Headlines and happenings from Austin and beyond
Edited By Mike Clark-Madison, Fri., Dec. 19, 2003
Quote of the Week: "It must be horrible to have your political prospects depend on America doing badly." -- U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, speaking of the Democratic candidates. Cornyn is co-chair of the Texans for Bush 2004 effort.
Americans wait with bated breath for the world to change after the capture of former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. We'll keep you posted.
It's a go for Lowe's; the home improvement store will get built over the aquifer, after a 4-3 City Council vote and weird late-night deal-making in the back room. See For Lowe's, A Win's a Win.
The redistricting trial rolls on in Austin, as witnesses for the plaintiffs -- Dems and minority groups -- allege the GOP's map project crossed the line from partisanship into racism. A verdict is expected within the week; the U.S. Department of Justice has until next Tuesday to give "preclearance" to the map. See Rights and Consequences.
The Austin Police Association says it's not responsible for keeping the Sophia King report under wraps, as the city and its police union take their long-running conflict up a notch (and the Statesman meddles in the middle). See APA, Futrell Turn Up the Heat.
A Travis Co. grand jury decided not to indict sheriff's Sgt. Gregory Truitt in the July shooting death of Lennon Johnson in East Austin. See No-Bill in Sheriff Shooting.
The city of Austin last week lost another court challenge to the Longhorn Pipeline. The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed arguments by Austin and other plaintiffs that federal agencies had failed to thoroughly evaluate the line's impact on the city's environmental features and neighborhoods. Writing for the majority, Judge E. Grady Jolly said that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Transportation had conducted an "exceedingly thorough and comprehensive" assessment of the aging, idled pipeline. The ruling upholds the July 2002 opinion of federal Judge Sam Sparks. Longhorn is still completing its refinancing and remaining construction of the project, but officials expect to begin operating the line next spring. The company -- a limited partnership of big oil corporations -- ran into a serious financial crunch last year that raised doubts about its ability to stay afloat. No word yet on where the city goes from here. -- Amy Smith
The 275 members of the Austin-Travis County Emergency Medical Services Employee Association have chosen to unionize, joining the Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas, part of the AFL-CIO. The EMSEA will join the Austin Police Association -- along with numerous other associations across the state -- as CLEAT members. According to a press release, the EMSEA board of directors intends to continue its "collaborative, respectful and rewarding" relationship with the city. -- Jordan Smith
Residents of Astor Place, an Eastside neighborhood that's home to several notable African-American citizens -- such as former state Rep. Wilhelmina Delco -- declared victory this week as city leaders announced a new plan for a controversial affordable-housing complex. The neighbors' concerns turned not only on the density of the proposed homes -- eight units on five lots -- but also on their modernist design, which they felt was incompatible with the neighborhood. The city has agreed to repurchase the Astor Place property from the private developer, who will build five units, all qualified under the city SMART Housing program. -- M.C.M.
About 40 prisoners' rights advocates met on Thursday to discuss alternatives to incarceration at a conference organized by Families of Incarcerated Loved Ones and attended by D.C.-based de-incarceration activist Michael Blain. Texas is one of three states that Blain's organization, the Justice Policy Institute, is targeting in a campaign to promote alternative sentencing (such as drug treatment programs) for minor, nonviolent drug and property offenses. "We figured if we can change things in Texas, we can change things anywhere," said Blain, who himself served seven years in Virginia for a conviction he insists was wrongful. (He was a well-off stockbroker at the time he was arrested for stealing $50). FILO head Fran Harris added that alternative sentencing, if presented right, could appeal to the philosophy of Texas' ruling party. "A lot of these prisoners are parents," she said. "So we tell them how it saves families while saving funds." -- Rachel Proctor May
The economic effects of the incoming San Antonio Toyota manufacturing plant are stretching up I-35: Tasus Inc., which supplies injection-molded parts and assemblies to the automaker, announced last week that it will be building its 100,000-square-foot plant in Georgetown, expected to create 205 jobs. -- Lee Nichols
Congratulations to the Austin Public Library and to Joanna Nigrelli, the APL Wired for Youth librarian for the Terrazas and Windsor Park branches, honored this week with a New York Times Librarian Award. More than 4,000 librarians were nominated for the award, but only 27 were selected; Nigrelli is the only recipient from Texas. (See "News/Print," p.35, for more info.) -- M.C.M.
Wimberley's famed Blue Hole will come under city ownership as part of a plan to restore and develop the 126-acre Cypress Creek property for public use. In addition to hiking trails, camping facilities, athletic fields, and playgrounds, the site will also be home to a new wastewater treatment plant, Wimberley officials announced Wednesday. The swimming hole is routinely named as among the top swimming spots in Texas. -- A.S.
Simon says: Whip it out. Your credit card, that is, at one of the many Central Texas retail centers owned by the nation's largest mall developer, Simon Property Group. The Indianapolis firm broke ground this week on its Wolf Ranch project in Georgetown, a big-box center for which that city has ponied up more than $20 million in (controversial) incentives. Meanwhile, Simon also announced last week that it was partnering with Endeavor Real Estate Group on another incentive-ridden project, the Domain at Braker and MoPac. This is good news for the city leaders who blithely gave away $37 million; Simon had planned to build a competing center next door. (Both the Domain and Wolf Ranch deals are facing legal challenges.) Before hooking up with Simon, Endeavor had flirted with its chief rival, the aptly named General Growth Properties -- also reportedly sniffing around the now-moribund Hill Country Galleria project in Bee Cave. Simon already owns the Arboretum, Barton Creek Square, Lakeline Mall, and others and is also building projects in Round Rock, Buda, and Bastrop. All told, its current and under-construction holdings total more than 8 million square feet. -- M.C.M.
Newly appointed Williamson Co. Sheriff Jim Wilson, who will officially take over in January, has announced his intention to replace disgraced former Sheriff John Maspero's three top deputies. Wilson, currently a county constable, will oversee the department's major crime details, and has tabbed Sgt. Mike Lummus, a former Austin police officer and past president of the Austin Police Association, to replace Chief Deputy Richard Elliott -- who is currently serving as the department's interim sheriff. Longtime DEA agent and supervisor Fred Thomas will replace Assistant Chief Deputy Robert Chapman -- also a former APD cop and brother of APD Assistant Chief Jimmy Chapman. And Wilson has asked former Assistant Chief Deputy Jim Harrell to return to the department and take up his former post as head of the corrections bureau. Harrell left his job in 2002 after becoming frustrated with Maspero's reign; he will replace his former replacement, Jack Hall. -- J.S.
There's a local political hook to Bill White's recent victory in the Houston mayoral campaign, and it's not that White once held the post of state Democratic Party chairman. The Archer Nathan group (run by Austin consultants Christian Archer and Mark Nathan, the brain trust of Will Wynn's campaign) managed White's field program, and Archer was White's deputy campaign manager. Archer Nathan also consulted on Ronald Green's victorious Houston City Council campaign. Green defeated Place 4 incumbent Bert Keller, who ran afoul of conservative anti-taxers when he waffled on a city tax rollback. -- Michael King
The Eighties revival, continued: Tongues in Seattle are wagging over the surprise appointment of former Austin City Manager Jorge Carrasco to run Seattle City Light, the municipally owned electric utility. Carrasco was the only candidate considered by Seattle Mayor Greg Nickles, much to the consternation of some on the City Council -- which has increased as Seattlites have learned more about Carrasco's somewhat checkered career in public administration, both in Austin and in his employments since. First hired here in 1984, "Jorge Fiasco" was fired by the City Council in 1987 -- two weeks after appearing, with fangs, as the Chronicle's Halloween mask -- in the wake of several blunders and scandals and near-constant conflict with the left-leaning council of Mayor Frank Cooksey and with Austin's emerging progressive machine. -- M.C.M.
Radio news: Angela Keaton has resigned as the general manager of KOOP community radio (91.7FM). And a few notches down the public end of the dial, Stefan Wray and other media activists are petitioning KUT (90.5FM) to begin broadcasting Democracy Now!, the award-winning, nationally syndicated program from the Pacifica network, which would certainly be more activist than most fare on an NPR affiliate. KUT general manager Stewart Vanderwilt said he was aware of the petition, but, "At the moment, we have no plans to add any programs that would displace what we already have on the air, especially a one-hour, daily show. ... We'd have to consider any new addition in the context of all the shows currently available to us that we don't air, such as Talk of the Nation, Tavis Smiley, BBC," and music shows. Democracy Now! may currently be heard (and seen) locally on Austin Access Channel 16. To sign the petition, go to www.iconmedia.org/democracynow. -- L.N.
Beyond City Limits
The U.S. Supreme Court quickly lifted the stay that had delayed the Dec. 10 execution of Kevin Zimmerman, whose attorneys had challenged the use of pancuronium bromide as one of the three chemicals currently used for execution in Texas (see "Capitol Chronicle," p.18). The chemical is no longer recommended by veterinarians for animal euthanasia. Although the official effects of the chemical are that it stops breathing by collapsing the lungs and paralyzing the diaphragm, recent studies suggest that it may simply disguise suffering as the inmate retains consciousness but cannot react. (The other chemicals used reportedly sedate the inmate and stop the heart.) The court voted 5-4 to allow the execution, despite pending cases on the issue. Zimmerman's execution has reportedly already been reset for late January. -- M.K.
Texas House Speaker Tom Craddick reacted characteristically to public criticism of his decision to erect a Chinese-made artificial tree on the House floor for the holidays instead of the more traditional real Texas-grown evergreen -- he attacked the messenger. The San Antonio Express-News' W. Gardner Selby reported on Dec. 2 that Craddick and his wife Nadine had accepted an artificial tree (made of polyvinyl chloride, the production methods of which are notoriously toxic) for House display, saying that the tree is easier to care for, less likely to trigger allergies, and can be reused. (Nadine told Selby the tree is "only for this year," but her husband later announced it would remain as long as he is speaker.) In response, Craddick wrote to the Express-News, complaining that the report "screamed outrage" (a spokesman for the Texas Christmas Tree Growers Association had criticized Craddick's choice) and pointed out that the Express-News itself uses an artificial tree in its lobby. Craddick said the paper wouldn't criticize an advertiser for using an artificial tree and that he believes "the choice of holiday decorations is personal." -- M.K.
At press time, lawyers for the state and for several individual Farmers Insurance policyholders were presenting oral arguments in front of the 3rd Court of Appeals in Austin. The policyholders are challenging the state's $117.5 million negotiated settlement with the insurance giant, claiming it's a farce that does little -- if anything -- to address the state's insurance woes. -- J.S.
David Guenthner is leaving his editorial post at The Lone Star Report, a weekly Capitol political newsletter, at the end of the year to launch a public affairs consulting firm. Guenthner has been managing editor of the newsletter for six years, working under the paper's chairman and major funding source, David Hartman, former CEO of Hartland Bank and a Republican Party faithful. Longtime senior correspondent William Lutz will replace Guenthner. -- A.S.