Headlines and happenings from Austin and beyond
Edited By Mike Clark-Madison, Fri., Dec. 17, 2004
Quote of the Week: "They need to feel like they are wanted and loved, and we will do whatever we can to keep them happy. That's what economic development is about." Economist Angelos Angelou, quoted in the Statesman on city incentives for Freescale Semiconductor. See "Austin @ Large."
The Lower Colorado River Authority can't carry developers' water (literally) fast enough. See "Water Gushes Forth From LCRA."
One of the TRMPAC 8 the firms indicted by Ronnie Earle for passing around illegal GOP campaign cash has made a deal with the DA. See "Capitol Chronicle."
Speaking of big GOP donors, one of them just swallowed Schlotzsky's whole. See "Shareholders Swallow Schlotzsky's Meal Deal."
Austin police have opened an inquiry into the deaths of two of their own, Cmdr. Shauna Jacobson and her husband, retired Detective Kurt Jacobson, in a weekend motorcycle crash. The Jacobsons' funeral is today (Thursday); the City Council will recess so members can attend. See "Many Unanswered Questions in Officers' Deaths."
The city last week announced its ambitious 10-year plan to end chronic homelessness. See "Naked City: No Homeless In Our Time?"
It's official: toll road yell leader Sal Costello has become a bore to local leaders. See "Naked City: CAMPO Gets Toll Road Weary."
Library FYI: Both the John Henry Faulk Central Library and the Austin History Center will be closed through year's end for needed upgrades. Branches remain open.
Life ain't perfect at the new City Hall, occupied for real this week by mayor, council, city manager, and other topsiders. In addition to common new-building problems stuck elevators, downed phones the plazas and ramps of the limestone-and-copper landmark have proven a congenial home to urban skateboarders, causing permanent damage to exterior finishes, city leaders report. The City Council today (Thursday) is set to expand its downtown skating ban to include the City Hall block. M.C.M.
Also on this week's agenda: A City Council go-ahead for a First Night event on New Year's Eve 2005. The resolution authorizing negotiations for an agreement to enable the alcohol-free arts-and-culture fest a popular concept in other cities is being sponsored by Jackie Goodman and Betty Dunkerley, but First Night's big City Hall backer is Austin's first lady, Anne Elizabeth Wynn. M.C.M.
The City Council today will vote to authorize the lease of a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle and related participation with the Electric Power Research Institute in an alliance project to test the potential of the new technology. The item follows a September council resolution supporting the city's exploration of the plug-ins' use in conjunction with Austin Energy's GreenChoice renewable-energy program. By plugging the vehicles into the GreenChoice grid at night, off-peak power usage can effectively be increased, utilizing wind energy when it's most abundant and hypothetically creating a fleet of wind-powered city vehicles. The Sprinter vans, manufactured by DaimlerChrysler, are intended for commercial and delivery fleet operations and can travel up to 60 miles on a single charge, using 40% less fuel than non-plug-in hybrids. Austin Energy will test the vans for three years as part of a 30-vehicle alliance with other organizations such as New York Power Authority, Southern California Edison, and the U.S. Army. "Energy security and reduced emissions are critical to the long-term economic health of our community. Participation in the plug-in hybrid vehicle analysis is a small but important step to achieve these objectives," say AE staff. Daniel Mottola
Candidates already on the track in the 2005 council races got their game on this week. The presumptive favorites in the Place 1 (replacing Daryl Slusher) and Place 3 (Jackie Goodman) contests Lee Leffingwell and Margot Clarke, respectively released lengthy lists of supporters; while both include all-star rosters of local progressive leaders, Leffingwell also has pledges from more business-y types (and from two former prospects in the Place 1 contest, Chris Riley and Robin Cravey). While Leffingwell, the former chair of the city environmental board, has done a good job clearing the field in Place 1, Clarke (who lost in last year's Place 5 run-off to Brewster McCracken) faces much stiffer opposition from, among others, Downtown Austin Alliance chair and Driskill GM Jeff Trigger, who kicked off his campaign this week, as did Texas Hospital Association's Gregg Knaupe who hasn't yet decided which race he's running in. M.C.M.
City officials, nonprofit advocates, and local philanthropists this week announced a new comprehensive plan to improve the health of the woodlands along the Town Lake Trail. The "Healthy Trees for the Trail" effort aims to bridge gaps in urban forestry left by recent city budget cuts, focusing on care and maintenance of specimen trees, reducing non-native and invasive plant species, and combating weeds, pests, and disease. The effort is being led by the Town Lake Trail Foundation and the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. M.C.M.
In its 16th annual awards issue, Minneapolis-based Business Ethics magazine has awarded Dell Inc. its Environmental Progress Award, for the Round Rock-based computer giant's turnaround on recycling. As recounted before in these pages, only a couple of years ago Dell was given a failing grade by environmental groups on the issue of recycling used and obsolete PCs. But rather than spinning the protesters, Dell took them seriously and stepped up its efforts to establish a serious takeback program, resulting in Dell being removed from the top of the activists' corporate target list. For more info, go to www.business-ethics.com/annual.htm. Lee Nichols
Beyond City Limits
On Saturday there is a special election to fill a vacancy on the Round Rock City Council, and as usual, turnout is supposed to be abysmal which might be good news for the race's most interesting candidate, 18-year-old high school senior Charles Clymer. In a press release, Clymer notes that Round Rock has about 8,000 eligible voters under age 30 about three times the number of voters, of all ages, who cast ballots in the last Round Rock council race. Five candidates are running to replace Carrie Pitt; a run-off is expected. M.C.M.
The pre-2006 gubernatorial jockeying is heating up what else do Texans have to do for the next two years? and Rick Perry vs. Kay Bailey Hutchison sparring is in full play, with Perry touting poured concrete and economic development and Hutchison asking why the incumbent can't do anything about school finance and property taxes. The El Paso Times' Gary Scharrer reported last week that Hutchison met with a group of GOP deep pockets there last week, and got steamed when they suggested she back off from challenging Perry because they are already getting the government they pay for. The senator continued to insist she hasn't decided to run, but according to her spokesman, Dave Beckwith, she is "appalled that people are being strong-armed, feel they have to hand over huge contributions in order to be heard in the state's political process." A Perry spokesman replied that the governor does not engage in "Washington-style politics of personal destruction." Meanwhile, pollsters for the two officeholders are beginning to issue conflicting numbers demonstrating that were the election held today, one or the other would be preferred by likely Republican primary voters. The money from those El Paso big shots has to be spent somewhere. Michael King
Not to be forgotten, Our Hometown GOP Matriarch, Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn recently anointed by none other than Boisterous Bob Novak as "the brains of the Texas Republican Party" announced Tuesday that she's recommending a $3,000-a-year pay raise for all Texas teachers, automatic increases every two years, and a bonus to those teachers whose schools improve on state accountability rankings. How to pay for this magnanimity? Strayhorn argues that teacher turnover can cost as much as $13 billion a year, so if higher pay cuts back on turnover, the raises pay for themselves ... eventually. It's a nice thought, particularly if it has legs until November of 2006, but let's run it up the flagpole of the 79th Lege and see if anybody salutes. The agency's report on the subject, "The Cost of Underpaying Texas Teachers," is at www.window.state.tx.us. M.K.
The U.S. Supreme Court on Dec. 10 announced that it would hear yet another Texas death row appeal, in the case of Mexican national Jose Medellín, sentenced to die for a 1993 Houston gang rape and murder of two teenage girls. At issue in his high court appeal is whether authorities have a duty to inform a defendant's home country of their arrest and prosecution. The World Court at the Hague earlier this year ruled that the U.S. has violated the rights of 51 Mexican nationals currently sitting on death row. Critics charge that government officials have violated a provision of the 1963 Vienna Convention, requiring the government to inform a foreign national of their right to contact their home country's consulate or embassy. Medellín is one of 118 foreign nationals from 32 countries currently sitting on death row in the U.S.; 27 are in Texas. Jordan Smith
U.S. Attorney Johnny Sutton announced last week felony indictments against outgoing state Rep. Timo Garza, D-Eagle Pass, along with both of his parents and other associates, in connection with the alleged theft of nearly $1 million from the Kickapoo Indian tribe and its Lucky Eagle Casino near Eagle Pass. Some of the money, prosecutors allege, went to fund Garza's successful 2002 campaign, in which the 28-year-old political neophyte unseated incumbent Rep. Tracy King of Uvalde. Garza's father, Isidro Garza Jr., hired by (unrelated but also-indicted) Kickapoo tribal Chairman Raul Garza to manage the tribe's business operations, is alleged to be the ringleader of the scheme. King bounced the younger Garza, who faces a potential 25-year prison sentence, out of office in a rematch in this year's primary. M.C.M.
Everybody, it seems, wants to get on the open-government bandwagon. On Dec. 3, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst announced an eight-point plan to make state government more open, highlighted by a call for more recorded votes at the Lege (see "Dewhurst Plays in the Sunshine," last week.) A week later, U.S. Sen. John Cornyn said he wanted to stop the well-known practice of federal agencies dragging ass on open-records requests a problem that has become worse under Bush and Ashcroft and put some teeth into Freedom of Information Act laws requiring timely handover of records. In short, he'd like it to be more like Texas' open-records laws, which are more friendly to public inquirers and which Cornyn was responsible for enforcing when he was Texas attorney general. And on Tuesday, current state AG Greg Abbott said he supports proposed legislation by Rep. Dan Gattis, R-Georgetown, and Sen. Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock, to demand more public scrutiny of state investments, such as those of the Texas Growth Fund, the private (but state-created) company that invests Texas Teacher Retirement System funds (and against whom the AG's office is still in litigation). One wonders: Did these GOPers get the intraparty memo declaring the Bush administration's love of secrecy? We'll see how well these proposals move through the legislative system. L.N.
Alcoa this week announced a settlement of outstanding state and federal claims regarding the aluminum giant's contamination of Lavaca Bay by discharging mercury-laden wastewater for decades from its now-shuttered Point Comfort plant. Under the deal, Alcoa must dredge mercury-tainted sediment from the bay and remediate soil contamination at the plant (now a Superfund site), along with transferring land to the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge and creating new oyster reef habitat in the bay. Pollution from Alcoa helped destroy the Lavaca Bay oyster fishery in the Seventies; the $12 million cleanup (Alcoa's second) will also include new fishing piers and boat ramps in Calhoun Co. M.C.M.
On Dec. 13, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott won a temporary restraining order and asset freeze against a Dallas-based "diploma mill." According to an AG press release, Trinity Southern University of Dallas and its owners have been churning out degrees bachelors, masters, and doctorates for between $300 and $500. The degrees are offered via Web site ads and are awarded based solely on a "student's testimony" about their educational skills and experience. In short, Abbott said, a degree from the unaccredited, for-profit "university" amounts to no more than "worthless paper." Abbott has filed suit against TSU under the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act, and is seeking a permanent injunction and restitution for TSU's "students." Authorities in Pennsylvania have also gone after Trinity Southern under that state's anti-spam law, after they obtained an executive MBA for a house cat named Colby. J.S.
Fred Lewis of Campaigns for People will discuss efforts toward campaign finance reform in Texas on Sunday, Dec. 19 at the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Austin, 4700 Grover, 11:30am-12:30pm. For more info, call 451-6168 or go to firstname.lastname@example.org.