Edited By Mike Clark-Madison, Fri., Jan. 9, 2004
Quote of the Week: "We decide only the legality of Plan 1374C, not its wisdom. ... The only check on these grasps of power lies with the voter. But perversely, these seizures entail political moves that too often dance close to avoiding the recall of the disagreeing voter." -- Federal judges Patrick Higginbotham and Lee Rosenthal, in their opinion upholding the GOP's new congressional district map.
As the legal challenge to re-redistricting fails -- barring intervention by the U.S. Supreme Court -- politicos on both sides prepare for a whole new electoral landscape. See The Judges Rule.
Temple-Inland Inc. -- and Mayor Will Wynn -- argue that the Fortune 500 company's headquarters expansion plan will produce economic benefits that justify waiving the Save Our Springs Ordinance. See A Different Shade of Green for Temple-Inland.
A light meeting for the City Council at its first session today (Thursday) in a month -- including Austin Energy's proposal to set a new (and higher) rate for future GreenChoice subscribers. See AE Eyes Higher Green Rate.
Ohio congressman Dennis Kucinich showed off some high-profile support -- including a brand-new anti-war ballad from Willie Nelson -- during his Austin swing last weekend. See p.18.
Austin Police Department Officer Scott Glasgow, who has been charged with criminally negligent homicide in connection with the June 14, 2003, shooting death of Jessie Lee Owens, is slated to make his first appearance in court on Jan. 15. Still, at press time, there was no indication of whether District Attorney Ronnie Earle intends to prosecute the case. -- Jordan Smith
Among the items on today's (Thursday) City Council agenda: a proposed settlement of the lawsuit brought by former city urban forester Susan Murray, who filed suit against the city in December 2002 alleging sexual harassment, sex discrimination, and retaliation, and claimed that her career with the Parks and Recreation Department fell apart after she complained about inappropriate behavior by her supervisor. In its initial response to Murray's suit, the city, while acknowledging some validity to her initial complaints, denied that her career suffered as a consequence. Terms of the proposed settlement have not been disclosed. -- M.C.M.
After yet another court ruling in its favor, Longhorn Partners Pipeline resumed construction work this week on a 19-mile stretch of the controversial pipeline running under South Austin neighborhoods. Longhorn's attorneys, with the Dallas office of Jenkens & Gilchrist, notified city officials Dec. 31 of the company's intent to resume construction on the line. The city had tried to stop the project on grounds that federal agencies had failed to thoroughly evaluate the pipeline's impact on neighborhoods and on the Edwards Aquifer. The U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals rejected that argument last month, upholding a 2002 ruling by Austin-based federal Judge Sam Sparks. Sparks has expressed his own discomfort with Longhorn's rehabilitation of the aging, idled pipeline to carry gasoline from the Gulf Coast to El Paso, but said he is bound by the law, which gives him neither the power to stop the line or to force federal agencies to conduct a more intensive impact analysis. This week, work crews were expected to begin clearing right-of-way areas and building berms and other "mitigation measures." Longhorn officials expect to finish this segment of the project by April 1. -- Amy Smith
The Austin Hilton -- Downtown's biggest hotel and the official resting headquarters for Convention Center attendees -- held its grand opening Monday with city leaders and tourism boosters on hand to mark the long-awaited occasion. The 800-room hotel had already opened its doors to guests and boasts a full house throughout January. The Hilton's opening effectively completes the newly expanded Convention Center across the street. The idea is that, with a bigger center and additional hotel space, Austin will be in a better position to snare some larger, more prestigious, conventions. The city helped finance construction of the hotel with $15 million in bonds, and will assume control of the high-rise in 30 years. -- A.S.
Capital Metro opened its new Northwest Park and Ride facility at U.S. 183 and FM 620 on Monday. Routes connect the facility to UT, the Arboretum, Seton Medical Center, and Downtown, as well as Lago Vista and Jonestown. See www.capmetro.org for more info. -- Lee Nichols
A new year, a new set of changes to the city's billboard regulations. After spending, literally, months in 2002 discussing, and finally approving, tougher city code provisions governing billboards, the City Council will consider later this month some new tweaks -- including an outright ban on "electronically controlled multimessage billboards" (the kind with sections that rotate to display different images) or video billboards. (Existing signs, including those for Lotto Texas, would be exempt). Another proposed amendment would make the code's measurements of "area" apply to the whole billboard structure, including the apron, and not just the part bearing the actual advertisement. The city regs require sign owners to reduce the size of existing signs by 25% when replacing them; both amendments aim to address ways in which billboard owners have apparently gotten around the spirit, if not the letter, of the law. -- M.C.M.
The Austin Parks Foundation, an independent nonprofit that pushes for more and better parks in Austin, has moved its headquarters. APF is now at 701 Brazos #170, 78701. Its phone numbers remain the same: 477-1566 (voice) and 477-1586 (fax). Also, APF wants you to know about the Jan. 15 fundraiser at the new Austin Hilton (Fifth and Neches) to restore the home of Susanna Dickinson, the only adult survivor of the Alamo, who later lived here in Austin, and is buried in Oakwood Cemetery. To make way for construction of the Hilton, the Dickinson house was moved from the site -- where it formerly housed The Pit barbecue restaurant -- to nearby Brush Square. Alamo expert Stephen Hardin will speak and music will be provided by the Lucky Strikes, 6-9pm. Doors open at 5pm. $50 per person; call 652-4055 for more info. -- L.N.
Concrete contractor and anti-abortion extremist Chris Danze took a hit in the December issue of Concrete Products magazine, a Chicago-based industry publication. In an editorial titled, "Spirit of capitalism escapes Texans' assassination attempt," Editor Don Marsh blasts Danze's boycott efforts that forced San Antonio's Browning Construction Co. to relinquish its general contractor's role on Planned Parenthood's Choice Project, a health clinic that will provide reproductive health care services to low-income women. Danze and his followers made hundreds of telephone calls that threatened concrete suppliers and other subcontractors with an economic backlash if they participated in the project. Marsh called Danze's efforts a campaign of harassment and intimidation "less about opposing abortion and more about obstructing the pursuit of legal activity in a free, capitalist society. That's bad in concrete or any other business." -- A.S.
Hart InterCivic, the Austin-based maker of the eSlate electronic voting machine, has been selected by three Ohio counties to replace punch card systems there. Ohio's secretary of state recently made waves in the national electronic voting controversy by studying the security of all vendors hoping to sell e-voting technology in Ohio and demanding that they resolve security flaws. The secretary noted that eSlate had four "high-risk areas," one "medium," and five "low," which was actually fewer risk areas than its rivals. In a statement, Hart InterCivic pledged to incorporate Ohio's recommendations. Travis Co. has used the eSlate system since 2002. -- L.N.
Still Best Companies to Work For: Whole Foods Market and National Instruments, Austin's two perennial entries on the Fortune magazine list, made it again, for the fifth and sixth year in a row, respectively. However, both firms dropped from their 2002 rankings, WFM to No. 47 and NI to No. 63. Ohio-based J.M. Smucker Co. (the jelly maker) is No. 1, the first old-economy manufacturer to ever top the list. -- M.C.M.
Beyond City Limits
The Texas Department of Public Safety has temporarily suspended its quest to make each of the state's medical examiners' offices get national accreditation. The DPS sought to require medical examiners to seek certification from the National Association of Medical Examiners as part of their implementation of a new law (HB 2703) requiring accreditation of the state's various crime labs -- the legislative response to the meltdown at the Houston Police Department crime lab last year. The move drew opposition from several of the busiest labs, including the Travis Co. Medical Examiner's Office, who complained the process would be costly since it would require hiring additional medical examiners in order to comply with NAME's requirement that each medical examiner conduct no more than 350 autopsies per year. Travis Co.'s examiners each average nearly 500 autopsies each year. -- J.S.
Local drug reformers this week announced the formation of Texans for Medical Marijuana, whose goal is to have the Texas Legislature pass a medical marijuana bill to guarantee that seriously ill patients have safe and legal access to the drug. The group is targeting Houston and Dallas districts, but needs volunteers across the state. For more info, contact Karen Heikkala, TMM's public relations director, at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by mail to TMM, PO Box 12905, Austin, 78711. -- J.S.
Pseudo-Christian hatemonger Fred Phelps, leader of Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kan., says he's bringing his virulent homophobia to that well-known sin city of Lubbock. According to Phelps' latest incoherent press release, both the Texas Tech School of Law (or, in his words, "the University of Sodom") and the Red Raiders' women's basketball team and its coach Marsha Sharp (whom Phelps terms a "dyke-enabler") are hated by God his own self. The peripatetic Phelps plans to assault Lubbock on Saturday and, the following day, be in Lafayette, La., to protest some outrageous act of tolerance there. However, Phelps has a habit of naming targets -- including Austin's University Baptist Church -- for his "God Hates Fags" road show and then not showing up. -- M.C.M.
MoveOn.org, the progressive activist Web site, announced Monday that a Texan is among the finalists in its "Bush in 30 Seconds" contest to develop an anti-Bush television commercial. Dallas filmmaker David Haynes' spot, entitled "Desktop," has earned him a trip to New York for a Janeane Garofalo-hosted award ceremony on Jan. 12 at the Hammerstein Ballroom. If Haynes' commercial wins, it will air during the week of Bush's State of the Union address (Jan. 20). To view the finalist ads, go to www.bushin30seconds.org. -- L.N.
In a related note, the GOP lie machine is using that very contest to smear MoveOn.org. The Republican National Committee picked up on a couple of contest submissions that compared Bush to Hitler, and its operatives have been making the talk show rounds referring to "MoveOn's ads." (A Texas GOP news release was headlined "Liberal Group Compares Bush to Hitler.") MoveOn.org responded in a statement, "This is a lie. MoveOn.org hasn't sponsored such an ad, and we never would -- we regret the appearance of these ads on the Bush in 30 Seconds site." The statement claims that the ads were only two among more than 1,000 submissions voted on by site visitors, and never came close to making the final 15. This isn't the first time that propagandists have targeted MoveOn.org. Back in September, the conservative Texas Citizens Action Network called the group "the activist arm of the Communist Party USA" -- based solely on a link from the CPUSA Web site to MoveOn.org. (See "Naked City: We Got Reds in Our Webs," Sept. 26.) -- L.N.
The Travis Co. Health and Human Services Department has announced that it's offering free flu shots for at-risk residents for the next three Fridays (Jan. 9, 16, and 23). "At-risk" is defined as children between 6 and 23 months, adults age 50 and older, those with chronic illnesses, or pregnant women in the second or third trimester. Shots are available at the St. Johns Neighborhood Center or the Far South Health Center. For more info, call 972-5520.
Austin Area Interreligious Ministries will host the No Place for Hate Luncheon on Monday, Jan. 12, noon-1pm at Trinity United Methodist Church, 600 E. 50th. Dr. Jacquelyn Donald-Mims from Imani Community Church will speak. Free; to attend, call 451-0272.
In related news, the APD's Faith Community Network, in conjunction with the AAIM, is inviting "all leaders of faith" to attend the third annual "Unity Breakfast" as part of the Heritage Council's Martin Luther King Celebration. The breakfast is at 7:30am Monday, Jan. 19, at Huston-Tillotson College's Davage-Durden Student Union building, 900 Chicon. Immediately following, religious leaders will be asked to gather their individual congregations to "show faith diversity" by participating in the MLK Community March beginning at 9am. Interested religious leaders should RSVP by Monday, Jan. 12, by calling the APD's Dwayne Jones at 974-4732 or by e-mail to email@example.com.