Headlines and Happenings from Austin and Beyond
Provisions Under Article 3 of the Geneva Convention Prohibit:
Quote of the Week
"Violence cruel treatment and torture"
"Outrages upon personal dignity, in particular, humiliating and degrading treatment"
"The passing of sentences and the carrying out of executions without previous judgment pronounced by a regularly constituted court affording all the judicial guarantees which are recognized as indispensable by civilized peoples."
Excerpts from the Geneva Convention on the treatment of prisoners of war, which the Bush administration acknowledged this week applies to prisoners captured as "terrorists," including hundreds currently held without trial at Guantanamo Bay.
Secretary of State Roger "Would You Buy a Used Election From this Man?" Williams announced that Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn cannot be listed on the November ballot as "Grandma," which he ruled is not a true nickname but a political slogan, to which CKS replied, "Grandma is not a slogan. Grandma is who I am." Strayhorn says she'll sue to overturn the ruling. See "Point Austin," right.
In a lawsuit filed to force Travis County to reform its electronic voting system in order to generate a paper record, a judge refused Tuesday to grant a temporary injunction requiring the change for the November election. Arguments in the suit are expected to be heard next spring. See p.22.
On Monday, a U.S. district judge began hearing the first of a flood of coming hurricane-related lawsuits by Gulf Coast homeowners against insurance companies. According to AP, the attorneys of plaintiffs Paul and Julie Leonard "claim the couple was misled by their [Nationwide Mutual Insurance Co.] insurance agent and then denied much of their claim for their home without a full review of the facts." The company argues that its homeowners' policies cover wind damage but not flooding.
Friends and family of juggler Warren "Red Ryder" Schwartz, who was murdered May 28 in the parking lot of the Travis Park Apartments on East Oltorf, are offering a $5,000 reward to anyone who can provide information about the crime that leads to the arrest and conviction of the responsible parties. Crime Stoppers is offering an additional $1,000 reward. Call the APD Homicide tip line at 477-3588 or Crime Stoppers at 472-8477. Jordan Smith
Two teenagers, Pamela and Humberto Ruiz, backseat passengers in the car connected with the shooting death of Austin High School student Christopher Briseño last fall, were each sentenced to 10 years probation in juvenile court July 11 after pleading guilty to murder. (Although neither fired the fatal shot, the state's law of parties holds them equally culpable for his murder.) The Ruiz's other sibling, Alan, who was also in the car on the afternoon Briseño was killed, is still awaiting trial. Triggerman Manuel Cortez, certified to stand trial as an adult, was found guilty and sentenced to 99 years in prison. J.S.
The city has ordered the South Congress Cafe, part of the Trudy's Tex-Mex chain, to demolish a controversial, illegally built rear-deck seating area and fence built last year. Owners ignored a possible record of four city stop-work orders throughout its construction process. Neighboring residents and businesses were perturbed that the deck forced the parking and delivery area of the restaurant, at 1600 S. Congress, into the crowded nearby streets, while its surrounding fence was built atop a city sidewalk and right of way. The city sued Trudy's over its failure to bring the structures into compliance, eventually reaching an agreement that gave owners nine months to seek code compliance and obtain all required permits. In a letter to one of Trudy's lawyers at Armbrust & Brown, Assistant City Attorney Nancy Matchus wrote, "Trudy's has not substantially completed its responsibilities under the agreement. [So] the city requests that you immediately secure the necessary demolition permits to remove the unapproved improvements." Daniel Mottola
The AISD Board of Trustees has signed off on Superintendent Pat Forgione's recommendations for two new high school principals. Ismael Villafaña will take over at Reagan High from interim principal Leroy Davis. He'll be the struggling school's fifth principal in two years. Rene Garganta will take over at Travis High, replacing Carlos Rios, who resigned after leading the school for three years. The Travis appointment has caused some controversy. Olga Cuellar from LULAC had backed another candidate, Travis High Assistant Principal Raul Moreno, and is sorely disappointed with the superintendent's choice. "We wanted a home-grown leader," says Cuellar. "Instead, we got someone from outside the district who was a middle school principal and then ran a gifted-and-talented program in Victoria that's not what the community wanted. He's going to be a small fish in a big pond." Ramon De Jesus, a Travis parent who worked with the district to create the candidate profile, disagreed. "We know we're not going to get everything we want," says De Jesus. "But in this case, I think we got a good balance. He comes with a doctorate in biology, and I think that's a great benefit for the students." Michael May
So that's how they administer the mind-control drugs. The Texas Department of Health requires that all students get their shots before starting school, and some 4,755 Austin students have yet to get their dose. "AISD will again follow a 'No shots, No classes' policy," warns Superintendent Pat Forgione. AISD is partnering with local clinics and nonprofits to provide low-cost immunizations through July. Student Health Services will offer shots from 9am-noon on Friday, July 14 at Barrington Elementary and Wednesday, July 19 at Akins High School. Visit www.austinvaccinates.org for more info. M.M.
AISD is holding an Alternative Education Fair this week to give high school-aged students a chance to meet with representatives from alternative schools and job-training programs. "The fair is for kids who have been missing school and average kids who might want a program that will allow them to graduate faster," says Linelle Clark-Brown, AISD's coordinator of dropout-prevention programs. "We also have several options for young parents who might need a flexible schedule." The fair will introduce students to AISD's own alternative school, Garza Independence High School, as well as programs that provide job training and a GED, such as Gary Job Corps. The fairs are at Garza, 1600 Chicon, 10am-noon, Tuesday, July 18, and 5-7pm Thursday, July 20. M.M.
In other education news, Austin Community College just approved a balanced budget for the coming fiscal year, and it's 12% higher than last year. Around half of the increase is going toward recruiting and retaining students who might not otherwise pursue higher education. "The number of Hispanic students is growing rapidly in Texas, but the percentage of them going to college remains stagnant," says ACC spokeswoman Veronica Obregon. "If we don't turn that around, then Central Texas will end up without a qualified work force." ACC is expanding several programs, such as its College Connection program, where ACC staff enter local high schools and help students fill out applications. Another $8 million or so of the increase will go toward facilities and infrastructure needs. ACC will keep its in-district tuition at $39 per credit hour the least-expensive local option for higher education. M.M.
Travis Co. commissioners will continue fighting to create a more "Austin-centric" 25th Congressional District in the battle over Texas redistricting. The county will be among the plaintiffs to submit a revised congressional map to district court on Friday, suggesting that the lines be drawn for a compact seat for Travis Co. "The main point we wanted was a district substantially anchored in Travis County, at least along the lines, as much as possible, of Lloyd Doggett's old district," said attorney Renea Hicks, who represents the interests of the city and county in the Texas redistricting case. "The problem the city and county had, when the lines were redrawn back in 2003, was that it eviscerated the base that Doggett had in Travis County." Since the focus of the litigation is the 23rd and not 25th CD, the concerns of Travis Co. are likely secondary, but the shifting around of South Texas Hispanics could push Doggett's southern boundary further north. As it now stands, CD 25 stretches from here down to Hidalgo Co. The maps are due Friday, responses the next Friday, and oral arguments will be in Austin on Aug. 3. Kimberly Reeves
The Bouldin Meadows zoning brawl returns to Zoning and Platting on Tuesday, and the commissioners are getting restless: This is the fifth, and likely final, time the contentious case will appear before the board. At issue is the proposed Bouldin Meadows subdivision, a 14-acre plot of 50-plus homes, penciled in along West Bouldin creek in South Austin. Problem is, several of the homes sit in what's currently defined as floodplain; under new FEMA maps scheduled for adoption, the land is cleared for construction, but neighbors aren't buying it; they say the area still floods, and worse, will channel floodwaters out directly against their homes across the creek. Wells Dunbar
A vote to add additional toll roads to the region's short-term transportation plan known as the Transportation Improvement Plan was delayed at least one and possibly two more months as CAMPO hashes out questions on the financial viability of toll roads. Rep. Mark Strama, D-Austin, had asked some pointed questions about the cost of the region's transportation plan, with and without toll roads, but those won't be answered until the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority sees the full traffic-and-revenue estimates on the proposed toll road plan, due at the end of the month. Those same numbers will be used for the independent Charles River Associates' study of the plan's feasibility and other mobility alternatives, as requested by a committee spearheaded by Council Member Brewster McCracken. Those who support the studies consider the questions critical to a final vote on the toll roads. Others on the board say it simply delays a vote on the inevitable, which is to acknowledge a need for a bunch of new roads under the state's serious long-term funding constraints. The latest projection under the Texas Metropolitan Mobility Plan predicts a need for another $26.7 billion in road and rail projects to fully address current congestion needs in the three-county region. The gap between funded and unfunded road projects funded projects would include the proposed toll road system is about $10 billion. K.R.
Eduardo Sanchez, a chief medical officer for the Austin-Travis Co. Health and Human Services Department in the mid-Nineties, is among the eight applicants for a seat on the Travis Co. Healthcare District's board of managers. Sanchez, commissioner of the Texas Department of State Health Services, announced last month he intends to step down from the state agency in October. Other applicants include Carolyn Hargrove, David Halpern, Jason Earle, Kathy Rider, Richard Durbin, Phillip Dunne, and Clark Watts. The list of eight will be whittled down to three candidates, who will be interviewed by the full Commissioners Court at the end of the month. The appointee will replace Tom Young, a retired Brackenridge Hospital administrator, who will not seek another term on the health care board. K.R.
"The indoor environment is not the safe, clean sanctuary we thought it was," said UT Environmental Engineering Professor Richard Corsi in a press release. "In fact, the exposure of Americans to toxic substances is dominated by what we breathe and touch while we are indoors." After recently securing a five-year 2.9 million-dollar grant, UT announced that it would create a multidisciplinary program devoted to improving indoor environmental quality. Assistant Civil, Architectural, and Environmental Engineering Professor Jeffrey Siegel who will spearhead the program with Corsi, one of few national experts on indoor air quality noted that we spend 18 hours inside for every hour outside. A few common pollution sources, he said, include unintended chemical reactions triggered by household cleaning products, radon (common in basements), candles, incense, and tobacco smoke. He added that some popular ion-generating air purifiers actually emit hazardous ozone as a byproduct. Overall, Siegel said, exposure effects can range from increasingly severe asthma attacks to cancer. D.M.
Carole Keeton Strayhorn vowed on Monday to sue the state-elections chief for nixing her request to be called "Grandma" on the November ballot. Secretary of State Roger Williams ruled "Grandma" is a slogan as in "one tough grandma" that appears only on her campaign literature. He noted that the name "Grandma" doesn't appear on her official letterhead as state comptroller and has never accompanied her name on previous ballots. Strayhorn accused the elections chief of playing politics at the behest of Perry, who appointed Williams to his position. "It's political gamesmanship at its worst," she said. Amy Smith
Beyond City Limits
The Texas GOP is seeking a rush job on its appeal of a federal judge's decision to keep former U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay's name on the November ballot. Party leaders want to name a replacement candidate to run for DeLay's seat, but Democrats want the indicted ex-congressman's name to stay put, which would give Democrat Nick Lampson some political leverage in the largely Republican district. Last week, U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks handed the Dems a victory in ruling that DeLay's resignation from Congress and subsequent move to Virginia does not automatically necessitate removing his name from the ballot. The GOP this week filed a motion seeking to expedite its appeal, and hopes to have the matter resolved this month, but Dem attorney Chris Feldman says it could be August before the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals makes its ruling. A.S.
While Texas Lottery officials accurately "calculate and pay" Lotto Texas jackpot prizes, and the agency accurately "calculates and transfers" lottery proceeds to the Foundation School Fund, it has not always "accurately advertised Lotto Texas jackpot amounts," according to a report released July 11 by the Texas state auditor's office. "[F]ailure to accurately advertise Lotto Texas jackpot amounts may contribute to a lack of public confidence" in Lotto Texas and the Lottery Commission, says the report. State auditors found seven instances where advertised jackpots exceeded the agency's estimated sales in all, the jackpot amounts advertised exceeded estimated sales by about $4.4 million. In a second report, also released July 11, the auditors found that the Lottery Commission has "significant weaknesses in its employee relations," including a lack of policies and procedures governing employee grievances and disciplinary actions, as well as weaknesses in supervisor training and employee recruitment. As a result, the Commission has "not established a positive work environment for all levels of its employees and is not managing the potential risk that employee relations actions [such as lawsuits] can pose to the Agency and the State." Both reports are online at www.sao.state.tx.us/Reports/reportpost.cfm/year/2006. J.S.
Defying the U.S. blockade of Cuba for the 17th time, Pastors for Peace, a ministry of the New York-based Interreligious Foundation for Community Organization, departed last Thursday from a South Texas church with its "friendshipment" of over 100 tons of humanitarian aide, including medical and educational supplies, collected in 127 U.S. and Canadian communities. IFCO Communication Director Lucia Bruno said Tuesday that the caravan crossed the U.S. border without any problem, loaded onto a boat in Tampico, Mexico, and is now in Havana. The group expected trouble, in view of previous border conflicts, such as last summer's seizure of 43 boxes of computer equipment by Homeland Security officers. Walker also called a newly released report by the Bush Administration's Commission for a Transition to A Free Cuba "a pack of lies" that misrepresents Cuba's success in providing health care, education, and social services, instead using its economic hardships and shortages as a pretext to intervene and set up a puppet government. Read the Pastors' blog at www.pastorsforpeace.org and the Government report at www.cafc.gov D.M.