Headlines and happenings from Austin and beyond
Edited By Lee Nichols and Cheryl Smith, Fri., July 8, 2005
Quote of the Week"I think every good Christian ought to kick Falwell right in the ass." Sen. Barry Goldwater, 1981, when asked what he thought of the Rev. Jerry Falwell's suggestion that all good Christians should be concerned about Sandra Day O'Connor's nomination to the Supreme Court
Headlines In the special legislative session, the state Senate passed its version of a public school finance plan while the House prepared to vote on a revenue bill that would cut property taxes and replace them with sales taxes, cigarette taxes, and a more inclusive franchise tax. That's just about where they were when the regular session crashed in May. See "Property Tax Fireworks Flare."
Meanwhile, the Texas Supreme Court heard arguments Wednesday morning in the state's appeal of a lower court decision that the current school finance system is inadequate and unconstitutional. Have we been here before?
In the wake of the July 1 retirement announcement of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, advocacy groups on all sides geared for battle in anticipation of a new appointment by President Bush. Court-watchers await the same announcement from ailing Chief Justice William Rehnquist. See "Sayonara Sandra."
In the third leg of Le Tour de France, Austin's Lance Armstrong grabbed the leader's yellow jersey in his farewell appearance on the tour. It's still early, but Armstrong has already established significant leads over his most likely rivals.
Austin Stories In a two-page e-mail addressed to all APD officers, Chief Stan Knee on July 5 announced a new departmental policy, calling for periodic inspection of all videotapes from patrol in-car cameras in an effort to make sure that officers are recording all pedestrian and traffic stops, sobriety tests, and pursuits. The change introduced as a directive by memorandum as the department finalizes the official policy language comes just a month after the fatal shooting of 18-year-old Daniel Rocha by APD Officer Julie Schroeder. Although both police cars present at the time of the shooting were equipped with in-car camera systems, neither Schroeder nor Sgt. Don Doyle recorded the event Schroeder failed to turn her camera on; Doyle didn't even have a videotape in his. Whether the officers will be punished for the infractions will be one question for Internal Affairs investigators who will begin their review of the incident once the criminal investigation concludes, but according to Knee's memo, violation of the new "reinforced" policy will result in "significant disciplinary action." Under the new policy, officers will make a test recording at the beginning of each shift and return their videotapes to the property clerks at the end of their shift. Further, the APD inspections unit will conduct routine, random audits of videos to ensure that the policy is being followed, and submit reports listing both policy followers and violators. Jordan Smith
Austin ISD enjoyed the first round of feedback in what is sure to be a vigorous budget season at a public hearing the Board of Trustees held to get input on the proposed $754 million budget. Teachers and parents jammed the hearing to testify in favor of raises for teachers (the current budget includes none); reinstatement of 60 elementary school art, music, and PE positions cut two years ago; and new administrative positions to keep up with enrollment at the Kealing magnet middle school and the McCallum Fine Arts program. The issue of teacher raises drew the most comment: Teachers union Education Austin says the district is hiding money that could be used for salaries, an allegation the district says misrepresents the numbers and the depth of its financial plight. Still, many teachers spoke of their frustration. Odom fifth-grade teacher Carol Belmont said she felt "despondent" about the situation, and in fine elementary teacher form, presented an acrostic that spelled out "morale." "It's a critical factor in retaining great teachers in this district," she said. Rachel Proctor May
Council Member Brewster McCracken managed to make it to the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority last week, hat in hand, to ask the transit agency to help him fund a study that could be highly critical of the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority. McCracken wants a two-pronged study. One layer would focus on the actual validity of the toll projects picked by the CTRMA. A second would take another look at alternatives such as managed lanes. When asked whether the study might be folded into other work the CTRMA is completing, McCracken gave a polite "no." This is one study that needs to stay independent, he said. "This is an opportunity to build trust in the community There is a burden to overcome with this board. I want to be an honest broker on it, fair and open, so we can all have a common set of facts." McCracken wants the CTRMA to kick in a portion of the additional $200,000 needed for the study. The board has taken that under advisement. Kimberly Reeves
Upon being named head of the United States Conference of Mayors' National Energy Committee last Friday, Mayor Will Wynn declared, as he has in the past, that "we will be known as the Clean Energy Capital of the World." Wynn's work on renewable energy and conservation initiatives for the city of Austin was noted in the appointment. On May 12, Wynn joined 166 other mayors in 37 states by signing the Kyoto Protocol-like Mayors' Climate Protection Agreement, thereby pledging to reduce Austin's emissions of global warming gases by at least 7% by 2012. In response, the environmental coalition Solar Austin thanked Wynn, but promptly noted, "It is imperative that a plan be developed that will outline how the city will follow through with this commitment. We request that
the city develop a plan for how each city department will reduce its global warming gases and follow up with annual reports detailing the progress in meeting its commitment." Wynn aide Matt Curtis said the follow-up plan will be complete in the "immediate future." More on the Mayors' Climate Protection Agreement at: www.ci.seattle.wa.us/mayor/
climate/default.htm#what. Daniel Mottola
Beyond City Limits The state wants all the marbles in this game of school finance, asking in arguments before the Texas Supreme Court on Wednesday for jurisdiction over both equity and adequacy, and for a reversal of previous Edgewood decisions. This is no minor request for many of the property-poor school districts in the case of West Orange-Cove v. Shirley Neeley. First the Legislature proposed defanging the "Robin Hood" law, which some consider to be the only clear guarantee of equity for property-poor school districts. And now the state, through the arguments of Solicitor General Ted Cruz, has suggested to the Texas Supreme Court that the state's accountability system is a better guarantee of an equal education for students than prior Edgewood rulings, and thus should replace those rulings. Cruz says this wouldn't erase gains made under Edgewood. It simply sets a different standard for equity to be measured in the future and gets the state out of the court system permanently. Plaintiffs in the West Orange-Cove case, needless to say, are skeptical. K.R.
As Texas stakeholders work to develop regional water management strategies in the state's 16 water conservation districts, the Sierra Club released a report suggesting alternative strategies for Region L, the 21-county region south of us that includes New Braunfels, San Marcos, San Antonio, and other cities further south. The group says that a sustainable water plan must include better conservation and groundwater storage, rather than simply pumping water from rural areas to more dense ones. The group praised San Antonio's aggressive water conservation strategies the city is shooting for a per-capita, per-day water usage of 113 gallons, compared to the 140 called for in the Region L plan. Many of the same issues will come up when the plan for the Austin Area Region K is debated starting in late August. Get a head start on your debate prep at www.texaswatermatters.org. R.P.M.
Despite lingering uncertainties, the Texas Health and Human Services Commission took the first leap toward privatization with the award last week of a $900 million contract to Accenture Ltd. The Bermuda-based consulting firm will operate remote call centers in processing applications for food stamps, Medicaid, children's health insurance, and other services now performed by state employees. The move will eliminate some 2,900 state jobs and shutter about 100 offices, although an agency spokesperson says those displaced workers will be given first preference if they apply for Accenture positions or for a slew of new HHS jobs to open as part of reforms to the state's Child and Adult Protection divisions. Meanwhile, based on Accenture's past performance, the Texas State Employees Union has vowed to continue its campaign to keep local offices open. TSEU cited Accenture's poor record in Ontario, Canada, as well as in Florida and Ohio, where state officials cancelled big contracts with the firm for failing to provide user-friendly services. In related news, unsuccessful bidder IBM Corp. has charged in a pending lawsuit that Accenture's hiring of a former high-ranking HHS employee gave the firm an unfair advantage in the bidding process. Amy Smith
Gov. Rick Perry announced last week the names of the nine people who will serve on the newly created Governor's Criminal Justice Advisory Council. Among them are Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston; Rep. Dan Gattis, R-Georgetown; and Dale Pat Campbell Jr., vice chancellor and general counsel for the Texas Tech University System, who will serve as chairman. Perry created the panel in March, after much prodding, and after several legislative attempts to create such a council failed. The purpose of the CJAC, he said, is to "help ensure that justice is dispensed more fairly for the guilty, the innocent, and the victims of crime." For more on the CJAC, go to www.governor.state.tx.us/divisions/
Twenty-four years after stepping to the helm of the Texas Federation of Teachers, John Cole retired from the position of president Saturday. Former Corpus Christi chapter president Linda Bridges will replace Cole. The union, according to a press release, represents more than 51,000 public school employees. C.S.
Happenings The summer law clerks of the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas will host their annual fundraiser party Thursday, July 14 at the Old School, 1604 E. 11th, from 6-10pm. Messin' With Texas 2005, which benefits the ACLU of Texas' Summer Clerkship Program, will feature Austin's Mamba Jamba, playing Latin jazz, and San Antonio's Bombasta, playing reggae/funk. Buy advance tickets at www.aclutx.org for $10 (students $8), or at the event for $12 ($10 with student ID).
On Saturday, July 9, join people around the nation in viewing the documentary about Karl Rove, Bush's Brain. Jo's Hot Coffee, 1300 S. Congress, hosts the event at dusk, in conjunction with MoveOn.org. For more info, call 470-4403 or visit www.moveon.org.
Huge excitement! The Travis County Sheriff's Office and the Sheriff's Combined Auto Theft Task Force will host a Vehicle Identification Number Etching and Help End Auto Theft registration, Tuesday, July 12, 9am-1pm at the Howard Lane Home Depot, 13309 N. I-35. The event, during which you can get your vehicle ID number etched into your vehicle window, is part of the Texas Auto Theft Prevention Authority's Watch Your Car campaign. Call 854-9735 for more info.