Headlines and happenings from Austin and beyond
Edited By Mike Clark-Madison, Fri., Oct. 22, 2004
Quote of the Week: "You have a chance to be true to that other America. For all our sakes, kick out the wretched Bush, spokesman for greed and oppression. Show the world you're not taken in by his phoney, folksy grin. Do the world a favour." British filmmaker Ken Loach, one of 14,000 readers of The Guardian to write to voters in Clark County, Ohio a swing county in that swing state in a controversial effort to influence the presidential race.
Two sentences that rocked Tom DeLay's world: The Supreme Court kicked back the Texas re-redistricting map for another review by a three-judge federal panel. See "The Redistricting Rematch."
Can't wait to get this over with? You're not alone. Early voter turnout across Texas has been very heavy, far beyond the relatively high 2000 totals. In the 15 largest Texas counties, 144,598 people voted on Monday, the first day of early voting (the 2000 first day number was 84,809). In Travis Co., as of press time, more than 6% of voters had already cast their ballots. See "3rd Court: Experience Counts," "Yelenosky Takes Aim at Keel ," and "In Other Election News ..." for the latest election news.
After a week off, the City Council reconvenes today (Thursday) with one really, really big item on the agenda the long-awaited rezoning case for Rainey Street. Which sort of prepares the way for next week's big item the long-awaited overhaul of the historic preservation ordinance.
On that front, the city's historic task force finally agreed this week on a plan to preserve tax abatements for historic properties, but to gradually roll back the abatement levels in future years. More on this next week.
More election news: Lawyers representing Democratic Texas House candidates won a temporary restraining order Wednesday preventing the Associated Republicans of Texas a group that specializes in delivering last-minute campaign cash from corporate donors from making contributions in this year's races. The ART has already given thousands to Reps. Jack Stick and Todd Baxter and GOP challenger Alan Askew and is expected to appeal.
When federal school accountability ratings were released in September, AISD announced that three middle and five high schools had failed to make "adequate yearly progress," making their roughly 10,000 students eligible for transfer to schools with better test scores, with AISD providing transportation. As of the Oct. 15 deadline, the parents of about 200 of those students had submitted transfer requests, qualifying them for transfer to their new schools by the beginning of the third six-week grading cycle. While parents are allowed to request which schools they wanted their children to attend, the fact that the district has to develop bus routes means AISD will largely determine assignments based on where the students live. Parents at Johnston, Lanier, LBJ, Reagan, and Travis high schools, and Burnet, Fulmore, and Porter middle schools can still submit transfer requests until Oct. 29, but their children will not begin at their new schools until the start of the second semester in January. Rachel Proctor May
Tony Proffitt, a longtime insider on the Texas political scene who served as an adviser to such Texas political figures as Jake Pickle and Bob Bullock, died on Sunday after a brief struggle with cancer and complications from diabetes. He was 61. Lee Nichols
More blood on the highway in the toll road wars this week, Brewster McCracken released to the media a letter he wrote to Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority Chairman Bob Tesch, in response to Tesch's own defensive letter to Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn, who has decided to audit the CTRMA in response to calls from McCracken, among others. Basically, McCracken alleges the agency may have misspent state funds ostensibly to be used solely on the U.S. 183-A toll road project in the Northwest Corridor to fund expenses related to the CTRMA's broader regional toll plan that's caused so much fuss. Despite his in-their-face stance, McCracken is still officially a target of the recall petition drive by the Austin Toll Party, whose effort to collect signatures at early-voting locations has run into familiar snags. At last report, the Toll Party is about one-fourth of the way toward meeting its petition target. See p.27 for more toll road news. M.C.M.
Austin TV stations were almost skunked at the second annual Texas Emmy awards handed out in Houston last Saturday. The lone local winner was News 8 promotion manager Barry Decrane, who brought home a statuette for a public service announcement on the Austin Museum of Art's Andy Warhol exhibit. The local stations tend to avoid the regional Emmy competition, which is dominated by the big-city network affiliates. Of the 268 nominees this year, 259 were from Houston, Dallas, or San Antonio, says News 8 news director Kevin Benz, the regional vice-president for the Lone Star chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. This year, no local station even bothered to enter the top newscast categories. Benz says the chapter is working hard to "level the playing field." Kevin Brass
Penske Truck Leasing Co. is suing the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality for its Sept. 16 decision that classified 1,600 tons of lead-contaminated waste in a Texas Disposal Systems landfill as "hazardous," thus putting the burden on Penske to remove it to another landfill that is properly certified to handle such waste. Earlier this year, TCEQ Executive Director Glenn Shankle reclassified the waste from "hazardous" to the less-toxic "special waste" category, but the Sept. 16 decision by the commission overruled him. A subsequent order from Shankle required Penske to remove the waste by Oct. 27. TDS claims that the waste was dumped in its landfill illegally in 1997, and has been pursuing both regulatory and court actions to force Penske to remove it. L.N.
Beyond City Limits
Here's "Maverick" Media Mark McKinnon former "radical" UT student, former student "journalist," former "Democrat," now longtime devotee of and flack for Dubya Bush in The New York Times Magazine on Sunday, in a Ron Suskind piece about the Bush administration's curiously antagonistic relationship with factual reality. "You think he's an idiot, don't you?" McKinnon demands of Suskind. When Suskind demurs, McKinnon rants on, "No, you do, all of you do, up and down the West Coast, the East Coast, a few blocks in southern Manhattan called Wall Street. Let me clue you in. We don't care. You see, you're outnumbered 2 to 1 by folks in the big, wide middle of America, busy working people who don't read The New York Times or Washington Post or The L.A. Times. And you know what they like? They like the way he walks and the way he points, the way he exudes confidence. They have faith in him. And when you attack him for his malaprops, his jumbled syntax, it's good for us. Because you know who those folks don't like? They don't like you!" Gee, Mark, feeling a trifle defensive? If we didn't know better, we'd suspect that speaking for all of us here out in the heartland, you're suggesting we're not only cheerfully and dutifully ignorant, we like it that way! It's not like you to reveal your insider media strategy in one of those East Coast publications you despise, but hey, it's been a tough year, especially when your default mantra is, "He's not really an idiot!" We feel your pain, out here in the big, wide middle no, wait, that's just indigestion. Michael King
Last week the Texas State Employees Union released documents acquired from the Health and Human Services Commission and the Texas Workforce Commission that describe a "Rapid Response Plan" prepared by the TWC, under changes mandated by last year's HB 2292, for laying off up to 6,451 staffers in local offices of the Texas Department of Human Services. According to TSEU Vice-President Mike Gross, "This document for the first time puts hard numbers on HHSC plans to close down local offices and replace them with call centers." HHSC spokesman Stephanie Goodman said that contingency plans are in development for the agencies, but dismissed TSEU's description as spreading fear among state employees. "We are talking about 4,500 positions, not people," Goodman told Quorum Report. "We are not going to do any of that this year. There will not be any layoffs associated with integrated eligibility this year. We put this information out weekly to the employees but the employees union puts something out totally opposite. I think our folks are scared enough without [TSEU] putting out lies." Goodman says normal attrition will reduce the actual layoffs to about 2,200. M.K.
Grupo Fantasma will play a musical benefit for Austin Independent Media Center tonight, Thursday, Oct. 21, 9pm, at Rhizome Collective, 300 Allen (south of Fifth Street, between Pleasant Valley and Springdale). For more info, call 385-3695.
The League of Women Voters of the Austin Area will hold a release party for its annual nonpartisan voters guide on Friday, Oct. 22, 6:30-8:30pm at the 219 West restaurant, 219 W. Fourth. For more info, call 293-5164 or 502-0278 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
Hands on Housing, along with the city of Austin Neighborhood Housing and Community Development office, plans to refurbish a bunch of houses in the 78702 neighborhood on Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 23-24. For more info, call 386-9145 x14 or go to www.aaimaustin.org.
UT Watch will host a forum on Los Alamos National Laboratory, the nation's premier nuclear weapons laboratory, and UT's bid to manage it, on Monday, Oct. 25, 6pm, on the UT campus in the University Teaching Center, Rm. 2.102 (near 21st and Speedway).
Antone's (213 W. Fifth) will host a star-studded Red State Blues Concert on Tuesday, Oct. 26, at 7pm; all proceeds will go to the 2004 Travis Co. Democratic Party Coordinated Campaign. Performers include Shawn Colvin, Jimmy LaFave, Marcia Ball, Guy Forsyth, Kelly Willis and Bruce Robison, and Joe Ely with David Grissom, Jimmy Pettit, and Davis McLarty. Tickets are $20, and sponsorships are available at $100 (includes a preshow cocktail hour) and $200 (VIP all-access pass, only 30 available). For more info, call 477-7500 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
About Baghdad will play at the Alamo Drafthouse, 409 Colorado, for Third Coast Activist film night, Thursday, Oct. 28, at 7pm. The film, by exiled Iraqi writer and poet Sinan Antoon, examines what has become of his city after wars, sanctions, decades of oppression, and now occupation. Tickets are $6.50 general and $5 students and seniors, either at the door or at www.drafthouse.com.
As part of its Commute Solutions Month programming, Capital Metro will hold its first ever Weirdest Commute contest Friday, Oct. 29. Contestants should register at Republic Square Park between 11:30am and 12:30pm; a celebrity panel will evaluate entries based on uniqueness, effectiveness, and sheer determination. Winners will be announced at 1pm and will receive "various commute-themed prizes" grand prize is a hot-air balloon ride.