Edited By Lauri Apple, Fri., May 17, 2002
No elections took place in Austin last week? No wayyyy! However, early voting for the two ACC run-offs runs May 19-28, with the election scheduled for June 1.
On May 13 the AISD Board of Trustees' lame-duck members said goodbye, and new members said hello. The board unanimously elected former board veep Doyle Valdez president; he replaces 10-year president Kathy Rider, who declined to seek re-election this year. District 5 trustee Ingrid Taylor (who represents central West Austin) was elected vice-president. -- Jordan Smith
Meanwhile, the Barton Springs/Edwards Aquifer Conservation District board added a new face and elected its new president last week. Newcomer David Carpenter joins the board after defeating longtime incumbent Don Turner in the May 4 election. The board also elected Jim Camp to the president's seat, succeeding Craig Smith, who won his re-election bid but opted out of another run for president. Camp represents Hays County. -- Amy Smith
Just when we thought the Travis County jails were getting closer to resolving their chronic overcrowding problems, on May 15 Judge Sam Biscoe announced that the county is planning interlocal agreements with two other Texas counties to take on extra prisoners. But first, Biscoe has asked the Travis County Sheriff's Office to try and come up with the funding necessary to enact the contracts -- the projected cost of which was not immediately available. The effort should not be viewed as a permanent remedy, Biscoe warned. According to TCSO spokesman Roger Wade, Sheriff's officials have for months told the commissioners that the overcrowding issue would again explode -- as it routinely does in the summer months -- and are trying to lobby county officials to build a new jail facility. According to Wade, the county's inmate population now tops 2,800. -- J.S.
The City Council is expected to vote on the Seaholm Master Plan next week, but even a favorable vote is no guarantee the plan will move forward, pending the completion of the Pfluger bike and pedestrian bridge. Council postponed taking action last week to ponder a mixed bag of testimony on both the bridge and the master plan, crafted by ROMA Design Group. Downtown-area groups generally supported the master plan, a two-year undertaking. Speakers from the bike community and A.D.A.P.T., an advocacy group for people with disabilities, urged the council to move forward on a bridge extension to provide a safer, direct link to destination points. Robin Cravey, representing the Zilker Park NA, also pushed for the bridge as a priority project. "Please don't delay an urgently needed project for a long-term vision," he said. -- A.S.
Travis County Sheriff Margo Frasier says she's disappointed with the Travis County District Attorney's decision not to seek the death penalty at the trial of Edwin Delamora, charged with the shooting death of TCSO Deputy Keith Ruiz. Ruiz was killed Feb. 15, 2001 when he and other members of the Capital Area Narcotics Task Force raided Delamora's Del Valle mobile home. In a terse press release, Frasier bemoaned the time it takes for cases to slog through the criminal justice system, and said, "I feel that both the County Attorney and the District Attorney should be aggressive in their prosecution of cases where law enforcement officers are the victims." Delamora's trial is scheduled for July; if found guilty, he will receive an automatic life sentence. -- J.S.
Attending last week's $5,000-a-table benefit for the Wildflower Center together: constant companions Kirk Watson and Richard Suttle. The developer lobbyist was one of the few in attendance not bothering to dress up for the black-tie affair; but we guess when you've got a potential AG in your pocket, you're always well-dressed.
Speaking of former mayors, Bruce Todd is in the news again -- not for helping his pal and City Council Member Daryl Slusher, but for helping his other pal Pete Winstead, one of Austin's most influential lawyers and Todd's new boss. Todd has joined Winstead Consulting Group -- a subsidiary of the Winstead, Sechrest & Minick law firm -- where he's charged with adding muscle to the firm's political consulting practice. The group is based in Washington, D.C., but Todd will remain in Austin, representing clients at the municipal and county level. "I like clients who work cooperatively with local governments," he said, citing CityNet Telecommunications, a client he picked up while running Compass Public Affairs, his own consulting firm. Todd's work with Winstead will bring him full circle in the evolution of the Robert Mueller Municipal Airport. As mayor, Todd started the wheels rolling on the Mueller closure process in anticipation of the new Bergstrom airport. Now in the private sector, Todd represents Catellus Development Corp. -- the city's pick to redevelop Mueller. -- A.S.
On Saturday, May 18, the Austin Convention Center will hold a free community open house from noon-4pm to celebrate the grand opening of its $110 million expansion. The center now measures 881,400 total square feet -- double its original size -- and takes up six city blocks. It also offers the largest ballroom in Texas (43,300 square feet), where more than 3,200 people can "dine in style." -- L.A.
The Texas Supreme Court ruled May 9 that Travis County does not have to pay a $5,500 judgment awarded to Austin contractors Pelzel & Associates. The county withheld the payment, part of a $414,000 contract to build a county office building in 1994, after contractors failed to complete the project on time. Although an appeal court upheld the trial court's assessment that the county owed the contractors, the Supreme Court disagreed, applying a standard of "sovereign immunity," which limits government liability in such claims. County Judge Sam Biscoe says he hopes the federal court will apply the same "logic" to the county's appeal of a $3.5 million judgment awarded in February to contractors Fluor Daniel, hired to oversee construction of the new Criminal Justice Center. "In each case the taxpayers' money is protected by sovereign immunity," Biscoe said. -- J.S.
Capital Obstetrics/Gynecology Associates, a faculty physician practice, recently decided to end the Capital Area Midwife Program, which provides services for indigent women at Brackenridge Hospital, by July 15. According to Travis Froehlich, vice-president of planning and marketing at Seton Healthcare Network (which manages Brack), the 18-month-old program has delivered 475 babies, but was losing money at the rate of $200,000 a year. News of the termination stunned the three nurse-midwives working under the program, who said they had no time to notify their patients individually. "The midwives are committed to working with the administration of Brackenridge Hospital and the Seton Healthcare Network to find a way to obtain physician consultating in order to keep the midwifery service available for the women of Austin," wrote Atorney Susan Jenkins on the midwives' behalf. -- L.A.
News flash from the Forty Acres: According to a study by UT economics professor Daniel Hamermesh, accounting and engineering graduates earn about 25% more money than average, and fine arts, education, humanities, and architecture majors make about 25% less. (General business and social science majors are in the middle.) However, Hamermesh says his study, which examined UT classes' earning performance since 1980, shows that the effect of one's major on one's income is "exaggerated." Hmm. Female graduates earn about 22% less than men, and UT graduates as a whole report salaries 40% higher than national and state averages. -- Mike Clark-Madison
In other UT news, last week the school announced plans to open a charter school in Austin to test teaching techniques and measure the success of its "Every Child, Every Advantage" initiative, a 30-year plan to promote quality education through research and teacher training. Though Bush administration officials heaped praise on the plan, UT officials acknowledge that it's still vague; one termed it "a marketing effort" to secure funding from the feds under Bush's "No Child Left Behind" initiative. Some of that marketing will come courtesy of former Dallas school superintendent Sandy Kress, Bush's favorite education "expert," whom the UT System is paying more than $100,000 to work on its plan. -- M.C.M.
On Friday, a federal judge approved a $1 billion settlement in a class-action suit against Austin's Sulzer Orthopedics filed by recipients of faulty hip and knee replacements. This is the latest chapter in the saga of Sulzer's recall of thousands of artificial joints. Around 50 patients have opted out of the settlement and still have suits pending. -- Lee Nichols
Robyn Griggs Lawrence, editor of Natural Home Magazine ("the magazine for earth-inspired living"), will share her wisdom on healthy homes at 7pm Monday at the Center for Maximum Potential Building Systems, 8604 FM 969 (East MLK). Joining Lawrence in the how-to session will be the center's director, Pliny Fisk, widely known as the father of the green home movement, and co-director Gail Vittori, a whiz in the areas of sustainable building and rainwater harvesting. Lawrence will be in town for a photo shoot of Joanne and Ken Long's straw bale home at Lake Travis, to appear in the magazine's May/June 2003 edition. -- A.S.
State Comptroller Carole Keeton Rylander crowed this week when Austin district judge Margaret Cooper ruled that San Antonio insurer USAA -- Bexar County's largest private employer -- had to pay state sales, vehicle, and fuel taxes. Insurance companies pay premium taxes and had, since 1907, been exempt from paying other Texas taxes, but the Legislature changed the law in 1999. Though USAA was asking for a $120 million refund, Rylander said she saved the state $2 billion, because if USAA had won, every other insurer would have come for its refund. Rylander hired Austin super-attorney Roy Minton to represent the state in the case. -- M.C.M.
A federal appeals court ruled Tuesday that the University of Michigan law school's admissions policy, which considers race as a factor, is legal. If the case goes to the Supreme Court, it could have ramifications in Austin: In 1996, in the Hopwood v. Texas case, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals brought a halt to such considerations at the UT law school. The Supreme Court refused to hear UT's appeal of that decision, which only applies in the 5th Circuit. No word at press time on whether an appeal will be filed, but legal experts told the Associated Press that the case almost certainly would go to the Supreme Court. -- L.N.
The Travis County Green Party kicks off its weekend early with a volunteer happy hour (or two) for state School Board District 10 candidate Lesley Ramsey, Thursday, May 16, 6-8pm at the Spider House, 2908 Fruth. For more info: E-mail Aimee Cooper at ramsey email@example.com. On Saturday, May 18, local and statewide Green candidates will brunch at Las Manitas from 10am-noon (RSVP at 587-7354), and then head over to Le Privilege (912 Red River) at 6pm for three hours of live music, silent auctioning, and handshakes.
Texas Impact and the Austin office of U.S. PIRG (Public Interest Research Group) will hold a happy hour and open house in their new offices at 16041/2 San Antonio St. on Friday, 4:30-7pm. Texas Impact is a faith-based advocacy organization, but not one George W. would like -- they're environmentalist and anti-death penalty, among other things. U.S. PIRG is a Ralph Nader-founded, pro-consumer organization.
The state of Texas plans to execute death row inmate Napoleon Beazley on May 28. An all-white jury tried Beazley, an African-American, even though the trial took place in a county with a 20% African-American population. According to the ACLU, after the trial an investigator found severe racial bias against blacks; one juror said of Beazley, "The nigger got what he deserved." Beazley was only 17 at the time of the murder for which he was convicted. Only Iran, Pakistan, Yemen, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, and the U.S. sentence juvenile offenders to the death penalty, the ACLU asserts, and since 1990, Texas has carried out eight juvenile executions -- the most by any of the six countries. An online alert (www.aclu.org/stateaction/dp-tx.html) enables you to send a free fax to Gerald Garrett, chairman of the Texas Board of Pardons and Parole, opposing Beazley's pending execution. -- L.A.
Continuing its surprisingly harsh coverage of GOP attorney general candidate Greg Abbott, The Dallas Morning News reported that an Abbott fundraiser was hosted by Allstate and Farmers Insurance, both under investigation by the AG's office (after Gov. Rick Perry demanded such a probe) for deceptive trade practices. Abbott says he didn't know about the investigation (even though it was "widely reported," as the News says) and that he'd give the money back. Former Austin Mayor Kirk Watson, Abbott's Democratic opponent, termed it "a political ploy." -- M.C.M.
Independent -- that is, GOP defector -- Sen. James Jeffords of Vermont will be in Houston on Sunday to raise money for Democratic Senate candidate Ron Kirk. Republicans are in a fine froth over this, since Jeffords' switch last year threw the Senate into Dem control, allowing it to "subvert the Bush agenda" (in the words of ever-garrulous Dave Beckwith, spokesman for Kirk's foe, John Cornyn). What was that we remember about "checks and balances?" -- M.C.M.
This month several pop culture luminaries will join the growing ranks of the new advisory board for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws -- including Texas' own icon of cool (and longtime NORML supporter) Willie Nelson. Other newbies include filmmaker Robert Altman and Politically Incorrect host Bill Maher. The NORML board already boasts a host of lawyers, doctors, professors and, notably, Telluride, Colorado's longtime anti-drug war Sheriff Bill Masters. -- J.S.
Perhaps NORML can give moral support to Grammy award-winning singer Dionne Warwick, who was arrested at Miami International Airport on Sunday for possession of marijuana. Why didn't Linda Georgian and other Psychic Friends use their powers to warn Warwick beforehand and help her avoid the embarrassment? (Apologies if Letterman or Leno used this joke already: "Naked City" stopped watching TV during the first Clinton Administration. Too many infomercials.) -- L.A.
At least our predictions come true (sometimes): As we expected, on Saturday, May 18, folks will protest George H.W. Bush, who will speak at the LBJ School of Public Affairs graduation ceremony. If you've still got a beef with Bush for the Gulf War and U.S. sanctions in Iraq, dislike his son's "axis of evil" rants, or both, you might want to gather at the green space by the fountain at the LBJ School Auditorium around noon. See www.austinagainstwar.org for further info.