Edited By Mike Clark-Madison, Fri., Nov. 7, 2003
Quote of the Week: "It rings a little hollow, and even silly, to me when I hear citizens and media proclaim Sunset Valley as a longtime model of environmental stewardship." -- Council Member Daryl Slusher, waxing gratuitous in his otherwise well-tempered press statement Wednesday opposing a settlement with Lowe's Home Centers Inc.
As of press time, Slusher has apparently convinced Mayor Will Wynn to schedule the controversial Lowe's deal for a 7:30pm "time certain" consideration, allowing citizens to voice their input, likely to be negative. For the latest on Lowe's and other big-box battles, see A Big Box Full of Big Boxes.
Mark your calendars for Dec. 11, trial date for the consolidated suits against the GOP redistricting plan. Dem leaders trooped to D.C. to offer their baleful opinions to the U.S. Department of Justice, with reportedly mixed results. See Redistricting Lands in the Feds' Hands.
Sylvester Turner may never be mayor of Houston, but the Bayou City likes light rail more than Tom DeLay does. See Beyond City Limits.
The City Council last week adopted Austin's third smoking ordinance of 2003 -- a "compromise" measure that effectively reverses the council's across-the-board June ban. Under the new rules -- which won't go into effect until April 2004 -- bars that don't admit minors can (for a $300 fee) obtain permits allowing patrons to smoke; restaurants can allow smoking in enclosed and separately ventilated (or outdoor) designated smoking areas, also with a permit. Permit fees will fund anti-tobacco education and enforcement. The 5-2 vote was a major defeat for the Tobacco-Free Coalition of Austin and a victory for bar and club owners; as a concession to Betty Dunkerley -- who switched her earlier vote -- industry leaders agreed to a "First Monday" citywide smoke-free night each month, beginning in February, on top of the two hours of smoke-free live music a week called for in the ordinance. Daryl Slusher amended the draft ordinance to raise the permit fee from $100 to $300 but voted against the compromise measure anyway. -- M.C.M.
According to an Oct. 31 article in www.austinpolicenews.com, the city of Austin has hired San Antonio investigator Bob Peden to determine how the Chronicle obtained a confidential memo from Austin Police Chief Stan Knee to Detective Howard Staha. In the June 27 memo, Knee wrote that "it is evident" that Staha violated two APD general orders -- including a mandate that officers "Obey All Laws" -- in connection with an allegation brought by Lucy Neyens that Staha forced her to perform oral sex on him in the early Nineties. After Neyens, the wife of another APD detective, took her case to the Office of the Police Monitor, the OPM's citizen review panel asked that Knee reconsider the case. In August, the official word was that Knee was still reviewing the panel's recommendations -- a line challenged by the confidential memo, which we reported Aug. 22. According to APN, Assistant City Manager Laura Huffman said the inquiry into the memo leak will cost $5,000 and take one month to complete. APN reports that Huffman is scheduled to meet with investigators next week. -- Jordan Smith
A month after Planned Parenthood broke ground on a new flagship facility in South Austin, Browning Construction Co. has resigned as the project's general contractor. Planned Parenthood officials said that Browning was one of several businesses targeted by anti-choice hard-liners because of its work on the Choice Project in South Austin. At press time Wednesday, Planned Parenthood officials, joined by political and community leaders, denounced the actions of anti-choice activists. -- Amy Smith
U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks has shot at least one hole through a 6-month-old ordinance regulating underground pipeline safety in Austin, striking down the law's provision allowing the city to shut down a pipeline if the operator does not carry at least $90 million in liability and environmental insurance. The Texas Oil and Gas Association brought suit against the city, claiming that only state and federal governments can shut down pipelines, and Sparks, in his Oct. 30 decision, agreed that municipalities aren't authorized to make that call. Sparks did not address whether a city could impose insurance requirements, so it's possible the city could simply delete the shutdown language. -- A.S.
As promised, the UT chapter of the Young Conservatives of Texas has released its Professor Watch List, to warn unsuspecting students of professors who use their classrooms to "push an ideological viewpoint on their students through oftentimes subtle but sometimes abrasive methods of indoctrination." Unsurprisingly, nine of the 10 teachers targeted were liberals. Well, okay, it is surprising -- we expected all 10 would be lefties. For "balance," the YCTers included economics professor and free-market champion Steve Bronars, and were even nice enough to say that economics professor and "former 1960s and Seventies Marxist radical" Harry Cleaver, who is on the watch list, is also "a great lecturer and well informed." Journalism professor and peace activist Robert Jensen topped the list: He "introduces the unsuspecting student to a crash course in socialism, white privilege, the 'truth' about the Persian Gulf War, and the role of America as the world's prominent sponsor of terrorism." For the full list, go to studentorgs.utexas.edu/yct/watchlist.html. -- Lee Nichols
The wrongful death suit filed against the parents of Marcus McTear, who stabbed former girlfriend Ortralla Mosley March 28 in a Reagan High School hallway, has ended in a settlement. Carolyn Mosley Samuel filed the suit against Joseph and Dorothy McTear on July 30, alleging in part that the couple's failure to control and supervise their son led to Ortralla's death. The $300,000 settlement will reportedly be paid from the McTear's homeowners' insurance policy. In June, McTear received a 40-year determinate sentence in juvenile court for the murder. Neither Mosley, nor her attorney Sergei Kuchura, could be reached for comment. -- J.S.
Elliot McFadden has stepped down as executive director of the Travis Co. Democratic Party to start a political consulting firm with former TCDP Communications Director Marcus Sanford, to be called Ignite Consulting (www.ignitecs.com). The new executive director will be Elizabeth Yevich. -- L.N.
Following in the (local) footsteps of Agitproperties' "Faux News" products, jobless Austinite Karen Spurr and her husband have started a business printing up T-shirts and caps saying "From Blow Jobs to No Jobs," available at www.gotnojobs.com
. (Well, Bush claims he wants to encourage the entrepreneurial spirit. Be careful what you ask for.) -- L.N.
The State Board of Education is scheduled to decide this week on next year's proposed high school biology textbooks, under assault by creationists as insufficiently critical of evolutionary theory. Thus far the publishers haven't buckled, rejecting most "corrections" offered by the books' critics, and on Thursday and Friday, the SBOE will decide which books to recommend as "conforming" to state standards, as "non-conforming," or to reject outright. Public testimony is completed, but the board will meet at the Texas Education Agency, with its discussion of the textbooks expected to begin about 10:30 or 11am. Last week, Trial Lawyers for Public Justice, a national public interest law firm, filed a First Amendment lawsuit against the SBOE in federal court, charging that its November 2001 decision to reject a high school environmental science textbook was unconstitutional. The textbook, Environmental Science by Daniel D. Chiras, was recommended for adoption by the TEA, but rejected by the board. According to TLPJ lead counsel Steve Baughman Jensen of Dallas, "The board rejected the book because 10 of its 15 members disagreed with Dr. Chiras' viewpoints on environmental and economic issues. ... This lawsuit aims to expose this blatant censorship and end this unconstitutional behavior." -- Michael King
Former Texas Democratic Party chair Bill White and ex-city councilman Orlando Sanchez are headed for a December run-off to pick a successor to term-limited Houston Mayor Lee Brown, leaving state Rep. Sylvester Turner on the outside looking in. White's relatively late entry into the race, and the $6 million he spent thereafter, turned what had been a largely partisan battle -- like Sanchez and Brown's race two years ago, or Turner's matchup with Bob Lanier in 1991 -- into a race about race, at least when read between the lines. With supporters of Turner (who drew 29%) expected to back White (who earned 28%), Sanchez -- a Cuban-American Republican and vocal Bush backer -- appears headed for political oblivion. (Though he might run for Congress.) In other Bayou City news, Houston voters bucked the national trend and supported the expansion of Metro's light rail system, a bête noire of local conservatrons all the way up to U.S. House Majority Leader Tom "Leatherface" DeLay. The rail measure passed with 52%. -- M.C.M.
On the local front: Voters in Lakeway said "Hell, no!" to big-box retail (up to 200,000 square feet) in a nonbinding referendum; and they and other Lake Travis ISD voters handily supported the school district's $36.3 million bond package. In Taylor, voters approved bonds for a new fire station (handily) and city library (by only two votes), but turned down bonds for a community center and voted not to sell the city water treatment plant. And the 94 voters who turned out in Volente agreed to stay in Capital Metro, adopt a one-cent local sales tax, and reject an additional street-repair tax. Down the road in San Antonio, voters approved more than $600 million worth of city, county, and school bond projects. -- M.C.M.
Nationally: Republicans won the governorships in Kentucky, where U.S. Rep. Ernie Fletcher will succeed scandal-ridden Democrat Paul Patton, and in Mississippi, where former national Republican chair Haley Barbour -- with lots of White House campaign backing -- ousted incumbent Ronnie Musgrove in a high-turnout race. Recall-weary San Francisco saw unusually light turnout despite a mayoral race filled with noisy Oedipal squabbling; two Young Turk city supervisors, centrist Gavin Newsom and leftist Matt Gonzalez, will face off in a Dec. 3 run-off to succeed term-limited Willie Brown. Despite -- or perhaps because of -- revelations his office had been bugged by the FBI, Philadelphia Mayor John Street won a solid victory against three-time GOP loser Sam Katz. On the ballot-measure front, "No" was the word: Maine voters spiked casino gambling, Denver voters shot down an initiative to create citywide "stress reduction" programs, Tucson and Kansas City voters nixed light rail, and New York City rejected a plan to make city elections nonpartisan, a pet project of GOP Mayor Michael Bloomberg. -- M.C.M.
Weed Watch: In an Oct. 30 ruling, Pennsylvania federal District Judge Arthur Schwab denied bail to imprisoned comedian Tommy Chong. Popped in February as part of the federal Operation Pipe Dreams drug paraphernalia sting, Chong had asked to be released on bail pending the outcome of an appeal of his nine-month sentence. To win that, Chong's lawyers had to convince the judge that his appeal is likely to succeed; Schwab disagreed. Chong's appeal in part argues that his severe sentence -- the first jail time for a Pipe Dreams defendant, and alleged to be retaliation for Chong's years of "mocking" U.S. drug laws -- violates Chong's constitutional rights under the Eighth and Fourteenth amendments. -- J.S.
The Red McCombs School of Business at UT is hosting a conference on green business practices today (Thursday) through Sunday. The Net Impact 2003 Conference promises to offer more than 1,000 MBAs, business leaders, and alumni a chance to discuss corporate social responsibility, business ethics, and environment-friendly business practices, and will feature panels, professional development workshops, and a career expo. For more info, see www.net-impact.org.
The Texas Law School Democrats and the LBJ School Progressive Collective will host a panel discussion and debate featuring campaign coordinators from the major Democratic presidential campaigns today (Thursday) at the UT Law School. Topics include health care, the economy, and foreign affairs. Time will be allocated at the end of the debate for audience participation. Food and beverages will be served following the forum. Charles Francis Auditorium inside the Law School (corner of 26th and Robert Dedman Drive), Room 2.114, 6:30pm. Free.
Veterans for Peace is hosting a series of anti-war events this week:
On Thursday (today) and Friday, 8am-4pm, they'll join with the Campus Coalition for Peace to remember our current war's dead and injured -- American and Iraqi -- at the UT West Mall.
An afternoon of video-watching will be held Saturday, Nov. 8, 1-6pm, at the Hideout Coffee Bar and Theatre, 617 Congress, including What I've Learned About U.S. Foreign Policy: The War Against the Third World, The War Is Over, Why Are You Still Here?, Crossing the Line, and The Crawford Peace March. $5 donation requested.
On Monday, Nov. 10, 7-9pm, Dr. Doug Rokke will speak on the dangers of depleted uranium and other uranium weapons at First Unitarian Universalist Church, 4700 Grover. (Rokke led a team of 100 persons to retrieve DU-contaminated equipment after Gulf War I. Thirty of them are now dead.)
A flashlight vigil will be held on Veterans Day, Tuesday, Nov. 11, at the Lamar Foot Bridge over Town Lake, remembering dead on both sides of the Iraq War. Bring two working flashlights, if possible. For more info, go to www.vfpaustin.org or call 238-1491.
Finally, the city Resource Management Commission -- aggressive advocates for green power and sustainability -- will hold a public hearing Wednesday, Nov. 12 at 6:30 pm at Town Lake Center (the Austin Energy building, 712 Barton Springs Road) to discuss AE's long-term strategic plan and its provisions for energy efficiency and renewable energy. The RMC wants to hear from citizens before it crafts its amendments to the AE plan, which is set to go to the City Council before year's end.