Headlines and happenings from Austin and beyond
Edited By Mike Clark-Madison, Fri., Aug. 27, 2004
Quote of the Week: "I don't see anything wrong with the current school-finance system, had the state continued to fund its proportionate share." Former Lt. Gov. Bill Ratliff, author of the current Texas "Robin Hood" system, testifying in the West Orange-Cove trial. See p.23.
Speaking of schools and money, early voting is now under way in the AISD bond election. See our feature on p.30.
As Capital Metro prepares for Monday's expected vote to set a rail election, advocates (not just us) continue efforts to take plans up a notch. See "Austin@Large," at right.
Oh, by the way, the Pakistani With the Video Camera has now been indicted in North Carolina on six federal counts, none of which has anything to do with terrorism. Mansfield Dam still stands.
The city budget semifinals continue today, with presentations on Austin's infrastructure and growth-management departments (once again) being heavily reorganized. Meanwhile, the City Council has raised a major issue with City Manager Toby Futrell's well-greased spending plan: paying city employees a living wage. Mayor Will Wynn and Council Member Raul Alvarez have suggested Futrell raise the city's lowest pay rate from $9 to $10 an hour still below the metro area's presumed living wage (roughly three times average rent, which would translate in Austin to about $13/hour). Union leaders estimate this would only cost about $300,000 within the wiggle room in Futrell's budget as originally proposed. But she puts the price tag at closer to $8 million, if an adjustment means likewise moving higher-paid employees up the scale. M.C.M.
The AISD board of trustees Monday night unanimously approved the $731 million budget Superintendent Pat Forgione proposed last month. The budget includes a 5% compensation increase for teachers (a 4% raise, plus health insurance premiums, covered by the district's fund balance), and small staffing increases in the district's most-stretched areas. Nearly $136 million of the budget will go to back to the state via recapture, aka Robin Hood. Rachel Proctor May
Beau Armstrong vs. Kirk Rudy the rematch? The two developers' firms, Stratus Properties and Endeavor Real Estate Group respectively, provided the only two timely and sufficient responses by Friday to the city's request for proposals to redevelop Block 21, the sexy vacant lot opposite the new City Hall. Stratus also provided one of three qualified responses to the city's search for a partner to reinvent Seaholm Power Plant. Two other teams missed Friday's deadlines by only a few minutes; seeking a larger pool of proposals, city staff have decided to extend the deadline for both projects to Sept. 10. Stratus and Endeavor, you may remember, last wrangled in the southwest over the latter's proposed Wal-Mart at MoPac and Slaughter, a case that's now all lawyered up. (Another controversial aquifer-area developer, Cypress Real Estate Advisors, turned in a "nonresponsive" Block 21 proposal.) M.C.M.
Let the feeding frenzy begin! Austin's dogged local media hounds are hot on the trail of actress Sandra Bullock, who arrived in Travis Co. civil district court Aug. 20 to take on homebuilder Benny Daneshjou over his allegedly "shoddy" work on Bullock's unoccupied and unfinished River Hills Road home. Bullock alleges that Daneshjou has left her with an uninhabitable home requiring nearly $4 million in repairs; Daneshjou argues that Bullock still owes him an unspecified sum for various architectural fees and labor costs. The well-attended and overreported affair will run through next week. Jordan Smith
Diazinon the garden-variety pesticide that's harmful to salamanders and humans alike is being phased out of the U.S. market, the Environmental Protection Agency announced this month. The action follows a lawsuit brought by the Save Our Springs Alliance and the Tuscon-based Center for Biological Diversity in January, which called for the elimination of several weed- and bug-killing chemicals found in Barton Springs. In the lawsuit, the groups claimed that the EPA had ignored 2001 warnings by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The EPA ban only applies to nonagricultural use and does not affect existing stocks on store shelves and in warehouses, such as the Green Light and Ortho product lines. SOS, nevertheless, is urging area retailers to stop selling products containing diazinon. Amy Smith
The Travis Co. Sheriff's Officers Association has kicked off a campaign to secure collective bargaining rights in labor negotiations with the county. The association, whose membership exceeds 600 members primarily corrections officers will need the signatures of 20,000 Travis Co. voters to place the measure on the May 2005 ballot. The Travis Co. Sheriff's Law Enforcement Association, which represents 240 patrol deputies, has not determined whether it will join the TCSOA's effort. The two groups split in 2001 after disputes over pay equity between corrections and law-enforcement officers; the two unions are now talking to determine how deputies would be represented in collective bargaining, since state law requires that a single union negotiate on behalf of all workers. J.S.
Two years after Gary Bradley filed for bankruptcy, his $73 million debt to taxpayers still hangs in the form of a question: Did the Austin developer hide his assets in a trust before taking cover under Chapter 7? It could take another month or so before a U.S. bankruptcy judge provides an answer, says Ron Ingalls, the bankruptcy trustee whose role is similar to that of a collection agency for creditors. Bradley's largest debt is owed the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., for failed loans he took out to build the Circle C Ranch subdivision in the Eighties. The development will go down in local history as a catalyst for sprawl over the Edwards Aquifer. Lawyers on both sides of the case were expected to have their final arguments to Judge Frank Monroe by the end of the week, Ingalls said. "So it could be the end of September, by the earliest, before we know anything." Until then, he added, "we're in never-never land." A.S.
Nationally syndicated political columnist Molly Ivins was hospitalized last week at the Heart Hospital of Austin. "She was suffering from exhaustion and shortness of breath," said Ivins' spokesperson Betsy Moon. Ivins had just returned from making speeches for the ACLU in Kentucky and North Carolina, and Moon said, "She just needed to slow down. ... Before that she was hiking in the Canadian Rockies, after the Democratic National Convention." Moon said that Ivins' physical difficulties are "something that's been around a while. It's not a new condition." Ivins was released on Saturday and was resting at home as of Monday. Lee Nichols
After umpteen appearances on the agenda, Central Austin neighborhood leaders' cars can likely drive themselves to City Council for today's presumably final approval of the Central Austin Combined Neighborhood Plan and University Neighborhood Overlay, although concerns still run high that the UNO's enabling of massive density increases in West Campus will not naturally translate into a supply of affordable housing accessible to students. M.C.M.
Also from the perm-agenda file: the last round in the contest over a conditional-use permit for the Up to Me transitional housing facility for female ex-felons on North Lamar. (The Planning Commission denied the permit; that decision is now being appealed.) So far, City Hall's sympathy to Up to Me has apparently been premised on the group's reputation operating a similar facility a couple miles north, but Northfield neighbors challenge that rep with data from the state they claim illustrates "serious problems" with that operation. M.C.M.
James W. Vick, vice president of student affairs at UT-Austin for the past 15 years, has announced he will be returning to the faculty of UT's math department on May 31. L.N.
Former 3M exec Bill McClellan, whose past nonprofit gigs include work with the Austin Museum of Art, Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce, Lifeworks, and the Austin Area Urban League, has been tapped as the new board chair for Envision Central Texas, succeeding the late Neal Kocurek. The regional growth-management project is also looking for a new executive director, a search it says should be complete within weeks. M.C.M.
After a brief petition drive to land a slot on KUT, the highly acclaimed Democracy Now! radio program, a bulwark of left/progressive media, has landed instead on KAZI (88.7 FM). The program will air Monday-Friday, noon-1pm, beginning Aug. 30. This marks the first time that the Pacifica Radio Network program will be heard on Austin radio, though it has been featured in the 6-7pm slot on Austin Community Access TV Channel 16 since last October. L.N.
As per usual at election time, the League of Women Voters has produced a voters' guide to the Sept. 11 AISD bond ballot. The guide is nonpartisan, with arguments both pro and con on the proposed bonds. The guide may be downloaded from www.leaguewv.austin.tx.us. For more on the AISD bonds, see p.30. L.N.
Beyond City Limits
Gov. Rick Perry granted eight pardons Aug. 20, based on recommendations from the Board of Pardons and Paroles. Perry scrubbed clean convictions on a variety of charges, from second-degree voluntary manslaughter to drug possession; since taking office, Perry has granted 70 pardons, including 35 connected with the infamous Tulia drug-bust scandal. On Tuesday the BPP voted 6-0 against recommending clemency for death-row inmate James Allridge, subject of our cover story last week. Allridge's execution was scheduled for 6pm Thursday, Allridge's appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court was still pending as the Chronicle went to press. J.S.
In one of the weirder child custody fights to hit the headlines, state budget-slasher Rep. Talmadge Heflin, R-Houston, and his wife were denied standing Monday in their attempt to be awarded permanent custody of the 20-month-old son of Mariam Katamba, a Ugandan woman who was either their maid or their houseguest. The Heflins said they had become the child's primary caregiver; Katamba said she worked as their maid and they were simply babysitters. In addition to charging neglect, Heflin testified that he and his wife would be better parents for the boy because of "the terrible problem that black male children have growing into manhood without being in prison," drawing denunciations from local African-American leaders. Family District Judge Linda Motheral sided with Katamba and returned the child to her custody; it remains unclear how Heflin no relation to the boy managed to get a temporary court order for custody in the first place. Michael King
With the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth dominating the presidential headlines why argue over a new war when you can rehash an old one? Texans for Public Justice has provided an update on Bob Perry of Houston-based Perry Homes, the biggest underwriter ($200,000 with more to come) of the veterans' negative ad assault on John Kerry. According to TPJ, Perry has become the largest single political donor in Texas, giving candidates and committees more than $5.2 million since 2000. His beneficiaries include not only Govs. Bush and Perry (no relation) and the Texas GOP, but also David Dewhurst, Greg Abbott, Carole Keeton Strayhorn, Tom DeLay's Texans for a Republican Majority, and the entire current crop of Republican legislators. He was also a heavy financial underwriter of "tort reform" in Texas. More info: www.tpj.org. M.K.
It's fundraiser time: Lorenzo Sadun, whose Democratic write-in candidacy for Congressional District 10 became official on Tuesday, will hold one Saturday, Aug. 28, 5-7pm, at 6311 Mesa. Call 346-1826 or visit firstname.lastname@example.org.
Greg Hamilton, Dem nominee for Travis Co. Sheriff, has his the same day, noon-7pm, at the Saloon, 1502 W. Ben White. Tickets $5, sponsorships available. Call 680-8438 or e-mail email@example.com.
Mark Strama will kick off his campaign to unseat state Rep. Jack Stick on Sunday, Aug. 29, 3-6pm, at Hanover's Draught Haus, 108 E. Main, Pflugerville. Music by Trish Murphy, barbecue plates for $5. Call 512/832-9190 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
And U.S. Rep. Martin Frost of Dallas will court campaign cash on Monday, Aug. 30, 5:30-7:30pm, at Green Mesquite Barbeque, 1400 Barton Springs Rd. Frost's colleague Lloyd Doggett and Austin state Sen. Gonzalo Barrientos will co-host the event. Contributions of $50 to $500 requested. Call 202-547-7610 or email@example.com.
Austin for Kerry is having a meet-up at Mother Egan's Irish Pub, 715 W. Sixth, tonight (Thursday), at 7pm. For more info, call 443-2021 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Also, Veterans for Kerry will rally at the Sun City Activities Center (1501 Sun City Blvd., off of Williams Drive in Georgetown) on Sunday, Aug. 29, 3pm. Nonvets are also welcome. Call 869-8868 or e-mail email@example.com.
The Solar Austin Campaign is holding a community forum, Is Austin's Energy Future Secure?, Tuesday, Aug. 31 at 6pm at Threadgill's World Headquarters, 301 W. Riverside. The community discussion will focus on "the state of our city's energy supply the risks, opportunities, and need to turn now to clean, renewable energy." 477-1155 or www.solaraustin.org.