Headlines and happenings from Austin and beyond
"Guinness is the drink that kept the Irish from taking over the world. It would be unthinkable not to have a Guinness during a St. Patrick's Day parade. Yes, I admit to holding a Guinness. I even admit to drinking it. But I did not swallow." Independent gubernatorial candidate Kinky Friedman, responding to a "scandal" in which AP editors spotted him hoisting a stout while riding in a parade car, thus supposedly violating Texas' open-container laws (See "Beyond City Limits")
Quote of the Week
The City Council moved closer to official ballot language for a slew of proposed charter amendments, including the controversial "Clean Water/Clean Government" amendments. See "Beside the Point" and "How to Read a Charter Amendment."
If you haven't voted enough yet and to judge by last week's turnout, you certainly haven't get ready to do your public duty in the House District 47, Congressional District 10, and U.S. Senate run-offs April 11 (early voting April 3-7), and then in the city of Austin contests (complete with charter amendments) coming up May 13, along with AISD board elections.
A new, more restrictive APD policy on "consent searches" performed at the request of an officer has resulted in a radical reduction of searches, and the racial profiling that often accompanied them. According to APD statistics, consent searches (traffic and pedestrian) declined overall by 80% or more in the last year, and searches of racial subgroups declined roughly proportionately.
The South by Southwest Film, Interactive, and Music festival is at full warp speed the clubs are hopping, the hotels are cruising, the bands are jamming, the lines are snaking, the kids are allright, and there is absolutely no parking, anywhere.
The first round of Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills tests showed modest improvement in the state's third- and fifth-grade reading scores this year. The passing rate for third-graders stayed flat at 89%, while fifth-graders increased from 75% in 2005 to 80%. Students who don't pass these tests cannot be promoted to the next grade without going through a special appeal process; in AISD, as many as 2,261 students could be held back. However, the students get three chances to take the test, and repeat-takers are generally bombarded with tutoring and prep to get them up to speed. AISD's overall passing rates lagged the state a bit: the third-grade passing rate was 83%, down one point from last year, and fifth-grade was 75%, up three points. The test is also administered in Spanish; AISD third-graders who took the tests in Spanish improved one point to 65% and fifth-graders improved four points to 57%. The performance of individual schools varied: some, like Blackshear, showed improvement of up to 30 points since 2004, while others dropped a similar amount. Rachel Proctor May
With the close of the filing period for the May 13 AISD board of trustees elections, nine Austinites are now vying to stay up late for education policy wonk-a-thons, learn lots of acronyms, and intermittently get insulted by parents while trying to steer an 80,000-student district through stormy seas of frozen finances, competing needs, and high-stakes accountability. The election will see three competitive races for the six open seats on the nine-member board, with only two incumbents running: Cheryl Bradley unopposed in District 1, and Robert Schneider challenged by Mel Fuller in District 7. Newcomer Vince Torres has no opponent for the District 4 seat being vacated by Ave Wahrmund, and Lori Moya has no opponent for the District 6 seat vacated by Patricia Whiteside. In the two at-large districts, it's Ed Leo vs. Annette LoVoi, and Alberto C. Gonzalez vs. Karen Dulaney Smith. The crowded field of candidates reflects, in part, division in the AISD community over the performance of seven-year Superintendent Pat Forgione, who is under contract until 2010. To some, he is a stable leader who ushered in a period of growing academic achievement; to others he's a bit of a despot who refuses to listen to the community. R.P.M.
APD Commanders David Carter and Charlie Ortiz were promoted March 13 to the rank of assistant chief, to fill the two Fifth Floor spots vacated by resigning ACs Rudy Landeros who is going to Sierra Leone to serve as a senior police advisor with the United Nations and Robert Dahlstrom, who last month announced he would be leaving to take over as chief of the UTPD. Ortiz, a 23-year APD veteran who will take over for Dahlstrom, is currently commander of the APD's Southeast Area Command; Carter, a 20-year department vet, is currently serving as commander over APD highway enforcement and will take over for Landeros when he heads to Africa at the end of the month. Jordan Smith
Travis Co. commissioners have agreed to pay just over $22,000 to Angelia Steadtler, who sued the county last year after the Travis Co. Medical Examiner's Office allowed an eye bank to harvest her late husband's corneas without her permission. Steadtler sued the county and TCME Roberto Bayardo in federal court last spring, asserting that officials violated her property and due process rights. Jordan Smith
Austin won a 2005 Accessible America Award last week, along with Cambridge, Mass., and West Hollywood, Calif. Every year the National Organization on Disability recognizes three cities as models for designing programs and services with disabled citizens in mind. This year Cambridge got top honors, with a $25,000 prize (earmarked for disability-related spending), in part for a grant-matching program encouraging accessible storefront entrances. West Hollywood earned the $20,000 prize for gearing city infrastructure toward a population that is aging and includes a disproportionately high number of people living with HIV/AIDS. Austin will receive $10,000, with a variety of initiatives having caught NOD's attention, including the 2005 Community Conversation, an online survey conducted by area community organizations to gather citizen input on the city's accessibility issues. NOD cited various other contributors to the honor, including the Visitability Ordinance and the SMART Housing program, both of which give home-builders incentives for meeting accessibility standards; Disaster Ready Austin, which teaches disability awareness; and the Work-Based Learning Program, which coordinates job-placement for disabled youths. Austin's response to disabled hurricane evacuees also got NOD's approval. Nora Ankrum
On Friday, March 10, the Federal Emergency Management Agency extended by 30 days its assistance registration deadline for victims of hurricanes Katrina and Rita in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas. In order to be considered for temporary disaster housing assistance, special low-interest loans for business owners, homeowners, and renters, as well as other forms of federal and state aid, those affected by the hurricanes must register with FEMA by April 10. To do so, call 800/621-FEMA (The speech- or hearing-impaired can call TTY 800/462-7585) or visit www.fema.gov. Cheryl Smith
Beyond City Limits
Independent gubernatorial candidate Kinky Friedman's quest to get on the November ballot is moving along swimmingly, report campaign staffers. Indeed, the campaign picked up more than 300 signatures in the first hours of the petition drive at a midnight rally on the Capitol steps on March 8. Under Texas' election law, Friedman has until May 11 to collect just over 45,000 signatures of valid, registered voters that did not vote in either party's primary election, in order to secure a spot on the ballot. The campaign has petition-signing events scheduled across town including a March 16 signature collection drive at Tom's Tabooleh on the Drag. The campaign is also organizing a door-to-door, block-walking signature drive scheduled for March 25-26. For more info, go to www.kinkyfriedman.com. J.S.
Of course, that petition drive and that of the other indie guv candidate, Carole Keeton Strayhorn are blamed for last week's low voter turnout. Austin Democratic State Rep. Mark Strama is calling for a revision to Texas election law to let primary voters sign a petition for an independent candidate seeking to have their name included on the state ballot. "Voters should not have to choose between participating in the primaries or signing a petition for an independent candidate for governor," he said. "Just because some people want to support [Friedman or Strayhorn] doesn't mean they should be denied the right to vote in their party's primary for state representative, or county commissioner, or judge." J.S.
Speaking of Kinky, to judge by all the breathless press coverage of his appearance at the Dallas St. Patrick's Parade on March 11, it would be safe to assume that Saturday was the s-l-o-w-e-s-t news day in recent history. Indeed, according to an AP wire report, a photographer caught Friedman, who was serving as grand marshal of the parade, riding in a car (traveling three miles per hour) holding an open Guinness beer in his hand. And that, the AP pointed out, is a violation of the open container laws, a Class C misdemeanor, punishable by up to a $500 fine. Apparently, a Dallas Morning News photographer snapped a shot of Friedman leaning over to take a sip from an already open beer that had been passed to him by a spectator. The moment might've passed by without notice Friedman wasn't cited for the violation by any of the police working crowd management had the crack AP newshounds not spotted the container violation in a DMN photo they were preparing to send out over the wire, thus sparking the after-the-fact beer-sipping scoop, which the Kinkster's campaign has since cheekily dubbed Guinness-gate. Unbelievably, at press time the beer-basted scandal had already been picked up by 122 news outlets from Texas to California to Australia reports the Kinkster campaign. J.S.
State Rep. Carter Casteel, R-New Braunfels, will seek a ballot recount in her narrow loss last week to rookie candidate Nathan Macias. The two-term representative, who lost the hotly contested race by just 45 votes in the HD 73 Republican primary, has hired Austin attorney Buck Wood, one of the top election lawyers in the state, to represent her in the recount. Casteel was one of five GOP House members who drew primary opposition in direct response to their "no" votes last year on school voucher legislation supported by far-right San Antonio millionaire James Leininger. Leininger underwrote the lion's share of Macias' campaign, as he did for four other candidates. Only two of the five campaigns saw victories, however. Amy Smith
What's a Brenham Democrat to do about a primary victory that he didn't want? Henry Boehm Jr., a physician who withdrew from the Senate District 18 primary race a month ago, may just decide to accept his party's nomination after unintentionally beating Bret Baldwin of Yoakum by 531 votes. Boehm had pulled out of the race on Feb. 4, too late to have his name removed from the ballot. Sen. Ken Armbrister, D-Victoria, is retiring from his SD 18 seat this year after nearly two decades in office. Armbrister is frequently mistaken for a Republican because he votes fairly consistently with the GOP majority. His district, which takes in 11 counties, including Bastrop and Caldwell counties, is largely conservative, but Texas Democrats hope to keep the seat from shifting to the GOP nevertheless. That could be tough because the GOP nominee is already a state rep with a higher profile and a socially conservative agenda that will appeal to the "faith, family, and freedom" crowd. Rep. Glen Hegar, R-Katy, who hopes to trade his House seat for a Senate post, secured 56.8% of the vote in a three-way primary contest. He doesn't know yet whether he'll face Boehm or Baldwin in November. Boehm told the Brenham Banner-Press that he was discussing his options with his family and state party leaders. Stay tuned. A.S.
A Houston senator who led efforts to stiffen DWI laws in Texas has checked himself into an alcohol treatment center. "I am an alcoholic," Sen. Mario Gallegos, a Democrat, said in a statement released last Friday. "Through this disease, I have injured my health and caused pain to my family." He said he is currently enrolled in a one-month residential treatment program "to help me get on the right track toward a healthier lifestyle." Gallegos said he remains in contact with his legislative staff and intends to participate in an upcoming special session on school finance, which Gov. Rick Perry is expected to convene some time this spring. Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst offered the senator his support. "I want to compliment Sen. Gallegos on his courage and wish him a full and speedy recovery," Dewhurst said. In 1999, Gallegos sponsored legislation that lowered the legal limit for blood alcohol levels from .10 to .08. A.S.
Austin Against War calls all musicians, talented and non, to a Million Musician March on Saturday, March 18, to mark the third anniversary of the Iraq war. The group promises to stock the pool with a heavy dose of talent, including Guy Forsyth, Carolyn Wonderland, and Mark Rubin, but after that, it's all up to the live musicians in this here capital o'world. "If nothing else, it's going to sound loud," promises fiddler Richard Bowden. (Note to Tulsa Against War: Don't try this at home.) The throngs will gather at 11:30 at the Federal Building at Ninth and San Jacinto, and at noon will march in glorious cacophony toward City Hall, where a formal musical performance will ensue. More info at www.austinagainstwar.org. R.P.M.
The Capital Area Regional Transit Coordination Committee is seeking input throughout Central Texas to find ways to improve services for those who depend on public transit for their transportation needs. The RTCC was formed to achieve efficiency, eliminate duplication of services, and address unmet needs for transportation services. In order to get input, the RTCC is hosting a series of five workshops across the 10-county area:
Bastrop: Monday, March 20, 10-11:30am, LCRA Riverside Conference Center, 1405 Willow St., Texas Building;
San Marcos: Monday, March 20, 3-4:30pm, San Marcos Activity Center, 501 E. Hopkins, Room 3;
Round Rock: Tuesday, March 21, 10-11:30am, First United Methodist Church, 1004 N. Mays, Room 232/234;
Austin: Tuesday, March 21, 3pm-4:30pm, UT Thompson Conference Center, Room 2.102, located at 26th and Red River adjacent to the LBJ Library;
Marble Falls: Wednesday, March 22, 10-11:30am, Marble Falls Library, 101 Main St.
Several more workshops are planned for the coming months. Those who need special accommodations for the workshops are asked to call 448-4459 at least 72 hours before the meeting. For more info, visit www.capco.state.tx.us/Committees/CARTCC/default.asp.
Who doesn't love to save the world by buying stuff? That's the idea behind the Sustainable Shopper's Ball on Saturday, March 25, 9:30am-3pm at the Toney Burger Center (3200 Jones Rd., next to the Sunset Valley Farmers Market). The event will include music, art, tasty organic treats, cloggers, a yurt, and opportunities to learn about gardening, green building, and rainwater harvesting. Plus, there'll be all sorts of stuff to buy! This is the first of four planned balls, to occur April 22, May 20, and June 17. For more info, contact www.sustain-a-ball.org.
The Austin Public Library and Texas Forums have been hosting public deliberations on "Democracy's Challenge: Reclaiming the Public's Role," a discussion on why citizens increasingly prefer to be spectators of the political process rather than get involved. The last two of the series will be Thursday, March 16, 6:30-8:30pm, at the Yarborough Branch Library, 2200 Hancock, and Wednesday, March 29, 6:30-8:30pm, at the Howson Branch Library, 2500 Exposition. Call 974-7528 for info, or go to www.cityofaustin.org/library.