Naked City

Headlines and happenings from Austin and beyond

Greenpeace campaigner Jessica Coven makes snow cones for passersby outside of the Capitol last week using a solar-powered snow cone machine. The machine was part of Greenpeace's Rolling Sunlight tour, a campaign against Texas-based oil giant ExxonMobil. The campaign seeks to highlight clean energy alternatives to fossil fuels and to attack ExxonMobil's lawsuit against Greenpeace over a protest that occurred at the company's Irving headquarters.
Greenpeace campaigner Jessica Coven makes snow cones for passersby outside of the Capitol last week using a solar-powered snow cone machine. The machine was part of Greenpeace's Rolling Sunlight tour, a campaign against Texas-based oil giant ExxonMobil. The campaign seeks to highlight clean energy alternatives to fossil fuels and to attack ExxonMobil's lawsuit against Greenpeace over a protest that occurred at the company's Irving headquarters. (Photo By John Anderson)


Headlines

Quote of the Week (Too Good to Resist): "We've got an issue in America. Too many good docs are getting out of business. Too many ob-gyns aren't able to practice their love with women all across this country." – Our American President, giving the tort-reform pitch in Poplar Bluff, Mo. (Yeah, we know, we said we were bored with Bushisms, but ... practice your love!)

As the Travis Co. Hospital District gets its feet on the ground, it's already looking to the future – a partnership with a new UT Medical Branch campus at Mueller, perhaps. See p.30.

What a difference a recall makes: The toll road coalition shows cracks in its concrete, with efforts to change the plan on tap as early as this week. See p.32.

Meanwhile, the Capital Metro commuter rail campaign begins in earnest, under the aegis of former Mayor Kirk Watson. See p.32.

Compared to all that, the annual city budget festival – coming to its thrilling conclusion Sept. 13-15 – seems rather anticlimactic. But it's still important. See "Austin@Large," right.


Austin Stories

A legal wrangle involving Lowe's Home Centers Inc. has turned an unexpected corner, with settlement talks replacing courthouse arguments. A trial scheduled to begin this week has been postponed until Nov. 7 – unless an agreement can be worked out before then between Lowe's and a trio of plaintiffs. Meanwhile, Lowe's remains under a temporary injunction halting construction on its new store planned for an environmentally sensitive site on Brodie Lane. The plaintiffs, including the city of Sunset Valley, the Save Our Springs Alliance, and the Save Barton Creek Association, want Lowe's to either abandon the site or to build within the 15% impervious cover cap that's required under the city of Austin's Save Our Springs 0rdinance. The city and Lowe's brokered an agreement late last year that allows the retailer to build at 40% impervious cover, but four judges have now ruled against Lowe's in legal challenges to that agreement. – Amy Smith

A team from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools began a three-day "reaffirmation" visit to Austin Community College Wednesday. If the team is not satisfied that ACC, which is on warning status, has made sufficient changes to its procedures and policies, the college could lose its accreditation. – Rachel Proctor May

Herman Lessard, president and CEO of the Austin Area Urban League, is leaving to take a similar position with the Pinellas County Urban League in St. Petersburg, Fla. Lessard's departure also leaves holes in the boards of directors of Envision Central Texas and the Austin Revitalization Authority, both of which he sat on. He also helped set up the newly birthed Travis Co. Hospital District, serving on its steering committee. Lessard's resignation takes effect in October. – Lee Nichols

Thanks in large measure to the popularity of Maria's Taco Xpress, a proposed Walgreens drugstore on South Lamar finally gained City Council approval on first reading last week. Brewster McCracken cast the only dissenting vote, calling Walgreens a "bad national actor that has been at war with communities all over America." McCracken had sided with some neighbors' desire to have the retailer produce a multiuse development at the corner of Bluebonnet Lane. But about 140 people, many of them from nearby neighborhoods, had signed up in favor of the proposal. Taco Xpress currently leases a portion of the property where Walgreens intends to build. But if the proposal receives final approval from the council – possibly at its Sept. 30 meeting – the retailer would foot the bill for a new Taco Xpress next door to its existing location. – A.S.

Austin Area Interreligious Ministries is sponsoring a "pulpit swap" this weekend, "to encourage healing unity" as people of faith mark the third anniversary of 9/11. A couple dozen imams, ministers, priests, rabbis, and other religious leaders will cross town to explain their version of their respective gospels to people of different faith. For more info, call 386-9145 or e-mail susanwills@aaimaustin.org. – L.N.

As President Bush accepted his party's nomination Sept. 2, irate Democrats hooted, hollered, and heckled the TV screen at 55 "End of an Error" house parties the Travis Co. Democratic Party Coordinated Campaign organized to raise funds and enthusiasm for local Dem candidates. Held in individual homes, the parties were not actually all that coordinated, and as such their size, tenor, and fund-raising varied dramatically. At UT law student Rick Cofer's French Place party, for example, the enthusiasm-raising had the fundraising easily whupped (though, to be fair, the free beer and hot dogs probably gave the enthusiasm a leg up). Whether the parties raised a lot or a little, organizers say they raised awareness of the virtues of volunteering, although for "unemployed teacher from across the street" Will Shoaf, who wandered over to Cofer's party, simply sharing the loathe was the main draw. "If I was alone, I don't think I could watch this," he said, as the crowd enjoyed a hearty group groan at the TV. "It's like a little support group." – R.P.M.

Greg Hamilton, Democratic candidate for Travis Co. sheriff, has received the endorsement of the Travis Co. Sheriff's Law Enforcement Association, the union representing the office's law enforcement deputies. Hamilton won the endorsement over GOP nominee Duane McNeill with nearly 75% of the vote. Tonight (Thursday, Sept. 9) the Travis Co. Sheriff's Officers Association – the union representing the TCSO correctional officers – will hold a political forum featuring Hamilton and McNeill, along with state Reps. Todd Baxter and Jack Stick and their Democratic challengers, Kelly White and Mark Strama. The two-hour forum will start at 6pm at the Hilton Hotel at Bergstrom airport. – Jordan Smith


Beyond City Limits

Today (Thursday) at 4pm or so, Javamotion – a cafe on the courthouse square in Lockhart – will pour the first legal mixed drink in the Caldwell Co. seat since before Prohibition. Lockhart was dry for more than 90 years, until citizens overwhelmingly voted in May to allow alcohol sales; the first liquor store opened in July. Javamotion will celebrate the occasion with a Roaring Twenties theme (complete with "flappers doing the Charleston") and will announce the lucky first tippler at the event. – M.C.M.

At press time, U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks was presiding over the second day of testimony in the competency hearing of death row inmate Scott Panetti, and will determine whether Panetti is competent to be executed. Panetti, a schizophrenic, was hospitalized 14 times prior to murdering his in-laws in 1992. Despite his history of mental illness, Panetti was found competent to stand trial in 1994. He represented himself during his trial, where he dressed up in a purple cowboy costume and attempted to subpoena Jesus Christ and John F. Kennedy as witnesses. The question currently before the court is whether Panetti understands why he is on death row and scheduled for execution. On Tuesday, doctors for both the state and the defense testified that Panetti believes he is on death row for "preaching the Gospel," and that his impending execution is part of "spiritual warfare" to stop his preaching. – J.S.

The plaintiffs rested Friday in the public school finance lawsuit under which hundreds of Texas school districts have brought suit to force the state to provide more support to public schools under the constitutional obligation to create an "efficient system of free public schools." On Tuesday, Texas Education Commissioner Shirley Neeley was the first state witness and testified that the state's system is consistently raising standards and educating all Texas children, even with declining state support and exploding school populations. Professor Lori Taylor, who produced the Legislature's "adequacy" study that analyzes the effectiveness of the current level of funding, was scheduled to testify Wednesday. The trial, which began Aug. 9, is expected to last at least another week. The school districts have tried to show that the state's current funding system is insufficient to fulfill its constitutional obligation; lawyers for the state have responded that funding levels are a legislative responsibility and there is no reason for the courts to intervene. State District Judge John Dietz is expected to rule quickly on the case, and the losing side to immediately appeal. – Michael King

Toomey's out, Delisi's in. On Sept. 3, Mike Toomey, Gov. Rick Perry's chief of staff, abruptly announced his resignation, effective Sept. 6. The departure was sudden but had been rumored for some time; the governor's office announced no reason for the resignation, but thanked Toomey, also known as "Mike the Knife," for his enthusiasm for budget-cutting and for his "incredible talent, expertise and focus." Spokeswoman Kathy Walt said the governor would "move rather quickly" to name a replacement, and indeed on Tuesday announced that senior deputy Deirdre Delisi would take Toomey's place. Toomey had served in the House with Perry, has an extensive rep as a high-powered business lobbyist (to which he returns), and is credited with ramrodding the Texas Association of Business and Texans for a Republican Majority PAC campaign effort that produced a GOP majority in the House. Delisi is the wife of Republican political consultant Ted Delisi and daughter-in-law of state Rep. Dianne Delisi, R-Temple. She was a policy advisor to Gov. George W. Bush and directed Perry's 2002 gubernatorial campaign. – M.K.

Amid growing buzz that the Ben Barnes appearance on 60 Minutes Wednesday night (as the Chronicle goes to press) will feature more than just a repeat of Barnes' recollections of his 1968 intervention with the Texas Air National Guard on behalf of young George W. Bush, comes the drip of more revelations of Dubya's "irresponsible" years. It was reported last week that records of Bush's service in the guard have gone missing again, and during the GOP convention, Salon reported the disillusioned reminiscences of Linda Allison, widow of Jimmy Allison, onetime Midland newspaperman and Friend-of-Bush who rode herd on Georgie when – although still officially in the Guard – he was dispatched to Alabama in 1972 to "work" on the (failed) Senate election campaign of Winton "Red" Blount. Mrs. Allison recalls no connection of Dubya with military service, but rather her husband babysitting an often hungover hanger-on who would occasionally call Blount supporters, mention his name, and ask for contributions. Says widow Allison, "The impression I had was that Georgie was raising a lot of hell in Houston, getting in trouble and embarrassing the family, and they just really wanted to get him out of Houston and under Jimmy's wing." – M.K.


Happenings

The city of Sunset Valley will mark its 50th anniversary with a celebration and ceremony 5-10pm Saturday. The event will include a community parade, a 9/11 memorial ceremony, and the official opening of the new City Hall, followed by dinner and entertainment. Call Sunset Valley City Hall at 892-1383 to RSVP or for more info.

A march/ride to "Say No to Corporate-Sponsored Terror" will be held on Saturday, Sept. 11, protesting war, the role of private contractors in it, continuing human rights abuses, and the use of torture, rape, and murder to suppress political dissent. Marchers will meet at noon in Republic Park (Fourth and Guadalupe); bicycle riders will meet at the UT West Mall. The march and ride will meet up at various points, featuring street theatre and presentations along the way, ending in front of the Federal Building (Eighth and San Jacinto) at 2pm. Route will be disclosed at the start of events. For more info, call 713/249-8525 or e-mail lozieraj@gmail.com.

The political fundraisers are just getting too numerous to mention here (you might want to drop by www.traviscountydemocrats.org or www.traviscountygop.org for the listings of your choice), but we thought this one was pretty notable: "Rock the Texas House, an Evening With Don Henley," on Sunday, Sept. 12, at the Backyard (13101 Hwy. 71 W.). Doors open at 6:30pm. The former member of the Eagles will perform to benefit the Texas League of Conservation Voters, in support of its efforts to elect pro-environment candidates to the Texas legislature. It's a little pricey, ranging from $150 (preferred concert seating and entrance to a reception by Texas Young Professionals) up to $5,000 (premium seating, private dinner party with Henley, and a backstage pass). Regular tickets can be had for about $100, available at www.thebackyard.net. For more info, call 477-4424 or e-mail tlcv@tlcv.org.

The American Civil Liberties Union will host the world premiere of the documentary Unconstitutional, a "bipartisan view of the problems with the Patriot Act," on Monday, Sept. 13, at 8:30pm at the Texas Union Theatre on the UT campus. The screening will be followed by a Q&A with executive producer Robert Greenwald and ACLU executive director Anthony Romero, as well as Seattle resident Sam Hamoui, profiled in the film, whose parents and sister were detained by federal agents following 9/11. Free.

Back by popular demand – at least according to the organizers – Austin for Kerry will host the sequel to "Kerry-oke" to raise funds for the Democratic presidential candidate, on Tuesday, Sept. 14, 9pm, at Club de Ville (900 Red River). Hosted by the fabulous Miss Emily, no cover. Special prizes for the most "politically correct" singers have been promised. Go to www.austinforkerry.org for more info.

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