set for Thursday. And that's when Heckler's headache began. Word of the upcoming hearing spread quickly, followed by a round of tipster phone calls to local print media. It's little wonder: By the time word leaked out, the Heckler-Sonleitner race had already turned nasty, beginning with Sonleitner going into attack mode during last week's endorsement meeting with the South Austin Democrats. "We consider this [arrest] to be totally irrelevant to the race," Blizzard said. "If I were her, I'd be more concerned about Frate Barker Road, the Criminal Justice Center, and property taxes."
The state's Homeland Security Task Force is set to finalize its recommendations and send the package to Gov. Rick Perry today (Thursday). With Texas looking at a potential $5 billion budget deficit, it's not clear how many of the panel's ideas -- ranging from massive vaccination programs to training public-school staff on how to respond to terrorist attacks -- are going to get funded, or even what they would cost, since the task force is currently reluctant to add a price tag to its shopping list.
Along with peers from Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio, Austin ISD superintendent Pat Forgione recently told a state legislative committee that tougher state curriculum standards being implemented next year will prove costly to cash-strapped urban districts. "We see the rising tide of expectations perhaps overrunning us," Forgione told lawmakers. The joint House-Senate committee, chaired by Sen. Teel Bivins, R-Amarillo, is contemplating a variety of school finance measures.
Travis County is joining the list of localities with concerns about TxDOT's plan to stop building frontage roads on new highways. Instead, TxDOT wants cities and counties to build their own streets, parallel but not directly connected to highways -- what the state planners artfully call "backage roads."
Ex-Enron Vice-Chair Clifford Baxter was found Jan. 25 in his car, dead of an apparently self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head, near his Houston-area home. Baxter, who had resigned in May after 10 years with Enron, had challenged the "secret partnership agreements" that eventually helped bankrupt the company. According to the Bloomberg News service, Texas Attorney General John Cornyn ultimately will decide whether the public gets to review the contents of Baxter's suicide note.
Providing further evidence that the Young Conservatives of Texas view the world through rather distorted glasses, the notoriously reactionary organization blasted the UT School of Business last week for hosting an address by state attorney general candidate and former Austin Mayor Kirk Watson -- without inviting GOP opponent Greg Abbott. "We are appalled that the UT School of Business is promoting plaintiff lawyer Kirk Watson's far left-wing campaign ..." said YCT State Vice-Chairman Marc Levin (our italics). This is the same Kirk Watson who left office amid accusations of being a developer's tool, right? Last time we checked, the Red McCombs Business School wasn't exactly a hotbed of subversives intent on promoting international Marxism, either.
On Monday, the International Bible Society announced it is updating its bestselling modern English-language Bible, the New International Version, to contain "gender-neutral" language. For instance, phrases such as "sons of God" will be morphed into the more politically correct "children of God." The Society, whose self-described mission is to "faithfully translate, publish and reach out with God's word," will release the new, androgynously updated "Today's New International Version" -- beginning with the books of the New Testament -- in April, followed by the Old Testament in 2005.
The South Austin Tejano Democrats last week endorsed state, local, and congressional candidates running in the March 12 Democratic primary. The fortunate include four incumbents seeking reelection: County Judge Sam Biscoe, Pct. 4 Commissioner Margaret Gómez (her name was inadvertently omitted from last week's list of endorsements by the South Austin Democrats), Pct. 3 Commissioner Karen Sonleitner, and U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett. The group also endorsed Fidel Acevedo for District 50, Lulu Flores, District 51; Elizabeth Earle, county court-at-law; and Julius Whittier, criminal appeals court.