Edited By Lee Nichols and Cheryl Smith, Fri., June 17, 2005
"I'm a progressive Democrat I believe in protecting the environment, I believe in helping small businesses, I believe in diversity, I believe in a woman's right to choose ..." Austin City Council Place 3 candidate Jennifer Kim, on the Republican support that helped her to victory
Quote of the Week
"All right, where's my tequila?" defeated Place 3 candidate Margot Clarke, after her concession speech
Jennifer Kim pulled off the upset against Margot Clarke in the election for Place 3 on the Austin City Council in Saturday's run-off election. Kim trailed Clarke 27%-40% in the general election, but converted that into a 54% victory a month later. See "Pro-Kim/Anti-Clarke Crowd Celebrates," "New Trumps Old in Run-Off," and "Revenge of the Doughnuts!"
Two days before that, current and outgoing Place 3 holder Jackie Goodman and Place 1's Daryl Slusher (the former politics editor of The Austin Chronicle) said their goodbyes after a combined 21 years on the dias. See "Austin Stories," below.
The sine is barely dead, but wannabe legislators are eyeing vulnerable Republican seats already. Meanwhile, Gov. Perry has said there will be no special session, but the rumor mill says otherwise. See "On the Lege."
An Austin police officer fatally shot an 18-year-old drug investigation suspect in East Austin on June 9. As has become too usual, protests ensued and APD clammed up, but Chief Stan Knee is promising stronger communications with neighborhood leaders in upcoming weeks. See "Rocha's Death Involved Taser Confusion."
Last week's farewell ceremony for Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman and Council Member Daryl Slusher lasted almost as long as some council meetings, but extended council careers call for long goodbyes. "I don't think it's really sunk in yet [that] I have no reason to be here on Thursdays," Goodman joked of her final meeting before a crowd of well-wishers. Slusher recalled how the city staff was "just a little bit wary" of him when he first took office, after making a career of skewering public officials as the politics editor for this paper. Goodman and Slusher leave office this month; their successors-in-waiting are Jennifer Kim and Lee Leffingwell. It's the end of an era that saw some of Austin's most dramatic changes from unprecedented population growth, to downtown development, to significant neighborhood and environmental battles and the emergence of a powerful "green machine" that dominated City Hall politics through much of the early and mid-Nineties. Goodman rode the environmental wave into office in 1993, the year after voters overwhelmingly passed the Save Our Springs Ordinance. Slusher's ascension followed in 1996, two years after he nearly unseated former Mayor Bruce Todd. "Life without Daryl and Jackie," Council Member Raul Alvarez observed, "is not easy to comprehend." Amy Smith
The majority of the Travis Co. Commissioners Court chose Tuesday to go ahead and rename the Travis County Courthouse in honor of Heman Sweatt, who fought to desegregate the University of Texas. The decision was a bit under the radar, given the fact that the Travis Co. Historical Commission sent a letter to County Judge Sam Biscoe this month recommending against naming the building for any person, be it Sweatt, former County Judge George Matthews, or anyone else. The commission recommended the Commissioners Court honor Sweatt with a plaque in the courtroom where his case to gain admission to the UT Law School was heard in 1946. Sweatt v. [UT President Theophilus] Painter opened the door to the first real desegregation efforts in Brown v. Board of Education. Commissioner Margaret Gómez, who voted for the motion, said she wanted to recognize the significance of education as the great equalizer, as well as the importance of breaking those barriers for people of color. The motion passed 4-1, with Gerald Daugherty voting against. Kimberly Reeves
About half as many AISD students as originally reported were barred from graduating because of failure to pass all sections of the state-mandated TAKS tests. Earlier this month, AISD announced that 545 of the district's 3,500 seniors who had passed all their classes and fulfilled all their credits would not receive a diploma until they passed all their TAKS tests. Now, the district has announced that the real number is 292, or 8% of the graduating class; the reporting error was in the central office, not individual campuses, so no student missed out on graduation ceremonies because of the flub. The highest rate of nongraduation was among students classified as limited-English proficient, 12% of whom have yet to pass all their TAKS tests. They, and other students with tests to pass, can participate in summer "power workshops" for a final round of TAKS testing the first week of July. Rachel Proctor May
Two Austin icons went home last week with official documents from the city, which, as Threadgill's Eddie Wilson noted with cheerful relief, weren't police reports. Wilson and Antone's founder Clifford Antone picked up the framed honors from the City Council for their decades-old gifts to Austin's music scene and overall cultural identity. City plaques will also be installed at the original home of Antone's, at Sixth and Brazos, and on the spot where Wilson's famed Armadillo World Headquarters once stood, next to the much younger Threadgill's World HQ at 301 Riverside. A.S.
The Travis Co. Sheriff's Department has found a few too many people are visiting the inn that being the Travis County Jail and the consequence is that the department is expected to be $960,000 over budget by the time the fiscal year ends on Sept. 30. And that's not good for Travis Co. taxpayers. While the department is considering more alternatives adding another out-of-county housing contract, speeding up the court process, requesting additional variance beds it still means Travis County will spend more than expected on jail inmates, including a possible $350,000 to send inmates to Limestone Co. once capacity is exceeded at the jail. A combination of "rainy day" funds and cuts within the department will pay for the additional cost. Christian Smith, who heads the county's Planning and Budget Office, indicated it would be difficult for Travis County to reach its projected overall budget, with a slimmed-down 2% increase, if the jail crunch continues. K.R.
To gate or not to gate, that is the question in the Rob Roy subdivision, and the Travis Co. Commissioners Court appears to be leaning toward gating the upscale 296-home community off Loop 360. Residents came en masse to Commissioners Court on Tuesday to argue that the large increase in cut-through traffic in their neighborhood has made it impossible to walk or bike in Rob Roy and created a public safety issue. Homeowners are so discomforted, a majority has agreed to ask the county to abandon the roads so they can gate the community and tax themselves to maintain the road. That view, however, is not universal. A small contingent, including Statesman Publisher Mike Laosa, consider gating the community a serious breach of their property rights unless the vote is unanimous. County officials instructed the two sides to meet one last time, with the majority of commissioners indicating they were inclined to vote to abandon the roads next week. K.R.
Save Our Springs Alliance filed a petition with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to list the Jollyville salamander as endangered. The salamander lives in the northwest Austin section of the Edwards Aquifer and, like its kin the Barton Springs salamander, is extremely sensitive to changes in water quality. According to the SOSA petition, such changes are largely due to urbanization in the watershed, which increases the level of pollutants and sediment that wash into the creeks and streams the salamander calls home. The petition is part of an effort to force TxDOT and other highway planners to mitigate the effects of its roads by paying funds to preserve open spaces; on Monday, the group also announced its intent to file suit against the agencies to secure mitigation funds. R.P.M.
If he continues at this pace, Gov. Rick Perry's over-the-top courtship of the conservative base could turn out to be his political undoing. After drawing heat for cavorting with gay-baiting evangelists and insulting gay veterans a couple of weeks ago, Perry is now raising eyebrows over his ties to a new Texas Marriage Alliance Web site run by two indicted associates of U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay. The site (www.txmarriage.com) features a video of Perry urging voters to support a proposal to "protect marriage from fringe groups and liberal judges." But it's the Web site's operatives John Colyandro and Jim Ellis that carry the heaviest baggage, as the Fort Worth Star-Telegram first reported on Saturday. The two are under indictment on money-laundering charges stemming from alleged illegal campaign finance activities in 2002. Perry is making stronger than usual overtures to the right-wing base on the possibility of facing either U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison or Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn in next year's GOP primary. Perry has also enlisted the aid of the Texas Restoration Project, a network of some 500 conservative ministers. The group has committed to registering 300,000 new voters in the new election cycle. A.S.
Beyond City Limits
The Texas Association of Business was dealt another legal setback last week in a case that questions the role of corporate money in the 2002 state House races. The Texas Supreme Court rejected the group's pretrial attempt to avoid answering a series of questions brought by Austin lawyer Buck Wood, who sued TAB on behalf of James Sylvester of Austin, one of several Democrats who lost House races to GOP candidates backed by TAB's campaign activities. Without comment, the all-Republican Supreme Court declined to consider TAB's petition, meaning TAB must provide Wood with the information he has sought for more than a year. The answers may show how the group raised and spent $1.9 million from undisclosed corporate sources. Among other things, the money was used to bankroll a massive mailer campaign that sought to discredit certain Democratic candidates. But TAB argued it was not obligated to disclose who paid for the ads because the mailers passed the so-called "magic words" test by not explicitly urging a vote for or against a candidate. A recent district court ruling in a related civil case this one involving Texans for a Republican Majority found that the group broke the law by not disclosing how it raised and spent money from corporate donors. Both groups are currently under criminal investigation. A.S.
Texas Campaign for the Environment is urging Gov. Rick Perry to veto HB 1609, which would delete requirements to hold public meetings when new hazardous waste sites and landfills are being permitted by the TCEQ. TCE says the bill, authored by Rep. Warren Chisum, R-Pampa, was originally intended to deal with small-scale West Texas landfills, but was broadened with an amendment late in the session by Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo. It now eliminates, statewide, mandatory meetings for new hazardous waste disposal sites, major changes at existing facilities, sludge dumps, recycling plants, new construction on top of old landfills and new landfills for commercial, residential, and hazardous waste (such as asbestos). Meetings would only be held at the request of a state legislator, or if the TCEQ executive director determines there is significant public interest. TCEQ spokesman Terry Clawson confirmed reports that the agency itself requested the changes. He said, "Thirty percent of the time TCEQ staff and the [permit] applicant are the only ones there; it's often a waste of resources," but added that public notice and appeal policies wouldn't change. The Travis Co. Commissioners Court also passed a resolution June 7 urging Perry to veto the bill. Daniel Mottola
Gov. Rick Perry last week named Texas Department of Insurance Deputy Commissioner Mike Geeslin to head up the agency. Geeslin, a former Perry policy advisor, will replace outgoing Commissioner Jose Montemayor, who announced his resignation in January. Montemayor served as head of TDI since 1999 and was captain of the ship during the insurance industry's mold hysteria, during which time Texas policyholders saw premium rates skyrocket. While the mold crisis is, thankfully, over, Geeslin will nonetheless take over at a time when insurance rates are still bloated (activist group Texas Watch says consumers were overcharged by $4 billion last year), and will inherit the drawn-out legal wrangling with State Farm over premium rates that the state says are too high. Jordan Smith