Edited By Mike Clark-Madison, Fri., Jan. 30, 2004
Quote of the Week: "It's not the first time I've ever eaten my words." Statesman editorialist Arnold Garcia, acknowledging his published lectures on e-mail etiquette were premature in light of his "incredible lapse in judgment" in the Temple-Inland debacle. See "Reading Arnold's e-mail."
Garcia's e-mail woes offered comic relief as Temple-Inland abandoned its quest to bust the Save Our Springs Ordinance and expand its headquarters over the aquifer. See "Temple-Inland Reads the Writing on the Wall."
Meanwhile, the Save Our Springs Alliance filed two different lawsuits this week a state-court filing in Austin to kill the Lowe's deal (see below), and a federal case challenging the EPA to do more to protect the Barton Springs salamander (see "Suit to save the salamander").
Dated Dean, Married Kerry, Part II: The Massachusetts senator beat the Vermont governor in New Hampshire in record turnout. Seven states hold their contests this week.
In election news closer to home, the run-offs kick off to fill two Texas Senate seats in the state's northern corners (see "Wheat, Chaff Intact in Sheriff's Race"), and Travis Co.'s three House Dems made it official: They, unlike their own state senator, are backing Lloyd Doggett for Congress (see "Lloyd's friends at the Lege").
The city of Sunset Valley and two environmental groups the Save Barton Creek Association and the Save Our Springs Alliance have filed a lawsuit against the city of Austin and Lowe's Home Centers Inc., seeking to overturn the settlement agreement narrowly approved by the City Council in December to allow Lowe's to build a store on environmentally sensitive property in Southwest Austin. Landowner Eli Garza is also named in the suit filed Wednesday. The plaintiffs argue that a six-vote supermajority of the council is required to amend the Save Our Springs Ordinance, regardless of whether state law supersedes the ordinance; the Lowe's deal passed on a 4-3 vote. Amy Smith
A former employee of the Travis Co. Sheriff's Office was indicted on Jan. 26 on one count of "aggravated theft by a public servant," a first-degree felony, and one count of "aggravated misapplication of fiduciary property," a second-degree felony. Allegedly, TCSO civilian employee Susan Rank failed to record the deposit of fines and funds collected by the TCSO from September 2000 through November 2001. She was suspended in late 2001 after an internal audit of her work showed "many discrepancies," according to a TCSO press release. Jordan Smith
Beyond City Limits
To no one's surprise, the U.S. Department of Justice refused last week to release its internal memo on its review of the Texas congressional redistricting plan. Citing "predecisional deliberative material," the agency told congressional Democrats and their attorneys, who had requested the materials, that the 73-page memorandum and 1,750 pages of supporting documents are exempt from federal freedom-of-information laws and would not be made available either to Congress or the public. Gerald Hebert, former DOJ staff attorney and lead attorney for the Texas plaintiffs, said he had been told by DOJ staff that career agency attorneys in the Civil Rights Division had recommended against "preclearance" of the map under the Voting Rights Act but were overruled by political appointees. According to The Washington Post, DOJ staff members are under a strict gag order concerning the Texas case. Hebert has appealed to the DOJ's Office of Information and Privacy, saying the department "is stonewalling this request to avoid the embarrassment that will surely ensue when the memorandum is made public." Michael King
The five activists arrested in Crawford on May 3 while on their way to President Bush's ranchette to partake in a demonstration against his policies are set to go to trial on Saturday, Feb. 7. The Crawford Five were traveling with a 30-car caravan that was stopped by Crawford police and McClennan Co. sheriff's deputies; they were arrested for violating the town's ban on parades and processions after they failed to turn their cars around and leave as ordered by the police. Attorneys with the Texas Civil Rights Project are representing the five, who argue that the Crawford parade ordinance violates the First Amendment. A caravan of supporters attending the trial will leave Austin at 7am from the AFL-CIO parking lot at the corner of 11th and Lavaca. For more info, call TCRP at 474-5073. J.S.
Gov. Rick Perry began rolling out his public education reform plan this week, in anticipation of an eventual special session of the Legislature on public school finance. Arguing that Texans prefer "more education for their tax dollars" instead of "more tax dollars for education," the governor is proposing "results-based performance incentives" for schools, administrators, and teachers. Perry said that should he call a special session, "the subject will not be school finance, it will be educational excellence. ... How we finance education is the course to that destination." Perry's plan calls for bonus payments to schools that meet certain standards and additional stipends to teachers who meet performance standards or volunteer to teach in "qualifying, struggling schools." Teachers' organizations quickly noted the state could start by restoring its $1,000 health insurance stipend for teachers and school employees, slashed to $500 (or less) by the Lege last spring. M.K.
The Federal Communications Commission on Wednesday conducted a hearing in San Antonio on localism in the broadcasting industry (www.fcc.gov/localism), and local media reform activists planned substantial efforts to let the FCC know that it has done a terrible job of upholding its requirement to regulate broadcasting in the public interest. These efforts included a press conference held, oddly enough, in the office of the Texas Association of Broadcasters, one of the supposed bogeymen in this conflict and an educational forum at UT, at which recent FCC rule changes that would allow corporations to further consolidate their media holdings were denounced by numerous activists and politicians. "This is not just the fox in the henhouse," said political columnist Jim Hightower, "but the fox owning the henhouse. They're just going to be talking about localism at the hearing, but ownership is the problem." Kathy Grant of Common Cause pointed out that under the new rules, "Here in Austin, one company could own two television stations, seven radio stations, and the daily newspaper." More on the hearing next week. Lee Nichols
The Texas Association of Business lost yet another court battle this week this time at the 3rd Court of Appeals over its fight to keep secret the details of its 2002 political ad campaign. At press time, TAB's attorney Andy Taylor was expected to appeal to the Texas Supreme Court. TAB is trying to overturn a district court ruling ordering the group to relinquish financial info about the ad campaign, which drew top-dollar contributions from undisclosed corporate backers, in connection with a lawsuit filed by James Sylvester, the target of a TAB attack who lost the District 50 race to Austin GOP Rep. Jack Stick. Corporate contributions to political campaigns are illegal under Texas law, but TAB argues its mailers did not explicitly urge recipients to vote for or against a candidate, so it can keep secret the identities of the donors. (However, the U.S. Supreme Court, in its decision last year upholding the new federal campaign finance law, explicitly rejected this so-called "magic words" test.) In addition to the civil suit, the Travis Co. District Attorney's Office has resumed its investigation of the matter. A.S.
Yes folks, these are the kinds of people leading our state: In an editorial distributed to General Land Office staffers regarding the fact that Martin Luther King Jr. Day and Confederate Heroes Day are both officially observed in Texas on the same day, Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson wrote, "I hold that this day should be a source of pride for all Texans because I believe this day honors men of high principle: Dr. Martin Luther King and General Robert E. Lee. Men who, in their time, served as leaders of the causes to which they dedicated their lives, but moreover continue to serve as great moral and ethical leaders." In a moment of rare clarity, state Rep. Ron Wilson of Houston, who is African-American, told the San Antonio Express-News, "If you want to laud Robert E. Lee because he was a great general, you can do that. As far as having high moral character and representing all that is best in us as an American people, you'd be better off picking [serial killer] Jeffrey Dahmer." L.N.
Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott on Jan. 27 filed a friend-of-the-court brief with the U.S. Supreme Court on behalf of Texas and 19 other states, urging the court to protect patients' rights by ensuring they can hold health maintenance organizations liable for negligent and wrongful conduct under state law. At issue is whether the federal Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 which requires health plan managers to set up a grievance and appeal process for consumers to protest coverage and medical decisions insulates HMOs from state laws that provide patients with other legal remedies. In March, the high court will hear oral arguments in two consolidated Texas cases, in which HMOs are appealing a U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that the patients have a right to file suit under state law. If the insurance companies prevail, "patients would be left with no meaningful remedy for bad medical decisions made by HMOs," Abbott said in a press release. "ERISA would not provide relief, and the health care laws of Texas and other sovereign states would be completely pre-empted from providing those protections." J.S.
On Jan. 26 the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to reconsider whether executing juvenile offenders violates the U.S. Constitution's ban on cruel and unusual punishment, in the case of Missouri's Christopher Simmons, condemned for a robbery and murder he committed when he was 17. The Missouri Supreme Court overturned the sentence, prompting the state's appeal to the Supremes, which last ruled on the issue in 1989. There are 21 states including Texas that allow youthful offenders to be sentenced to death; there are 82 defendants nationwide awaiting execution for juvenile offenses including three Texas inmates set to be executed this year. Those executions may be put on hold until the court decides the Missouri case, which isn't expected to happen before the start of the court's October 2004 term. J.S.
For the first time, a provision of the USA PATRIOT Act has been declared unconstitutional. District Judge Audrey B. Collins ruled Jan. 26 in Los Angeles that a PATRIOT provision making it illegal to give "expert advice or assistance" to designated foreign terrorist organizations is so vague that it could be construed to forbid "pure speech and advocacy" protected by the First Amendment. The Center for Constitutional Rights in Washington, D.C., filed suit against the government on behalf of two individuals and five organizations that provide humanitarian aid to several foreign groups listed as terrorist organizations by the U.S. Department of State. "The PATRIOT Act draws no distinction whatsoever between expert advice in human rights, designed to deter violence, and expert advice on how to build a bomb," David Cole, an attorney with the center and a Georgetown University law professor told the Los Angeles Times. J.S.
The Village of Webberville is hosting an Economic Development Summit tonight (Thursday) at 7pm at the Travis Co. Satellite One office at 9301 Johnny Morris Rd. Members of the Webberville Village Commission will discuss economic growth, tourism, and development opportunities within the Village with a panel of seven representatives from local organizations and agencies including Ron Davis, Travis Co. Precinct 1 Commissioner. For more info, contact Ellen Hironymous, Webberville's economic development director, at 276-9826.
A public forum on electronic voting will be held at the First Unitarian Universalist Church, 4700 Grover, on Thursday (tonight), 8pm. Speakers include Ann McGeehan, director of elections for the Texas secretary of state's office; Travis Co. Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir; Rice University computer professor and noted e-voting critic Dan Wallach; William Stotesbery, vice-president of marketing for Hart InterCivic (the company that provides Travis Co.'s e-voting machines); and Adina Levin of the Austin Electronic Frontiers Foundation and the ACLU. For more info, call 796-9439 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. (And to get in touch with other local citizens concerned about e-voting, join the Internet discussion group at www.groups.yahoo.com/group/centex-evote .)
Dell Inc., which has been under fire for what some activists see as insufficient recycling of electronic waste, will hold a "recycling event" on Saturday, Jan. 31, at which consumers may drop any (not just Dell) unwanted computers and related equipment at the former Robert Mueller Airport (3600 Manor Rd.) between 9am and 3pm. Electronic items not accepted: televisions, stereo equipment, cell phones, appliances, etc. Go to www.dell.com/recycling and click on the Events Calendar for more info.
"Are the Democrats the Lesser Evil?" That's the question third-party types always ask, and the local chapter of the International Socialist Organization will debate it again Thursday, Feb. 5, 7pm, on the UT campus (Parlin Hall, room 105). Topics will include whether the Dem presidential candidates really represent a significant difference from the Republicans and whether more liberal Dems like Dennis Kucinich are worthy of support. For more info, e-mail email@example.com.