Headlines and happenings from Austin and beyond
Edited By Mike Clark-Madison, Fri., Oct. 17, 2003
Quote of the Week: "I'm a regular reader of the Chronicle, so I pick up a lot of these things." -- Austin police Lt. Manuel Peña, in his testimony in Officer Jeff White's whistle-blower lawsuit, telling what he knows about the Mala Sangre affair. (When asked whether he believes everything he reads in the Chronicle, Peña replied, "Not lately.") For the latest revelations in the Mala Sangre case, see 'There's Going to Be Some Changes'.
Texas Democrats have already filed the first of what will doubtlessly be several federal legal challenges to re-redistricting. Gov. Rick Perry signed the 10-months-in-the-making plan into law Monday. See On the Lege and Capitol Chronicle.
In the fifth inning, the score's now 2-1, Wal-Mart -- the retailer won approval from the city Zoning and Platting Commission for its planned Supercenter projects at I-35 and Slaughter and on Ben White. But the ZAP also endorsed a study of the impact of big-box retail in Austin, and City Council's Oct. 23 consideration of the Wal-Marts is likely to be bumpy. See The Beast Wins a Round.
The city's smoking ordinance task force delivered to the City Council dueling sets of recommendations -- the prospective scripts for a 4-3 vote on Oct. 30 to tweak the measure, perhaps out of existence. See Up in Smoke.
Will Lowe's Home Improvement Warehouse follow Wal-Mart's trail off the aquifer? In a letter to Lowe's executives and shareholders this week, several environmental and neighborhood activists warn that the retailer could look forward to a "bruising battle" similar to the one waged against Wal-Mart before it abandoned its planned Supercenter at MoPac and Slaughter. Lowe's is currently negotiating a settlement with the city that would allow for a 162,000-square-foot store on Brodie Lane in Southwest Austin. The retailer has lobbied the Legislature and filed a lawsuit against the city in an attempt to move forward on the project. The letter asks Lowe's to "do the right thing: follow the lead of Endeavor and Wal-Mart, and abandon your plans for this development." It also asks Lowe's to reconsider its plans for a home improvement store in the Village of Bee Cave, near the Little Barton Creek tributary. Signers include environmental matriarchs Mary Arnold and Shudde Fath, Liveable City board members Robin Rather and Brigid Shea, Environmental Board Chair Lee Leffingwell, Austin Action, Texas Community Project, and several environmental and neighborhood groups. -- Amy Smith
The Austin ISD board of trustees voted Monday to add sixth grade to Kealing Junior High (now to be Middle School) next fall, drawing students from three of Kealing's "feeder" elementaries: Blackshear, Campbell, and Oak Springs. Lee and Maplewood elementaries have chosen to maintain sixth grade at their campuses, although some parents fear that AISD's decision to create new magnet programs at Kealing will diminish the sixth grades at the feeders. For 2004-2005, Kealing will offer two sixth-grade programs: a magnet (by application) and the regular instructional program. To accommodate the additional 300 sixth-grade students, Kealing will add science and art classrooms and portable buildings. The official cost estimate with new staff is $540,000 initially and $430,000 more dependent on a future bond proposal. -- Michael King
Thirteen different AISD campuses have received a total of 19 Aid for Better Classrooms grants, designed to support "innovative instructional classroom projects." Each worth $500, the ABC grants are sponsored by the Junior League of Austin, Advanced Micro Devices, and the 3M Corporation. Among the schools receiving grants is the district's Alternative Learning Center, where students will "apply math concepts" to the design and construction of baby quilts, which will ultimately be donated to Any Baby Can. "These projects demonstrate the creativity and determination of our teachers to engage students in learning," said AISD Superintendent Pat Forgione. -- Jordan Smith
Prospective candidates are being sought to fill an interim seat on the Austin Community College board of trustees to replace Beverly Watts Davis, who resigned Sept. 15. The board will appoint a replacement who could choose to run for the seat when Davis' term, along with two others, expires next May. Board members had pressured Davis, a veteran trustee, to resign when she racked up a string of absences after accepting a job in D.C. last spring as director of the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. At the time, Davis said she would commute to Austin to attend board meetings, but after several months of no-shows, trustees openly questioned her commitment. ACC spokeswoman Cile Spelce said the college has received numerous inquiries, but no applications thus far. Candidates have until Oct. 27 to submit a letter of intent, résumé, and supporting documents. Finalists will be interviewed at ACC's Nov. 7 board meeting. Interested applicants should contact board assistant Pat Stubbs at email@example.com or 223-7613. -- A.S.
Other ACC news: The Del Valle Affordable College Coalition has begun a petition drive for an election to enable Del Valle ISD residents to join the ACC district. Father John Korcsmar, pastor of Dolores Catholic Church in Montopolis and chair of the citizens' group, said, "This effort is about giving Del Valle residents greater access to education." Should they vote to join the district, Del Valle ISD residents (a group that includes many Austin citizens) would halve their ACC tuition and gain voting rights in ACC board elections, in return for a tax of less than $6 per month for the average home. State Rep. Eddie Rodriguez, whose District 51 includes Del Valle ISD, said joining ACC would bring benefits to the entire community. "ACC has a lot to offer," he said. "We should encourage more students to go to community college." Petitions are available for signing on ACC's Riverside campus, at Dolores Church, and various community events, or by calling 288-6955. For more info, contact Korcsmar at 385-4333 or firstname.lastname@example.org. -- M.K.
At press time, there was still no word on the outcome of a whistle-blower grievance filed against the University of Texas by Victor Guerra, the former editor of CMAS Books, the recently eliminated publishing imprint of UT's Center for Mexican American Studies. Guerra says that Carla Steinbomer, who is now handling the grievance on behalf of UT Provost Sheldon Ekland-Olson, has requested a meeting with Guerra, prior to filing the university's final response to Guerra's complaints. Guerra and his attorney Derek Howard are scheduled to meet with Steinbomer on Oct. 17. CMAS Director José Limón indicated he was shutting down CMAS Books because the small scholarly press wasn't making enough money. Guerra alleges he was terminated, and the imprint shut down, because of a report he filed in May alleging malfeasance by Limón and other CMAS administrators. Guerra appealed his grievance all the way to the provost's office after it was denied by Limón and by Richard Lariviere, dean of UT's College of Liberal Arts. (See "Closing the Books," Sept. 12.) -- J.S.
Beyond City Limits
The Texas Association of Business is seeking an emergency stay from the U.S. Supreme Court -- the group's last chance to fend off a grand jury investigation into its $2 million political ad campaign in the November 2002 elections. On Monday, state District Judge Mike Lynch agreed to give the group one week to seek an emergency stay; if it fails, the business group has agreed to comply with grand jury subpoenas as part of an agreement worked out with the Travis Co. District Attorney's office. District Attorney Ronnie Earle is investigating whether the group violated state election laws when it used private corporate funds to underwrite a media blitz that helped secure a Republican lock on the Legislature. TAB argues that its campaign was protected free speech. -- A.S.
Austin-based Texas Department of Public Safety DNA and serology lab supervisor Irma Rios has been hired to take over as the new director at the Houston Police Department crime lab, the Houston Chronicle reported on Oct. 9. Rios was one of three authors of a report that ultimately led to the closure of the HPD lab's DNA division; she reportedly described the lab as one of the worst she'd ever seen. Incompetence at the HPD lab has sparked a review of more than 1,300 criminal cases involving DNA evidence handled at the facility. Retesting of evidence has already resulted in the release of one wrongfully convicted man, Josiah Sutton, who was freed earlier this year. Rios will start her new job Oct. 20. -- J.S.
On Oct. 15, Sunrise Commercial Painting VP Nemesio Sanchez was scheduled for a closed-door meeting with Williamson Co. officials to discuss the ongoing disagreement about who is responsible for the failed epoxy floors (since replaced) at the new Williamson County Juvenile Justice Center (see "Money for Nothing," Aug. 15). Naked City has learned that Sanchez is meeting with representatives of FT Woods Construction, the JCC's construction manager; Williamson Co. Commissioner Frankie Limmer, who took the lead in hiring FT Woods; and County Attorney Gene Taylor, who led the JCC contract negotiations. At press time, there was still no word on the outcome of the meeting, and Taylor did not return a call requesting comment. Another source tells us that the county has already met with at least one other JCC subcontractor to discuss resolving another, unpublicized JCC construction snafu -- and that county officials have required subcontractors to keep confidential the contents of any such meetings. The failed floors at the JJC delayed the project's opening for months -- during which FT Woods received more than $400,000 in late fees from the county, despite Sanchez's claims that Woods, and not Sunrise, is responsible for the floors' failure. -- J.S.
Clarification: Last week, the Chronicle reported that the landmark 1967 U.S. Supreme Court case Garrity v. New Jersey protects police officers from having the statements they are compelled to make during Internal Affairs investigations used against them in "a future legal proceeding" (see, "Sophia King: Is the Case Closed?," Oct. 3). In fact, Garrity does not grant total confidentiality, and compelled statements are admissible in some court proceedings. However, Garrity prohibits the government from criminally prosecuting an officer based on any incriminating statements taken during the course of a compelled interview. -- J.S.
Medical marijuana advocates claimed a major victory Oct. 14, after the U.S. Supreme Court declined to consider overturning a 9th Circuit Court of Appeals decision barring the feds from punishing doctors who recommend medical marijuana to their patients. After California voters approved a medical marijuana law in 1996, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and other agencies threatened to revoke the DEA registration of any doctor who recommended medicinal marijuana -- that would prevent the physician from prescribing any controlled substances for their patients, effectively putting them out of business. A group of doctors and patients sued and won, arguing that the punishment violated their First Amendment rights, and the 9th Circuit upheld that verdict. "By deciding not to hear this case, the Supreme Court has eliminated any doubt that states have the right to protect medical marijuana patients under state law," Robert Kampia, director of the Marijuana Policy Project, said in a press release. -- J.S.
The Austin NAACP and allied organizations continue their weekly protests against police brutality: Tuesdays, noon-1pm, in front of the Travis Co. Courthouse (10th and Guadalupe); Fridays, noon-1pm, in front of the Austin Police Department (Seventh and I-35). Bring a brown-bag lunch, signs provided. For more info: Akwasi Evans (NOKOA), 499-8713.
The Campus Anti-War Network "Speaking Truth to Empire" tour teach-in at UT features former Austinite Rahul Mahajan of the Nowar Collective, author of Full Spectrum Dominance: U.S. Power in Iraq and Beyond; Caroline Hallman of Military Families Speak Out; and Lisa Krebs of the Campus Anti-War Network. Friday, Oct. 17, 7pm, Jester Auditorium (Speedway and 21st).
Austin's "Death Penalty Awareness Week," sponsored by the Campaign to End the Death Penalty and several other abolitionist groups, culminates Saturday, Oct. 18, in the March to Stop Executions. After a 10am-1pm brunch at Wooldridge Park (Ninth and Guadalupe), sponsored by the Inside Books Project (all you can eat for $5), the march gathers at Republic Park (Fifth and Guadalupe) at 1pm, marching past the Court of Criminal Appeals, the Capitol, and the Governor's Mansion for a 3pm rally at the Supreme Court. Speakers include Clarence Brandley, Jeannette Popp, and Jeanine Scott. For more info: www.nodeathpenalty.org or www.texasmoratorium.org.
Texas Watch, a volunteer environmental monitoring program supported by Texas State University-San Marcos, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, will coordinate a statewide water sampling and education initiative as part of World Monitoring Day on Saturday, Oct. 18. They expect more than 1,500 Texans to participate; to get involved, call 245-9198 or go to www.texaswatch.geo.swt.edu. Results will be available on the Web site.
The Libertarian Distinguished Speakers Series features political strategist and unsuccessful 1999 Austin City Council candidate Chad Crow on Sunday, Oct. 19, at 3:45pm. Open to the public, the speech will be at the LCRA Hancock Building conference room, 3700 Lake Austin Blvd. For more info, call 467-1776.