Headlines and happenings from Austin and beyond
Fri., July 21, 2006
"What they need to do is get Syria to get Hezbollah to stop doing this shit, and it's over."
Quote of the Week
President George W. Bush sharing his keen insight into the latest conflict in the Middle East with British Prime Minister Tony Blair during lunch Monday at the G-8 summit in St. Petersburg, Russia.
On Wednesday afternoon at press time, City Council voted in special session to file a brief concerning the re-re-redistricting plans currently under consideration in federal court. See "Point Austin," and "GOP Redistricting: Hosing down the ballot." Council is not quite back in regular session this week; look for a long meeting next Thursday, July 27, and the beginnings of budget fireworks.
On Wednesday morning, the Finley Company announced that it will lease the Congress street property that includes Las Manitas Avenue Cafe to White Lodging Services Corp., which plans to develop a multistory hotel. The developers' local representative, Richard Suttle, told restaurant co-owner Cynthia Pérez and Dina Flores of neighboring Escuelita del Alma, "We want to work with you and make something cool happen." See "My Migas, My City."
A batch of redistricting proposals made necessary by the Supreme Court rejection of the state's South Texas map was submitted last Friday, and GOP leaders decided that Travis Co. doesn't need representation their map would have the county represented by three GOP Congressmen from elsewhere. The county's response and numerous competing proposals are flying through federal court, where responses are due tomorrow (Friday).
The latest gubernatorial campaign-finance filings show incumbent Rick Perry still with a comfortable lead, Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn running hard, and Democrat Chris Bell finally accumulating some green firepower. For more detail, see "Beyond City Limits," below.
Down the ballot, local Dems Donna Howard (HD 48) and Mark Strama (HD 51) are winning the money race, but the bigger news is a curious penury: HD 48 challenger Ben Bentzin has about twenty bucks to his campaign name. See "Where's Ben?"
If your 10-year-old came home from school last year with a tattoo, there's still time to enroll him in Fresh Start Academy. The deadline for Austin Independent School District students to transfer to another school this fall is Aug. 1. Better act quick! Requests will be processed in the order they're received. If you miss this round, requests for the spring semester will be accepted beginning Aug. 2. Thirty-three AISD schools are not accepting transfers. Check www.austinisd.org for more details. Michael May
Also in local education news, a new organization called the E3 Alliance, for Education Equals Economics, aims to tackle the growing divide between Austin's economic aspirations and the number of students making it through college. The Austin Community College District, UT Austin, and the Austin Area Research Organization founded the alliance, which will be led by Austin entrepreneur Susan Dawson. "Central Texas faces a steady loss in household income, reaching $2.4 billion annually by the year 2040," said Dawson, "unless we align all the components of our regional education system." The organization will examine Austin's schools, from preschool through high school, to identify and share the practices that prepare students for higher education. M.M.
Six weeks after firing their top executives, two local TV stations have new general managers. KEYE, the local CBS-owned and -operated station, promoted station manager Amy Villarreal to the top post last week. As station manager, Villarreal primarily served as director of sales, a position that has been vacant since October. Finding a new sales manager will be a top priority, she said. Villarreal, who said she has a "mentor relationship" with Steve Mauldin, president of CBS's Southwest region, replaces her old boss, Mike Reed, who was jettisoned by CBS after two years at the helm of the station. Meanwhile, local NBC affiliate KXAN has hired Eric Lassberg, general manager of the WB affiliate in Wichita, Kan., to be its new head honcho. Lassberg, who replaces Carlos Fernandez, has run the Wichita station since 1999. The Austin job is "especially appealing to me because I went to the University of Texas," he told the Wichita Business Journal. Kevin Brass
In other personnel change news, two members of Will Wynn's staff are leaving City Hall: Richard Arellano, the mayor's tireless chief of staff, is leaving his post downtown to work for the Housing Authority no word on if he'll bring his boss' zeal for coffee haus condo highrises to his new position. Also, indomitable mayoral aide Matt Curtis is moving to Capital Metro, where he'll be the new assistant director of community and business development. Taking Arellano's position is Rich Bailey, primed for mayoral politics after working in Brewster McCracken's office. Wells Dunbar
Maybe you've ended up going home with some real animals thanks to one of the many dating services that utilize a personality-matching questionnaire. Well, that's precisely the goal of the Meet Your Match Canine-ality Adoption Program, a new assessment tool designed to properly match the expectations of new pet owners with the behavior characteristics of available shelter dogs. The Austin Humane Society, a nonprofit, no-kill shelter is the first organization in the state to participate in the program, developed in conjunction with the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Meet Your Match scores, categorizes, and color codes dogs based on friendliness, playfulness, and energy level and asks adopters to complete an 18-question survey to determine what dog will meet their expectations, experience, lifestyle, and home environment. Unleashed June 15, the program has resulted in a record 32 adoptions in its first weekend (double the usual number), a total of 130 dogs in June, and at least 7,070 so far this month, according to AHS spokeswoman Lisa Starr, who added that the program has helped reduce returns. For more info, see www.austinhumanesociety.org or call 512/646-PETS (7387). Daniel Mottola
Car-sharing organizations, which have become extremely popular in places like Seattle, San Francisco, and Philadelphia, give members 24-hour access to a fleet of cars and trucks on a per-hour and/or per-mile basis with gas, insurance, parking, maintenance, and roadside assistance all included in the price of usage. Austin CarShare, a brand new nonprofit organization, is bringing the service to Austin and will hold a membership pre-enrollment kickoff event at 11am Monday the 24th at City Hall Plaza. Austin CarShare expects to begin services this fall and will be Texas' first car-sharing program. Pre-enrollment includes a $25 application fee and $300 refundable deposit. Rates are projected to be $4/hour and 44¢/mile with a $10 monthly membership fee. Services will initially focus on providing vehicles in the University and downtown area. For more info, see Can Austin Carshare? ("Naked City," Nov. 11, 2005) and www.austincarshare.org. D.M.
Democrat Chris Bell and independent Carole Keeton Strayhorn each saw marked gains in their fundraising efforts in the first six months of the year, but Gov. Rick Perry still leads the pack in campaign cash while indie hopeful Kinky Friedman is outpacing his rivals in online contributions. Campaign finance reports released Monday for the five candidates in the governor's race show Perry took in $4.7 million in the first half of 2006, while Strayhorn raised $3.1 million. At the same time, Bell raised more than $1.6 million and Friedman collected more than $1.5 million. Libertarian James Werner reported less than $2,000. What matters most, however, is the amount of cash the candidates had on hand June 30, the last day of the fundraising cycle. Perry reported $10 million in the bank, followed by Strayhorn with $8.1 million. Bell is left with $654,000 while Friedman has $491,000 on hand. Monday also marked Bell's debut of a TV spot running in every major market in Texas except Houston, the former congressman's hometown. The ad features a supersized Bell towering over several Texas landmarks from the state Capitol to Palo Duro Canyon urging voters to "Think Big" in revolutionizing the state's public education system. "Preparing our kids for college should be more important than teaching them to take standardized tests," Bell says in the ad. Amy Smith
Beyond City Limits
Also in political fundraising news, state Rep. Lon Burnam, D-Fort Worth, Austin attorney Buck Wood, and several public watchdog groups have asked the Texas Ethics Commission for an official opinion that may explain why the agency allowed a state official to withhold the amount of a $100,000 check on his financial disclosure reports. The issue, which sprang to life earlier this year, stems from a check that wealthy Houston homebuilder Bob Perry gave to Bill Ceverha, a member of the state Employees Retirement System board. Ceverha, an appointee of House Speaker Tom Craddick, is the former treasurer of a Tom DeLay fundraising committee, Texans for a Republican Majority, which played a questionable role in the GOP sweep of the Legislature in the 2002 election. The PAC's efforts ultimately landed both Ceverha and DeLay in deep legal trouble. Ceverha has fared better on the state regulatory front, thanks to the TEC's selective enforcement of its own rules pertaining to disclosure requirements of state officials. In Ceverha's case, the agency allowed him to describe a gift as a "check," without having to list the six-figure amount. It was only after some media hell-raising that Ceverha came clean with the value of said check. A.S.
The State Board of Education can declare victory this week albeit a bit late in its tangle with soon-to-be-former Rep. Kent Grusendorf (R-Arlington). SBOE members were bemused, and a bit miffed, last session when Grusendorf, a former SBOE member himself, proposed using the Permanent School Fund to buy laptops for schoolchildren. The technology bill would have been Grusendorf's legacy for his two decades in the Legislature, but SBOE members would have none of it, and Attorney General Greg Abbott appears to agree. In a decision released Tuesday, Abbott said textbook funds cannot be diverted to buy technology, an opinion that delighted SBOE Chair Geraldine "Tincy" Miller of Dallas, who said technology can complement textbooks but it certainly cannot replace printed instructional material. Kimberly Reeves
San Antonio Democratic Rep. Leticia Van de Putte will assume her new role as president of the National Conference of State Legislatures when the bipartisan group meets in Nashville next month. Van de Putte will be the first Hispanic president of the nonprofit organization, which serves as the voice of 7,382 legislators, according to a NCSL press release. Van de Putte, a pharmacist, is serving her fourth term in the state Senate. A.S.
U.S. District Judge David Hittner issued a preliminary injunction July 13 in class-action suit Watson v. FEMA, ordering the Federal Emergency Management Agency to reimburse hurricane evacuees receiving temporary federal housing assistance based on fair market rent numbers, which are determined nationwide by the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Fair market rent in the Austin-Round Rock area for fiscal year 2006 is $658 for a one-bedroon apartment, and $804 for two bedrooms. (See www.huduser.org/datasets/fmr.html for lists of fair market rents throughout the country.) FEMA is now also required to reimburse evacuees for utilities, according to the injunction, prior to which the agency only reimbursed for utility costs when they were wrapped into a tenant's rent. To read the entire order online, and for more info on FEMA-related litigation and FEMA programs, see www.femaanswers.org. Cheryl Smith
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