Headlines and happenings from Austin and beyond
Early voting is under way in the special election to replace former Rep. Todd Baxter in House District 48. For more, see "Special Election for Texas House of Representatives, District 48."
Tonight (Thursday) is your last official chance to add your two cents to the Bond Election Advisory Committee's deliberations, at a public hearing at City Hall, 7-10pm. There also will be subcommittee meetings on Friday, followed by the full committee meeting to discuss final bond package recommendations to City Council, Jan. 9 and perhaps Jan. 10. (For more info, see www.ci.austin.tx.us/budget/beac200601.htm.)
It was a rough holiday week for the Austin Police Department: Two officers and one former officer were indicted by a Travis Co. grand jury on Dec. 30 on felony counts of beating a helpless suspect after a September traffic accident. And on Sunday, a hostage situation in South Austin ended with a SWAT team shooting Fidel Macedo, who had kidnapped and shot his ex-girlfriend and was shooting at police. See "APD Officers Charged with Beating, Tasering Handcuffed Man."
Former Austin Clean Water Program Director Bill Moriarty sued City Manager Toby Futrell, Assistant City Manager Joe Canales, and Council Member Brewster McCracken over his dismissal from his post overseeing the city's sewer reconstruction project. Moriarty was bounced officially for conflict-of-interest charges, but his lawsuit claims retaliation and double-dealing, as well as broader claims concerning negligence in public works. See below.
Tom DeLay and a host of other Republican (and a few Democratic) members of Congress have reason to be nervous this week, as lawyers for Super-Lobbyist (and DeLay confidant) Jack Abramoff announced their client's plea bargain with federal prosecutors to lighten Abramoff's eventual sentence on corruption charges in return for information about his political and financial associates including DeLay and numerous other D.C. players.
With the new year, Capital Metro's largest contractor implemented most aspects of its final offer for the 850 members of Amalgamated Transit Union 1091 but no contract. "StarTran was open to either a two- or three-year contract before negotiations reached an impasse," said Capital Metro spokeswoman Andrea Lofye. Legally, the declaration of impasse allowed StarTran to implement the changes, most controversially a new wage-progression scale for new hires: New employees formerly started at 75% of the top wage, ultimately reaching that amount ($18.56) at the end of four years. The new scale starts new hires at 60%, and adds a year to the progression; left untouched were two major items: employee raises and health care. While leaving the union with less heartburn than earlier proposals, the changes don't agree with 1091 President Jay Wyatt, who circulated a memo to employees describing the "dramatic effect" he feels the changes will have. He said 1091 is considering the possibility of a strike. Wells Dunbar
In other public transit news, having seen its ridership rise with gas prices, Capital Metro is encouraging even more Austin commuters to "dump the pump" this year. Through Thursday, January 26, commuters can submit essays of 250 words or less detailing how switching to a bus commute has improved their lot in working life (bus drivers might want to detail how Cap Metro has had an alternate impact on their work, but that contest seems unlikely). Three winners will be announced Jan. 31, and will receive commuter goodies like an iPod, a BookPeople gift certificate, and more. Send essays to DumpThePump@capmetro.org, or 2910 E. 5th Street, Austin, TX 78702. Wells Dunbar
We can look for plenty of political raw sewage in the New Year, in the wake of Bill Moriarty's Dec. 28 lawsuit against City Manager Toby Futrell, Council Member Brewster McCracken, and Assistant City Manager Joe Canales. For four years, Moriarty had managed the city's Clean Water Program for subcontractor Earth Tech, as part of a long-term project to fix the city's beleaguered sewer system. Moriarty was forced to resign after accusations of a conflict-of-interest involving his girlfriend Diane Hyatt, another subcontractor on the CWP. Moriarty has denied all the allegations, and his lawsuit charges the named city officials with an unjustifiable termination as well as damaging his reputation and ability to find new employment. Moreover, Moriarty claims at length that the city has been willfully neglecting necessary sewer repairs and hiding sewage spills from the state and the Environmental Protection Agency, and that his dismissal was retaliation on behalf of other city contractors. Although the holidays have delayed detailed responses, city officials have dismissed Moriarty's charges as baseless. Michael King
The owners of 310 W. 37th, the main attraction house in the block's Christmas light extravaganza, have announced that they are selling their home and moving away. Jamie Lipman, a co-founder of the electrified yuletide display, said he and his wife are tired of the noise and traffic that has become commonplace on the street year-round. Lipman has lived in the house for 16 years and on the street for nearly 30. He remembers a large number of renters when he moved to 37th as a renter himself, but as other homeowners stated in a "Naked City" report last week, Lipman says noisy college renters have made the street too rowdy, and that a place in the country could be a better place to raise their 4-year-old daughter. He emphasized that the lights had nothing to do with their decision. "We are going to try to screen potential buyers to find someone more than willing to carry on the tradition," Lipman said. It is doubtful, however, that his Clark Griswold-like legacy, complete with a front and backyard walking tour of lights, will be carried on with quite the same excessive, mesmerizing zeal. Daniel Mottola
Just before Christmas, Rep. Lloyd Doggett announced that he has secured just over $2 million in grant funding to benefit Austin's homeless as they move toward stable housing and self-sufficiency. The money will flow to Travis Co. organizations through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development; groups receiving funding include Youth and Family Alliance Inc., Life Works, Travis Co. Domestic Violence & Sexual Assault Survival Center, SafePlace, Push-Up Foundations Inc., Women and Children's Supportive Housing Program, the Housing Authority of the City of Austin, and Shelter Plus Care. "These programs provide a critical safety net for the community," Doggett said. D.M.
Austin Democratic state Rep. Mark Strama has filed for re-election to the House District 50 seat in northeastern Travis Co. Strama won the post in 2004, ousting GOP incumbent Jack Stick. He credited his victory in the costly race to the previous Legislature's school finance failures, steep cuts to social services, and the congressional redistricting controversy. "My first year in the Legislature has left me with a stronger desire than ever to be a force for change in Texas politics," said Strama. He will run unopposed in the Democratic primary in March. In November, he'll face one of three Republicans: software engineer Don Zimmerman, businessman Jeff Fleece, and retiree Mary Wheeler. Libertarian Jerry Chandler is also seeking the District 50 seat. Amy Smith
In other Democratic primary news, Andy Brown filed Monday to run for the House District 48 seat, making good on his vow to continue campaigning despite being ineligible for the district's Jan. 17 special election to replace Republican Todd Baxter. A federal judge ruled last month that Brown did not meet the residency requirements for the special; however, he will be eligible by the March primaries. A.S.
Attorney Eric Shepperd has announced his Democratic candidacy for Travis Co. Court at Law No. 2 seat. Shepperd is director of litigation for the Travis Co. Attorney's Office, representing the county and its elected officials in state and federal courts. The UT law school grad formerly served in the state attorney general's office. He's running to replace outgoing Judge Orlinda Naranjo, who's seeking a district court seat. A.S.
Austin Police SWAT officers on Jan. 1 shot and killed 43-year-old Fidel Gomez Macedo, who had shot and kidnapped his ex-girlfriend and was holding her hostage inside his South Austin home. APD snipers Jessie Carrillo and Jeff Dwyer each fired a single shot at Macedo inside his home at 8008 Wynne Ln. on Sunday morning after witnessing Macedo beating Ana Reyes with a gun inside the house. According to the department, the incident began shortly before 7am, when police responded to a call about a shooting in the Dove Springs neighborhood. Witnesses told police that Macedo had fired a gun several times at a house on Lark Creek Drive and that a woman had been shot. Macedo kidnapped the woman and drove to his home. Police found him outside the house, but he refused to surrender, fired a shot into the air, and went inside. Hostage negotiators tried to talk with Macedo, who then threatened to kill himself and the woman. Police say Carrillo and Dwyer fired only after seeing Macedo beating the woman with his gun. Macedo, struck once in the chest and once in the back, died at Brackenridge Hospital. The woman was also taken to the hospital, and treated for injuries. Carrillo and Dwyer have been placed on restricted duty pending the outcome of an investigation into the incident. Jordan Smith
Texas Campaign for the Environment called foul play on Dec. 25 when it learned that James McQuaid, a recent appointee to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality's Municipal Solid Waste and Resource Recovery Advisory Council, which advises the TCEQ on trash and recycling issues, was married to the municipal marketing manager for Trinity Waste, a North Texas trash handler. TCE Director Robin Schneider said, "this conflict of interest stinks as much as many of our state's landfills. The position is extremely critical because the state is in the closing stretch of revising key standards for trash facilities." McQuaid resigned less than a week later. TCEQ spokeswoman Lisa Wheeler said McQuaid's application was approved by agency staff and that he "appeared to be qualified." She said the TCEQ will evaluate how they'll ask about potential conflicts of interest in the future. D.M.
A caravan of bicycle nomad activists will soon depart Austin on its fifth annual Winter Migration to Mexico, and everyone is invited to join in. The bike nomads precede a shipment of salvaged and refurbished bicycles to poor Kickapoo and Black Seminole Native-American schoolchildren, organized by Bikes Across Borders and Cycles of Nonviolence, which operate out of Southeast Austin's Rhizome Collective center for urban sustainability. Rider David Santos described the migration as the synthesis of creativity, athleticism, sustainability, and activism with the goal of establishing a global network of peace houses (like the one in Crawford) and eco-villages (similar to the Rhizome Collective) that have community kitchens and bike shops, able to support widespread bicycle travel and each within a day's ride. The nomads are tentatively set to depart Jan. 5, when a writer from Harper's Magazine is set to arrive to ride in this year's migration. For more info, contact firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com. D.M.
Former state legislator-turned-lobbyist Arlene Wohlgemuth has joined the Texas Public Policy Foundation to help the conservative think tank draw up policy recommendations for reforming (i.e. dismantling) the Medicaid system. In announcing its new part-time hire, TPPF praised Wohlgemuth's role in overhauling (again, dismantling) the state's health and human services programs in 2003. The massive restructuring worked in tandem with the GOP Legislature's efforts to fix a $10 billion budget shortfall on the backs of poor people. Wohlgemuth's leadership on that front, as chair of the House Health and Human Services Committee, is said to have contributed to her bruising loss in her 2004 attempt to unseat Democratic U.S. Rep. Chet Edwards, a target of Tom DeLay's redistricting scheme. Looking toward the new year, however, Wohlgemuth says she is pleased to be a part of TPPF's efforts "to bring dignity and fiscal accountability to the Medicaid system." A.S.
Beyond City Limits
The Wimberley Valley Watershed Association has bought the Jacobs Well Natural Area, a 50-acre tract surrounding a spring that bubbles forth from what is believed to be the longest underwater cave in Texas. It also feeds Cypress Creek, the Blue Hole swimming area, and the Blanco River. The WVWA bought the area, previously held by various private landowners, through a $2 million loan, and they're looking for contributions to cover repayment and management. For more info, call 512/847-1582. Rachel Proctor May
On Dec. 20, the governors of seven Northeast states signed the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, an agreement to stabilize carbon dioxide emissions from the region's power plants at current levels from 2009 to the start of 2015, followed by a 10% reduction in emissions by 2019. The program utilizes a cap-and-trade program that sets an emissions cap but allows companies to trade emissions permits or allowances (issued by participating states), which equal the total emissions cap for the region. While addressing climate change, the RGGI hopes to increase energy efficiency investments and stimulate emerging clean energy technology markets. Kevin Knobloch, president of the Union of Concerned Scientists, praised the deal. "Creative public policy such as RGGI creates a business environment in which economically sound solutions to climate change can flourish," Knobloch said. Peter Frumhoff, UCS's Global Environment Program director, called RGGI "a bold act of bipartisan leadership" and "a strong signal that Americans are ready to implement innovative global warming solutions, in the face of the Bush administration's adamant refusal to cut heat-trapping pollution." Texas is the nation's largest emitter of carbon dioxide. Gov. Rick Perry's office didn't respond to questions about implementing such a program here. See www.rggi.org and www.ucsusa.org for more info. D.M.