Headlines and happenings from Austin and beyond
Edited By Mike Clark-Madison, Fri., April 2, 2004
Quote of the Week: "We regularly receive reports, some quite intriguing and credible, about concealed caches." New CIA Iraq weapons-hunter Charles Duelfer, testifying on Capitol Hill. (Really! We do! Honestly! Would we lie to you?)
Another week, another downtown celebrity bust this time, Alamo star Jason Patric but the City Council wants to make nice with Ozomatli. See City Council Loves Ozomatli!.
Even as rumors and vapors swirl around Block 21, the city is preparing to topple another downtown domino readying to seek proposals for reusing Seaholm Power Plant. See Seaholm Ready for Rebirth .
Tom DeLay thinks he's in trouble, and he's probably right though cries of "Partisan witch hunt!" continue to amuse and appall the Bug Man's Democratic victims. See Capitol Chronicle and Tomstown: Follow the Money.
In the wake of last week's approval of a new contract with the Austin Police Association, City Council today is set to consider an ordinance making significant changes to the meet-and-confer process that produced the agreement. Under the terms of the proposed ordinance, future meet-and-confer talks would be time-limited and open to public and media scrutiny and would allow outside mediators and "neutral fact-finders" to be called in to help avoid or resolve impasses. All this would make meet-and-confer more like straight-up collective bargaining, which Austin firefighters are seeking at the ballot box May 15. City Manager Toby Futrell says the council can make the changes without the APA's assent. "I think we're going to see a far improved process with these changes," she says. Despite opposition from police accountability activists, the Statesman, and dozens of speakers at last week's after-midnight public hearing, the council voted 7-0 to approve the five-year police contract (a more resounding endorsement than the 55-45% vote of the APA membership itself). At least three council members, though, endorsed from the dais the changes being brought forward this week. M.C.M.
It's Mueller time again! As negotiations between the city and Catellus Development prospective master developer of the 711-acre old airport move toward a possible deal this summer and as Seton Healthcare Network prepares to break ground on its new Children's Hospital, Mueller players are putting on a "Mueller 101" community event to share info and rekindle interest in the Mueller redevelopment project, which began officially way back in 1996 and unofficially several decades earlier. The forum Tuesday, April 6, 6pm, at Town Lake Center, the Austin Energy building at 721 Barton Springs Rd. will feature representatives from Catellus, city staff and its consultant team led by ROMA Design Group, and the council-appointed Mueller Commission, reviewing the current state of the city's adopted master plan to convert Mueller into a mixed-use urban village, discussing projects already under way or in place (like Seton and Austin Studios), and addressing where the Mueller effort goes from here, and when. M.C.M.
On Tuesday evening at the Delco Center, AISD introduced its new Secondary School Blueprint Initiative, covering Reagan and LBJ high schools and Pearce and Dobie middle schools. The Blueprint program was created last year to address student achievement problems at six local elementary and middle schools, and administrators say it has produced sufficient gains to extend to secondary campuses with similar problems overall test scores at Reagan and LBJ are the lowest among district high schools. Superintendent Pat Forgione said AISD is committed to "high academic standards for all our children" and determined to "close the achievement gap," and trustee Cheryl Bradley introduced Marcus Nelson, currently a principal in the Pflugerville ISD, as the new Blueprint director for the four schools. Nelson, who will be reorganizing the administrations of the four schools for next fall, described himself proudly as a "product of public education" in San Antonio: "Know that I will have high expectations." He said he expects to build programs in AISD that will be "a model for what secondary education can look like." Michael King
Hays Co. residents concerned about developments' effects on the Edwards Aquifer can at least be cheered by one thing: There are 236 acres in their midst that will remain free of asphalt. That bit of relief comes courtesy of the Austin City Council, which last week approved the $1.6 million purchase of the property between RM 150 and RM 967 in northern Hays Co. The acquisition of the LS Ranch tract brings city-owned conservation property across the county line to nearly 17,000 acres. The purchase was made possible with the help of $510,000 that Lowe's Home Centers kicked in to mitigate its development of a big-box store on Brodie Lane in Southwest Austin, which the City Council approved over strong opposition from environmentalists and the city of Sunset Valley. The rest was paid for with voter-approved bonds. The newly acquired parcel adds a southern extension to an existing 862-acre city conservation easement. Amy Smith
On March 22, U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel approved an order that will send Rodney Reed's death row appeal back to state court for additional review. Reed was sentenced to death for the 1996 Bastrop murder of 19-year-old Stacey Stites (see Who Killed Stacey Stites?, May 24, 2002). Reed's attorneys, with the Texas Defender Service, filed a federal appeal last winter, claiming that prosecutors hid potentially exculpatory evidence, and that Reed's trial attorneys were ineffective. Neither of those claims were considered by any state court a requirement for furthering an argument in federal court. So on March 1, U.S. Magistrate Judge Andrew Austin issued a stay of Reed's federal appeal, remanding the case to Bastrop Co. district court for review. Still, that doesn't mean either claim will ever receive a full vetting, said TDS attorney Morris Moon. Instead, the question of whether the trial court should even consider the still-unanswered questions will be up to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, which can send the case back to Bastrop, or directly back to federal court. In short, the waiting game goes on. Jordan Smith
Another way to while away the hours online: FundRace 2004 is a handy new search tool that provides insight into your neighbors' politics. The Web site, at www.fundrace.org, tracks contributions to presidential candidates, which can be accessed by either name or ZIP code. The info comes from financial reports that campaigns must file with the Federal Election Commission. The site currently lists contributions made in January and February, when there was a wider field of presidential candidates. Locally, the 78704 neighborhoods of South Austin made good on their liberal rep, with most of the contributions listed going to Democratic candidates. The same spirit carried over in Hyde Park, where out of some 40 contributions reported, only two went to President Bush. In West Austin's tony 78703 neighborhoods, the overwhelming majority of contributors favored Bush. Ditto in the 78746 ZIP code, which encompasses Rollingwood and West Lake Hills. The Web site also maps out partisan leanings on a national level and for other major U.S. cities. A.S.
The Travis Co. Tax Office has opened up the second of four planned suboffices, this one in Precinct 2 at 15822 Foothills Farms Loop in Pflugerville. A Precinct 4 office opened late last year at 4011 McKinney Falls Pkwy., and others are planned for 8656 Hwy. 71 W. in Oak Hill (Precinct 3) and 1811 Springdale (Precinct 1). Lee Nichols
Longtime Austin activists Doug and Ann Foxvog are moving to Ireland. Doug Foxvog created and maintained the Web site www.progressiveaustin.org, and the two were co-founders of the Austin Democracy Coalition and Austin Against War. For more info, go to www.foxvog.org. L.N.
Beyond City Limits
In a surprising South Texas turnabout, the Congressional District 28 recount (still in progress as of Wednesday) shows primary challenger Henry Cuellar, the former Laredo legislator and Texas secretary of state, now leading incumbent U.S. Rep. Ciro Rodriguez, D-San Antonio, by 197 votes, after 304 new votes turned up in Zapata Co. However, the Webb Co. tally apparently now includes 115 more votes than the actual number of ballots, and the Democratic Party scheduled a re-recount for this Sunday. Zapata Co. was the scene of much confusion on Election Night, and the new votes were said to derive primarily from provisional and mail-in ballots. Recounts in other counties were continuing, but were not expected to reverse the reversal (so far, other counties' recounts produced differences of only a couple of votes). Rodriguez is expected to file a legal challenge to the new results. M.K.
Scores of local officials, business owners, and social service advocacy groups are lobbying the state and the Health and Human Services Commission to restore funds to the Children's Health Insurance Program, after more than 118,000 children nearly 23% of the total enrollment lost coverage since last September. In the name of budget cuts, last year's Lege deleted all coverage for dental, vision, and hospice benefits, and other regulatory changes resulted in an abrupt and continuing decline in enrollment and the HHSC response has been to find more cuts. The agency is now considering a punitive assets test for eligibility, even though the program is aimed at working families that can't qualify for Medicaid yet still can't afford private health insurance. Moreover, the federal government pays $2.59 for every state CHIP dollar so Texas counties stand to lose $500 million in federal matching funds because of the state's parsimony. Advocates in the Campaign to Restore CHIP, ranging from the Texas Medical Association to Consumers Union, will hold press conferences throughout the state today (Thursday), calling for $469 million in federal funds received since the Lege session to be allocated immediately for CHIP. M.K.
The Houston Chronicle reported last week that Texas petroleum industry officials have received notice from the FBI to be on the alert for terrorist activities, especially this fall. "The alert mentioned threats to pipelines and facilities in Texas to coincide with the election in November," an anonymous industry source was quoted as saying. The same source said that there have been at least half a dozen such warnings from the FBI in Texas since last summer. L.N.
Back in 1999, a blue-hair old-school West Texas Republican and passionate Shrub supporter enumerated for Naked City why she considered Gov. George W. Bush's leadership superior to that of his predecessor. "You know, when Ann Richards was governor, she hired all those gays and lesbians" to work at the state Capitol, she said in a deep drawl. "But George is doing a good job of getting rid of them." That insightful old biddy can now apparently be just as happy with her president. Last week, Bush appointee Scott Bloch the head of the U.S. Office of Special Counsel, which handles workplace-rights cases involving federal employees said that his office has suspended enforcement in cases alleging discrimination based on sexual orientation. In 1999, Bloch's predecessor (a Clinton appointee) interpreted federal civil-service law which forbids punishment of workers for off-the-job conduct to protect the rights of gay workers. But Bloch isn't convinced and has ordered all references to sexual orientation removed from the OSC's Web site. "It is critical that this agency be especially careful not to engage in the kind of extralegal enforcement actions that we prosecute on a daily basis," he said. "That is why we must be especially precise in reviewing the proper limitations of the agency's enforcement powers." J.S.
As has become standard practice at presidential events, peaceful protesters at a Bush-Cheney campaign event in Florida were escorted out before President Bush arrived and relocated to a "free speech zone" more than 100 yards away and well out of earshot of participants. According to the Orlando Sentinel, six college students wearing T-shirts bearing the likeness of Bush and reading, "Some things were never meant to be recycled. Defeat Bush. Save our Future," were ordered by police to leave. The protesters claim they had no intention of disrupting the event, but despite having tickets to the event were threatened with trespassing charges. L.N.
On Friday, April 2, 8:30am-3:30pm, grad students at UT's LBJ School of Public Affairs' Community Informatics team, assisted by speakers and experts from throughout Central Texas, will present Cool Tools for Change inexpensive, customizable ways to make your community organization run more smoothly and strengthen your social networks. Free box lunch optional. Bass Lecture Hall, LBJ School, 26th and Red River. For more info, go to www.cooltoolsforchange.org or call 471-8326.
On Saturday, April 3, 10am-noon, the Third Coast Activist Resource Center offers a community class, How the Internet Really Works: Understanding the Technology That Changed Our Lives, featuring computer industry professional Robert Dailey. CMA Auditorium, Room 2.320, UT campus (26th and Guadalupe). RSVP to pat@thirdcoastactivist to reserve a seat.
The next stakeholders meeting in the Hays Co. component of the Edwards Aquifer regional planning process will be 4-6pm Monday, April 5, at Dripping Springs City Hall, 550 Hwy. 290 E. The planning process involves elected representatives, agency officials, and environmental representatives.
Another public forum on electronic voting sponsored by the League of Women Voters will be held Wednesday, April 7, 7pm, at the LCRA Board Room in the Hancock Building, 3700 Lake Austin Blvd. Speakers include Dr. Dan Wallach, assistant professor of computer science at Rice University; Travis Co. Clerk (and chief election official) Dana DeBeauvoir; Ann McGeehan, director of elections for the Texas secretary of state's office; Dr. Hamilton Richards, senior lecturer in computer science at UT; and a representative of Hart InterCivic, manufacturer of the eSlate voting machines currently used by Travis Co. For more info, call 476-7944 or e-mail email@example.com.