Quote of the Week"The State of Texas has not met its burden in showing that the proposed congressional redistricting plan does not have a discriminatory effect." December 2003 staff memo of the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice, concluding that the proposed Texas re-redistricting plan (now in place) violated the Voting Rights Act. The staff was overruled and the memo suppressed by DOJ officials, as reported in the Dec. 2 Washington Post.
Headlines Tom DeLay and Co. may have laundered corporate money in the 2002 state legislative campaigns, but they did not conspire to violate the election code at least under state laws concerning conspiracy in 2002. That was the Monday decision of District Judge Pat Priest, who dismissed the election code charge against DeLay and two others, each of whom still face felony charges of money-laundering and conspiring to money-launder.
The Washington Post obtained a copy of a suppressed 2003 Department of Justice memorandum recommending rejection of the Texas re-redistricting plan passed by the Lege. The nonpartisan staff of the voting section of the DOJ's civil rights division said the proposed congressional map violated minority voting rights. Bush political appointees overruled staff and then embargoed the memo. The plan was used for the 2004 elections; an appeal is pending before the U.S. Supreme Court. See "Horses Stolen! Barn Door Confirmed Unlocked!."
One green, one greedy: Silicon Laboratories Inc. announced a move of its headquarters to the CSC building Downtown, and away from its current HQ in Southwest Austin, leased from Stratus Corp. Almost simultaneously, AMD announced it will buy its proposed new headquarters site in Southwest Austin from Stratus, along with options on neighboring tracts; the AMD plan is opposed by local environmental groups over concerns that it threatens the Edwards Aquifer. See "Naked City" and "Silicon Labs to Move Downtown, Out of Watershed."
The citizens Bond Election Advisory Committee moved closer to a final proposal for the City Council, and its draft recommendations (currently in the neighborhood of $614 million overall) are the subject of a public hearing tonight, 7-10pm, Town Lake Center, Room 130. Another hearing is scheduled for Jan. 5.
AISD fourth- and eighth-grade students outscored most other large urban districts on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, a trial test for math and reading. Of 11 districts tested, AISD was second in fourth-grade reading and math, second in eighth-grade math, and first in eighth-grade reading. See "AISD Students Fare Well in NAEP Results."
Also in education news, a recent national study by Central Connecticut State University ranks Austin as the "most literate" city in Texas. And, as you may recall, Travis was the only county in Texas to reject the anti-gay Proposition 2 last month. Draw your own conclusions.
Naked City Trammell Crow and Stratus properties have officially closed the deal on their purchase of the former Huntsman Chemical site in North Austin. Environmental remediation costing $3 million will begin right away and last 12-18 months, followed by construction of "Crestview Station," a $100 million development featuring 1,100 homes and 150,000 square feet of commercial development centered around the Capital Metro rail station planned just off the intersection of Airport and Lamar. The 73-acre site bounded by Lamar on the east, Morrow on the north, and the rail line to the south and west backs up to the existing Crestview neighborhood. Lee Nichols
Democratic wrangling in the House District 48 special election is proceeding according to plan. The GOP plan, that is. Without a consensus among three Democratic hopefuls to allow a "unity" candidate Kelly White to be the sole challenger against Republican Ben Bentzin, and with residency requirements preventing candidate Andy Brown from running in the Jan. 17 contest, the Democratic field is now down to two: former Eanes school board member Donna Howard, and former AISD board president Kathy Rider. Brown reportedly moved into the district in May not enough time to qualify him for the January election to fill the unexpected vacancy created with Todd Baxter's departure, but Brown could run in the March Democratic primary for the November regular election. Because White had come close to beating Baxter in 2004, some Dem leaders believed she stood the best chance of beating the deep-pocketed Bentzin in a special election that leaves little time for campaigning and fundraising. But with Howard declining to move out of the way, White, who is (or was) handling Howard's fundraising, took herself out of the equation. In a statement on Tuesday, White said: "I refuse to participate in a divisive election against a fellow Democrat. I urge fellow Democrats to remember that this special election was engineered to create chaos on our side and a sanitized candidate on theirs we must all do our part to show that neither is the case." Amy Smith
The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals came to Austin this week to hear oral arguments in connection with a Houston woman's quest to have ruled unconstitutional the display of a King James Bible outside the Harris Co. civil courts building. Houston real estate broker and lawyer Kay Staley filed suit against Harris Co. in August 2003, arguing that the neon-lit Bible display is a clear violation of the First Amendment's Establishment Clause. After a brief trial, in August 2004 Federal District Judge Sim Lake (a conservative Reagan appointee) agreed with Staley and ordered county officials to remove the Bible, opining that the display had no secular purpose and sought to advance Christianity. Harris Co. officials were undone, and although several including former State District Judge John Devine testified at trial that the Bible display does promote religion, county officials decided to plow ahead with an appeal to the 5th Circuit. Staley's attorney, Randall Kallinen, says the county's appeal is more about politics than principle. "This is all a political game," Kallinen said. County officials "know they will lose, but they're just trying to get publicity for their political benefit at the expense of the Harris County taxpayers." Jordan Smith
Advanced Micro Devices says it will buy the 58 acres slated for its new campus location to have better design control over the project it plans to build at Southwest Parkway and William Cannon. The company had initially planned to lease the property from Stratus Properties but agreed instead to buy it for $21.25 million. Both parties say the price roughly $350,000 per acre is based on the fair market value in the area, reflecting high demand for a shrinking supply of available land. "A lease arrangement would have required that the buildings be designed with the needs of other future tenants in mind," AMD spokesman Travis Bullard said, adding that the purchase agreement is a sign of AMD's long-term commitment to environmental protection and the Austin community. It also provides AMD with five-year options on three adjacent Stratus tracts. The site is controversial because of its location in the Barton Springs watershed; opponents say there's still time to convince AMD to pull out of the deal, because it isn't expected to close until early 2006. "Building massive employment centers in the heart of the Barton Springs watershed dictates massive secondary residential and commercial growth," said Save Our Springs Alliance leader Bill Bunch. "All their 'greenbuilding' wash will do nothing to alleviate this devastation." A.S.
Travis Co. Precinct 5 Constable Bruce Elfant has joined Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott in bemoaning a version of the new federal appropriations bill, passed by the House just before Thanksgiving, which would reduce funding for child support enforcement activities. (A Senate version of the same bill keeps the child support funding; the two versions are currently in conference committee.) In Texas alone, according to the Congressional Budget Office, the cuts would reduce child support collections by as much as $1.2 billion over 10 years. Funding for Travis Co. would be slashed by more than $700,000 over the next five years and up to $1.3 million over the next decade, according to Elfant's office. "The major goals of the federal child support program are to lift children out of poverty and off of government assistance," Elfant said. "The proposed cuts would have the opposite effect." Late last month Abbott penned a letter to the Texas delegation, voicing his opposition to the proposed cuts, which he said would impact 1 million Texas children who receive child support payments. J.S.
On Dec. 9 and 10, members of Amigos en Azul, the Hispanic police officers' association, and the Hispanic Firefighters Association will do battle on the b-ball court in an effort to answer the age-old question: Guns or Hoses? That's right a three-on-three basketball tourney on Friday and Saturday, from 9am to 6pm, at the Pan American Recreation Center, 2100 East Third. Admission is $1 and all proceeds will go to the Amigos en Azul scholarship fund. For more info, see www.austinpolice.com. J.S.
Former City Manager Jesus Garza will move up the ranks at Seton Healthcare Network with the retirement this summer of Pat Hayes, Seton's executive vice-president and chief operating officer since 1998. Hayes will leave her post July 1, but will continue with Seton as an independent consultant. Hayes has enjoyed success at Seton, although the ride has had its share of bumps along the way. While Hayes was filling in as interim president and CEO in 2002, the hospital network rankled community leaders and health care advocates with the clumsy handling of its plans to shift the most profitable portion of Brackenridge's operations the Children's Hospital to Seton's control. It took months of wrangling before the issue was finally resolved, with Seton agreeing to a number of conditions in order to take the hospital private after completion of a new facility at the former Mueller Airport. Before that, a Catholic Church edict, prohibiting Seton from providing birth-control services at Brackenridge, threatened to leave low-income women in the lurch, forcing the city to create a "hospital within a hospital" with the Women's Hospital at Brackenridge. Garza, whose new role at Seton takes effect March 1, served as city manager from 1994 to 2002, when he left to join the LCRA. His stint there was brief, however, because Seton made him an offer he couldn't refuse the job of president and CEO of Brackenridge and three other Seton facilities. A.S.
The Travis County Milton Reimers Ranch Park formerly known as Reimers Ranch and allegedly home to primo mountain biking, rock climbing, and fishing officially became Travis County's newest park last Thursday. The 2,400-acre acquisition, about 30 miles southwest of Austin, features almost three miles of Pedernales River frontage and includes the Pogue Springs and Hogge Reserves, known for deep canyons and panoramic Hill Country views. It's the largest parkland acquisition in the history of Travis Co. "With this purchase, Travis County has ensured the protection of its natural beauty, an important source of its drinking water, and a permanent contribution to the region's high quality of life now and for future generations," said Valarie Bristol, director of external affairs for the Nature Conservancy of Texas. You can check out the park for free until Jan. 1, before the county institutes a $8-per-car fee. For more, see www.co.travis.tx.us. Daniel Mottola
If you'd like to take a walk on the wildlands, check out the brand new Slaughter Creek Trail, opening to the public Friday, Dec. 9 at 10am with a ceremony commemorating the historic public/private partnership that made it possible. Visitors can take guided tours of the trail, the first of six public access paths planned for city Water Quality Protection Lands around town. After 18 months of developmental planning, 20 community partners including Austin Metro Trails and Greenways, the Austin Ridge Riders Mountain Bike Club, and the Hill Country Foundation agreed to build, operate, and maintain the trail while undertaking public education about wildlands. The groups provided cash, labor, in-kind donations, and grants for the project; the city kicked in the land, permitting, and support. The trail-head is located 0.8 miles south of Slaughter Lane on FM 1826, just south of the Slaughter Creek crossing. A similar trail on Bull Creek is nearing implementation, along with four more trails north and south of the Colorado River. D.M.
Beyond City Limits If you fled Louisiana in the wake of Hurricane Katrina or Rita and the jobless benefit checks you were receiving from the Louisiana Department of Labor have stopped appearing in your mailbox, there's a reason. Since Nov. 27, the LDOL has required those receiving Unemployment Insurance or Disaster Unemployment Assistance due to the hurricanes to file weekly job-hunt updates. (The department's requirement that applicants file weekly unemployment claims was initially waived, so that those out of work due to the disasters could get benefits quickly.) Also, displaced workers who were collecting jobless benefits before Katrina and Rita may qualify for two extra weeks of assistance if they start giving the LDOL weekly job-search updates. (Anyone applying for unemployment benefits has 26 weeks of eligibility within a 52-week period, so post-hurricane applicants don't have to worry about extensions yet.) As of Dec. 1, the LDOL was sending unemployment benefits to about 67,100 displaced workers with Texas addresses, spokeswoman Lisa Honore said. According to the Austin-based Center for Public Policy Priorities, about 77% "of jobless evacuees are receiving Unemployment Insurance, while the remaining evacuees are receiving Disaster Unemployment Assistance." See www.cppp.org/research.php?aid=476 to learn about the latest choices for displaced workers receiving unemployment assistance, as well as to find out where to go for more unemployment rule change information. Contact the LDOL at 800/430-8076 or visit www.laworks.net. Cheryl Smith
The National Federation of Independent Business released last Thursday its quarterly "Texas Small-Business Conditions" report, which surveyed 1,500 companies statewide that employ 250 or fewer people. According to the report, 60% of small business owners across the state reported being plagued by increased purchasing prices and high energy costs over the past three months. "Texas small-business owners are resilient and find a way to make things work even in a climate of rising energy and materials costs, but we need to remember that small businesses in the southern section of the state are struggling right now as they try to recover from the damage of Hurricane Rita," said Will Newton, NFIB state director. Small businesses comprise 97% of Texas' business community and employ more than half of the state's workforce, according to the NFIB. The Austin Independent Business Alliance points out that shopping at locally owned businesses puts three times the dollars into our economy as shopping at national chains does, and that if each household in Travis County simply redirected $100 of planned holiday spending from chain stores to locally owned merchants, the local economic impact would reach approximately $10 million. Read the full report at www.nfib.com. D.M.
What do Tony Blair, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bill Richardson
and Roger Duncan have in common? No, not good crossword puzzle names. They're all cited as "Individuals who stand out for their efforts to cut gases that cause global warming" in a special online extra of the Dec. 12 issue of Business Week (www.businessweek.com/
magazine/content/05_50/b3963417.htm). British Prime Minister Tony Blair is No. 1 for his extraordinary efforts to cut greenhouse gases, California Gov. Schwarzenegger is No. 4 for the same in his state, and New Mexico Gov. Richardson is No. 18 for both New Mexican and Western efforts. Austin Energy Deputy General Manager Duncan clocks in at a lucky No. 13, because "for the last three years, Austin Energy has topped all U.S. utilities in sales of renewable energy. More than 7,500 homeowners and 350 businesses are GreenChoice customers and 90% of the companies have opted to buy renewable energy exclusively. Duncan's chief worry: running out of enough clean energy to satisfy growing demand." No doubt Solar Austin is working on that problem right this minute Michael Kingtheir own rules.