Headlines and happenings from Austin and beyond
"Senator, I served with Jack Kennedy, I knew Jack Kennedy, Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you are no Jack Kennedy." Sen. Lloyd Bentsen in a 1988 vice-presidential debate, to Republican candidate Dan Quayle, after the latter (an intellectual forerunner to our current president) had compared himself to John F. Kennedy. Bentsen died Tuesday at age 85.
Flashback Quote of the Week
Austin music icon Clifford Antone died Tuesday. See our coverage in the Music section.
Former U.S. Sen. Lloyd Bentsen died Tuesday. Bentsen, a Democrat, represented Texas from 1970-1992, ran for VP in 1988, and then served as U.S. treasury secretary under President Clinton.
At press time, the state Court of Criminal Appeals threw out the murder conviction of Robert Burns Springsteen IV, sentenced in 2001 for his part in the infamous 1991 Yogurt Shop Murders. The CCA ruled that his Sixth Amendment rights to confront witnesses against him had been violated. More next week.
The arbitration hearing for former Austin police officer Julie Schroeder began Tuesday. Schroeder seeks reinstatement after being fired for shooting teenager Daniel Rocha last summer. See below.
All who love Las Manitas Avenue Cafe the downtown luncheonette frequented for 25 years by an eclectic crowd of power-breakfasting politicos, Latino artists, and SXSW musicians may soon be crying in their Negra Modelos. Word on the Avenue has it that negotiations are under way for a major high-rise development in the 200 block of Congress. The planned project would require zoning variances from City Council and the razing of the 1900's-era buildings whose eclectic tenants lend multicultural character and texture to downtown. In addition to Las Manitas, bilingual day care Escuelita del Alma and folk-art store Tesoros would be displaced if the project goes through. Public records show that the Finley Company owns the properties at 201, 209, and 213 Congress cumulatively valued on tax rolls at over $2.88 million as well as other properties in the same city block. Reached at the Finley Company, Tim Finley who sits on the board of the Downtown Austin Alliance and is a member of the Downtown Commission, which advises City Council on appropriate development for downtown declined to comment. Given Las Manitas' status as an Austin institution and the passion of Escuelita parents already organizing to preserve the school public response to the planned development is certain to prove lively. Katherine Gregor
The AISD board of trustees swore in four new members Monday night, an almost 50% turnover on the nine-member board. The transition left a void at the helm, since the departing members included every board officer. But in a show of unity, the board quickly and unanimously elected John Edwards as secretary, Rudy Montoya as vice-president, and Mark Williams as president. Williams has earned a reputation as being an alert and inquisitive board member, and his election reflected a sense that the new board must take a more active role in redesigning its high schools, expanding pre-kindergarten offerings, and meeting the academic needs of an increasingly poor student population. "It's a time of change," said Williams, "and change is uncomfortable for a lot of people. I apologize in advance for any kind of awkwardness we might have, but hopefully over time we'll all learn to work together and achieve some great things." Michael May
The new board then received its first briefing on the 2006-2007 AISD budget. Superintendent Pat Forgione explained that AISD has essentially been on a fixed income for the past six years due to property tax caps and the "Robin Hood" system. The recently passed school finance legislation will give AISD more money, but it's unclear just how much more. Still, the scent of new money is already attracting AISD staff, which has been on a starvation diet a pack of art, music, and PE teachers showed up at Monday's meeting with hand-painted signs urging the board to reverse staff cuts made to those programs three years ago. AISD teachers, who only got a last-minute $1,000 bonus this year, are fighting for a 6% raise. And the board has its own priorities, including closing the student achievement gap, high school redesign, and creating safe and drug-free schools. The budget task force, the public, and the schools themselves will all get their chance to weigh in over the next few months. M.M.
The Austin Humane Society won custody Monday of 87 dogs from a puppy mill in rural Texas after a judge ruled their unsanitary living conditions and lack of medical care constituted animal cruelty. The owner agreed two weeks ago to give the AHS 30 dogs. The group sought legal right to seize the animals when members saw the conditions in which they were kept. The dozens of Chihuahuas, dachshunds, boxers, terriers, and other small dogs are getting medical care, vaccinations, and spay/neuter surgeries, after which they'll be split between the Austin Humane Society, the Brown Co. Humane Society, and All-Texas Dachshund Rescue until they find permanent homes. "We're thrilled. We're relieved. We are exhausted," said AHS's Lisa Starr. Rachel Proctor May
Austin Police announced May 23 that federal and state charges have been filed against a total of 34 individuals allegedly involved in the long-term operation of an illegal gambling ring, including charges of illegal gambling, money laundering, and tax evasion. The charges are the result of a lengthy joint federal-state investigation involving the FBI, IRS, APD, the Travis Co. Attorney's Office, and the U.S. Attorney's Office. The latest charges 15 individuals face federal charges, 19 face state charges grew out of last summer's APD-led sting, which resulted in the seizure of more than 700 illegal eight-liners from 35 different storefront gambling clubs across the city. APD says that evidence collected in that operation code named Operation Casino Flush led them to file the additional charges announced Tuesday. Jordan Smith
The Travis Co. Sheriff's Office is asking for help locating next of kin of 49-year-old Mark Anthony Larkins, who died May 14 while in custody at the Travis Co. Jail. Larkins was not breathing when deputies found him in his cell during a routine cell check; the deputies called EMS and began CPR but could not revive him. Austin Police arrested Larkins May 10 on a charge of public intoxication; he had three prior public intox convictions and two city ordinance violation convictions for aggravated panhandling, and for consuming alcohol in a restricted area. Both the TCSO and the Travis Co. Medical Examiner's Office are conducting (routine) investigations into Larkins' death. He's the second inmate this year to die at the Travis Co. jail; in 2005, three inmates died while in county custody. TCSO says Larkins' address was listed as "transient." Call Det. Chris Rowland (854-3245) with info regarding Larkins' family. J.S.
City Council is negotiating the potholes and speed bumps in the creation of a rush-hour rapid response system, a new city program administered by the police chief that would place local tow truck operators at strategic locations along congested freeways to quickly and efficiently haul away wrecked or disabled vehicles. In the age of technology with real-time traffic cameras on local freeways rapid response is becoming a popular option in major cities for unclogging traffic snarls. In its initial foray at council last week, Austin appears to have learned a few lessons from Houston, where the Safe Clear program led to serious resident and lawmaker backlash: Austin's program is limited to a small number of freeways and hours, it includes a motorist bill of rights, and it requires that a vehicle be towed to a safe spot for no charge. The rapid-response program passed on first reading; city staff is still trying to work out the details on compensation to tow truck drivers and how to let independent groups, such as AAA, respond to their own clients. Kimberly Reeves
In other city business, Brewster McCracken has placed a resolution on this week's council agenda that creates a "no-refusal" policy for pharmacies that contract with the city to provide prescription drugs to employees and retirees. Under the resolution, all prescriptions must be filled. A pharmacist who refuses to fill prescriptions and that would include birth control and "morning after" pills would be removed from the city's provider list. K.R.
Months of dialogue on how growth should occur in Southwest Travis County, hosted by Co. Commissioner Gerald Daugherty, did little to soften the blow when it came time for commissioners to approve the 1,000-acre Sweetwater Ranch development off Highway 71 at Bee Creek Road. At this week's Commissioners Court meeting, the developer agreed to concessions on wastewater service, internal road construction, and traffic control. The Hill Country Alliance and the SOS Alliance, however, continued to argue that the developer had "gamed the system," should be fully complying with interim development regulations, and that the phasing agreement and final plan should be declared invalid. At one point, Daugherty walked out of the meeting, saying he didn't want to be accused of colluding with a developer to manipulate the system. At another point, he accused environmentalists of wanting no growth at all in Southwest Travis County, regardless of owners' property rights. After an executive session, commissioners approved the plan. Commissioner Karen Sonleitner said the developer had not created a perfect plan, but he had taken every concern listed by the community and attempted to meet community concerns. Ron Davis was alone in voting against the motion. K.R.
Also in development news, the extension of the Pfluger Bridge may end up taking a slight detour due to high utility relocation costs. The $3-million project which will pass the bridge ramp over Cesar Chavez, through the Gables project on the former Lumberman's Sand Beach tract, and under Bowie to Third Street will now pass under the Union Pacific Railroad line but not Bowie. Relocating an Austin Energy duct bank in the way of the road is simply too costly, says project manager Greg Kiloh. The change brings the road up to grade about 400 feet earlier than planned as the path hits other area bikeways. The Lance Armstrong Bikeway, by the way, will pass along Cesar Chavez in its current configuration, rather than Third, as initially envisioned. K.R.
Leadership Austin named attorney Clarke Heidrick its 2006 Polly Scallorn Community Trustee recipient at its awards dinner on Tuesday night. Heidrick, an attorney with Graves, Dougherty, Hearon & Moody, was active in the ballot measure to approve the Travis County Healthcare District and now serves as chairman of the district's board of managers. At the same dinner, Cindy Kozmetsky, a local volunteer in numerous Austin charities and founder of Women Vote, received the group's 2006 Honorary Alumna Award. K.R.
CBS Radio is putting its Austin radio stations on the selling block, as part of a plan to cut back in small markets around the country. CBS owns four stations in Austin: KXBT-FM (the Beat), KAMX-FM (the Mix), KKMJ-FM (Majic), and KJCE-AM (talk radio). "The focus in CBS has always been on Top 20 markets, so it's not a big surprise," said John Hiatt, market manager for CBS in Austin. CBS announced that it would look to sell stations in 10 markets Austin, Buffalo, Cincinnati, Columbus, Fresno, Greensboro/Winston-Salem, Kansas City, Memphis, Rochester, and San Antonio in order to "maximize performance of the division overall." CBS's Austin stations continue to grow and turn a profit, Hiatt says. The Mix and Majic, in particular, consistently rank among the city's top-billing stations. But CBS, which currently operates 159 stations, is looking to raise cash and concentrate on bigger markets. "Austin is a thriving market," Hiatt said. "But one station in Dallas can bill more than the entire group." Hiatt also noted that this isn't the first time CBS has tried to sell the stations. "You don't think about it until you actually have a buyer," he said. Kevin Brass
In other media news, following in the footsteps of her idol Tony Snow (just kidding!), Austin Chronicle education reporter Rachel Proctor May is making the jump from news media to political staff work, joining the crew of City Council Member Brewster McCracken as one of his top aides. She replaces Karen Gross, who is leaving for law school. And in other May family news, Rachel's husband Michael May has left KUT-FM's news staff to pursue freelance writing; you'll notice his byline elsewhere in this section. Lee Nichols
Evacuees in need of counseling can get free services from the nonprofit Samaritan Counseling Center, 5425-A Burnet. Those with transportation should call 451-7337 for more info. For those without wheels, the center has two counselors who make home visits. Call 300-3530 if living in North Austin, Round Rock, Pflugerville, Cedar Park, or Georgetown; or 293-4924 if living in South or Central Austin. See www.samaritan-center.org for more. Cheryl Smith
In other hurricane-related news, check out BookWoman, 918 W. 12th, 8pm Saturday, May 27 for a reading of Do You Know What It Means To Miss New Orleans?, a collection of pre- and post-Katrina essays and art. Contributors Juliette Kernion, David Rutledge, and Ray Shea will read from and sign copies of the anthology. 472-2785 or www.ebookwoman.com. C.S.
A new state law would ban anti-gay protesters from disrupting funeral and burial services for military men and women. Gov. Rick Perry signed HB 97 last week, which would keep hecklers from coming within 500 feet between one hour before a service to one hour after a service. Rep. Brian McCall, R-Plano, and Sen. Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock, sponsored the legislation in response to a Kansas church's nationwide campaign to stage protests at military funerals because they believe a growing tolerance of homosexuality is what's killing U.S. soldiers. Texas joins Oklahoma and Ohio in passing laws that tolerate neither gays nor anti-gay protesters at funerals. Amy Smith
Beyond City limits
Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott on May 17 filed suit against Irving-based BioPerformance Inc., which sells a so-called "top secret gas pill" that purports to lower vehicle fuel consumption and emissions, but which Abbott alleges is an environmentally hazardous mothball-type pill that the company peddles using an illegal pyramid scheme. "BioPerformance claims its top-secret gas pulls can save consumers big bucks at the gas pump," Abbott said in a press release. "These claims are bogus; the pill does absolutely nothing to improve gas mileage." According to the BioPerformance Web site, the "enzyme catalyst" can save consumers between "25- to 50-cents per gallon, every time you fill up!" And if that isn't enough, the company promises that consumers can get paid just for telling others about the magic little pill. Unfortunately, Abbott counters in the lawsuit, the top-secret pill is made primarily of naphthalene, a potentially harmful chemical found in mothballs acute short term contact can cause liver and/or neurological damage, and may actually decrease engine performance. To make matters worse, Abbott alleges, the entire marketing ploy is an illegal pyramid scheme, based on the number of people that an individual can sign on as "dealers," rather than on actual sales. Abbott's suit charges the company with violations of the state's Deceptive Trade Practices Act (which can result in a $20,000 fine for each count), and is seeking restitution for Texans taken in by the scam. J.S.
"TXU representative" Darth Vader handed a performer playing Governor Perry a check for $66,000 in campaign contributions last week, and in return Perry issued an executive order fast-tracking the utility's 11 new proposed coal power plants. The Sustainable Energy and Economic Development Coalition, Public Citizen, and the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club organized this street theatre skit in Austin and Dallas to raise public awareness and to urge TXU shareholders, who met Friday in Dallas, to reject the extensive coal plans. "TXU's 11 proposed coal plants in Texas will cook our climate, endanger our air quality, pollute our lakes with mercury, put our children's health at risk, and threaten our economy," SEED director Karen Hadden said. "Not one of these plants would use the so-called "clean-coal" technology." The Sierra Club's Donna Hoffman said, "Perry's executive order fast-tracking the new plants means that citizens don't have enough time to work to assure that emissions from these plants won't harm the people who live nearby or downwind." TXU has downplayed the proposed plants' environmental impacts, claiming that clean-coal technology isn't yet economical. Daniel Mottola
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced Monday that it plans to award more than $1.7 million to help eight Indian tribes in the Southwest region manage, conserve, and protect natural resources on their lands as part of two new programs, the Tribal Landowner Incentive Program and the Tribal Wildlife Program. In Texas, the Alabama-Coushatta tribe will get $209,277 to conduct a fish and wildlife inventory and habitat preservation project. FWS said such programs represent their recognition that "the best conservation and environmental protections result when tribes, landowners, hunters, and anglers, local organizations and communities work together." D.M.