Naked City

Austin Stories

UT-Austin student Christopher Phillips turned himself in to federal authorities after being charged with hacking UT's systems and stealing data on more than 55,000 students, staffers, and job applicants. The university says that no grade data or health records were exposed in the security breach, which involved a script that generated millions of random Social Security numbers and grabbed the data of any unfortunate Longhorn whose number came up. The feds say they found both data and the offending program on Phillips' home computer, but they add that so far there's no evidence that Phillips, 20, did anything malicious with the data he allegedly captured. The federal charges carry a maximum of eight years in prison and a $500,000 fine. -- M.C.M.

We don't think hell has frozen over, but Naked City was surprised to see local news icon Judy Maggio end her 21-year employment with KVUE-TV on Monday. Maggio is jumping ship to KEYE-TV, on the heels of former KVUE colleague Fred Cantú. Maggio has spent her entire career in Austin, joining KVUE while still in UT journalism school in 1981. -- Lee Nichols

Former Austin Mayor Kirk Watson is teaming up with his pal Richard Florida -- the Pittsburgh professor who created the "creative class" -- to provide economic-development consulting services to communities and regions looking for such advice. Last week, Watson told us that, as part of Florida's Creativity Group and Catalytix Inc., he'll be doing much of the same work he was doing as mayor: writing, reading, and advising communities on regional transformation. "It's the practitioner and the professor," he says of his new working relationship with Florida. "I'm excited about the opportunity. This is an interesting fit, and I think it will be fun." -- Lauri Apple

After a decade of wrangling over overcrowding and other issues, the Texas Commission on Jail Standards has given the Travis Co. Jail a "certificate of compliance." The jail passed its annual surprise inspection earlier this month. According to the sheriff's office, this is the first time in 10 years that the jail has earned state certification two years in a row. -- Jordan Smith

At Monday's Austin ISD board meeting, trustees received the report of Superintendent Pat Forgione's Budget Task Force, which proposes 33 separate cuts to eliminate $21.6 million of the district's projected $51 million deficit; the task force suggests borrowing nearly $30 million from the district's fund balances to make up the difference (see the full report at www.austin.isd.tenet.edu). Trustees also approved a resolution that could allow the district to outsource its Career and Technology Education Program. As part of his reorganization effort, Forgione now proposes cutting 88 central office positions for projected savings of $4 million. The board will hear Forgione's formal budget recommendations on Monday, March 24. -- Michael King

According to a March 11 letter from Rainbow Materials to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, the concrete supplier is withdrawing its application for a permit to open a new batch plant four miles from the Pedernales River in Spicewood. The long-proposed Spicewood project has been mired in controversy and led to the discovery in 2001, by members of the Concerned Citizens of Spicewood, that Rainbow had been dumping used concrete at its Del Valle site, creating a massive, hardened moonscape on a slope above and in the Colorado River. According to newly appointed Travis Co. Attorney David Escamilla, Rainbow pulled their TCEQ permit request as part of a settlement the company has entered into with his office regarding the environmental violations at the Del Valle site. Rainbow has yet to remediate that site, and TCEQ spokesman Andy Saenz said the agency's enforcement case is still pending. Even so -- and despite owing nearly $150,000 in back taxes to the Del Valle school district -- Rainbow has been awarded materials contracts by both the city and the county. For more on Rainbow, see Concrete Jungle. -- J.S.

Bills proposing a Central Texas health care district were filed last week in the Legislature, but the prospect of consensus among Travis Co. delegates appeared iffy this week. Freshman Rep. Todd Baxter campaigned last year on a no-new-taxes platform and has already signaled his opposition to the bill on that basis. The bills do not themselves use the T-word, but a property-tax hike may be inevitable for Travis Co. residents, who currently pay a penny toward public health care for every nickel paid by Austin residents. Rep. Elliott Naishtat's HB 2327 and Sen. Gonzalo Barrientos' SB 1796 aim to provide funding for a health care district that would improve the performance of the overburdened and underfunded health and trauma care system. Voters would have the last word on a district, possibly in November. -- Amy Smith

The City Council will revisit its proposed hazardous pipeline ordinance Thursday; council members will have the option of choosing a 200-foot or 500-foot setback for new structures intended for human occupancy, such as schools, nursing homes, hospitals, day care services, retirement housing, detention facilities, and large medical offices. While city staff and environmentalists support a 500-foot distance, staff added the 200-foot option at the request of Austin ISD; current AISD building plans would build inside the 500-foot limit. -- A.S.

The Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce is entering a new era with a shrinking budget, falling membership, staff layoffs, and a cheaper office across the river. Now comes word that John Breier, the chamber's VP for economic development, has left "to pursue other interests" after less than three years on the job. This leaves new chamber leader Michael Rollins managing Breier's post pending a national search. Just last month, Breier led a team of recruiters on a déjà vu trip to Silicon Valley, or what's left of it, to try and lure tech companies to Austin. -- A.S

The Austin Police Dept. has promoted two new assistant chiefs, former traffic commander Robert Dahlstrom (who will oversee the Central West, Central East, and Downtown commands) and former Police Monitor liaison Cathy Ellison (who will oversee area commands in North Austin). Ellison is the first African-American woman to attain this high of a rank at APD. -- M.C.M.

Least expected celebrity sighting during SXSW: UT journalism professor and Statesman columnist Marvin Olasky, watching Rosie Flores at Antone's. Hey, even uptight holy rollers have to let their hair down on occasion. Olasky apparently stayed to see Ray Wylie Hubbard, since his March 19 column quoted a satirical Hubbard refrain: "Screw you, we're from Texas." Unfortunately, we didn't catch Olasky's reaction to "Conversation With the Devil," wherein Hubbard sings, "What you won't find up in heaven are Christian Coalition right-wing conservatives/Country program directors and Nashville record executives." -- L.N.

Austin ranks highly in America Online and Travel + Leisure's annual "America's Favorite Cities" survey of both locals and travelers. Of the 25 U.S. metros in the poll, Austin ranked No. 4 for "the people" (knowledgeable, proud of their city, good-looking, friendly, helpful) and "the basics" (neighborhoods, weather, cleanliness, proximity to nature, etc.). Honolulu was No. 1 in both categories; Miami and Baltimore brought up the rear. Austin also did well on safety and on activities (particularly outdoor recreation, barhoping, and cultural events), but did quite poorly on "romance" (though we're a great place to "meet someone new"), getting around (except on a bicycle), and value (especially for shopping). Locals and tourists more or less agreed about Austin across the board. -- M.C.M.

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