Breaking news stories from Austin and elsewhere.
Edited By Michael King and Lee Nichols, Fri., July 16, 2004
Quote of the Week: "Anybody who wants to talk about canceling elections needs to be replaced. Here's a Plan B: paper, pencils, day off to count the votes. ... We've never canceled, even in the Civil War and World War II. I don't know why we're talking about it now." Voting activist and author Bev Harris on recent "homeland security" speculations. See "E-Voting in the Hot Box".
In front of an overflow crowd at UT's Thompson Conference Center Monday night and after much hooting, hollering, hue and cry the CAMPO board voted to approve a slightly amended regional toll-road plan. See "Divided CAMPO Says Yes to Toll Plan."
Surprising no one not resident at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee issued a report blasting the CIA's prewar "threat" information on Iraq, and ranking Democratic Sen. John Rockefeller announced, "We went to war based on false claims."
The state auditor issued a blistering review of the Health and Human Services Commission's CHIP contract with Clarendon National Insurance Co., featuring at least $20 million in apparently unjustified payments. See "Capitol Chronicle: Picking Up the CHIPs."
The Chronicle has sued the city of Austin for the release of normally public time and job records for two former APD officers now engaged in "homeland security" training for profit; the city says the records are exempt because they are "subject to investigation." See "You Can't Have That!"
Despite continuing financial and academic problems at the state's 185 charter schools, the Texas Education Agency announced that 89 charters will not receive accountability ratings this fall because they have designated themselves as "alternative schools" and those reviewers were let go in state budget cuts.
As the Tour de France got rolling, Austin favorite Lance Armstrong was tooling along comfortably among the leaders, waiting to pounce in the first mountain segments scheduled for this week.
In the elongated Democratic primary battle over Congressional District 28, the full 4th Court of Appeals reversed an earlier panel decision and voted on party lines (5-2 GOP) to reject incumbent Rep. Ciro Rodriguez's challenge to voting irregularities in the election of Henry Cuellar who will face Republican Jim Hopson in November.
The city's Solid Waste Services Department launched a new curbside recycling program this week that, if successful with pilot customers, could put an end to rain-soaked newspapers. Households in pilot neighborhoods have already traded in their battered blue bins for new 60-gallon carts with blue lids. Collection days are every other week, putting fewer trucks on the road and reducing emissions. One advantage is that you'll be able to toss more stuff into the carts, like cereal and shoe boxes. The test program ends the second week in January, after which solid waste officials will decide whether to go full tilt citywide. Amy Smith
Speaking of recycling, Dell Inc. came closer to meeting the demands of environmental activists this week by announcing free recycling of old computers. There's a catch the offer is only available to consumers who buy a Dell Dimension or Inspiron notebook, and it's only for a limited time but activists applauded the move as a step in the right direction. L.N.
A broad swath of public officials this week celebrated the "almost there" phase of the Balcones Canyonlands Preserve, an endangered species habitat that needs just 3,000 more acres to round out the package. In the end, two endangered songbirds and six cave bugs will have the run of 30,428 contiguous acres west of Austin. The Tuesday night reception was in recognition of achieving the 90% completion mark, achieved with Travis Co.'s recent acquisition of two key pieces of property. The city and county hatched the BCP plan in the early Nineties as a means of placating the wishes of landowners and developers while preserving open space under the Endangered Species Act. Landowners contribute to the preserve by transferring ownership of habitat properties to the county in exchange for eliminating other habitat areas for development. The federal government contributes $3 for every $1 spent on land. A.S.
A proposal to conduct random drug testing of Lake Travis High students is down but not out after the LTISD board failed to approve the measure at their July 6 meeting. The board sought to test the nearly 700 students who pay $20 for an on-campus parking permit, a program that reportedly would cost the district at least $25,000 to implement. The district came up with the plan after a student survey concluded that drug use was a problem in LTISD. Still, many parents, concerned that the random tests would violate the students' civil rights, frowned upon the plan. The U.S. Supreme Court has already given the constitutional nod to schools that want to require students engaged in extracurricular activities to submit to random drug tests a plan the Lake Travis school board earlier this year said they would consider if the parking-permit testing scheme proved successful. Of course, they may ditch that progression now that their first attempt has failed but it doesn't sound like they're flushing urinalysis altogether: "We know everybody wants it ... and we are still committed to doing something," board President Susan Tolles told the Statesman on July 8. Jordan Smith
Glenn Shankle, who took an early retirement from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality on June 30, just got rehired as the agency's new executive director. Now he'll be able to collect on his state retirement benefits while continuing to draw a nice six-figure salary from taxpayers. The double dipper begins his new job Aug. 1, after spending one month as acting executive director before his, um, retirement. He had previously served as TCEQ's deputy E.D. and, before that, deputy director of administrative services. Shankle won the unanimous vote from TCEQ commissioners on Wednesday, beating out 35 other candidates under consideration for the job. As the Statesman noted last week, Shankle does not have a college degree. The position as posted required only a high school education or GED certificate for leading the state's top environmental agency. A.S.
Beyond City Limits
On July 9, McLennan Co. Judge Tom Ragland dismissed all charges against the five activists arrested near President George W. Bush's ranch in Crawford in May, 2003. The Crawford Five were charged with violating the city's parade and procession ordinance after being stopped by police while on their way to protest outside Bush's place. Police constructed a barricade, told the protesters their planned demonstration had not been approved by the city, and arrested the five after they refused to leave. The five were slapped with class C misdemeanor charges punishable by up to a $500 fine but they fought the charges, arguing that the Crawford ordinance unconstitutionally restricts their free-speech rights. Indeed, during cross-examination by C5 attorney Jim Harrington at their February trial in municipal court, Crawford Police Chief Donnie Tidmore said that even wearing a political button without a permit could violate the city's ordinance, the Waco Tribune-Herald reported. Nonetheless, in mid-February a Crawford jury found the five guilty, ordering them to pay fines of $200-$500 each. The C5 appealed to district court, which agreed that the Crawford ordinance was "overly broad on its face" and that "the manner in which it was implemented and enforced by the City of Crawford contravenes the First Amendment." J.S.
The U.S. Supreme Court continued its recent series of interventions on the behalf of Texas death row inmates on July 6, when it issued an indefinite stay of execution to Troy Kunkle. The case will be sent back for the lower courts to determine whether Kunkle's jury was allowed to consider evidence of his drug and alcohol abuse and whether his due-process rights were violated when his lawyers failed to receive access to full transcripts of pretrial juror questioning. Kunkle would've been the 11th Texas inmate executed this year; the Board of Pardons and Paroles had already denied his requests for commutation or six-month stay. Kunkle was 18 when he was convicted of the 1984 shooting of Steven Horton after offering him a ride to his Corpus Christi home. J.S.
Not surprisingly, the Bromine Science and Environmental Forum the PR arm of the bromine industry had a much different take on a recent study of brominated flame retardants in computers than the study's environmentalist authors (see "Naked City: Poisons in Your PC," June 11). Apparently armed with a thesaurus with lots of synonyms for "diminutive," a June 8 BSEF press release responded, "A small study reporting very low detection of infinitesimal levels of the fire safety material Deca bromodiphenyl ether (DecaBDE) on personal computer screens again reinforces the view that DecaBDE does not pose a risk to human health." That may be what the BSEF gleaned from the report, but its authors at the Computer TakeBack Campaign saw the findings otherwise, expressing concern that the chemicals are bioaccumulative (they build up in body tissue with repeated exposure), and calling for the chemicals to be phased out of PC production soon. Dell Computer has announced plans to phase out brominated flame retardants as soon as possible. L.N.
An 11-member systemwide task force appointed by the UT System Board of Regents in February on a possible UT bid to manage the Los Alamos National (Nuclear) Laboratory will present its findings to the board at 10:30am Friday, July 16, at UT System headquarters at 201 W. Seventh. A group of anti-nuke activists named UTNukeFree will hold a press conference in front of the system headquarters at 10am and plan to ask permission to address the regents at the meeting. The Los Alamos lab is a central component of the U.S. military's nuclear weapons program and has been managed by the University of California since 1943. Last year, the U.S. Department of Energy decided to open the management contract to competitive bidding.
The excellent Paul Stekler documentary Last Man Standing: Politics Texas Style will have its national television premiere on the PBS series POV on Tuesday, July 20. (It will air at 9pm on Austin's KLRU.) The film, which screened at this year's SXSW Film Festival to an enthusiastic response, focuses on the 2002 Patrick Rose/Rick Green state House District 45 race, detailing how a Democrat managed to pull out a squeaker win in conservative rural Texas against one of the most right-wing of all the state's incumbent legislators.
Randall Ellis, executive director of the Lesbian/Gay Rights Lobby of Texas, will speak as part of the Travis Co. Libertarian Party Distinguished Speaker Series on Sunday, July 18, at 3:45pm. The series takes place the third Sunday of every month at the LCRA Hancock Building, 3700 Lake Austin Blvd. Call 467-1776 for more info.
The Travis Co. Democratic Party Coordinated Campaign says it needs some computers from now through Election Day for data entry, so if you have an old one collecting dust, call Glen Maxey at 443-2004. The TCDP promises that, in their words, they "will promptly return your machine to you on November 3rd following the evening of John Kerry and John Edwards being elected as our new United States President and Vice President."
Travis Co. Constable Bruce Elfant will deputize volunteer voter registrars on Sat., July 17, 9am at the Travis Co. Democratic Party office at 706 W. Martin Luther King Blvd. Ste. 8. An RSVP is not required, but appreciated. The deputies will then participate in voter registration drives at events and locations around the county later that day. For more info, call 454-1392 or e-mail email@example.com.
The next Austin for Kerry Meetup is Thursday, July 22, 7pm, at Mother Egan's Irish Pub, 716 W. Sixth. For more info, call 743-8633 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
MoveOn.org is sponsoring a series of house parties around the nation on Sunday, July 18, to screen Outfoxed, a documentary that, in their words, "expose[s] Fox Network for what it really is not a news network but a right-wing spin machine." Here in Austin, it won't exactly be a house party it will be shown outdoors, in the parking lot of Jo's Hot Coffee and the San Jose Hotel, 1300 S. Congress, at dusk (8:30ish). The event is free.
Supporters of Ralph Nader and other independent candidates will converge on the federal courtroom of Judge Lee Yeakel (200 W. Eighth) at 9am Thursday, July 22, to hear arguments to equalize the ballot access requirements in Texas between indie candidates and third-party candidates (currently, indie presidential candidates must gather about 20,000 more petition signatures than third parties, and they have earlier deadlines). Supporters of the suit remind those wishing to attend that no political slogans, attire, or signs are allowed in the courtroom. See the "Texas" page at www.votenader.org for more info.