Headlines and happenings from Austin and beyond
Edited By Lee Nichols, Fri., Jan. 21, 2005
Quote of the Week
"Ronnie Earle is my mentor [who has been] perhaps the biggest influence in my life other than my father." Austin Republican state Rep. Terry Keel, trying to assure colleagues that his proposed changes to House ethics rules are not targeting the Democrat and Travis Co. district attorney, who is investigating corporate money given to GOP candidates (see "Keel: Rule Changes Don't Target Earle")
The second of three Texas House election challenges by defeated Republicans has been abandoned now, only Talmadge Heflin's attempt to overturn his 33-vote loss to Hubert Vo remains. See "Beyond City Limits."
The Texas Legislature solved the school finance problem! Well, sort of. Okay, they just agreed to solve it. Somehow. Details to come later. See "On the Lege."
Who says Republicans are all bad? Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott filed charges last week against a UT student who is also one of the world's most notorious spammers. Now that's a cause all parties can support. See "Get a Rope."
Austin finally broke in its new City Hall, and left some mementos for our great-great grandchildren to ponder. See "Point Austin."
Today (Thursday) is Inauguration Day or Black Thursday, if you prefer. If you're not in a celebratory mood, consult our list of events for the dissatisfied, "Inaugurate This."
The city staff-designed Transit Oriented Development Ordinance, due to come before City Council for first reading a week from today, was mostly cruising through hearings and city commissions unimpeded until last week, when an ad hoc group of activists composed of several heavy hitters of Austin's neighborhood politics, including representatives of PODER and Liveable City met at the Carver Library and discussed how to put a figurative speed bump in the TOD's path. The group, which met again yesterday, is generally supportive of the ordinance's call for greater density around the proposed stations for Capital Metro's new commuter rail, but almost unanimously expressed concerns about the lack of affordable housing incentives, and wanted to clarify that TOD zoning would not override existing neighborhood plans. Calling for the process to slow down, Jeff Jack of the Austin Neighborhoods Council said, "We can't continue to subsidize development. So why don't we make sure this ordinance states very clearly that while we're giving value to this land by our investment and our zoning, we want something back for it?" More on this next week. L.N.
Austin's three public safety employee unions the Austin Police Association, the Austin-Travis Co. Emergency Medical Services Employees Association, and the Austin Association of Professional Firefighters have each issued endorsements for Betty Dunkerley and Lee Leffingwell for city council. Dunkerley is the Place 4 incumbent; Leffingwell wants the Place 1 seat being vacated by Daryl Slusher. Jordan Smith
City officials have tapped former federal prosecutor Archie Carl Pierce to conduct the independent investigation into the December motorcycle deaths of Austin Police Dept. Cmdr. Shauna Jacobson and her husband, retired APD Detective Malcolm "Kurt" Jacobson. The couple died after the motorcycle they were riding struck a guard rail on Hwy. 71 near Bee Creek. Toxicological results revealed that each had elevated blood alcohol levels at the time of their deaths Shauna's was .33, Kurt's was .24. Pierce, an attorney with the Austin firm Wright & Greenhill, will be paid hourly for his work, and city officials say they intend to make public the results of that investigation upon its completion, early this spring. J.S.
The Youth Advisory Group, a coalition of nonprofits that provide services to young people, wants to do a better job. They're conducting two surveys, one online and one in-person, to find out what services youth actually feel they need. If you have an opinion on ways schools, the city, or nonprofits could help young people grow into balanced adults ready for a happy and productive life, complete the online survey at www.readyby21austin.org/youth-data.php. Or, if you hang around youth haunts long enough, you may trip over one of the students conducting the in-person survey. Rachel Proctor May
Last Saturday, the Austin Public Library unveiled a new electronic library kiosk called the e-Branch a public information kiosk to help the community access electronic library services and information free of charge. The e-Branch is located on the first floor of Highland Mall, just outside of Foley's. Counting the brick-and-mortar variety, this is the 23rd library location in the Austin Public Library system. For more info, call 974-7400 or see www.cityofaustin.org/library. L.N.
Other library news: Due to a library employee-appreciation event sponsored by the Friends of the Austin Public Library, all APL locations will open at noon on Friday, Jan. 21, instead of the usual 10am. L.N.
Beyond City Limits
The three election challenges to Democratic victories in the Texas House have dwindled to just one after a second defeated GOP candidate withdrew his formal protest. This leaves only one challenge the biggest and most politically charged which will be heard on Jan. 27. Houston Republican Talmadge Heflin, an 11-term heavyweight, is contesting his 33-vote loss to Democrat Hubert Vo, the first Vietnamese-American elected to the state House. Vo supporters are expected to turn out in force for the hearing before a nine-member House committee five Republicans and four Democrats which will make its recommendation to the GOP-controlled House. Last week, unsuccessful Republican candidate Eric Opiela withdrew his challenge in the District 35 race against Yvonne Gonzalez Toureilles, who won the South Texas seat by 853 votes. Former GOP Rep. Jack Stick of Austin was the first to pull out of the election challenge dustup. He lost to Democrat Mark Strama. Amy Smith
County commissioners picked up where they left off on the "nonleash" leash law proposal at this week's Commissioners Court meeting. Dorinda Pulliam, administrator for the Town Lake Animal Shelter, laid out a broad proposal for animal control in the county that would make sure the county's regulations more closely track the city's. The city currently provides animal-control services in the county. County residents who were upset with the mauling of an 8-year-old girl by a pack of wild dogs in December came to court two weeks ago to ask the county to toughen its ordinance. Under current county regulations, nothing short of an actual attack would qualify a dog as actually being "dangerous." Only a municipal judge can declare the dog a threat, which also slows down the process. If the Commissioners Court passes Pulliam's proposal, city animal control officers would be able to pick up animals suspected of aggressive behavior. Each animal would be subject to an administrative hearing. The owners of animals classified as dangerous would have to carry liability insurance, keep the pet in a contained area, and register annually. Commissioners will take a look at the draft ordinance in another three weeks. Some residents who spoke to commissioners this week would prefer to see all owners of pit bulls or similar aggressive breeds carry liability insurance. -- Kimberley Reeves
Texas Department of Insurance Commissioner José Montemayor last week announced his intention to resign his post when his term ends on Feb. 1, but told Gov. Rick Perry that he'll stay in his post until Perry finds a replacement. Montemayor has been with TDI since 1993, and has served as commissioner since 1999. "It's just time to move on," he told The Dallas Morning News. "It's been a very challenging responsibility, but I think I met the challenge, and I feel very good about what [TDI] accomplished during my tenure. We found solutions to our problems" including, presumably, the commission's handling of the so-called mold crisis, reductions in coverage, skyrocketing premiums, the continuing use of credit scoring to determine rates, and questionable tort reform. No matter how you spin those accomplishments, Montemayor "cannot deny that homeowners received higher rates and less coverage," policyholder advocate John Cobarruvias of Homeowners Against Deficient Dwellings said in a press release. "We wish him luck in his next job and hope that Perry will appoint a new Commissioner that will represent the interests of all Texans." According to the DMN, a frequently mentioned potential successor is TDI's deputy commissioner for policy affairs, Mike Geeslin. J.S.
Disgraced former drug task force Officer Tom Coleman, whose questionable investigation in 1999 resulted in the arrest of 46 people on spurious drug charges in Panhandle town of Tulia, was convicted on a felony charge of perjury last week in Lubbock. He was sentenced to seven years probation. And on Jan. 12, the whole nasty saga took another unexpected turn when Judge David Gleason halted the hearing in order to make sure Swisher Co. Sheriff Larry Stewart had an attorney appointed to him after special prosecutor Rod Hobson announced his intention to impeach the lawman. Last week Stewart testified that he wasn't aware that there was a criminal case pending against Coleman (for stealing gas from a neighboring county) at the time he hired him to serve as a narc. According to Hobson, Stewart's latest version of events conflicts with statements the sheriff made under oath in at least three of the Tulia drug trials, reports the Houston Chronicle. J.S.
A Youth Liberation Benefit, featuring music by Maneja Beto, Toumai, DJ e be lo, and a YLN youth performance, will be held at Ruta Maya, 3601 S. Congress (Penn Field), at 9pm Friday, Jan. 21. The event benefits the Fourth Annual Youth Encuentro in June, an intensive weeklong training during which Texan kids of color learn video production, theatre, creative writing, journalism, radio and music production, and other hands-on media skills while exploring social issues in the media. $5. 302-1401 or www.youthliberation.net.
Scholar Acharya Vimalananda presents After Capitalism: A Workshop on Cooperatives and a Future Vision for a People's Economy on Saturday, Jan. 22, 3-6pm, in the Sinclair Suite of the Texas Union on the UT campus, 24th and Guadalupe. Donations accepted; all proceeds go to tsunami relief work. 845-7302 or www.prout.org.
On Sunday, Jan. 23, the KLRU Distinguished Speaker Series presents 50 x 15: A Global Commitment, a panel of experts exploring the impact of potentially providing 50% of the world's population with Internet service and computing access by the year 2015. Hosted by David Kirkpatrick, Fortune magazine senior editor, and Hector Ruiz, CEO of Advanced Micro Devices. 7pm. LBJ Library Auditorium, 2313 Red River. 475-9021 or www.klru.org/speakers.
The MLK Day celebration keeps going all the way into next week with a keynote address on Sunday, Jan. 23, by Vernon Jordan, the civil rights activist and former advisor to President Clinton; he'll be joined by Grammy winners Take 6 and local dance group Body Talk. 6:30-8:30pm. Hyatt Regency Austin, 208 Barton Springs Rd. For more info, call 477-1234 or go to www.mlkcelebration.com.
Fundraisers for campaigns past and present: Margot Clarke will kick off her City Council campaign on Tuesday, Jan. 25, 5:30-7pm, at Jovita's, 1619 S. First. For more info, call 791-9874 or e-mail email@example.com. And Precinct 4 Constable Maria Canchola will try to retire her campaign debt on Wednesday, Jan. 26, 5:30pm at El Gallo Restaurant, 2910 S. Congress. Tickets $20, sponsorships available. For info, call 947-6354 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Journalist Palagummi Sainath, noted for chronicling the lives of the poor for The Times of India, is the subject of the documentary A Tribe of His Own: The Journalism of P. Sainath, which will be shown Tuesday, Jan. 25, 7pm, in Room 1 of Garrison Hall on the UT campus, directly southeast of the tower. (Also, Sainath himself will be on campus on Feb. 17; for more info, visit www.thirdcoastactivist.org.)
The anti-war group Austin Spokescouncil holds a couple of events next week: An open-to-the-public meeting Tuesday, Jan. 25, 8pm, at Austin Daze, 1300 E. Fourth; and a fundraiser Wednesday, Jan. 26, 8pm at Ruta Maya, 3601 S. Congress. The latter event coincides with the traveling art show "Drawing Resistance." Call 587-8358 (meeting) or 707-9637 (fundraiser) or see www.austinspokes.org.
On Wednesday, Jan. 26, at 7pm, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Nick Kotz will discuss his book Judgment Days: Lyndon Baines Johnson, Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Laws That Changed America (Houghton Mifflin, $26) with Texas Monthly journalist Mike Shea as part of the Texas Monthly Author Series at BookPeople, 603 N. Lamar. For more info, call 472-5050 or go to www.bookpeople.com.
Gillian Sorensen, a former assistant to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, will speak on the topic "The U.S. and the U.N.: Can This Marriage Be Saved?" on Wednesday, Jan. 26, 7:30pm in Bass Lecture Hall at the LBJ School of Affairs, UT campus, 26th and Red River. Free, but seating is limited. For info, see www.unausa-austin.org.