News and happenings around Austin and beyond
Edited By Lee Nichols, Fri., Jan. 14, 2005
Headlines Quote of the Week: "You're keeping control of them. A tether is a valid control to be used in corrections. In Texas we'd lasso them and drag them out of there." – Guy Womack, attorney for reservist Charles Graner, the alleged ringleader of the Abu Ghraib prison torture scandal now facing a court martial at Fort Hood, commenting on the guard's use of leashes around the prisoners' necks.
The 79th Texas Legislature opened for business Tuesday amid the traditional pomp and circumstance. A day earlier, Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn announced that lawmakers have $400 million in excess revenue to play with; perhaps that will go to children's health insurance. Perhaps not. See "Can We Afford Band-Aids?."
City Council today (Thursday) inaugurates the new City Hall, with festivities including a time capsule and music from Ray Benson. Watch out for the Pointy Thing. See "Austin Stories," below.
No shortage of controversy at Austin Community Access Television: following the executive director, a board member resigned, while the city auditor's office continued investigating apparently missing funds. (See "Austin Stories," below.)
The Mike Clark-Madison era is over: Read the farewell "Austin @ Large" column. So long, MCM, and many thanks.
Bobby Cox Cos. Inc. officially assumed ownership of Schlotzsky's Inc. this week; the Fort Worth-based company closed on its purchase of "substantially all" of the deli chain's assets. The company will operate as a private franchise system, maintain its Austin headquarters, and retain all current employees, officials said Monday. "By remaining in Austin, we intend to continue to be a part of the community that helped build our brand," new president Bob Barnes said. "In addition, we have created an unparalleled management team to spearhead what we think will be one of the most inspiring turnaround stories in the restaurant industry." The sale effectively brought the financially troubled Schlotzsky's out of Chapter 11 bankruptcy and closed the book on its life as a public company. – Amy Smith
It's no longer a mystery – City Council candidate Gregg Knaupe is running for the Place 3 seat currently occupied by outgoing Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman. Knaupe had been undecided about which of the three open seats he'd run for, and settled on a contest that will pit him against three women – Margot Clarke, Mandy Dealey, and Jennifer Kim. Until last week, the only male Place 3 hopeful was Jeff Trigger, who withdrew his name from the race. Knaupe decided against Daryl Slusher's Place 1 seat because Lee Leffingwell is widely considered a shoo-in there. The only other open seat is held by the likely unbeatable Betty Dunkerley, who is seeking a second term. – A.S.
The Kennedy Ridge colonia is no longer a colonia, thanks to modern-day plumbing services that finally arrived at the Travis Co. subdivision east of Austin. County Commissioner Ron Davis, whose precinct includes the development, played a key role in securing state and federal grant dollars to pay for equipment, supplies, expertise, and technical assistance to build a water system for the 288-home subdivision. "Most Travis County residents can't comprehend that such areas exist in our urban county," Davis said, after completion of the water project in late December. "To obtain water and wastewater for this subdivision with sweat equity is a tall order." He credited volunteer residents for providing a large share of that sweat equity. Until the arrival of running water, the residents had to haul water to their homes for drinking and bathing. – A.S.
Tuesday's meeting of the Austin Community Television board of directors ended with the resignation of veteran board member Henry Calderon, following the recent disclosure that his daughter's employment at ACTV as an accountant violated station nepotism rules. The board, down to three members, grew with the addition of former board president Frank Ringer, and Bill Atwood, president of Austin's chapter of certified fraud investigators. "The man is a fraud investigator. Do I have anyone willing to say we don't need that right now?" asked board member and treasurer Lee Hill, underscoring ACTV's recent troubles (see story, p.26). Hill, the treasurer since September 2003, said "I saw my first [ACTV] bank statement in December 2004." He also released a breakdown of first quarter expenditures and a proposed 2005 budget, including $5,000 for a yearly audit required by the city. He also proposed temporary accounting measures, such as monthly bank reconciliation, and for all checks more than $250 to be signed by two board members. For his part, Calderon told the board, "I have enjoyed ... serving the city of Austin," and urged the producers present to allow the board to continue its work. President Ron Frank congratulated Calderon, and asked him to consider chairing a yet-to-be-assembled advisory committee to voice community concerns to the board. – Wells Dunbar
In case you hadn't noticed, Austin has a new City Hall, located at Cesar Chavez at South First (free parking entrance northbound on the Lavaca Street side). Today, Thursday, Jan. 13, marks the first meeting (10am) in the City Council's new digs, an occasion to be marked by a special invocation, a 5pm time-capsule ceremony in the plaza, a 5:30pm musical performance by Ray Benson (definitely a cut above the usual), and "special guests" addressing the council at 6pm. Other highlights: Citizens communication (noon) features poetry readings as well as several of the usual suspects (you'll recognize them). The (relatively) short agenda includes a couple of items worth noting: The first $350,000 installment in a four-year, $1.75 million program for the Chamber of Commerce's "Opportunity Austin" economic development program, including $100,000 for "clean energy" incentives (Item 31); a briefing on proposed changes (eyebrows rising?) to the Long Center's ground lease (Item 63); and a proposed billboard ordinance amendment that would allow signs elsewhere for nonconforming signs that are removed (Item 71) – sort of a cap-and-trade on aesthetic pollution, rejected by the Planning Commission. – Michael King
By other salary standards, $175,000 a year is chump change compared to what hospital district administrators are able to fetch elsewhere in Texas. Nonetheless, 88 candidates from in and out of the state are hoping to win the top job with the Travis Co. Hospital District. A screening committee started narrowing the list this week and, if the interviewing and winnowing process continues on track, the district could have a new chief in place by mid-to-late February. County purchasing agent Cyd Grimes, who is overseeing the screening process, told the board last month that the pool of applicants contained a surprising number of highly qualified candidates, including physicians, public health professionals, and former hospital district administrators. Board members had hoped that the opportunity to live in Austin would compensate for the lower salary. – A.S.
Most government offices will be closed Monday for the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. For more info, see www.cityofaustin.org. And speaking of the civil rights movement, one of its leaders, James Farmer, grew up in Austin while his father taught at Huston-Tillotson; on Wednesday, Mayor Will Wynn proclaimed Jan. 12 James Farmer Day, commemorating what would have been Farmer's 85th birthday. For more MLK Day stuff, see "Happenings" (right) and Community Listings on p.70. – L.N.
Beyond City Limits On Dec. 30, the Texas Department of Insurance released the long-awaited results of an interim study that reveals the less-than-revelatory information that while there may be some relationship between good credit and claim filing, the practice is discriminatory and disproportionately impacts the policy premiums of minority Texans. Last session, the House voted to outlaw the practice, but once the insurance lobby weighed in, the legislative issue was magically transformed into a question for TDI to study and report. Now that's done, so expect to see the battle take center stage once again, surrounded by earnest, red-faced insurance lobbyists who will bemoan that ending the practice will undermine their oh-so-pathetic profits. Don't buy it, and expect to see several other legislators join in sponsoring Rep. Fred Brown's HB 23, which would prohibit the use of credit scoring in underwriting and forbid insurers from changing rates in response to a bad credit score. A hefty crowd of reps and consumer advocates gathered Monday to condemn the credit scoring system, with the highlight being Fort Worth Republican Charlie Geren recounting that he had personally been denied a policy not because his credit was poor, but because (due to several major family transactions) his credit file had been checked four times in one year. Look for some bipartisan fireworks on this one, though at voting time the insurance companies always seem to have all the firepower they need. – Jordan Smith
Community activists will commemorate MLK Jr. Day by rolling up their sleeves and cleaning up J.J. Seabrook Park, says state Rep. Dawnna Dukes, D-Austin. The cleanup on Saturday, Jan. 15, will start with a rally at 9am. This will be the fifth year for the cleanup on MLK day. The Eastside park is located on MLK Boulevard at Pershing Drive.
A community workshop on Taxes and Housing Preservation Initiatives, intended to inform East Austin residents about programs to help them keep their homes, and about proposed city initiatives that could affect their property values, will be held by the East Cesar Chavez Neighborhood Planning Team on Saturday, Jan. 15, 9am-noon, at Sanchez Elementary School Cafeteria, 73 San Marcos St. For more info, call 478-6770.
On Saturday, Jan. 15, Rahul Mahajan (www.empirenotes.org) will lead a community meeting titled "How Can We Help End the War in Iraq in Austin?" 9:30am-2pm at Central Christian Church, 1110 Guadalupe. For more info, call 476-6941 or see www.texansforpeace.org.
A death penalty panel discussion, Life, Rights, & the State, with activists, scholars, attorneys, family members of prisoners, and ex-prisoners, will be held at Step by Step Dance Studio, 529 W. Oltorf, at 3pm Saturday, Jan. 15. Later, at 7pm, Ashley Lucas presents Doin Time: Through the Visiting Glass, a one-woman play about the effects of incarceration on families of prisoners. A related event: Malaquias Montoyas art exhibition, Premeditated: Meditations on Capital Punishment, reception at Julia C. Butridge Gallery, Dougherty Arts Center, 1100 Barton Springs Rd., 1-8pm. For more info, call 416-8885. The owners of Revolution Motors, the Whale family, relieved to learn their sons had survived the tsunami while vacationing in Thailand, say that on Saturday, Jan. 15, if owners of European or Japanese cars come by for an oil and filter change, they will donate 100% of the profits to international relief efforts. 809 Capitol Court (near 51st and Lamar), 9am-6pm. Call 453-5050 for an appointment, or buy a voucher Saturday, and return on a less busy day. www.revolutionmotors.com.
On Sunday, Jan. 16, the peace group CodePink will hold a discussion on "How Will Four More Years of Bush Affect Women, Children, and Our Concerns?" 11am-1pm. Austin History Center, 810 Guadalupe. For more info call 499-7480. www.codepinkalert.org.
Dr. Sterling Lands of Greater Calvary Baptist Church will talk about "Investing in Children for a Better Future," 4-6pm Sunday, Jan. 16 at YMCA East, 5315 Ed Bluestein, part of the Travis Co. Libertarian Party Distinguished Speakers Series. 933-9622 or www.austinliberty.org.
Rep. Elliott Naishtat will preview the policy debates and political dynamics of the state lege on Sunday, Jan. 16, 11:30am-12:30pm at First Unitarian Universalist Church, 4700 Grover. 452-6168.
Joe Zamecki will speak at the next Atheist Community of Austin Lecture Series, presenting "Tales From the Trenches: A Report on Atheist Activism," Sunday, Jan. 16, 12:30pm, at the Austin History Center, 810 Guadalupe. 371-2911 or www.atheist-community.org.
Monday, Jan. 17, is the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day Citywide March & Cultural Festival. Gather at 8am at the MLK statue on the UT campus (east of the tower). Marchers will head to the steps of the Capitol, where Lloyd Doggett, Carole Keeton Strayhorn, Dawnna Dukes, and others will speak at 9am. The march will end at Huston-Tillotson College with short speeches from Gonzalo Barrientos, Ron Davis, Will Wynn, and others, followed by a festival with gospel choirs, food vendors, arts & crafts, and live bands. 8am-3pm.
Robert Jensen, professor of media law, ethics, and politics at UT, presents a documentary, The Persuaders, that examines the effects of marketing and advertising strategies, on Tuesday, Jan. 18, at 7pm. St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church, 14311 Wells Port Dr. 251-0698.
A whole host of Counter-Inaugural demonstrations and activities are planned for President Bush's swearing-in on Thursday, Jan. 20. See our community listings on p.70 for more details.
Money raised for the sixth annual Hill Country Ride for AIDS will be more critical than ever this year in the face of federal funding cuts to Central Texas HIV/AIDS groups. Organizers launch their 2005 rider recruitment campaign with a kick-off party at 7:30pm, Jan. 20 at Ruta Maya, 3601 S. Congress at Penn Field. The two-day ride takes place April 30-May 1. www.hillcountryride.org or 965-7433.