Headlines and happenings from Austin and beyond
Quote of the Week"I certainly hope that if there is going to be an indictment that says something happened, that it is an indictment on a crime and not some perjury technicality where they couldn't indict on the crime and so they go to something just to show that their two years of investigation was not a waste of time and taxpayer dollars." Kay Bailey Hutchison, on NBC's Meet the Press, Oct. 23, regarding the CIA leak investigation. Hutchison, of course, voted to impeach President Clinton on just such a "technicality" in 1999.
Headlines Early voting for the state constitutional amendments, Travis Co. bonds, and various local matters, continues through Saturday, Nov. 5. See our endorsements on p.8 and online. Election day is Tuesday, Nov. 8. On the ballot is Proposition 2, the anti-same-sex marriage amendment, the wording of which literally outlaws all marriage, opponents pointed out. Proposition 2 picked up an endorsement, though: The Ku Klux Klan plans to rally in support of it in Austin on Saturday, Nov. 5
This week, the number of Iraqi civilian deaths since the 2003 invasion of Iraq, as directly reported in worldwide media, reached a range of 26,690 to 30,051, according to IraqBodyCount.org. In related news, the number of American soldiers killed reached 2,000 on Tuesday; protests and vigils were held all over the country.
Legendary civil rights pioneer Rosa Parks, 92, died Monday, Oct. 24, at her home in Detroit. Parks' refusal to relinquish her bus seat to a white man triggered the Montgomery, Ala., bus boycott on Dec. 1, 1955, and launched the Civil Rights Movement.
U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay, R-Sugar Land, under indictment on felony charges of conspiracy and money-laundering, filed a motion to recuse state District Judge Bob Perkins on the grounds that Perkins has contributed to Democratic candidates. See "Point Austin."
Citing a desire to spend more time with his family, GOP District 48 state Rep. Todd Baxter announced that he will not seek re-election and will resign from office effective Nov. 1, opening the seat to what will likely be a nonpartisan special election to be called some time in the next few months by Gov. Rick Perry. See "Life After Todd Baxter."
Former UT graduate music student Jackson Ngai was acquitted of the 2004 murder of his teacher and friend, professor Danielle Martin, on the grounds that he was insane at the time of the crime. See "Ngai Found Insane - What Now?."
President Bush announced on Oct. 24 that he will not release any "privileged, confidential" White House documents on Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers leaving a dearth of detail regarding Miers for senators to evaluate. See news online for more reaction.
Naked City The Office of the Police Monitor's Citizen Review Panel will meet Monday, Oct. 31, to hear public comment concerning the fatal police shooting of 18-year-old Daniel Rocha. The panel will consider public testimony along with the contents of the APD's Internal Affairs investigation to determine what, if any, recommendations to make to APD Chief Stan Knee. After reviewing the case, the panel has the power to make one or more suggestions to Knee, including whether the case should be farmed out to an independent investigator for additional inquiry, whether IA should reopen its inquiry, or what level of discipline (if any) should be meted out for infractions of department policy and/or procedure. Rocha was shot and killed on June 9 by APD Officer Julie Schroeder during a traffic stop made in connection with an undercover drug investigation in the Dove Springs neighborhood. Schroeder told APD investigators that she shot Rocha because she thought he had taken her Taser gun and was preparing to use it on another officer (see "Darkness and Confusion," Aug. 26). Sign-in for the public comment portion of the meeting will begin at 4pm Monday; the CRP will meet 6-8pm at City Hall, 301 W. Second. Jordan Smith
Just in time for Halloween, the spooky Shoal Creek Boulevard Frankencurb situation is lurching forward. Following City Council's Sept. 29 vote to remove the curb islands, the city's Public Works Department began distributing ballots this week, including two possible restriping options for the boulevard one with car-free bike lanes and one without which were the product of an Oct 15 public meeting. Ballots are being hand delivered to Rosedale and Allandale residents and will be mailed to members of the Austin Cycling Association and Austin Ridge Riders. Public Works Public Information Officer Julie Strong pointed out, however, that anyone can participate in the vote by picking up a ballot from the Public Works Department at One Texas Center, 505 Barton Springs Rd. now, or at the Gullett Elementary Library, 6310 Treadwell, the week of Oct. 31. She also encouraged interested parties to attend the Nov. 14 meeting of the council's Land Use and Transportation Subcommittee, where results will be presented. For more info, see www.cityofaustin.org/publicworks/shoalcreek. Daniel Mottola
Election entrants (and not): Mayor Will Wynn told the Downtown Austin Alliance last week that he will seek re-election in 2006. Mayor Pro Tem Danny Thomas has already announced that he intends to challenge Wynn. Council Member Raul Alvarez, on the other hand, will leave office when his second term ends in 2006, rather than spend the next six months collecting the estimated 20,000 signatures necessary to seek a third term. Alvarez says he'd rather spend what's left of his term focusing on his council duties and then spend more time with his wife and child. Possible candidates for Place 2, the council's so-called Hispanic seat, include Greater Austin Hispanic Chamber President Eliza May, former state Sen. Hector Uribe, and Austin Association of Professional Firefighters President Mike Martinez. If Alvarez had succeeded in getting around the two-term limit, he would have followed in the footsteps of Daryl Slusher. And speaking of Slusher, he announced last week that he would not run for Travis Co. judge long considered to be the next political endeavor for the former council member (and former Austin Chronicle columnist). He said he didn't want to create a divisive Democratic primary battle with incumbent Sam Biscoe, who is seeking re-election. Slusher said the time he's able to devote to community service "will be better spent writing and concentrating on a few major projects." Amy Smith
AISD proposed an amendment to its land use agreement with the city of Austin, regarding development regulations in the environmentally sensitive Southwest. One issue is whether the impervious cover of a school located in an area governed by a private development agreement (i.e., the Stratus and Bradley agreements) counts toward the total allowable impervious cover within the development, or whether each school should be considered a separate tract with separate impervious cover totals. The second concerns the purchase of land to mitigate for an eight-classroom addition at Kiker Elementary, which would put the school's impervious coverage up to 38% of its site. Rachel Proctor May
The Campus Alliance Against Inequality held a slumber-free all-nighter Sunday night, to be first in line to vote against Proposition 2. The Alliance's action, Pull an All-Nighter Against Inequality, started at 8pm Sunday on UT's West Mall, outside the early voting location at the Undergraduate Library. Alliance spokesperson Jake Holbrook told The Daily Texan that some 200 people contributed their time and effort to the cause, and that 2,100 students have pledged to vote against Prop. 2, the constitutional amendment prohibiting same-sex marriage and civil unions. Hopefully, the moonlight protest worked; as the first day of early voting ended, the UT polling place had 654 ballots cast, the highest number at a single location. Wells Dunbar
The Austin Police Department has been awarded nearly $100,000 in federal grant money from the Department of Justice to fund two forensic positions one evidence technician and one serologist to work with detectives in the Sex Crimes and Cold Case units to identify cases with usable DNA evidence. According to APD, Sex Crimes detectives have already identified 500 cold cases that might benefit from DNA testing, while Cold Case detectives currently have about 130 outstanding cases. Once identified and collected, any DNA evidence will be processed through the nationwide Combined DNA Index System (CODIS) by personnel with APD's Forensics Unit. J.S.
Beyond City Limits The first two task force meetings on Gov. Rick Perry's proposed "65% rule" for education spending made the point that most following the debate already know: Conservatives love it and educators are leery of it. The 65% rule, proposed by Perry two months ago after the failure of the second special session, would require that school districts put 65% of their operational budgets into the classroom, using a definition set out by the National Center for Education Statistics. Education Commissioner Shirley Neeley convened two task forces one for educators and one for citizens to tweak the proposal. Doing the math, educators said a lot of things should be in the numerator libraries, counselors, and teacher training and out of the denominator transportation, construction, and school lunch programs. Changing the formula in such a way, however, dilutes it to the point where many conservatives find it meaningless. After the second meeting, Neeley said the comments from both meetings would be compiled and compared. Then the task force will meet again. The timeline for implementation of the rule is three to six months. Kimberly Reeves
Making good on a nearly year-old promise, Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson announced Monday that the state has signed an agreement to build the nation's first offshore wind project, located about seven miles off the coast of Galveston Island. Work will begin immediately with the construction of two meteorological towers. The data they collect will determine exactly where the 150-megawatt wind farm will be built. "Revenue from the agreement, expected to be at least $26.5 million but possibly much more (over the 30-year lease), will be deposited in the state's Permanent School Fund, which helps pay for public education," says a General Land Office press release. Louisiana-based Wind Energy Systems Technologies, the company that will build the project, expects construction to cost as much as $300 million and last up to five years. As part of the agreement, WEST will conduct studies on migratory bird patterns with respect to windmill placement. When complete, the wind farm will produce enough electricity to power about 40,000 homes. Sam Houston secured sovereignty of the Texas coast out to 10.36 miles in 1836. "Who would have thought that the hero of San Jacinto would help bring wind energy to Texas?" Patterson said. D.M.
Once again, Texas ranks No. 1 among the states with the most prison inmates and with a total of 168,105 inmates, we're only about 12,000 inmates shy of the population of the entire federal prison system. (California holds onto second among the states, about 1,000 inmates behind Texas.) Although crime continued to decline in 2004, the Department of Justice's Bureau of Justice Statistics reports that the prison population rose another 1.9% last year. In Texas, the incarceration rate is a whopping 694 inmates per 100,000 residents, second only to Louisiana's 816 inmates per 100,000. In all, as of Dec. 31, 2004, one out of every 138 U.S. residents was in jail or prison. For the entire report, go to www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/pub/pdf/p04.pdf. J.S.
The U.S. Department of Education released the results of the National Assessment of Educational Progress last week. While most standardized test scores are based on state-developed tests, making state-to-state comparisons difficult, the NAEP is supposed to allow such comparisons. On the surface, Texas students performed admirably, slightly outperforming the rest of the country in fourth- and eighth-grade math, and fourth-grade reading, and performing slightly below average in eighth-grade reading. Because states are allowed to determine the number of students excluded from the tests due to learning disabilities or a lack of English-language skills, however, critics charge that Texas' scores aren't as good as they might appear. Some 11% of Texas fourth graders were exempted from the tests, compared to a national average of 7%; in math those numbers are 6% and 3%. In other words, a larger percentage of Texas' most challenged students were not tested, which may have raised the overall average scores. R.P.M.
Rep. Lloyd Doggett led the battle in Congress last week to halt Republican attempts to privatize the federal food stamp program, which ultimately passed late Tuesday as part of a $100 billion agriculture spending bill. He spearheaded a motion that would have prohibited state agencies from using federal funds if they privatize more than 10% of their food stamp program operations. The motion, which failed along party lines last Thursday, "was designed to prevent an ideological experiment from being performed on some of the most vulnerable in our society," Doggett said. In a press release, he warned that Texas intends to implement its privatization scheme without a pilot project, replacing expertly staffed service centers with call centers and a Web page, "treating our seniors, disabled, and neediest children and working families as guinea pigs in a great privatization experiment." Plotting a budget reconciliation bill while simultaneously ignoring the budgetary black hole that is Iraq, GOP leaders recently took aim again at food stamps, along with Medicaid, farm subsidies, supplemental security income payments, and welfare. D.M.
Seven women were honored by the city of Austin's housing authority for attaining economic independence. Jeana Bazan, Sabrina Bradford, JoAnn Huerta, Angelina Rosales, Carol Steamer, Wendy Steward, and Lucy Stubblefield were celebrated yesterday as the 2005 graduates of the housing authority's Family Self-Sufficiency Program. Working with city mentors, enrollees develop a five-year plan for economic independence and new, higher-paying occupations. Participants pay rent with either housing choice vouchers or through public housing programs tied to their rising work and pay as their rent increases on a sliding scale in tandem with escalating wages, a portion of the rent is put into an escrow savings account, which becomes available after a year's worth of work. The 2005 graduates commemorate the 12th year of the program. W.D.
President George W. Bush on Oct. 24 announced that he will not release any "privileged, confidential" White House documents on Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers, reports The Dallas Morning News. Although the Senate Judiciary Committee has not yet issued any formal request for Miers-related documents in preparation for the Nov. 7 start of Miers' confirmation hearings, Bush offered a seemingly pre-emptive strike, opining that requests related to her work as White House counsel "would make it impossible for me and other presidents to be able to make sound decisions," he told the daily. "It's a red line I'm not willing to cross." Of course, without any documents from Miers' time in the White House as staff secretary, deputy chief of staff, and then counsel there will be a dearth of detail regarding Miers for senators to evaluate. "If you have a nominee who is precluded from answering many, many questions, that makes it hard on the nominee and on the ability of the Senate to evaluate," said Judiciary Committee Chair Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Penn., who said the committee will actually be seeking "nonprivileged" documents, such as those related to her work vetting judicial nominees. Jordan Smith
Texas Public Interest Research Group issued warnings recently about proposed EPA rule changes the group says would lead to 70,000 additional deaths from power plant pollution nationally by 2025. That's in addition to 1,160 deaths reported annually in Texas alone. Industry-backed EPA rule changes to the Clean Air Act's New Source Review program, announced last week, would let aging coal-burning power plants, oil refineries, and other industrial facilities increase pollution without installing modern pollution controls, says TexPIRG. Proponents claim that NSR regulations have actually kept older plants open longer, but industry officials have testified that poor margins, not regulations, have made expanding existing facilities more attractive than constructing clean, new plants. "The administration is now trying to do by regulation what it failed to do by legislation," said Kim Frusciante, TexPIRG's federal field organizer. Earlier this month, an industry-friendly energy bill narrowly passed after language codifying the same NSR rollbacks was dropped. Its sponsor, Texas GOP oil boy Joe (the menace from Ennis) Barton, said the NSR rollback was the administration's "primary request" for the bill. NSR repeal is also the centerpiece of the administration's so-called "Clear Skies" initiative, currently stalled in the Senate, according to TEXPirg. See www.texpirg.org for more. D.M.