Headlines and happenings from Austin and beyond
Edited By Mike Clark-Madison, Fri., Oct. 29, 2004
Quote of the Week: "I'm voting for John Kerry because I'm a Christian. ... My Christian faith is not looking for a new Messiah named George Bush." Jeanny House, one of several cousins of the president whose blood is not thicker than water. (Check out more at www.bushrelativesforkerry.com.)
Early voting ends at 7pm Friday, Oct. 29. If you haven't done it by then, you'll have to wait until election day (Tuesday, Nov. 2). Early voting in Travis Co. has been phenomenal as of Tuesday evening, almost 26% of registered voters had already cast their ballots.
Texas Secretary of State Geoff Connor has pledged that voter intimidation will not be tolerated. Voters may call 800/252-VOTE (8683) to report voting irregularities.
It's pretty much all about the election this week, but see p.20 for the latest election news; check austinchronicle.com for updates between now and Tuesday.
Convicted murderer Dominique Green was executed Tuesday night in a case spotlighting the shoddy evidence-handling of the troubled Houston police crime lab. See p.26.
AISD trustees, after some sparring, this week adopted a buildout schedule for the new schools approved in the September school bond package. See p.28.
More toll road noise, er, news the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority will hold a public hearing Nov. 10 on its draft toll policies, adopted by the CTRMA board Wednesday. More on this next week.
Do you know an undecided voter that you want to swing against George Bush? Perhaps a screening of Fahrenheit 9/11 would do the trick. Several video stores around the nation are offering free rentals of the über-successful, Bush-bashing Michael Moore documentary through Election Day. Local participants include I Luv Video, Pedazo Chunk Video, TapeLenders Video, Waterloo Records & Video, and the Lake Creek location of Vulcan Video. Lee Nichols
Another behind-the-scenes week at City Hall, where the City Council last week postponed its marquee item the rezoning of Rainey Street after the emergence of so-far-irreconcilable splits within the council as to how to proceed on this decades-old action item. Odds now favor council approval of a scheme that's less than the full Downtown zoning Rainey neighbors and landowners would like, but more than the preservation-oriented approach favored by some on the equally fractured Planning Commission and Zoning and Platting Commission. (As a sign of the delicacy and import of Rainey, both the PC and the ZAP were asked to weigh in.) Rainey comes back Nov. 4. M.C.M.
Meanwhile, this week's marquee City Council item, the overhaul of the historic preservation ordinance, has likewise been postponed, in the wake of the council-appointed task force's compromise on the contentious issue of grandfathering the tax abatements of currently H-zoned properties while reducing future incentives shot down (so far) by the city legal department. The task force recommendation incrementally ratcheting back the abatement level over a few years will likely be further tweaked by staff and council. All parties are also now on board with some form of anti-gentrification measures for low-income property owners in future historic districts. The saga continues Nov. 18. M.C.M.
And speaking of decades-old battles, it's Round 47 (or thereabouts) at the Champion Tract. The Champion sisters, whose family has for a century owned most of the land at the intersection of RM 2222 and Loop 360, were saddled (in their view) with a trip restriction when they got commercial zoning for their choice property back in 2000; last week, the Zoning and Platting Commission voted to recommend that the restrictions be lifted, against the wishes of both city staff and the well-organized 2222 neighbors, who point out that the intersection is still one of Austin's most congested. M.C.M.
Belo Corp. last week shut down the Capitol bureau of its flagship TV station, Dallas-based WFAA, two days before announcing a $24 million write-off for overstating circulation at The Dallas Morning News. Belo, which also owns KVUE-TV in Austin and Texas Cable News, has already announced plans to lay off 250 employees in the wake of the circulation scandal. But KUT-FM's 2-year-old news department is adding a Capitol bureau, assigning reporter Ben Philpott to cover the Legislature, starting with the January session. Although it only has three full-time reporters, KUT is budgeting $6,000 for equipment, desk space, a parking spot, and a DSL line in order to cover the Capitol on a regular basis. "We found that while we were covering issues as they made their way through the Legislature, we were not doing as much focus on the details of the meetings," said news director Emily Donahue. Kevin Brass
Hundreds of Austin police and a merry band of local and state politicos strutted their black-tie stuff at the Austin Police Association's 2004 Officers' Ball on Oct. 23 at the downtown Hilton. The ball, organized by the newly formed Austin Police Benevolent Society, featured a sit-down dinner for nearly 700 guests, and a silent auction for a host of items including a Gibson Epiphone acoustic guitar autographed by the Dixie Chicks, snagged by attorney Travis Williamson for a mere $695, and an "ultimate bachelor party for 10," snapped up for $200 by Travis Co. Republican Party Chairman Alan Sager. Jordan Smith
On Wednesday, as we go to press, Gov. Rick Perry is scheduled to make a "major economic development announcement" at Huntsman Chemical in the Woodlands. This "good" news for Texas involving Huntsman's relocation of around 700 jobs from across the nation to the Houston 'burbs is actually "bad" news for Austin, from which 130 of those jobs will be moved. But it's "good" news for neighbors in Crestview, which have long loathed Huntsman's 74-acre R&D facility at Lamar and Airport though users of the adjoining ballfields on Huntsman property might see it as "bad" news. But it might be "good" news for Capital Metro, whose commuter rail plans envision a station at Lamar and Airport, where Huntsman sits ripe for redevelopment. Perry should soon have help sorting the good from the bad at the next governors' confab family scion Jon Huntsman is leading in the race to become the next governor of Utah. M.C.M.
Beyond City Limits
If there were any lingering doubt, the ever-retreating likelihood of a special legislative session on public school finance received what should be a death blow Monday, as Judge John Dietz informed the AG's office that his final judgment in the legal case by school districts against the state may not be ready before Dec. 1. Responding to an inquiry from Deputy Attorney General Ed Burbach, Dietz wrote, "I am working my way through over a thousand proposed findings of fact and five hundred conclusions of law and maintain[ing] my other responsibilities. ... I've invested too much in this case to do less than a sterling job." Dietz had originally said the judgment might be ready as early as Oct. 1, and Burbach noted that the AG's office is hoping "that the Texas Supreme Court will hear the case on an expedited appeal." The state is also hoping that a reversal at the Supreme Court would reduce pressure on the Lege to find significant new resources for underfunded school districts, but if that happens, it ain't gonna happen before the Jan. 15 opening of the 2005 session. Appears there's "expedited," and there's "when the judge is good and ready." Michael King
Two teacher groups sued the Texas Education Agency Monday, hoping to block implementation of a policy that they say weakens the 22:1 student-teacher ratio in elementary classrooms. The issue arose when education commissioner Shirley Neeley said in a letter that school boards could give superintendents the authority to request waivers to the class-size limit, without first holding a public hearing. Neeley says the move merely expedites the process; the teacher groups say it opens the door to superintendents secretly stuffing classrooms with extra kids. When a meeting with Neeley yielded no results last week, the groups decided to sue. "We felt the only avenue left to protect children and teachers is a lawsuit asking for the courts to immediately stop the commissioner's plans with an injunction," said Texas Federation of Teachers President John Cole. "We feel that her move to weaken class-size limits will cause irreparable harm if not halted immediately." A hearing is set for Nov. 8. Rachel Proctor May
A decade-old Texas controversy has resurfaced in Denver, where former Texas Assistant Attorney General Drew T. Durham has been assigned to implement the Help America Vote Act. After the Rocky Mountain Progressive Network posted excerpts from a 1994 Texas Lawyer article on its Web site, containing allegations that Durham had made racist and sexist remarks to other lawyers and subsequent repetition of the charges by at least one Austin lawyer there were Democratic calls for Durham's resignation. Durham's former colleague Ray Buvia stood by his charges that Durham had referred to an African-American attorney as a "Sambo" and had also made disparaging remarks about Mexicans. At the time, some lawyers who knew Durham seconded Buvia's charges, but others insisted they never heard any such remarks. Durham and his new Republican boss, Colorado Secretary of State Donetta Davidson, angrily rejected the claims. On the other hand, Austin attorney Renea Hicks and others commented that they didn't know of any expertise Durham has in election law, but Davidson responded, "I didn't say he was an expert. He had election experience in Texas." M.K.
Earlier this month Congress passed the Justice for All Act of 2004, which increases victims rights, provides funding to state and local governments for DNA testing, and implements safeguards to prevent wrongful convictions and executions. The bill enhances rights for victims of federal crimes, including a right to "reasonable" protection from the accused, and "reasonable, accurate, and timely" notice of case proceedings. Further, the bill provides grants to help state and local authorities implement and enforce victims' rights laws. The bill includes $151 million in annual funding, for the next five years, to be doled out to state and local authorities to aid in processing backlogged DNA evidence; no more than one percent of the funding is set to help state and local crime labs attain accreditation. Moreover, the bill provides for post-conviction DNA testing and for incentive grants to states to "ensure consideration of claims of actual innocence." For the full text of the bill, go to thomas.loc.gov. J.S.
On Saturday, Oct. 30, the fifth annual March to Stop Executions will begin at 1pm at Republic Square Park (Fourth and Guadalupe) leading to a 3pm rally at the Texas Supreme Court (northwest of the Capitol). Speakers will include family members of death row inmates, death penalty activists, and more. The event is sponsored by the March to Stop Executions Coalition. For more info, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Clean Water Action is organizing volunteer phone banks to call voters in key precincts in swing states: today, Friday, Monday, and election day (Tuesday) 5-8pm, Saturday 1-5pm, and Sunday 1-8pm. To sign up for a time slot and to get directions, call 474-0605 or e-mail email@example.com.
On Sunday, Oct. 31, at 2pm, award-winning author Naomi Klein will discuss her latest book, War and Fleece: How Economic 'Shock Therapy' Backfired in Iraq at LBJ Lecture Hall on the UT campus, at the southwest corner of 26th and Red River. Free admission. Plenty of free parking in the large lots along Red River. For more info, go to www.thirdcoastactivist.org or call 458-8635.
Anti-war activists are planning a "Super Wednesday" march on Nov. 3, the day after the election, at the State Capitol, in conjunction with similar events around the nation. If Bush wins or the outcome is unclear, "participants will assess what is happening and develop a plan of action" beginning at 9am, say organizers. No matter who wins, a demonstration and anti-war march will begin at 5pm. For more info, see www.nov3.us or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Final Solution, a documentary about anti-Muslim violence in Gujarat, India, will screen at UT on Wednesday, Nov. 3. The film's director, Rakesh Sharma, will present the film and discuss it afterwards. Location: CMA Auditorium Room A2.320, at the southwest corner of 26th and Whitis.