Naked City

In the latest Republican effort to derail Travis Co. 
District Attorney Ronnie Earle's investigation into the 
activities of the Texas Association of Business and 
Texans for a Republican Majority PAC, state Rep. 
Mary Denny, R-Aubrey, has filed HB 913, which 
would require that a local prosecutor first refer such 
investigations to a special office of the Ethics 
Commission – presumably never to be heard 
from again. Craig McDonald of Texans for Public 
Justice called the bill a Get-Out-of-Jail-Free Card for 
politicians, adding, lawmakers would accomplish 
their cynical goal more efficiently by simply outlawing 
the prosecution of politicians. Following widespread 
negative reaction from editorial boards and 
prosecutors, Denny began backpedaling, saying the 
bill was not yet perfect. It has been referred to the 
House Elections Committee.
In the latest Republican effort to derail Travis Co. District Attorney Ronnie Earle's investigation into the activities of the Texas Association of Business and Texans for a Republican Majority PAC, state Rep. Mary Denny, R-Aubrey, has filed HB 913, which would require that a local prosecutor first refer such investigations to a "special office" of the Ethics Commission – presumably never to be heard from again. Craig McDonald of Texans for Public Justice called the bill a "Get-Out-of-Jail-Free Card for politicians," adding, "lawmakers would accomplish their cynical goal more efficiently by simply outlawing the prosecution of politicians." Following widespread negative reaction from editorial boards and prosecutors, Denny began backpedaling, saying the bill was not yet "perfect." It has been referred to the House Elections Committee. (Illustration By Doug Potter)


Quote of the Week

"Until the results of the investigations are finalized, the use of these [Tasers] ought to be restricted and put on hold. And I say that as chairman of finance. Once we are put on notice like this, the liability that then is created is substantial." – Chicago City Council Member Edward M. Burke, after one man died and a 14-year-old boy suffered cardiac arrest after being shot with Tasers by Chicago police. For a local report, see "New Austin 'Spokes' Speak Out Against Tasers."

Headlines

• The Austin Toll Party, still short on signatures in its drive to recall City Council members who voted for the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization's toll road plan, announced Monday that it is dropping Brewster McCracken and Danny Thomas as targets, to focus solely on Mayor Will Wynn. (For more, see "Toll Party Hits a Snag, Changes Course.")

• A report by the city attorney found "significant management issues within APD which must be addressed immediately," with regards to inconsistent treatment of officers on disciplinary issues, but no word yet on what impact that will have on Chief Stan Knee. For more, see "City Attorney Report on Knee Calls for Changes at APD."

• Austinites and sort-of Austinites won Grammy Awards: Los Lonely Boys won a trophy for their song "Heaven"; bluesman Pinetop Perkins and the late Janis Joplin got Lifetime Achievement Awards; the Dixie Chicks won for "Top of the World"; and Tejano accordionist Joel Guzman had a hand in the Best Tejano Album. See our Music section for more.

• The most recent City Council endorsements: The Austin Central Labor Council (a coalition of five unions) endorsed Gregg Knaupe for Place 3; however, one ACLC member, the Austin Association of Professional Firefighters, broke from the group to endorse Jennifer Kim.


Austin Stories

• The Bush Library (stop snickering, y'all) may come to reside in Austin, if UT wins its bid to host the president's books and papers. UT already hosts the LBJ Library, and the UT Board of Regents announced last week that they want Bush the Second's library as well. But, so do several other Texas institutions, so UT will have to put together a bid that proves they can provide the best home for it; they may propose scattering the library between its 15 campuses, so every UT student from Odessa to El Paso can have his or her own little bit of Bush history. – Rachel Proctor May

• Construction on the Shoal Creek Boulevard Improvement Project has finally begun. After five years of struggle between neighbors, city planners, and cyclists, the bastardized street restriping initiative, originally intended to add bike lanes to the residential stretch, will soon come to fruition. When the dust settles, Shoal Creek Boulevard will have a 10-foot wide multipurpose lane on each side of the street and 37 sporadically placed 6-foot curb extensions, adorned with crape myrtles. Crews will start work at the northern end of the project near the intersection of Shoal Creek Boulevard and Foster Lane, moving down the southbound side to 38th Street, then back up the northbound side of the road. City Project Manager Kerri Juarez says two-way traffic will be maintained throughout the duration of the work. A handful of dissident cycling advocates worry that the project sets a bad precedent in its failure to provide carefree bike lanes, something that many people agree Austin sorely needs. – Daniel Mottola

• The "one teacher, one class" movement has begun, as teachers and parents packed the AISD Board auditorium to urge the board to reinstate regular staffing levels for "special areas" teachers – art, music, and PE – in elementary schools. To help meet a severe budget shortfall in 2003, the board cut 60 special areas positions, meaning the remaining teachers teach 1 1/3 to 1 ½ or even two classes at a time. At the board meeting, the speakers cited everything from childhood obesity to the influence music instruction can have on mathematical thinking to the ever-popular "imagine 30 kindergartners with scissors" safety argument. The debate coincides with the beginning of the budget process, in which the board nails down its spending priorities, such as the high school redesign they've been working on all year. Education Austin, the teacher's union, is organizing a second event for the Feb. 21 board meeting. – R.P.M.

• Monday, Feb. 21, is Presidents' Day. City of Austin administrative offices and libraries will be closed. Garbage collection will be unaffected; certain city facilities will have reduced hours. See www.cityofaustin.org for more details. – L.N.


Beyond City Limits

• Just when Gov. Rick Perry promises to ratchet up restrictions on "frivolous" asbestos lawsuits, a new report shows Texas with the fifth-highest asbestos-related mortality rate in the nation. Maybe Perry saw it coming, but a study released this week by the D.C.-based Environmental Working Group puts Texas among the nation's hot spots for asbestos deaths. The nonprofit environmental investigation firm based its findings on data from the statistics division of the Centers for Disease Control, which shows that 259 people died in 2002 from just two forms of asbestos disease, with more than a third of the deaths concentrated in three metro areas – Houston, Beaumont, and Dallas. Between 1979 and 2002, nearly 3,000 asbestos deaths were reported in Texas, with 524 in the Houston metro area alone (Austin-San Marcos recorded 86 deaths during that time). The news gets worse, as EWG expects mortality rates to peak in Texas at about 1,000 deaths annually between 2015 and 2020. It's uncertain how, or if, Perry's lawsuit reform objective will shake out this session. But his State of the State address made clear his intention to "end Texas' status as the home of frivolous asbestos lawsuits." – Amy Smith

• A coalition of Texas nonprofits have called on U.S. Sens. John Cornyn and Kay Bailey Hutchison to oppose any move to change filibuster rules in the Senate. Why? Judicial nominees, including a probable Supreme Court vacancy. As it stands, it takes 60 votes to end debate on a judicial nominee; majority leader Bill Frist has been hinting that Republican leadership wants to change the rules to require only a simple majority. While Frist hasn't put forth any official proposal, the groups want to get their two cents in pre-emptively, "particularly for Senator Hutchison, who hasn't been public about where she is on this issue," said Sarah Wheat of NARAL Pro-Choice Texas. "There are a handful of moderate Republican senators who have said they don't think this is a good idea, so we want Senator Hutchison to hear from Texans that we want her to maintain her reputation as a moderate." – R.P.M.

• Invoking "God's mandate to care for the environment," Austin-based Texas Impact, an interfaith network established in 1973 by Texas religious leaders to lobby social concerns at the Legislature, released a statement Monday signed by more than 1,000 clergy nationwide denouncing the Bush administration's environmental policy, from its opposition to the Kyoto Protocol to its "Clear Skies" Initiative to attempts to weaken the Endangered Species Act. The statement says, "[T]here was no mandate, no majority, or no 'values' message in this past election for the President or the Congress to roll back and oppose programs that care for God's Creation." Texas Impact director Bee Moorhead said the rapidly growing movement behind Monday's statement is uniting progressives and conservatives, especially theological conservatives who strive to uphold the sanctity of God's creation, all rallying around environmental reforms. She said, "While the majority of religious Americans voted for Bush, that vote wasn't a green light to pollute the air, accelerate species extinction, and turn our backs on our responsibility to stop global warming." (For more on the Clear Skies plan, see p.23.) – D.M.

• A survey conducted by the Union of Concerned Scientists and Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility found that large numbers of scientists employed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which manages enforcement of the Endangered Species Act, feel that ideology is getting in the way of their doing their jobs. That is, many respondents felt pressured to alter or conceal scientific findings that got in the way of business or development. The survey was sent out to about 1,400 biologists, botanists, and other science professionals; of the roughly 400 who responded, 56% felt that "commercial interests have inappropriately induced the reversal or withdrawal of scientific conclusions or decisions through political intervention." Here in Central Texas, FWS has just passed primary ESA enforcement for Edwards Aquifer species over to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, which has adopted water quality standards that environmentalists feel are not strict enough to protect aquifer species like the Barton Springs salamander. Specifically, the TCEQ standards leave out restrictions on impervious cover, even as FWS's brand-new recovery plan for the salamander (a scientific report detailing the best ways to save the species) specifically recommends impervious cover restrictions. The full UCS report is available at www.ucsusa.org. – R.P.M.

• Frustrated with the Lower Colorado River Authority's role in furthering development in the Hill Country, members of a multicounty community group have begun lobbying their state representatives to wield their influence over the state-funded agency. The Hill Country Alliance is trying to drum up legislative support for requiring the LCRA to tighten conditions on water service to new and planned developments along Highway 71 West. Activists want the quasi-state-run agency to require new developments to meet or exceed the 2000 environmental measures crafted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The LCRA imposed those measures on developers in the nearby Hamilton Pool Road area, but not on new projects in other environmentally sensitive areas, including the controversial Sweetwater Ranch, a 1,700-acre residential project under construction off of Highway 71 in western Travis Co. At press time, the LCRA board is considering negotiating water and wastewater contracts with Sweetwater's Lazy Nine Municipal Utility District. For more info from both sides, see www.hillcountryalliance.org and www.lcra.org. – A.S.

• Sorry, Schlitterbahn: The Texas Education Agency approved an AISD waiver to begin the 2005 school year on Tuesday, Aug. 16. The agency requires such a waiver from all school districts that want to start before the week in which Aug. 21 falls. Opponents of an early school start say it cuts into the tourism trade, increases air conditioning costs, and interferes with students' summer jobs and teachers' continuing education opportunities (not to mention summer jobs). In fact, Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn just delivered legislators a report that puts the price tag for starting before Sept. 1 at $790 million annually. However, others complain that starting later pushes fall semester exams until after winter break; the AISD board was clearly swayed by these arguments, as well as those who pointed out that starting early gives AISD students a week's head start on prepping for spring standardized tests. – R.P.M.


Happenings

• The city of Austin is hosting separate but related forums next week: Council Member Brewster McCracken hosts a Commercial Design Standards Open House on Monday, Feb. 21, 6pm, at the Council Chambers in City Hall, 301 W. Second (see www.cityofaustin.org/development/
commercial_design.htm
). And the Planning and Zoning Department will host two public hearings on the proposed Transit-Oriented Development Ordinance – Wednesday, Feb. 23, 6-8pm, at the Carver Branch Library, 1161 Angelina; and Thursday, Feb. 24, 6:30-8:30pm, at One Texas Center, 505 Barton Springs Rd. #325. For info, see www.cityofaustin.org/development/
transit_development.htm
.

• The Texas Civil Rights Project will host its 14th Annual Bill of Rights Dinner on Saturday, Feb. 19, 6pm, at the Four Seasons Hotel, 98 San Jacinto. Keynote speaker is Congressman Harold Ford Jr. of Tennessee, and actors Danny Glover and Felix Justice will perform a portrayal of Langston Hughes and Martin Luther King Jr. Tickets are $125. For more info, call 474-5073, ext. 116, or e-mail tigarcenter@yahoo.com.

• Austin IndyMedia will hold the IndyConference, bringing together independent media activists from around the continent with the goal of "building a sustainable radical media network," at the University of Texas, Friday-Sunday, Feb. 18-20. Speakers include, among others, UT journalism professor and prominent local activist Robert Jensen, Radical Media author John Downing, and Democracy Now! radio host Amy Goodman. For full info, go to www.indyconference.org.

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