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Quote of the Week: "Don't tell us to go to the Legislature for help, because the state of Texas has never done anything for minorities that it wasn't forced to do by the federal government." -- Attorney Rolando Rios, arguing for the plaintiffs in the Texas redistricting trial

A decision is expected this week from the three-judge federal panel hearing the Texas re-redistricting case; meanwhile, questions smolder over the U.S. Department of Justice's preclearance of the GOP map. See Judges Ponder Redistricting.

The Save Our Springs Alliance is mobilizing in opposition to expansion plans by Temple-Inland at its Barton Skyway site. See Can Temple-Inland Beat SOS?.

Speaking of Temple-Inland, who was it that so recently lectured Austinites on e-mail privacy and etiquette? Oh, that's right -- the Statesman's Arnold Garcia, whose own e-mails are now in the SOS Alliance's hands.

A whole lotta nothing going on as City Hall brings the year to a close. The next City Council meeting is Jan. 8.


Austin Stories

It's official: City parks director Jesus Olivares is leaving to become the new city manager of his hometown of Eagle Pass. Olivares, who became PARD director in 1995, leaves a department that's widely beloved by Austinites but that's also faced management challenges and severe budget cutbacks. Olivares starts in Eagle Pass on Feb. 1; PARD operations manager Warren Struss will serve as acting director until a successor is named. -- M.C.M.

The mother of another former Reagan High School student has joined Carolyn Mosley, mother of slain student Ortralla Mosley, in suing Austin ISD for failing to protect her daughter, who she claims was also assaulted at the school by 16-year-old Marcus McTear. McTear is serving a 40-year determinate sentence for the murder of Ortralla Mosley in a Reagan stairwell last March; Carolyn Mosley has sued the district under Title IX, the federal statute that prohibits discrimination in public schools based on gender. Elaine Gifford has joined Mosley's $23.2 million suit, seeking $250,000 on behalf of her daughter RaeAnne Spence who was allegedly attacked by McTear at Reagan in 2001. Gifford has said that although school officials were aware of the incident, they failed to do anything about it. -- Jordan Smith

Friday, Jan. 2, is the deadline for candidate filings for the March 9 Texas primaries. (Congressional candidates have until mid-January, given the fluid state of the Texas map.) Candidates often wait until the last minute to file -- especially if they're collecting signatures in lieu of paying a filing fee -- but here in Travis Co. the list offers hints of who may want to move up, down, or off the electoral ladder. Nonfiling incumbents at press time include Travis Co. District Attorney Ronnie Earle, state Reps. Terry Keel and Jack Stick, and Precinct 3 Constable Drew McAngus, considering a GOP run to succeed retiring Sheriff Margo Frasier. Republican Joe Martinez and Democrats Raymond Frank (the former sheriff) and Todd Radford have also filed for Frasier's seat. Stick, weighing a run for Congress, has already been challenged in District 50 by Democrat Mark Strama, and Keel is rumored to be toying with a run for Earle's seat -- whether or not the DA runs for an eighth term. -- M.C.M.

The annual lowering of Lake Austin will begin Jan. 5, allowing city and LCRA officials to take further steps to combat the plague of hydrilla and other non-native plant species. Unlike in past years, where the lake level was dropped 12 feet or more within a week, LCRA will slowly lower the water level over three weeks -- but warns that it may have to refill the lake "with little or no notice" in an emergency. The lake level by the end of January will be close to that of the original Colorado River channel; Lake Austin is expected to be back to its normal height by mid-February. -- M.C.M.

Hill Country Ride organizers are recruiting volunteers for their annual cycling fundraiser benefiting area HIV/AIDS organizations. Organizers launched this year's campaign on the heels of some dire news from the World Health Organization: 2003 saw more HIV diagnoses and AIDS deaths than any other year. "The trends aren't much better here in the Austin area," ride director David C. Smith says; of the nearly 4,000 Austinites diagnosed with AIDS in the last two decades, 2,163 have died, and last year alone saw a 36% increase in new HIV cases in Central Texas, according to state health statistics. The fifth annual ride -- a 100-mile journey into the Hill Country -- takes place April 24-25 and will raise funds for 10 nonprofit groups that provide assistance with meals, housing, and health care to people living with HIV/AIDS. Last year's fundraiser took in more than $300,000. Volunteers -- and you don't have to be a serious cyclist to join -- can register at www.hillcountryride.org; a "recruitment extravaganza" will be held at 7:30pm, Jan. 15, at the Design Center, 3601 S. Congress. Free training and fundraising assistance will be provided. Call 371-RIDE for more information. -- Amy Smith

Jan. 9 is the deadline for nominations for this year's Keep Austin Beautiful awards. The 19th annual "For the Love of Austin" honors, to be presented Feb. 13, will include awards for projects involving beautification, recycling, public education, litter abatement, and the like. Nominations can be submitted online at www.keepaustinbeautiful.org. -- M.C.M.


Beyond City Limits

In the wake of the U.S. Department of Justice decision to preclear the Texas re-redistricting plan under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act (forbidding "retrogression" of minority voting rights), Democrats continue to press for more details -- in particular, to discover whether DOJ staff attorneys were overruled by Bush political appointees. Lead plaintiffs' attorney Gerald Hebert, who spent 20 years at the DOJ, says that sources at the agency have told him that the staff recommendation to deny preclearance was rejected. Sixteen Texas Democrats in Congress (all but Rep. Ralph Hall, D-Rockwall) have demanded that Attorney General John Ashcroft release the staff memorandum on the Texas case, and now Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., as the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, has made the same request. Conyers wrote to Ashcroft, "It is apparent that you have turned the process on its head by preclearing a Texas ... plan that dilutes the voting strength of 3.6 million Latinos and African-Americans across the state and made the Justice Department an accomplice." Release of the memoranda is normally routine; Conyers set a deadline of Dec. 24, but a spokesman said that as of Dec. 29 he had received no response from the DOJ. -- Michael King

On the other hand, after seven months, U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin, has finally received a response from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to his request for tapes and transcripts of calls between Texas and federal officials during the May flight of the Texas House "Killer D's" to Oklahoma. Unfortunately, Homeland Security staff had sent the cassette tape to Doggett via ordinary mail, and it was melted by the irradiation treatment now standard for congressional mail as a precaution against anthrax contamination. "I leave it to you to determine," wrote Doggett, "how the Department of Homeland Security can best provide me with an unmelted copy of the cassette, although I suggest hand delivery to my office." -- M.K.

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott has filed a friend-of-the-court brief with the U.S. Supreme Court on behalf of all 50 states, urging the court to uphold as constitutional the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance in public school. The pledge has been challenged by Californian Michael Newdow, who alleges that reciting the pledge violates the First Amendment's Establishment Clause because it includes the words "under God." In his brief, Abbott seeks to disabuse the man of his wacky and unpatriotic notion. If the Supremes were to uphold the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals' ruling in Newdow's favor, the decision would effect 34 states, including Texas, where reciting the pledge is required. According to an AG press release, reciting the pledge is necessary to help "fulfill" the state Education Code's mandate that students be taught to be "thoughtful, active citizens who understand the importance of patriotism." -- J.S.

On Tuesday, the Texas Education Agency rejected the application of Eagle Academies of Waco to amend its current charters on three established campuses -- Beaumont, Waco, and McAllen/Pharr -- to add 1,000 "online" students each, thereby becoming a virtual charter school for the entire state. On its established campuses (including one in Austin), Eagle uses a self-paced online curriculum for students having difficulty in conventional schools, but several of the Eagle schools have not performed well on state accountability ratings. The Legislature refused last spring to authorize even a pilot program for virtual charters, and education advocates have opposed any program that would use public school funds to subsidize untested home-school educational software without clear guidelines or supervision. TEA staff reportedly recommended against approval of the Eagle Academies application, and in rejecting the request, interim TEA Commissioner Robert Scott told the Associated Press the agency is "not prepared to move forward at this time." Scott's letter to Superintendent Donald Moore of Eagle Academies mentioned questions raised in legal and special education reviews, as well as "low TAKS performance," but said the agency may soon be inviting districts and schools to participate in an "electronic course pilot." -- M.K.

Citing safety concerns, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott on Dec. 22 announced that his office is launching an investigation into several companies that make the bulletproof vests worn by the state's law enforcement officers. The investigation was prompted by two separate September incidents (neither in Texas) involving the death of one cop and the injury of another wearing vests containing Zylon, a lightweight alternative to Kevlar. At issue is whether the Zylon vests deteriorate prematurely, rending them too weak to sustain ballistic impact. -- J.S.

Ralph Nader still may run for president in 2004, but he probably won't be the Green Party nominee. Nader told Green leaders Dec. 23 he would not be competing in the party's upcoming primaries. That leaves six declared Greens in the presidential race, including former Austinite and Texas attorney general candidate David Cobb, New York Green Party co-founder Lorna Salzman, and two-time California governor candidate Peter Camejo. The latter's success in garnering face time in the recall free-for-all leads national Green leaders to hope that -- even without Nader -- the party will be able to get its message into the mix. (However, many still hope that a higher-profile progressive will jump in to claim the Green prize.) Texas does not have a Green Party primary; the Texas party will be gathering signatures to qualify for the state's November ballot from March 10-May 24. Delegates will be selected at the state convention June 12 to voice Texas' choice for president at the national Green convention June 23-28. -- M.C.M.

We're No. 49! The Dallas Morning News reports that only Florida received less arts funding per capita from the National Endowment for the Arts in 2003. We got 12 cents for every Texan. That was also less per capita than Guam, American Samoa, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands. By contrast, Washington, D.C., receives $6.13 per capita and New York 71 cents, best among the 10 most populous states. On the other hand, in fiscal year 2003 the NEA was doling out a measly $88.3 million nationwide, barely enough to keep one imperial tank supplied with depleted uranium ammunition. Priorities. -- M.K.

So why, exactly, would you want to clone a white-tailed deer? As hordes of li'l Bambis overrun ex-urban communities throughout Texas -- where local leaders can't get rid of 'em fast enough -- scientists at Texas A&M announced the blessed birth of a cloned fawn named Dewey, the fifth replicant to be born at TAMU's veterinary school. (Dewey joins a cow, a sheep, a goat, and a cat.) Dewey's "father" was a prize trophy buck from South Texas, from which Aggie researchers extracted scrotal cells after his demise. School experts conceded to reporters that the goal here is big racks -- engineering deer with superior antler growth to appeal to game hunters -- though an Aggie spokesman nonetheless defended white-tailed deer cloning as a "conservation tool." -- M.C.M.


Happenings

The Dennis Kucinich for President campaign steamrolls into Austin Jan. 2-3, with a reception and dinner at the Barr Mansion Friday evening, Jan. 2, and a benefit concert for the candidate Saturday night, Jan. 3, 8pm, at the Austin Music Hall. Friday's featured guests include actors Mimi Kennedy and James Cromwell, with music by Tish Hinojosa and Libby Kirkpatrick; Saturday night's concert headliner is Willie Nelson, accompanied by Bonnie Raitt, Tim Reynolds, Michelle Shocked, Michael McDonald, Tish Hinojosa, and others, and of course Kucinich and other speakers including Jim Hightower. Concert tickets are $45, available online from Star Tickets or by phone at 469-7469; tickets for the various receptions, dinners, and related diversions run from $75 on up to the campaign finance stratosphere. For more info: www.kucinich.us.

The Texas Department of Insurance will hold a public hearing Jan. 7 at 9:30am to discuss the use of credit scoring to determine policy premiums. Insurers argue that credit scoring is an important tool to assess risk. But the practice is widely criticized by consumer groups who say the practice leads to inflated premiums and penalize consumers with little or no credit history and consumers who have been the victims of credit fraud. The hearing will be held at the TDI headquarters in the Hobby Building, 333 Guadalupe.

Got something to say on the subject? Send a letter to the editor.

  • More of the Story

  • Naked City

    A verdict is expected this week in the federal case against the congressional remap

    Naked City

    The company, the alliance, the mayor, and the Statesman read each other's e-mail.
  • Naked City

    The DA passes on a perjury case against the outgoing APD assistant chief @META_Name\(s\) of Subject_pols: Mala Sangre

    Naked City

    The state auditor does its job, the state enviro agency doesn't. Guess who gets the governor's goat?

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