Headlines and happenings from Austin and beyond
Edited By Lee Nichols and Cheryl Smith, Fri., July 15, 2005
Quote of the Week"I think your question is being asked relating to some reports that are in reference to an ongoing criminal investigation. The criminal investigation that you reference is something that continues at this point. And as I've previously stated, while that investigation is ongoing, the White House is not going to comment on it."
White House spokesman and Austin homeboy Scott McClellan, responding to numerous questions concerning reports of Karl Rove's involvement in revealing the identity of CIA agent Valerie Plame. In 2003, McClellan had dismissed questions about Rove's role as "ridiculous," and President Bush vowed to dismiss any administration official involved in the potentially criminal disclosure.
HeadlinesThe state Senate passed its tax revision plan this week; the House and Senate will now go to conference committee to work out their differences. The two plans differ in detail but neither does much about school finance. See "Point Austin," right.
The Austin Police Department released its 2004 Use of Force Report, announcing a 10.5% decline in the overall use of force, and sharp declines in injuries during arrests for both officers and suspects. The report attributed most of the decline to the availability of Taser stun guns, now issued to all officers.
District Judge Bob Perkins ruled Tuesday that the state election code is constitutional and that Texans for a Republican Majority PAC director John Colyandro should stand trial on money-laundering charges brought in connection with a fund transfer to the Republican National Committee during the 2002 state lege races. See p.15.
Officials announced that four British citizens of Pakistani background apparently committed suicide attacks in the July 7 London bombings; the investigation continues.
After a brief intermission, Austin cyclist Lance Armstrong reclaimed the leader's yellow jersey in the first mountain stage of the Tour de France, continuing his quest for a seventh and farewell championship.
Austin StoriesAs city budget talks ramp up, a proposal to consolidate the ABIA airport police, park police, and city marshals into one unified command is up for discussion again, a source tells us. And, according to the source, Airport Police Chief Bruce Mills is the man likely to be tapped to oversee the consolidated functions, if the proposal moves forward. Mills, a former APD assistant chief, served as APD acting chief in 1997 after former Chief Elizabeth Watson resigned her post, and was one of three candidates to take over as APD chief then (current Chief Stan Knee was chosen instead). According to Assistant City Manager Rudy Garza, the consolidation suggestion is one of a handful of such measures the city is considering. The goal, he said, is to improve efficiency and to provide better service to city taxpayers and better working conditions for city employees. Jordan Smith
Austin attorney Diane Henson announced last week that she's tossing her hat in the political ring one more time, making a run for the bench of the 3rd Court of Appeals. Henson will run for the Place 3 seat, currently held by Judge Bea Ann Smith, who has said she will not seek re-election to the seat she's held since 1991. Henson ran for the court's Place 6 seat last year, nearly knocking incumbent Judge Bob Pemberton off the bench. Her enthusiastic first run for public office earned her nearly 49% of the vote in the 3rd Court's 22-county district. "We were within striking distance and we're going to build on that base of bipartisan support," Henson said in a press release. (For more on Henson, see "3rd Court: Experience Counts," Oct. 22.) J.S.
The tug-of-war over TxDOT's expansion of Hwy. 290/71 through Oak Hill spilled into the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization's Transportation Policy Board meeting on Monday night. The three-mile stretch of roadway, past the "Y" in Oak Hill out to Dripping Springs, is being improved in preparation for being tolled. Neighbors worry about connectivity and congestion across the tollway, and they want to tie the state roadway's improvements into the Austin neighborhood planning process to preserve commerce and increase density in the area. District Engineer Bob Daigh promised changes, if necessary, but said there needs to be a broad consensus in the community on what those changes should be. The road expansion, in the works since 1986, is intended to serve not only Oak Hill but the broader region, Daigh said. Kimberly Reeves
Local participants in the nationwide "Exxpose Exxon" campaign converged on the Exxon station at the corner of Oltorf and I-35 Tuesday, to highlight ExxonMobil's "irresponsible and deceptive" practices such as lobbying Congress to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling, avoiding payment of damages from the Exxon Valdez oil spill, and funding organizations that work to discredit the science behind global warming. Campaign members called on supporters to boycott ExxonMobil products and stocks. A written statement read, "ExxonMobil has continually worked to make the U.S. more dependent on oil and fails to invest a significant sum of its considerable profits into clean sources of energy, unlike competitors such as BP and Shell." The day of demonstrations accompanied the release of a new report on Exxon, available at ExxposeExxon.com. Daniel Mottola
Faced with the need to build $900 million in arterial roads in the county and a bunch of new rooftops Travis County is about to get serious about developers putting up their share of road construction costs. Under a new proposal for private-public partnerships on roadway funding, the county will ask developers to pay a proportionate share of road costs on major arterials to apply to every subdivision expected to use the roadway. The split on costs would be 50-50. As Commissioner Karen Sonleitner put it, it's time to stop being "Bank Mom" and start asking developers to pay their share for a road system that is benefiting their projects and boosting the value of their raw land. The proposal will apply to major roadways, like Howard Lane, that are too small to be part of the state system but large enough to be on the regional road plan. While the guideline is discretionary now simply a starting point for negotiations with developers it's likely to become permanent once subdivision regulations are rewritten. K.R.
Alison Schulze, the new administrator for the Austin-San Antonio Intermunicipal Commuter Rail District, painted a grim picture for her board in a memo last week about the possibility of getting New Starts funding the federal funding set aside specifically for rail projects from the Federal Transit Administration. The commuter rail district is slated to meet with FTA this week, and Schulze said she wanted her board to understand the tough competition they'll face. Only one in four projects will be funded. Already, Capital Metro has backed out of its plan to seek New Starts funding for the Leander line this fall, and is looking for other funding. Schulze says ASA is still early in the process of seeking funding. The CAMPO Transportation Policy Board passed a resolution of support for the rail project on Monday night. K.R.
The Housing Authority of the City of Austin and the Southwest Housing Compliance Corporation awarded $50,000 in scholarships to 27 recipients, all of whom are residents of public or assisted housing. The recipients, all but five of whom are female, intend to pursue higher education at Austin Community College, UT-Austin, Huston-Tillotso n, and other local institutions. Rachel Proctor May
Beyond City LimitsFearing a crackdown from the federal government, Texas pharmacy regulators have asked Attorney General Greg Abbott for guidance on a new state law that opens the door for Texans to import prescription drugs from Canada. Just as Texas and other states are making it easier for residents to save money on prescription medications, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is doing its part to throw up roadblocks recently stepping up enforcement of a long-ignored federal law banning the importation of prescription drugs. They warned Gov. Rick Perry last month that the new provision, which passed overwhelmingly in the regular session, would violate federal law and pose potential health risks for Texans. State Rep. Scott Hochberg sponsored the measure, which would require the Texas State Board of Pharmacy to inspect up to 10 Canadian pharmacies and list the "eligible" pharmacies on the board's Web site. The state law takes effect Oct. 1 maybe. Gay Dodson, executive director of the Board of Pharmacy, has asked the AG whether this particular federal law trumps state law, and whether listing Canadian pharmacies on the board's Web site would condone or promote what may or may not be illegal. Amy Smith
A state district judge ruled Tuesday that one of two defendants in a campaign finance case should stand trial on money-laundering charges, and delayed ruling on a second defendant. John Colyandro and Jim Ellis had sought a dismissal of the felony charges brought against them in connection with their roles in the 2002 legislative races, on behalf of Texans for a Republican Majority, a PAC founded by Tom DeLay. Lawyers for Colyandro and Ellis took issue with the wording of the original criminal indictments, which contained the word "check" instead of "cash," as written in the state statute. So the grand jury reissued an indictment with the word change. Colyandro is expected to appeal this week's ruling. Perkins will rule on Ellis after an August 9 court hearing. A.S.
The Texas Lottery Commission is focusing its attention on the wrong areas if it intends to fix the agency, longtime critic Dawn Nettles told the board at Monday's meeting. Nettles, publisher of The Lotto Report, was the one who raised the alarm on inflated jackpots, which eventually led to the resignation of Executive Director Reagan Greer last week. The board set a number of measures in motion Monday, including an audit of the human resources department, a review of payout procedures, and the appointment of Gary Grief as acting director of the agency. Nettles was not impressed, saying that Texas needs to start producing games of chance with fair odds for winning as well as start advertising actual jackpots. The agency has set the bar so high to win that it is literally squeezing the money out of the game, she said people no longer play the games because they no longer feel they can win. K.R.
The nation's leading maker of electro-shock weapons, Taser International, is suing Gannett, the parent company of USA Today, claiming the paper published an article that exaggerated safety concerns about the company's weapon. Taser is suing for libel, injurious falsehood, and interference with business relations, among other claims. According to Taser, a June 3 article in the paper "vastly overstated" the electrical output of a Taser gun incorrectly reporting that the electrical output was more than 100 times that of the electric chair. The paper ran a correction on June 6, admitting a "mathematical error": In fact, the output is 1,000 times less than that of a death chair. Taser chief executive Rick Smith says unfair reporting has cost the company a lot of money. "Over the course of this biased campaign, more than $1 billion dollars of shareholder value has been erased," he said. Indeed, Taser stock has plummeted 68% this year, reports the Arizona Republic. J.S.