Headlines and happenings from Austin and beyond
"That this remedial order makes changes in the lines of five districts, as few as possible consistent with conscientious partisan neutrality, is not the product of aggressive remediation. Rather, it is the consequence of an aggressive map, which resulted in the section 2 violation the Supreme Court found."
QUOTE of the week
From the judicial opinion issuing new congressional redistricting maps to correct violations of the Voting Rights Act committed in the previous map. See "Democrats Get a Boost From Court Redistricting."
Although we won't believe he's dead until we see the wooden stake driven through his heart, Tom DeLay insists his congressional career is really over. On Thursday and Monday, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals and the U.S. Supreme Court rejected GOP attempts to get his name off of the ballot; on Tuesday, he said he'll still do anything possible to get his name removed. See "Supremes Say DeLay Must Stay on Ballot, Hammer Says Bowing Out."
Speaking of DeLay, a three-judge panel released new redistricting maps for the southwest quadrant of Texas on Friday to remedy violations of the Voting Rights Act committed by the DeLay-pushed redistricting that passed the Texas Legislature in 2003. The good news is that Austin Rep. Lloyd Doggett's district no longer stretches to Mexico; the bad is that it's now a bit more conservative. See "Democrats Get a Boost From Court Redistricting."
An independent arbitrator on Tuesday upheld retired APD Chief Stan Knee's termination of Officer Julie Schroeder, who shot and killed 18-year-old Daniel Rocha during a struggle during a traffic stop last June. Schroeder said she shot Rocha because she believed he'd taken her Taser and would use it on her supervisor, Sgt. Don Doyle, who was also involved in the fight. According to civil service arbitrator Norman Bennett, however, Schroeder's assumption was inaccurate and did not rise to the level of a "reasonable belief," the standard applied to the use of deadly force. "It is apparent that a reasonable officer would not have had a reasonable belief that Rocha posed a threat of death or serious bodily injury to either [Schroeder] or [Doyle] at the time of the shooting," Bennett wrote. "Accordingly, the finding must be that [Schroeder] violated the Deadly-Force Policy by shooting Rocha." (For more on the story, see "Schroeder v. APD," June 2.) Jordan Smith
In other APD news, police have charged 51-year-old Jerry Dale Carver, minister of education at North Austin's Great Hills Baptist Church, with the July 25 sexual assault of a 15-year-old boy police say Carver lured into his car at a bus stop. Carver was arrested Aug. 1 at his home. According to police, Carver approached the teen at a North Austin bus stop and offered him a ride. Although the teen didn't know Carver, he accepted; once inside the car, Carver "engaged" him in "inappropriate behavior and physical contact," the police report states. The teen tried to leave the car but was unable, and Carver drove to a North Austin park and sexually assaulted him before driving him home. Carver's arrest marks the second time a Great Hills Baptist Church youth leader has been charged with sexual assault of a child; in 1999, youth minister Charles Richard Willits was convicted of indecency with a 14-year-old and sentenced to 15 years in prison. Police suspect Carver may have left more victims in his wake and are asking anyone with info to call the APD's Child Abuse unit tip line at 974-6880. J.S.
Also, APD detectives have arrested and charged 23-year-old Jacob Zeke Rubio with the May 28 murder of Esther's Follies juggler Warren "Red Ryder" Schwartz, who was stabbed multiple times and died in the parking lot of the Travis Park Apartments. Police say Rubio killed Schwartz because he believed Schwartz had seen him committing a burglary at the apartment complex. Rubio is in custody on $300,000 bond. J.S.
As the ride ended for Roy's Taxi this week, rolling to a close Monday, Aug. 7, after 75 years of service, a new cab franchise is coming to take its place. Scheduled at City Council today, Aug. 10, is a drawing to determine which of three applicants Capital City, Lone Star, or Longhorn Cab will be allotted a franchise and 55 cab permits. With all three meeting minimum qualifications under city rules, a lottery determines the winner. This arbitrary method doesn't sit well with the Urban Transportation Commission, whose members formed a special subcommittee to overhaul the process. On Monday, they recommended new evaluation guidelines, a ranked criteria they hope council will use in lieu of the lotto. The criteria gauges ability in four fields: operations, core qualifications, management, and community concerns. Wells Dunbar
Travis Co. Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir was in Colorado on Tuesday, observing Hart InterCivic's Voter Verified Paper Audit Trail system in action during that state's primary election. Travis County has been using Hart InterCivic's eSlate electronic voting machines since 2002 a system that produces no paper trail, making any manual recount independent of the machines impossible. This sparked a lawsuit earlier this year demanding that DeBeauvoir implement a system that prints out a paper copy of each ballot cast. The suit also targets Texas Secretary of State Roger Williams because no such printers have been approved by his office for use anywhere in the state. The suit is still awaiting a trial date in state court, but DeBeauvoir said she's open to using such a system pending Williams' approval and provided it's a system that works well. "To make this type of application work properly in Travis County, we will need clear, written procedures and extensive training of poll workers," said DeBeauvoir. "We're particularly interested in seeing how election judges manage the logistics of paper jams, explain the system to voters, and open and close the polls." Lee Nichols
They look so cute together. AISD Superintendent Pat Forgione and Education Austin President Louis Malfaro sat side by side at the AISD Board of Trustees meeting Monday night and presented a two-year agreement on certain budget priorities. If trustees agree to the deal, the teachers union will have gotten almost everything on its wish list: a 7.5% salary increase this year and a 3% raise in 2007-08, a $2,500 annual stipend for bilingual teachers, and 30 additional art, music, and PE teachers in 2007. The district would also get something important from the deal, however. The union promises to defend the decision to raise 4 cents of additional property-tax revenue from Austin homeowners, who've already seen appraisals rise sharply this year. "I want to stress," said Forgione in a press release, "that all the revenue generated this first year by the additional 4 cents authorized by the Legislature will be placed in the Fund Balance." The Fund Balance, essentially the district's savings account, is down to $50 million this year, and that could begin to affect AISD's ability to borrow money. The new tax rate would raise an additional $18 million for the district. The board will continue discussing the budget at their next meeting, on Monday Aug. 14. Michael May
In other AISD news, the board of trustees gave a nod on Aug. 7 to Forgione's choices for four new administrators. Glenn Nolley will fill in as acting associate superintendent of schools; he's worked in the district before, as principal of Reagan High and the Alternative Learning Center. Jeanne Goka-Dubose will become the first principal of the Ann Richards School for Young Women Leaders, one of AISD's new boutique schools, when it opens next fall. Mary Romberg is coming all the way from Madison, Wis., to replace Goka-Dubose as interim director of the Kealing Middle School Magnet Program. And Helen Fleming Johnson, currently an AISD curriculum specialist in science, will direct the Kealing Comprehensive Program. M.M.
Also, it's cool to eat free at school! That's the message AISD officials are hoping to send to high school students, who are notoriously reluctant to sign up for the National Free and Reduced Lunch Program. Austin kids really shouldn't be embarrassed; 60% of their peers qualify. The program provides meals to students whose family income is below the criteria levels for example, a four-person household with an income below $26,000. The program also includes all foster, migrant, and homeless children. Applications are available online or at any AISD campus and can be submitted at any time during the school year. M.M.
All homes built within the city of Austin by 2015 will have to be "zero energy capable," or efficient enough to power themselves if solar photovoltaic panels were added, if new Austin Energy-proposed code changes are ultimately approved. City Council will appoint a task force at today's meeting to study the bold efficiency measures. Greens have been increasingly calling on utilities to boost their efficiency measures, especially as a means to offset some of the 17 new coal plants planned for the state. The proposed building code changes are expected to make homes 60% more efficient than those built today. Roger Duncan, AE's deputy general manager, said that in a study of 200 Austin homes, 70% were leaking a third of their AC and heating into the attic, one of many areas to be addressed by the code changes, which would be implemented through AE's nationally recognized Green Building Program. "Efficiency is the fastest and easiest way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions," Duncan said. AE first announced the plans at the kickoff of the "National Action Plan for Energy Efficiency," a federally sponsored program in which 23 national utilities have already committed to meet growing energy needs with efficiency. Daniel Mottola
Houston Democratic Rep. Senfronia Thompson has launched a new Web site (www.senfroniaforspeaker.com) in a bid to unseat Republican Tom Craddick for speaker of the Texas House of Representatives. If nothing else, her long-shot campaign will give Craddick and his $3 million war chest a good run before House members cast their votes in January. Not only is Thompson the longest-serving woman and longest-serving African-American in state legislative history, she also ranks among the most fearless House members of all time. Thompson "stands up for what's right. ... She's the heart and soul of the Texas House Democratic delegation," Waco Rep. Jim Dunnam said in introducing her at the state party convention in June. Thompson, who arrived on the convention stage to Aretha Franklin's "Respect," jokingly thanked Craddick for spending more than $1 million in corporate donations to renovate the speaker's Capitol apartment "because next year I'm going to be staying there." Thompson is said to have picked up some quiet support from GOP House members, though Craddick says he already has more than enough House votes to ensure his re-election to the post. Amy Smith
Beyond City Limits
State Rep. Lon Burnam, D-Fort Worth, is calling for an investigation into the "peculiar circumstances" surrounding the Texas Employees Retirement System's purchase of 80,000 shares of stock in a company owned by millionaire Republican donor James Leininger. Burnam's request to the attorney general's office came on the heels of a jury verdict that sent Leininger's medical-device company Kinetic Concepts Inc. into free fall on the stock exchange. The San Antonio-based company had sought a favorable ruling in its patent-infringement case against rival BlueSky Medical Group. In his letter to Attorney General Greg Abbott, Burnam pointed out that retirement system board member Bill Ceverha is also a lobbyist for one of Leininger's pro-voucher groups Texans for Educational Excellence. The ERS board acquired the shares a year ago, shortly after Leininger took his company public. The stock lost nearly half of its market value in the wake of the jury's verdict, which the company will appeal. Burnam questioned whether state employees and retirees were victims of a "massive pump and dump scheme" and asked that Abbott investigate what role, if any, Ceverha played in the stock purchase. A.S.
Third Court of Appeals candidate Mina Brees is recovering from open-heart surgery performed at Seton Hospital last week to remove a tumor from the left atrium of her heart. The tumor, called a myxoma, had caused Brees to suffer a heart attack at her home on Aug. 22. Myxomas are typically benign and more commonly found in women. Brees said in a statement that doctors expect her to make a full recovery, enabling her to return to the campaign trail in September. The Austin Democrat is running against Republican incumbent David Puryear. A.S.
The Sunset review of the Office of State-Federal Relations has provided a rare glimpse into how Texas attempts to influence Washington politics, and the news isn't all good. The picture that emerged at a hearing this week was of an office dominated by Gov. Rick Perry's staff, with little influence from the Legislature and no clear picture of just how much the state is spending on outside contracts through various agencies. Earlier this year, Perry came under fire for using two conservative lobby firms as outside consultants for the office, to the tune of $1.1 million. While such practice isn't unusual Sunset review staff noted that most states place such offices under the governor, and many use outside consultants with broader contacts the fact that Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and House Speaker Tom Craddick have taken little interest in meeting to sign off on the state's federal priorities is. Director Joey Longley, who is in charge of this Sunset review and even the last review of the agency 12 years ago, is recommending that OSFR be moved under the governor's office. Longley also told the Sunset Commission, however, that he is keenly aware that the House and Senate have not taken a vocal role in helping to shape and direct the policy of the office. Committee members, for their part, said it was impossible to force Dewhurst and Craddick to the table. The Sunset Commission will make its recommendations on OSFR in November. Kimberly Reeves
The U.S. Senate passed the Pets Evacuation and Transportation Standards (PETS) Act last week, which, according to the U.S. Humane Society, "will require local and state disaster plans to include provisions for household pets and service animals in the event of a major disaster or emergency." According to Zogby International, almost half of all adult respondents polled after Hurricane Katrina said "they would refuse to evacuate ahead of a disaster if they could not take their pets with them." In other critter legislation news, the Senate tacked a provision onto the Pension Reform Act last week "to close a loophole in the tax code that has been exploited by trophy hunters and allowed them to unfairly deduct the costs of their hunting excursions across the globe," HSUS says. Cheryl Smith
Check out the Texas Youth Word Collective's Voices of the Nation Individual Youth Poetry Slam this Friday, Aug. 11. Young poets from across the country will begin performing at 4pm at Ruta Maya World HQ, 3601 S. Congress. Travis Co. Sheriff Greg Hamilton and State Rep. Mark Strama are celebrity judges for the cash-prize contest, along with the Austin Film Festival's Barbara Morgan. According to a press release, "TYWC is a nonprofit youth literacy program dedicated to encouraging young voices to develop their writing, reading, speaking, and performing skills by bringing poetry open mics, slams, and online anthologies to middle and high school students throughout the Austin area." Cover charge is $10, $5 for students with ID, children under 5 free. For more info, call 632-5033 or see www.txywc.org. C.S.