Breaking stories from Austin and beyond
Edited By Michael King and Lee Nichols, Fri., April 23, 2004
Quote of the Week: "You've heard of financing schemes that have a balloon payment at the end? This one has the Hindenberg." State Comptroller (and all-but-announced GOP gubernatorial candidate) Carole Keeton Strayhorn, describing Gov. Rick Perry's school finance plan.
While the insurgency spreads in Iraq with rising casualties on all sides, the Bush administration scrambles for an exit strategy, and the 9/11 Commission suggests that nobody was paying close enough attention. For an inside view on the chaos in the "Coalition," see our Web extra: "Fables of the Reconstruction."
"The circus is back in town" was heard in the Capitol lobby, as the 78th Legislature responded to the governor's call on public school finance and promptly adjourned to continue next week. See "Capitol Chronicle."
The City Council got some good news for a change: We're not quite as broke as we thought we were. We're not out of the woods yet get out there, and buy some more stuff.
The Gary Bradley bankruptcy got under way this week, as the feds and Bradley's creditors go looking for Lazarus and the Phoenix. See "Bradley's Lazarus Lotto ."
Investigative reports on two widely watched stories about the Austin Police Department come to very different conclusions. See below.
At long last, the summary was released last week of an investigation designed to determine whether former APD Assistant Chief Jimmy Chapman committed perjury last summer. Unfortunately, the four-page summary bereft of any substantive content involving investigative procedure or findings leaves open the one question it was supposed to answer: Did Chapman commit perjury during a July 10 deposition taken in connection with the whistle-blower lawsuit filed in 2002 by Officer Jeff White? According to Chief Stan Knee's handpicked investigator James McLaughlin, president and general counsel for the Texas Police Chiefs Association, his inquiry is drum roll, please "inconclusive." Chapman was accused of lying under oath when he testified that he never sought to remove a set of phone records related to former Williamson Co. Sheriff John Maspero from an Internal Affairs file back in 1997. Deposition testimony from two former IA detectives directly contradicted Chapman. (See "Chapman off the Job as Mala Sangre Probe Continues," Sept. 19, 2003.) Still, McLaughlin was apparently unable to shed any new light on the contradiction or to conclude whether Chapman did or did not violate any "policies, procedures or criminal statutes," he wrote. "Therefore I have no choice but to recommend that [the case] be ruled: Inconclusive." In exchange for his crack investigative work, McLaughlin was paid $30,000 in taxpayer money a bargain, indeed! Jordan Smith
Last week the city made public the contents of the independent investigation that ultimately exonerated Austin Police Officer John Coffey of any wrongdoing in connection with the 2002 shooting death of Sophia King. "Based on the exigent circumstances which he faced, it is my opinion that Officer Coffey had no choice but to shoot Ms. King," Dallas attorney Steven DeWolf wrote in his final report on the King investigation. DeWolf was hired after the Citizen Review Panel recommended the case be reviewed by an outside investigator. In his report, DeWolf summarizes his investigation and findings before answering a series of questions related to the events leading up to King's death. In short, DeWolf wrote that he did not think that less-than-lethal weapons were an option to subdue King (that is, if the officers actually had access to either a Taser gun or beanbag ammunition), that he did not think that a lack of training contributed to the tragedy, and that, in sum, he did not think there was anything police could've done differently to avoid killing King. (Interestingly, DeWolf also notes that a review of "how and why Ms. King's psychiatric condition degraded to the point that it was" likely the most meaningful question yet to be asked was "beyond the scope" of his charge.) "I do not know of anything the officers reasonably could have done to prevent the situation from escalating into the ultimately fatal armed confrontation that it became." J.S.
The Travis Co. Sheriff's Office last week got a clean bill of health from the Texas Commission on Jail Standards, making this the third year in a row that the county's jail system has been state certified no small feat for a jail system that failed to achieve compliance for nine years straight. The county's system made up of the Del Valle Correctional Complex, the Travis Co. Jail, and Central Booking had failed inspections every year since 1993, and the county was facing serious state sanctions (including a remedial order that threatened closure of the downtown facility) for several problems, including chronic overcrowding. "We are very pleased with the certification, but I am more proud of my staff, their professionalism, and the way they are working to keep our jail in order," Sheriff Margo Frasier said in a press release. J.S.
A request to construct a new water line to the Hamilton Pool Road area in western Travis Co. has pitted local environmentalists and nearby residents against a handful of landowners who want to develop their properties. The Lower Colorado River Authority board heard testimony from both sides Wednesday afternoon, and the issue is expected to grow more volatile by the day. The board is expected to act on the proposal May 19; meanwhile, the landowners group, calling itself the Hamilton Pool Road Alliance, has ramped up its offensive against the Save Our Springs Alliance, the lead opponent of the proposal. The HPRA has called on property rights supporters to get behind the water line request and, in an e-mail alert, accused the SOS of "waging war on landowners' rights, again." The landowners want to build 1,300 new homes on some 1,400 acres, most of it in the Barton Springs Watershed. If the water service is provided, SOS and other opponents argue, the line would have the potential to service thousands of additional homes, which would not only pollute the Edwards Aquifer but would destroy the rural character of the popular Hamilton Pool. In a letter to the LCRA, SOS Alliance Chairman Stuart Henry pointed out that approval of the proposal would undermine the ongoing regional planning process to protect the watershed. He asked that the river authority postpone its decision until the completion of the process. LCRA has committed $100,000 to the regional plan. Amy Smith
The City Council last week approved the purchase price of furniture for the new City Hall a steal for just ... $1.9 million. Vicky Schubert, acting director of financial and administrative services, pointed out that that's actually a good deal when compared to the originally budgeted $3.2 million in 2001, which was later marked down to $2.5 million and is now less than $2 million, reflecting a 40% reduction. Schubert attributed the bargain-basement price to staff efforts to get the best bang for the buck for the 285 to 300 city employees who will move into the new building late this year, with the first council meeting slated for Jan. 6, 2005. Schubert described the furniture as "very durable" and containing recycled content. "Also," she said, "the design focuses on workplace productivity and ergonomics to help the health of our employees." A.S.
As the May 15 election approaches, candidates for the boards of trustees for Austin Community College and Austin ISD face two very different elections. Few surprises are in store at AISD, where incumbents Rudy Montoya (District 2) and Johna Edwards (District 3) are running unopposed, and newcomer Mark Williams is the only candidate for the seat vacated by Ingrid Taylor (District 5). Board Vice-President Doyle Valdez (at-large position 8) does face a challenger, Jennifer Gale, but even that is no nail-biter Valdez easily defeated Gale, a perennial face in Austin elections, in 1998. Over at ACC, the waters are a little more rough, as two trustees opted not to defend their seats on the long-troubled nine-member board. Jeffrey Richard and Thomas Krueger are facing off for Place 4 (all ACC seats are at-large), while the candidates for Place 6 are Rodney Ahart, Marc Levin, Veronica Rivera, and Guadalupe Sosa. Only board Chair Rafael Quintanilla (Place 5), who faces no opponent, is ready to give it another go. Rachel Proctor May
Tax day saw the launch of a new, Austin-based political Web site: www.notbush.com. The site's founders Michael and Jeri Archuleta, Ed Hassinger, Peter Noteboom, and Robert Zimmer say its purpose (aside from the obvious, ousting our current president) is to be "a one-stop repository for objective stories from the mainstream media about George W. Bush and his administration's policies, while avoiding the inflammatory, destructive rhetoric that seems to get worse with every political campaign." L.N.
Attorneys on both sides of a dispute involving a recently approved Lowe's home improvement store in Southwest Austin will head to the Travis Co. Courthouse today (Thursday) to seek a summary judgment of a lawsuit filed against Lowe's Home Centers and the city of Austin early this year. The plaintiffs in the case the Save Barton Creek Association, the Save Our Springs Alliance, and the city of Sunset Valley claim the construction of the big box in Southwest Austin will cause irreparable harm to the Edwards Aquifer. The Brodie Lane site is located in the aquifer recharge zone. The city approved the development in December as part of a legal settlement with Lowe's, which agreed to pay the city a $1 million mitigation fee in exchange for building a 162,000-square-foot store that exceeds existing impervious cover limits. The proposal squeaked by on a 4-3 vote from the City Council, and opponents argued that the settlement violated the city's SOS water-quality ordinance because it was approved without a supermajority. A.S.
Beyond City Limits
BNP Petroleum began drilling for natural gas on Padre Island National Seashore on April 13, with the permission of the National Park Service. As previously reported here, the Sierra Club is protesting the drilling, charging that the amount of gas that can be extracted from the site is not enough to merit the possible harm to nearby nesting grounds of the endangered Kemp ridley sea turtle. The Sierra Club has requested that President Bush intervene in the matter; BNP says that its operations will be sensitive to the nesting turtles. L.N.
State Rep. Corbin Van Arsdale officially joined the ranks of anti-gay House members last Friday with his filing of HCR 1, a resolution that supports amending the U.S. Constitution to define marriage as the union of a man and a woman. The Houston Republican, who enjoys support from the Texans for a Republican Majority group whose campaign finance practices are under investigation, beat fellow gay-bashing House members to the punch in filing the resolution during a special session that's supposed to be devoted to school financing. On the session's opening day, Tuesday, the bill advanced to the House Committee on Juvenile Justice and Family Issues. The Lesbian/Gay Rights Lobby of Texas is encouraging folks to call Van Arsdale's Capitol office at 463-0661 to tell him what he can do with HCR 1. A.S.
The 2004 National Innocence Conference, hosted by the Texas Innocence Network, is in town this weekend, bringing together experts on wrongful convictions and advocates of freeing the falsely imprisoned to discuss the growing movement to free the wrongfully convicted and to determine causes of wrongful conviction. Participants in the weekendlong conference will include Barry Scheck and Peter Neufeld of the Innocence Project, Larry Marshall and Rob Warden from Northwestern University's Center on Wrongful Convictions, UT law professors Bill Allison and Robert Dawson, and defense attorney David Sheppard. Allison, Dawson, and Sheppard recently started the Texas Center for Actual Innocence in conjunction with a new UT law school clinic. The conference opens April 23 with a panel discussion of the now infamous Tulia drug sting. For more on the conference, including an agenda and registration info, go to www.regonline.com/11529.
A look at the pros and cons (but mostly pros) of gay marriage takes place today (Thursday) on the UT campus, in an event sponsored by the UT Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, and Ally Affairs Agency. The daylong event begins with a Weddings for Marriage Equality demonstration from 11am to noon on the Main Mall south of the UT Tower. The Rev. Jim Rigby of St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church will speak on equal rights from a religious viewpoint and will perform commitment ceremonies for couples. Karl-Thomas Musselman, co-director of the GLBT agency will also speak. A debate on the subject will be held 7-9pm in the Sid Richardson Hall basement of the Bass Lecture Hall, adjacent to the LBJ Library. Ron Schlittler, national director of field and policy for Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, will speak in favor of same-sex marriage, and Joshua Baker, policy director for the Institute for Marriage and Public Policy, will counter his arguments.
Former United Nations weapons inspector Hans Blix will speak at UT's LBJ Library on Wednesday, April 28, at 6:30pm. Blix is slated to discuss his experiences searching for weapons in Iraq. Blix resigned as head of the UN Monitoring Verification and Inspection Commission last summer and is now chair of the International Commission on Weapons of Mass Destruction. Free tickets for the event are available at the Texas Union Box Office or the Performing Arts Center ticket office.
A discussion of the future of Medicare will be held tonight (Thursday) at the eighth floor atrium of the LBJ Library, 7pm. This event is held in conjunction with the conference Big Choices: The Future of Medicare for Older Americans (www.utexas.edu/lbj/research/chasp/events.htm), hosted by the LBJ Library and the LBJ School's Center for Health and Social Policy.
Palestinian artist Haseiba al-Dajani tells the story of her life in "A Portrait of Palestine," using traditional dance, music, art, and film on Saturday, April 24, 8:30pm, on the UT campus in the Flawn Academic Center, Rm. 21 (the bottom floor of the Undergraduate Library, just west of the UT tower). $10 admission, $5 students; all proceeds benefit the Palestine Solidarity Committee's Family Aid Program.
UT journalism professor and anti-war activist Robert Jensen discusses his new book, Citizens of the Empire: The Struggle to Claim Our Humanity, at BookPeople (Sixth and Lamar) at 7pm Monday, April 26.
The Third Coast Activist Resource Center presents the documentary Peace, Propaganda & the Promised Land: U.S. Media & the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict at 7pm Thursday, April 29, at Alamo Drafthouse Downtown, 409-B Colorado. Co-director and producer Bathsheba Ratzkoff, will be in attendance to take questions after the film. Buy tickets online at www.drafthouse.com. $6 general admission, $4.50 students.
Charles Sheehan-Miles, executive director of the Nuclear Policy Research Institute, will speak at 7pm Thursday, April 29, at the University Teaching Center, Rm. 4.102, on the UT campus (Speedway and MLK), on the reactivated U.S. nuclear weapons program and provide a context for understanding UT's interest in taking over the Los Alamos weapons lab in New Mexico. See www.thirdcoastactivist.org for more info. www.amleft.blogspot.com