Headlines and happenings from Austin and beyond
Edited By Lee Nichols and Cheryl Smith, Fri., July 22, 2005
Quote of the Week"With 25 cents worth of local school property tax reduction and with oil at $50 [a barrel] they're making themselves out [to be] the poster children for greed and hurting the schoolchildren, consumers, and all Texas businesses." Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst last week, on the opposition of the Texas Oil and Gas Association and the Texas Chemical Council to closing corporate tax loopholes as part of school finance legislation.
Headlines At press time, the special session of the 79th Legislature was about to end in stalemate, as the House and Senate conferees could not agree on a school finance reform bill or more precisely, a bill to shuffle the tax load up, down, and sideways, and come out on the other side pretty much where they began. Something like the Hokey Pokey. Gov. Perry has already threatened another special session. See "On the Lege: More School Finance Madness."
Travis Co. Medical Examiner Roberto Bayardo announced that a second toxicology test in the police shooting case of Daniel Rocha showed Rocha positive for marijuana after the first test came back negative raising a request for a third, independent test and serious questions about the record of the ME lab. See "Rocha Case."
President Bush announced the appointment of D.C. Court of Appeals Judge John Roberts as his nominee to replace Justice Sandra Day O'Connor on the U.S. Supreme Court. Roberts is a largely unknown conservative quantity, and after much headline-generating bluster is likely to be easily confirmed by the U.S. Senate. See "Bush's Man for the Supreme Court."
The Karl Rove/CIA leak scandal expanded to include VP Dick Cheney's chief of staff, Lewis "Scooter" Libby, as Dems called for firings and the White House, the GOP, and the right-wing media echo chamber furiously spun the story as much partisan ado about nothing. President Bush said he would dismiss anybody in his administration who has "committed a crime." Naked City readers are encouraged to send him a list. See "War Drums."
As the Tour de France entered its final days, barring a crash or illness, Austin's Lance Armstrong appeared certain to gather his unprecedented seventh consecutive victory and to happily retire wearing the yellow jersey, waving bouquets, and kissing Parisian babes atop the victor's podium.
Austin Stories The Austin Resource Center for Independent Living recently announced it has new rent subsidies available for low-income, disabled individuals wanting to transition from living in an institution to an apartment or similar community setting. According to an ARCIL press release, "Institutions include nursing facilities, state mental retardation facilities, Texas Department of Protective and Regulatory Services institutions for persons with mental retardation, community Intermediate Care Facilities for Persons with Mental Retardation (ICF/MR) with 14 beds or more, and state mental health facilities." The subsidy can be used for up to two years "in any qualified housing unit within a 10-county Austin region." The new program, Tenant Based Rental Assistance, is the product of an agreement with the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs. For more information, contact John Meinkowsky at 832-6349 or email@example.com. C.S.
The Austin Independent Business Alliance is in the midst of touting its newest fun-oriented initiative to support local business, Third Thursday on Guadalupe. Reminiscent of the well-known First Thursday celebrations on South Congress, Third Thursday on Guadalupe offers live music, dancing, complimentary food and drink, and special deals at more than 40 local businesses on Guadalupe between 23rd and 38th streets, and within a block east and west. Festivities run 7-10pm. This Thursday's special attraction is a "Roller Skate Fashion Show" staring the Lone Star Rollergirls at Cream Vintage and Slices and Ices, 2532 Guadalupe. Free beer and music will be on hand. Third Thursday is a manifestation of a new AIBA concept, Independent Business Investment Zone (IBIZ) districts, in which "a group of locally owned neighborhood businesses have organized to form a collective vision to transform these districts into destination points for our community and help sustain the businesses within them." Third Thursday on Guadalupe's 15-block span, which includes more than 100 local businesses, is the first IBIZ District. For more info, see www.shopaustin.org. Daniel Mottola
Three months after a brouhaha over the prospect of the county privatizing its delinquent tax-collection business, County Commissioners will set aside a couple of hours Tuesday afternoon to hear from the private law firms who want a piece of the county's biggest revenue source. The privatization idea caused a furor in April after word leaked out that at least three of the commissioners were keen on handing the contract to former County Attorney Ken Oden, a partner in the Austin law firm of Linebarger Goggan Blair & Sampson, one of the largest collection firms in the country. At least four law firms submitted proposals to the county, but staff deemed two of the proposals "insufficient." Nevertheless, representatives from each of the law firms will have an opportunity to address the commissioners on Tuesday. Amy Smith
The first major central-city impact of the city's proposed Transit Oriented Development Ordinance will hit at Airport and North Lamar, site of the Huntsman chemical facility. Huntsman Corp. announced last year it will vacate the 73-acre site, and the Austin Business Journal reported on Monday that the company will sell to the Dallas-based Trammell Crow real estate company, which will in turn partner with Austin's Stratus Properties to build a $100 million mixed-use project, including 150,000 sq. ft. of retail and office space, more than 1,000 residences, and upgrades to ballfields on the tract. The project will require a yearlong environmental remediation costing more than $3 million, ABJ reports. The project seeks to capitalize on the city's desire for dense, mixed-use redevelopment near the depots of the commuter rail line approved by voters last November, one of which will be built at the southern end of the Huntsman property. L.N.
It was photo-ops galore at City Hall this week, as Austin hosted a two-day conference on the future of the United Nations attended by muckity-mucks, deputy mucks, and muckity under-mucks from around the world. As part of the festivities, which celebrate the 60th anniversary of the international organization, Mayor Will Wynn hosted a roundtable discussion of ways to expand information technology opportunities worldwide, followed by the requisite live music event. The U.N. schmoozefest was the second this summer for Wynn, who last month trotted out to California to talk sustainable urbanism with mayors from around the globe. With sustainability, technology, and live music out of the way, one wonders whether Austin might now consider an international conference to promote its other major cultural output, incurable nostalgia for the good old days. More on the immediate horizon, though. This week's IT event was a ramp-up to next spring's World Conference on Information Technology, which hits Austin in May. Rachel Proctor May
Beyond City Limits UT journalism professor and activist Robert Jensen has a new publishing outlet: the Hindustan Times, a daily newspaper published in Delhi but with editions aimed at other cities in India. Jensen told Naked City that he's been asked by the Times to write a column every two weeks, beginning with a piece on the London bombings published last week. He said that the column will "not be billed expressly as a 'letter from the U.S.' but it will likely have that feel." In his first contribution, Jensen speculated that when another attack occurs in the United States, that attack "likely will not only strengthen militaristic right-wing forces but drive the society into a more repressive and degraded politics." Jensen cites the historical behavior of the U.S. government and the jingoistic response of the media to the London attacks as underlying his belief that any future attacks here will become the basis for Washington to aggressively suppress dissent. "When the next terrorist attack hits, we can be certain that the Bush administration (or its successor, Republican or Democrat) will draw on those ideologies to try to build support for more belligerent policies. All that is predictable. What's unknown is whether a vigorous anti-empire movement can forestall these developments." Michael King
The term "high school graduation" will now have a standard meaning in 45 states, thanks to an agreement signed at the National Governors Association annual meeting. Texas won't be among those states, though, and will continue using a system that critics say is confusing and obscures the extent of the high school noncompletion problem. Everyone agrees it's a problem that Texas ninth-grade classes are consistently larger than graduating senior classes; the confusion comes in sorting out terms like dropout rate (which refers to students who formally drop out), completion rate (the number of freshman compared to the number of seniors or students who graduate or earn a GED), and leaver rate (which measures the number of students who exit the system because they transfer or die, for example). As an example of the kind of confusion that results, the official Texas dropout rate is 0.2%, while the completion rate (without GEDs) is about 80%. The system approved by the NGA will use a longitudinal approach that compares the size of freshman classes to the number of graduating seniors. R.P.M.
Bikes Across Borders, an Austin-based grassroots group organized to "build local and international solidarity partnerships through autonomous transportation and cultural arts," is helping deliver 200 tons of humanitarian aid to Cuba as part of the annual Pastors for Peace Friendshipment Caravan. Bikes Across borders will contribute 23 bikes and a complete shop tool set to the Friendshipment, which will also include school buses, computers, medicines, and medical supplies. "There's a need and desire (for bikes) in Cuba, more than any other place, due to their lack of access to transportation resources," said Bikes Across Borders Coordinator Sachi DeCou. The caravan's stop in Austin Saturday was one of its last before heading to Tampico, Mexico, where it will travel by boat to Cuba, flying in the face of U.S. trade and travel restrictions by making the journey without required U.S. Treasury Department licenses. Bikes Across Borders is partnering for the caravan with the Interreligious Foundation for Community Organization, a nonprofit founded in 1967 to "advance the struggles of oppressed people for justice and self-determination." For more information, see www.bikesacrossborders.org and www.ifconews.org. D.M.
Austin Rep. Lloyd Doggett announced Tuesday that he would become a sponsor of the Count Every Vote Act, introduced in response to a range of voting irregularities reported during the 2004 presidential election. "From Florida to Ohio to right here in Texas there are far too many stories of folks having their right to vote challenged or denied," Doggett said. "Denying even a single citizen their rights is totally unacceptable." Among its proposed reforms, the legislation allows citizens to register to vote on Election Day, streamlines absentee ballot requests, improves security measures for electronic voting machines, requires that every precinct have at least one machine set up for disabled and non-English-speaking voters, prohibits chief state election officials as well as owners and senior managers of voting machine manufacturers from engaging in overtly partisan political activity, scrutinizes the purging of voters from state registration lists, and establishes guidelines for the prosecution of those who engage in deceptive practices to keep people from voting. D.M.