Headlines and happenings from Austin and beyond
Quote of the Week"My family and I are deeply sorry for all that Vice-President Cheney and his family have had to go through this week." Austin lawyer Harry Whittington, apologizing to Cheney for um getting shot in the face by Cheney
Headlines Early voting began Tuesday for the March 7 Democratic and Republican primaries, and continues through March 3. For reasons why you may or may not want to vote during the primaries, see our Endorsements.
AISD accepted a settlement agreement on Feb. 20 in the Title IX case related to the 2003 stabbing death of Ortralla Mosley at Reagan High School. See "Naked City," below.
City Council gave both dogs and City Manager Toby Futrell a vigorous pat on the head last week. See "Beside the Point."
As far as we know, Vice-President Dick Cheney didn't shoot anyone this week, but the government may have just not told us yet. But his only recorded victim to date, Austin lawyer Harry Whittington, got out of the hospital last week and apologized (!) to the veep. (See "Quote of the Week," above.)
KOOP radio (91.7FM) is back on the air. Two weeks after a fire destroyed several downtown buildings, including KOOP's studios, the cooperatively run community station began temporarily broadcasting Wednesday morning from the studios of classical station KMFA.
Naked City Colorful green brochures touting Advanced Micro Devices Inc.'s commitment to the environment landed in about 100,000 local mailboxes this week, just as a lawsuit seeking to prevent AMD from causing "irreparable" harm to the environment arrived at the courthouse. AMD's eight-page "educational" mail piece is a PR attempt to blunt opposition to their plans to build a corporate campus upstream from the Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer recharge zone. The city has historically discouraged major employers from laying stakes in the sensitive watershed, but AMD insists that its "infill project" will be built to the highest of green-building standards and will thus serve as a model of sustainability. The lawsuit, filed Tuesday by the Save Our Springs Alliance, names the city of Austin as the sole defendant. It challenges the city's decision in December to grant "grandfathering" rights to developer/landowner Stratus Properties, allowing AMD to build an 860,000-square-foot campus under weaker development rules that were in place before voters passed the SOS water quality ordinance in 1992. SOSA claims the city violated its own ordinance when city staff granted Stratus' request without public input or a hearing, and without City Council approval. Stratus' grandfathering claim stems from the city's 1986 approval of a retail project for the 59-acre site, which never materialized. Twenty years later, city officials now contend they were justified in giving Stratus/AMD the green light on the office project because the word "retail" on the original site plan and other old documents was actually shorthand for "retail/office." Both sides will appear in court today, as SOSA seeks a temporary order prohibiting the city from issuing permits on the project until the matter is resolved. The Alliance has enlisted Austin attorney Philip Durst to argue its case. Amy Smith
AISD trustees voted 9-0 on Feb. 20 to accept a settlement agreement with Carolyn Mosley, mother of 15-year-old Ortralla Mosley, who was stabbed to death by her ex-boyfriend, Marcus McTear, in a Reagan High School hallway on March 28, 2003 (see "A Shining Star Goes Dark," May 16, 2003). Mosley and former Reagan student Rae Anne Spence, another of McTear's former girlfriends, filed suit against the district in federal court under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, arguing that the school failed to protect them from student-on-student in-school harassment. Three days before the Feb. 6 trial date, lawyers for the district and for Mosley's estate reached a settlement agreement, which was approved Monday night. Although the financial terms of the agreement have not been disclosed, part of the agreement will allow Mosley to conduct dating-violence education in AISD schools through the newly created Ortralla Lu Wone Mosley Foundation. Under the agreement, the district denies liability for the tragedy, according to a press release, but officials agreed to settle because the "expense and time" associated with taking the case to court would "distract from the district's mission of teaching and learning." Jordan Smith
Beyond City Limits GOP Gov. Rick Perry is still No. 1, even if just 36% of voters say they would vote for him. That's the word from a recent Dallas Morning News poll that also gives Chris Bell the nod for the Democratic nomination, with 28% of likely Dem primary voters favoring him over Bob Gammage, who took 12% in the poll. Given a hypothetical choice between Perry, Bell, and indie candidates Carole Keeton Strayhorn and Kinky Friedman, voters gave Perry 36%, Bell 19%, Strayhorn 16% and Friedman 10%. Poll respondents were stumped when asked to name Perry's most important accomplishment as governor; a full 20% couldn't think of a thing, while 8% cited his disaster relief efforts in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Strayhorn, the state comptroller, bested Perry on job approval ratings, with 53% giving her a thumbs up and 16% a thumbs down. By contrast, Perry scored a 47% favorable rating and a 38% failing grade; 20% of respondents said they had a favorable opinion of Friedman, with 15% unfavorable, and 63% said they didn't know enough to form an opinion. If Friedman doesn't land a spot on the ballot, 34% of his supporters said they would favor Strayhorn over Bell (25%) and Perry (18%), while 12% said they wouldn't vote. A.S.
A San Antonio millionaire is delivering on a threat he made last year to GOP House Republicans who voted with Democrats to kill a voucher bill. Right-wing conservative James Leininger is bankrolling a handful of candidates he's recruited to challenge incumbents in the GOP primary. So far he's dumped most of $1.4 million (and growing) into political action committees that are funding opponents to those targeted for political payback, according to an analysis released last week by the Texas Freedom Network. "Leininger is so obsessed with forcing taxpayers to subsidize tuition vouchers at private schools that he has tried for years to buy a legislature that would do it," said TFN President Kathy Miller in a statement. "Now he's moving to close the sale." The five representatives in the line of fire are Roy Blake, R-Nacogdoches; Carter Casteel, R-New Braunfels; Charlie Geren, R-Fort Worth; Delwin Jones, R-Lubbock; and Tommy Merritt, R-Longview, who are among other House Republicans who defied Leininger and the GOP leadership in voting against a pilot voucher program for some of the state's large urban communities. Leininger's $1.4 million tab is more than double the $568,851 he contributed prior to the 2002 GOP primary cycle, the TFN report said. For more on Leininger's campaign contributions, see "Bentzin's Tangled Web of Backers," p.22. A.S.
The League of Conservation Voters has released its annual National Environmental Scorecard, and as usual, the results aren't pretty for Texas' congressional delegation. Based on 20 selected votes considered particularly important by the LCV, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison scored a sad 5% pro-environment ranking during 2005 and she was our better senator. John Cornyn scored 0%. Of Austin's congressional delegation (scored on 18 votes), Democrat Lloyd Doggett was the best in Texas at 94%; lagging way, way behind were Republicans Michael McCaul, John Carter, and Lamar Smith (all zeroes). As a state, our House average was a pathetic 20%; if you remove the Democrats, it drops to 3%. Take out maverick Ron Paul (44%) and the GOP reps drop to 1.2%. Lee Nichols
Speaking of the LCV Scorecard, it featured prominently in an e-mail by Bob Gammage's gubernatorial campaign attacking Democratic primary opponent Chris Bell as "Republican Lite." Among other things, it stung Bell for voting in favor of oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, the Bush/Cheney energy plan, and weakening clean drinking water laws. What it failed to note, however, was that during his two years in Congress (2002-03), Bell scored 75% and 82% respectively, making him one of Texas more pro-environment reps. In contrast, Gammage during his two years in Congress (1977-78) scored 20% and 15%. L.N.
The Union of Concerned Scientists, a D.C.-based environmental nonprofit, has analyzed the Bush administration's newly released FY 2007 budget request, highlighting areas of key concern as it goes to Capitol Hill. Although solar funding is boosted 77% to $148 million and biomass research is doubled to $150 million, geothermal and hydroelectric funding has disappeared, while R&D funding for wind power was cut by 2%. The UCS called the $78 million cut to energy efficiency programs appalling, similarly criticizing the $85 million cut to the Weatherization Assistance Program for low-income people, which they say can save energy and reduce families' bills by $274 per year. It should come as no surprise that two key climate change programs were shortchanged while requests for nuclear weapons and missile defense are up. The UCS applauded the elimination of funding for bunker buster nukes, however. For all the recent fanfare over reducing oil dependence, the budget doesn't include anything to help increase fuel economy, and the paltry $6.7 million increase in hybrid technology roughly equals what's spent overseas every 15 minutes on oil, according to UCS. The union was pleased with increases in hydrogen and biomass fuel funding, but wished near-term oil saving technologies like the Vehicle Technology Program weren't cut in the process. Dan Mottola
The EPA announced this week that it would award 37 grants totaling $7.5 million to communities in Texas, Louisiana, and Oklahoma as part of the Clean School Bus USA program, aimed at reducing children's exposure to diesel exhaust. The program was launched in conjunction with the nine-state Blue Skyways Collaborative for clean air. According to Public Citizen, a child riding in a diesel school bus may be exposed to as much as four times the level of toxic diesel exhaust as someone riding in a car ahead of it. A Clean Air Task Force study found that diesel exhaust poses a cancer risk 7.5 times higher than the combined total of all other air toxics. EPA's initiative encourages the elimination of unnecessary idling, the installation of emission control systems on newer buses, and the replacement of the oldest buses with cleaner diesel or compressed natural gas buses. AISD spokesman Paul Turner said the district has already used 2004 bond funds to replace 75 buses with newer models, meeting 2007 EPA emissions specs, to be fueled with special low-sulphur diesel. He said AISD had looked into CNG and Propane buses, but not yet at biodiesel, which has been shown to cut regulated toxic emissions. Schools in Louisiana and Oklahoma used program funds to buy biodiesel, according to the EPA. D.M.
Happenings Former Iraq U.N. weapons inspector Scott Ritter, who desperately tried to warn America that Bush was lying about WMDs, will speak at St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church on Saturday, Feb. 25, 8-9:30pm, in a discussion moderated by Jack Blood, host of Deadline Live on Radio Free Austin. A booksigning will follow. $10 suggested donation, but nobody turned away. For info, call 407-6925 or visit www.neoconned.info.
As Black History Month winds to a close, local schools have a number of shindigs in the works to celebrate African-Americans' rich contributions to U.S. culture. Andrews Elementary is throwing a party tonight (Thursday, Feb. 23) at 6pm, while Winn Elementary students celebrate Tuesday, Feb. 28 at 7pm. Many other schools have programs, so check with your neighborhood campus. Also, the last of a series of free Black History Month-inspired events are planned this weekend at the George Washington Carver Branch Library at 1161 Angelina. An African-American Entrepreneur Circle forum, focusing on ways to contribute to the growth and development of local minority-owned businesses, is Saturday, Feb. 25 from 2:30-4pm. And a Mardi Gras party featuring music, storytelling, juggling, puppetry, and arts & crafts is Sunday, 2-5pm. Big Chief Kevin Goodman of the Flaming Arrows Mardi Gras Indians and the Caesar Brothers Funk Band, which includes nephews of the Neville Brothers, are headlining the event.
Local progressive Rep. Eddie Rodriguez is the guest of honor at an event highlighting his environmental work, Sunday, Feb. 26, from 5-8pm, at Opal Divine's Penn Field location on South Congress. Local politicos including Mike Blizzard, Jeb Boyt, Jackie Goodman, and Daryl Slusher are sponsoring the event to laud his environmental record, which includes dealing the death knell to legislation that would have adversely affected local water quality. A $20 donation is suggested.
A "Celebration of Saving" will rage Saturday from 10 'til noon at the Sierra Ridge Apartments Community Learning Center, 201 W. St. Elmo, as part of a private-nonprofit collaboration between Compass Bank and Affordable housing nonprofit Foundation Communities. Bank officials will share information on budgeting, savings, and home ownership, along with low-income families who have learned ways to save money through the partnership's educational program. Foundation Communities claims in a press release that "more than 135 low-income families have purchased a home, pursued higher education, or started a small business" through newfound financial smarts and a program that allows families to match funds they set aside in savings accounts. To learn more, call United Way's 2-1-1 line or visit www.communitytaxcenters.org.