Naked City

Beyond City Limits

A six-year real estate wrangle ended in an out-of-court settlement last week, with Northwest Corridor real estate baron Bill Pohl agreeing to relinquish control of hundreds of acres of suburban properties and paying, along with other associates, more than $1 million in damages to investors who sued him in 1997. The plaintiffs had accused Pohl, partner Gary Brown, and their various companies of acquiring land and then flipping it to investors (many in Europe) for a substantially higher price. Pohl repeatedly denied the accusations, and the settlement reiterates that he and other defendants deny wrongdoing and liability. Pohl and Brown have at times controlled nearly all the prime land near the U.S. 183/Highway 620 hot corner, including the Lakeline Mall tract and the Hog Farm; Pohl led an unsuccessful effort in 1997 to bring minor-league baseball to Cedar Park. -- A.S.

Bill Pohl also owns the land upon which the Dallas Stars planned to build the ice rink/venue complex that Cedar Park voters shot down in November. That project ain't dead yet, apparently; Bryan Perez of Southwest Sports Group, parent company of the Stars, says his group is working on a different proposal for the "Stars and Guitars" project that wouldn't require Cedar Park voter approval, based on a partnership with an (unnamed) "private investor." -- M.C.M.

As expected, the Texas Senate Nominations committee recommended Senate confirmation of Geraldine "Tincy" Miller as the governor's appointee to the chair of the State Board of Education, despite questions about the board's handling of the investments of the Permanent School Fund and a request by Austin Sen. Gonzalo Barrientos that the vote be delayed for a week. The committee did delay voting on the renomination of Insurance Commissioner José Montemayor, following sharp questioning of his handling of the homeowners insurance crisis. During negotiations with Farmers Insurance concerning overcharges last fall, Montemayor's departure had been a persistent Capitol rumor, but he weathered the storm and Perry nominated him for two more years. -- M.K.

District Judge Margaret Cooper has granted a temporary restraining order requested by Rick Crawford, the executive director of the State Preservation Board, who had been fired Feb. 14 by board members meeting in executive session. Cooper ruled that the meeting and decision were in violation of state open-meetings laws; the judge restored Crawford's pay and benefits, pending either a court hearing or a properly posted public meeting of the board. On the advice of its attorneys, the board (headed by Gov. Perry) had attempted to evade the open meetings law by simply firing Crawford without discussion. -- M.K.

On Feb. 17 state Rep. Harold Dutton, D-Houston, filed a bill that would decriminalize marijuana. HB 715 would make possession of up to one ounce a Class C misdemeanor and would forbid the state from suspending the driver license of anyone convicted of the charge. -- J.S.

The House Committee on Jurisprudence has approved HB 809, authored by committee chair Rep. Terry Keel, R-Austin, to legalize casino gambling on Indian tribal land in Texas. This would allow the Tigua Indians' Speaking Rock complex in El Paso to reopen and enable similar plans for the Alabama-Coushatta reservation in Livingston. No action yet on SB 507, which would legalize casino gambling on a much wider scale in Texas -- including the much-mocked Waller Creek gambling palace. -- M.C.M.

Last week, national columnist Bob Novak reported that Gov. Perry had resigned from the National Governors Association because he opposed the group's criticisms of President Bush. Perry's office said Monday that although he sometimes disagrees with the NGA, his decision to leave the organization was a fiscal one -- to help balance the state budget by saving the $166,000 annual NGA membership fee. His office is not renewing memberships in several national organizations for the same reason. This week, the NGA held its annual winter meeting in D.C. and heard from Bush, who turned down the governors' pleas for aid to cash-strapped states and got a mixed reception to White House plans to "reinvent" Medicaid. -- M.K.

The Texas League of Women Voters announced this week that after a two-year LWV study, the organization has decided to support several major reforms of the state's capital punishment system. The LWV will advocate banning the execution of the mentally ill, the retarded, and juveniles; access to consular officials for arrested foreign nationals as required under the Vienna Convention; a life-without-parole sentencing option; public meetings of the Board of Pardons and Paroles in capital clemency decisions; and a moratorium on all Texas executions to enable an official state review of the capital punishment system. -- M.K.

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