Headlines and happenings from Austin and beyond
Edited By Mike Clark-Madison, Fri., March 12, 2004
Quote of the Week: "If Tom DeLay had known what a great reception we'd get in South Texas, he would have drawn the district to Canada instead." U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin, after scoring a resounding victory in the Democratic primary for his new Austin-to-McAllen CD 25.
In addition to Doggett and in part because of his get-out-the-vote efforts Democrats Gisela Triana, Greg Hamilton, Nancy Hohengarten, and Ron Davis all won without run-offs Tuesday night. Turnout in Travis Co. was more than 17%. See our complete election coverage b>.
The City Council is scheduled to vote today (Thursday) on a new meet and confer contract with the Austin Police Association, though it may decide to postpone the item until March 25. The APA will count the votes of its membership that same week which is when the current contract expires. See Austin@Large.
Even before this election cycle is over, talk has begun about the next one the May 15 vote on a Travis Co. hospital district (see Hospital District Campaign Ready to Roll ), which will also feature a vote on whether to grant collective bargaining rights to Austin firefighters (see Firefighters Head to Ballot).
Tom DeLay's Texans for a Republican Majority PAC took its first bow in court this week, as part of the ever-widening "Tomstown" campaign-cash fracas. See Tweaking the Elephant's Booty.
The AISD Community Safety Task Force on March 8 presented the school board with preliminary recommendations aimed at ensuring all AISD campuses are safe learning environments. The task force was convened last spring in the wake of the March 28 on-campus murder of 15-year-old Ortralla Mosley at Reagan High. The CSTF is advocating the allocation of $19 million of future bond moneys toward safety-related projects, such as campus surveillance cameras. The task force has also proposed implementing a uniform dress code (for students, faculty, and staff), closing campuses during lunchtime, and contemplating the creation of smaller "learning communities," also known as schools-within-schools. The CSTF is slated to present final recommendations to the district in April. Jordan Smith
Meanwhile, the AISD Citizen Bond Advisory Committee concluded its public forums last week and is preparing its recommendations to present to the board of trustees March 29. The board has been collecting comments from school communities and citizens as it tries to set priorities among a long list of district-identified needs that total more than $600 million. The possible projects include $150 million in renovations to dozens of campuses, some classroom additions, five new elementary schools and one middle school, safety and security technology, and land acquisition. A draft proposal pares the list to $414 million in priority items, but the committee has also been hearing from neighborhoods about the specific needs of their schools. According to AISD, a $400 million bond would mean a 3-cent property-tax increase, or $4 per month on a $150,000 house. For more info or to address specific proposals, contact Paul Turner at 414-3050 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Michael King
A task force charged with reviewing and updating the city's historic preservation ordinance is nearing the finish line with what will be a new set of recommendations for protecting and fostering Austin's past. Last week, the task force zeroed in on granting incentives for rehabilitating residential structures in historic districts. As proposed, homes in historic districts would secure a five-year freeze on the appraised value of both the building and land if the owner agrees to invest 25% of that appraised value toward rehabilitating the structure. Exterior repairs would need to equal 5% of the value. Commercial properties would be held to a 40% requirement, and exterior rehabilitation jobs would need to equal 5% of the appraised value to get a seven-year freeze on the structure and land. At press time on Wednesday, the task force was to meet to address the requirements and makeup of the Historic Landmark Commission and to consider incentives for preserving structures in low-income neighborhoods. Amy Smith
Twenty years after founding his insanely successful computer company, Michael Dell is stepping down as CEO and handing that title over to Kevin Rollins, currently Dell's president and chief operating officer. Dell will continue to be the chairman of Dell's board of directors and, according to a press release, "will remain deeply involved in the company's day-to-day business." Rollins will likely be elected to the board of directors at the company's July 16 shareholders meeting, replacing Mort Topfer, who will not stand for re-election. Lee Nichols
In other business news, Bill Stotesbery, vice-president of Hart InterCivic makers of those eSlate electronic voting machines on which Travis Co. voters cast their ballots Tuesday has been hired as president and CEO of KLRU-TV, replacing the retiring Mary Beth Rogers. L.N.
And in other broadcasting news, she's baaaack: former City Councilwoman Louise Epstein elected in 1990 as a supposed environmentalist and later reviled as a pro-developer turncoat and thrown out of office by voters in 1993 is auditioning for a talk-show gig on KLBJ 590AM. Her first on-air tryout was last Sunday, and she'll be on again this Sunday, noon-2pm. L.N.
Be on the lookout: Seen a suspiciously large pile of state Rep. Jack Stick's re-election signs lying around? Perhaps you know how to reach mysterious Austin businessman John Scarnado? If so, the Travis Co. Republican Party needs you and, if you're helpful enough, there might be some money in it for you. According to a notice posted on the party Web site, the TCRP and Stick are offering a $4,000 reward for information leading to the "apprehension and conviction" of the person who destroyed 100 4-by-8-foot Stick campaign signs on the night of Feb. 21. And, if you know who John Scarnado is and can offer info proving that he's a "registered Republican," there's $2,500 in it for you. According to the TCRP, Scarnado was quoted in a Feb. 22 New York Times article as saying that he would vote for Sen. John Kerry if he wins the Democratic nomination. Scarnado, the NYT reported, is a "sales manager" from Austin and a "registered Republican" who voted for Bush in 2000. Why the TCRP is sweating over Scarnado isn't clear; as of press time, TCRP operations director Josh Campbell hadn't returned calls seeking clarification. Any proof of Scarnado's partisanship may be hard to come by, since (apparently unbeknownst to the NYT) Texans don't register their party affiliation. J.S.
After the city roused the ire of BMX bicyclists and some neighbors by leveling an unofficial track in a park on Bouldin Creek (and arresting some of its builders), word is that the Parks and Recreation Department has begun working with bikers and the original track builders to build a city-sanctioned track in that area, perhaps modeled after the track in Duncan Park, off of West Ninth. L.N.
Beyond City Limits
The Capitol buzz is increasingly humming March 29 as the likely date for a special legislative session on public school finance, now that the adequacy study has been issued (see "Capitol Chronicle," p.17), and even the T word is in the air. Although Gov. Perry says he will wait for a "consensus" on finance reform before calling a session, one observer pointed to Perry's sinking approval rating 40% in last week's Texas Poll and concluded, "There will be a session." On Monday, Quorum Report posted a draft "Executive Summary" prepared for the Joint Select Committee on Public School Finance ("for discussion purposes only"), which includes broad proposals for property-tax relief, a simplified tax system, teacher and administrator incentive systems, and a few revenue options. The latter does not include an income tax, but does include raising the sales-tax rate, expanding the sales-tax base (e.g., taxes on services), a business activity tax, video lottery, and cigarette or other sin taxes. Red flags: making it easier to fire teachers, converting class-size limits to "districtwide averages," and relying more heavily on individual financial incentives. While a major goal remains to "eliminate Robin Hood," the summary also lists "equity for Texas students" as among the rationales for reform. M.K.
With tongue firmly in cheek, state House Democratic Caucus Chair Jim Dunnam, D-Waco, wrote to Gov. Perry last week offering to pay for the governor to visit the five poorest Texas school districts. Referring to recent headlines about the governor's recent and upcoming travels abroad, Dunnam suggested as destinations El Paso, Laredo, Bexar Co., and Presidio and wrote, "I have no doubt that your visits to these districts will be more beneficial and enlightening than discussing school finance with your donors aboard a yacht in the Bahamas. For that matter, I have no doubt that the visits would be more beneficial than gondola rides in Italy." In a similar spirit, Naked City worked up a quick cost estimate of Perry's recent cruise to the Abaco Islands, with a baker's dozen of aides and conservative honchos and lobbyists in his entourage, for a "progressive conversation" on public school finance. Based on an occupancy of just 12, and presuming (uncertainly) that chief of staff Mike Toomey and political adviser Dave Carney would double up in a single suite, we found a three-day package that totaled $8,615.52 for a weekend (taxes included, lunch and incidentals extra, with a "clothing optional" cruise available for large parties). Considering that the state's adequacy study concluded that it costs $6,200 a year to (barely) educate one Texas student, perhaps next time the governor's campaign donors could eliminate the middle-yacht and just kick in the money directly to the Texas Education Agency. A mind is a terrible thing to waste, especially by the dozen. M.K.
The Progressive Populist Caucus of the Texas Democratic Party on Sunday passed a resolution in support of voter-verified paper ballots as part of any electronic voting systems in the state. The caucus intends to turn the resolution into a Democratic Party platform plank at this year's state convention. For more on the PPC, go to www.texaspopulists.com; for more on attempts to put safeguards into electronic voting systems in Texas, go to www.safevoting.org. L.N.
The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws wants you and your money to help them buy three radio ads per month on KGSR 107.1FM. On March 9, NORML informed its supporters that an Austin donor has offered to purchase $200 worth of spots per month to run NORML ads featuring a Willie Nelson voiceover. That contribution will support 1.5 spots per month; NORML is seeking donors to foot another $400 to double the monthly buy. Interested drug reformers should call NORML at 202/483-5500 or e-mail NORML development coordinator Christopher Mulligan at email@example.com. J.S.
You know that the green building movement has entered the mainstream when the National Association of Homebuilders climbs aboard. Next week, the group will sponsor a national greenbuilding conference in where else? Austin, where the movement got its start. The conference takes place Sunday through Tuesday at the Austin Convention Center and will include a Sunday tour of green homes around Austin. Registration fees are on the pricey side, so check out www.nahb.org for additional info.
Petition drives to get third parties on the general-election ballot began March 10. Parties such as the Greens, Libertarians, etc. will need thousands of signatures from citizens who did not vote in either the Democratic or Republican primaries to qualify for the November ballot. An organizational meeting for this effort will take place Tuesday, March 16, 6:30pm, at Ventana del Soul Cultural Center and Coffee House, 1834 E. Oltorf. For more info, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Also, both the Greens and the Libertarians will be holding their county conventions Saturday, March 13. Contact the Greens for more info at 796-9439 and the Libs at 467-1776.
Saturday, March 20, the one-year anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, is a global day of action against war and occupation. Details are at www.unitedforpeace.org. In Austin, a March for Peace and Justice will take place, emphasizing a range of issues including not only the war but environmentalism and police brutality, as well. Marchers should assemble at Rosewood Park (corner of Rosewood and Chestnut) at 9:30am (breakfast tacos provided), and the march will proceed through East Austin to police headquarters at Seventh and I-35, for an 11am rally. Carpooling will also be available from Austin for a statewide rally in Crawford that afternoon (www.marchcrawford.org).