Naked City

Headlines and happenings from Austin and beyond

Members of the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now gathered to remember Hurricane Katrina's many victims, and to support its many survivors, Tuesday night at the steps of the Capitol during a vigil. Aug. 29 was Katrina's one-year anniversary.
Members of the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now gathered to remember Hurricane Katrina's many victims, and to support its many survivors, Tuesday night at the steps of the Capitol during a vigil. Aug. 29 was Katrina's one-year anniversary. (Photo By John Anderson)


Quote of the Week

"[To] the American-Statesman, what I said was, 'You earn the right to debate me – by [showing] your credibility.'" – U.S. Rep. John Carter, R-Round Rock, in the Temple Daily Telegram, referring to Mary Beth Harrell, his Democratic challenger in District 31.

"[T]he voters are calling for a candidates' forum with Carter and me so they can judge our credibility. That's the voter's job, not Carter's." – Mary Beth Harrell. See "Congressional District 31: What's Up With John Carter?"


Headlines

Warren Jeffs, fugitive leader of a polygamist Mormon offshoot sect, was finally nabbed in Las Vegas after being on the lam from the FBI for two years. See "Feds Nab 'Prophet'."

Kristi Willis, a former campaign staffer for U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, was sentenced to 30 days in jail and four years' probation Tuesday after she pleaded guilty to stealing $168,000 from his campaign treasury.

• The mandatory-bicycle helmet ordinance appears dead on arrival. See "Cyclists Run Over Helmet Law Idea."

• The filing deadline is complete for the special election necessitated by the Supreme Court decision that redrew five Southwest Texas congressional districts, including districts 21 and 25 in Austin. See "Campaign Notes."

Maria Estrada had a lot of help applying for Medicaid Saturday afternoon during the Texas Benefits Event. In addition to the state Health and Human Services workers on hand to answer questions, Estrada's daughter, Maria Morales, and her grandsons, Andre and Luis Garcia, all came with her to the Austin Convention Center to help her sign up. Estrada, who recently moved here from Tucson, Ariz., was applying for Medicaid in Texas for the first time, although many of the estimated 1,077 people who applied for Medicaid - as well as the Children's Health Insurance Program, food stamps, and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families - had previous trouble getting signed up.
<br>         As the first step in the state's much-touted plan for privatizing the public benefits eligibility and enrollment process, the Texas Health and Human Services Commission changed last January how residents of Travis and Hays counties sign up for benefits. But the transition hasn't gone smoothly. Over the last six months, Travis County reported a 10% decline in children's Medicaid enrollment while Hays County had a 7.7% decline. State-wide enrollment declined by only 4%, according to a press release from the office of Rep. Elliott Naishtat, who sponsored the event along with other legislators. Most of the people here have gone without needed services because they've had problems enrolling or re-enrolling, Naishtat said at the event. The privatization program's expansion into other counties has been delayed as a result of the glitches. Most of the people at the Convention Center Saturday applied for food stamps and Medicaid, said Nancy Walker, one of the event's coordinators and Naishtat's legislative director.
Maria Estrada had a lot of help applying for Medicaid Saturday afternoon during the Texas Benefits Event. In addition to the state Health and Human Services workers on hand to answer questions, Estrada's daughter, Maria Morales, and her grandsons, Andre and Luis Garcia, all came with her to the Austin Convention Center to help her sign up. Estrada, who recently moved here from Tucson, Ariz., was applying for Medicaid in Texas for the first time, although many of the estimated 1,077 people who applied for Medicaid - as well as the Children's Health Insurance Program, food stamps, and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families - had previous trouble getting signed up.
As the first step in the state's much-touted plan for privatizing the public benefits eligibility and enrollment process, the Texas Health and Human Services Commission changed last January how residents of Travis and Hays counties sign up for benefits. But the transition hasn't gone smoothly. Over the last six months, "Travis County reported a 10% decline in children's Medicaid enrollment while Hays County had a 7.7% decline. State-wide enrollment declined by only 4%," according to a press release from the office of Rep. Elliott Naishtat, who sponsored the event along with other legislators. "Most of the people here have gone without needed services because they've had problems enrolling or re-enrolling," Naishtat said at the event. The privatization program's expansion into other counties has been delayed as a result of the glitches. Most of the people at the Convention Center Saturday applied for food stamps and Medicaid, said Nancy Walker, one of the event's coordinators and Naishtat's legislative director.

• Some sort of strange liquid fell from the skies Tuesday morning. Panicked citizens rioted in fear that the apocalypse was nigh, but older Austinites with really long memories identified the substance as "rain" and insisted it was actually quite harmless.

• The air shot out of the JonBenet Ramsey balloon after DNA evidence failed to implicate the nutball who falsely confessed to her murder. Darn it, now CNN will have to find something else irrelevant to hyperventilate about.


Naked City

• City Council made its proposed $567 million bond election official last week. On Nov. 7, Austin voters will see seven bond propositions on the ballot. Categories include Transportation (Proposition 1, $103.1 million); Drainage and Water Quality Protection (Prop. 2, $145 million); Parks Facilities and Parkland (Prop. 3, $84.7 million); Community and Cultural Facilities (Prop. 4, $31.5 million); Affordable Housing (Prop. 5, $55 million); Central Library (Prop. 6, $90 million); and Public Safety Facilities (Prop. 7, $58.1 million). A welcome financial omen also appeared last week: As the city codified its election, its bond obligation rating, the measure of its readiness to make good on its loans, was upgraded from "AA" to "AA+." – Wells Dunbar

• Planning on speaking to City Council tonight (Thursday)? Well, you're not alone. With public hearings scheduled on the taco cart ordinance, the 2007 fiscal budget, water and trash fee increases, design standards, and revisions to the McMansion ordinance, there are scads to sound off about. Hearings are scheduled to start at 6pm. – Lee Nichols

• In observation of Labor Day, all city of Austin offices, including those of council members, will be closed this Monday, Sept. 4. Also closed Monday will be all city recreation and senior activity centers; libraries will be closed from Saturday through Tuesday, Sept. 2-5. Trash collection schedules will not change. – W.D.

• One of the founding directors of the Austin Zoo has been denying admission to schoolchildren's field-trip groups if they admit to keeping a classroom pet, drawing the ire of some teachers and parents, reports the Oak Hill Gazette. Zoo Director Cindy Carroccio told the paper, "I have got to make a stand. If my mission is advocacy for the animals, then that is my stand." She said she'd seen scores of animals die of neglect at the hands of seemingly qualified teachers and now says, "I can't be party to that any more." Each summer and winter break, Carroccio says she's inundated by requests from schools to take unwanted animals. Known as a "rescue zoo," Austin Zoo has gotten 90% of its animals from negligent owners, circuses, and research labs. "We are philosophically opposed to classroom pets in most situations, and, in fact, Austin Zoo is opposed to zoos and animal captivity in general," said Carroccio. Our animals are here because they had nowhere else to go … and cannot be returned to the wild." She said educators with classroom pets can contact her for recommendations for improved quality of life or for lifetime placement. See www.austinzoo.org for more info. – Daniel Mottola

• In other animal news, with the first anniversary of Hurricane Katrina just passed and on the heels of the passage of the Pets Evacuation and Transportation Standards Act – requiring local and state disaster plans to include provisions for household pets and service animals in the event of a major disaster or emergency – the Texas State Animal Resource Team, designed to mitigate the animal-related carnage that took place during Katrina – met in Austin this week to help local veterinarians, state agencies, and nongovernmental agencies begin laying the groundwork to meet a new state mandate requiring counties to develop plans to handle animals in disasters. – D.M.

Fifty volunteers went door-to-door at the federally subsidized Travis
Park Apartments on Aug. 26 to talk with residents in an effort to
take back their community. Members of Austin Interfaith, Travis
Heights Elementary School teachers and parents, representatives of
area churches, and apartment residents who walked the complex last
weekend say the property - managed by San Antonio-based Lynd Company
and subsidized by the federal Department of Housing and Urban
Development - is plagued by problems, including a lack of security
(in May, Esther's Follies juggler Warren Red Ryder Schwartz was
stabbed to death after allegedly witnessing a man trying to break
into an apartment), mold and sewage problems, and faulty air
conditioners. Travis Heights Elementary Principal Lisa Robertson says
that conditions at the complex contribute to attendance problems
among the 100 students living at the property, on East Oltorf at the
southern edge of Travis Heights. Volunteers have scheduled a meeting
today (Thursday) with Lynd representatives to discuss resident
concerns. – <i>Jordan Smith</i>
Fifty volunteers went door-to-door at the federally subsidized Travis Park Apartments on Aug. 26 to talk with residents in an effort to "take back" their community. Members of Austin Interfaith, Travis Heights Elementary School teachers and parents, representatives of area churches, and apartment residents who walked the complex last weekend say the property - managed by San Antonio-based Lynd Company and subsidized by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development - is plagued by problems, including a lack of security (in May, Esther's Follies juggler Warren "Red Ryder" Schwartz was stabbed to death after allegedly witnessing a man trying to break into an apartment), mold and sewage problems, and faulty air conditioners. Travis Heights Elementary Principal Lisa Robertson says that conditions at the complex contribute to attendance problems among the 100 students living at the property, on East Oltorf at the southern edge of Travis Heights. Volunteers have scheduled a meeting today (Thursday) with Lynd representatives to discuss resident concerns. – Jordan Smith (Photo By John Anderson)

• Celebrating the stewards of the Edwards Aquifer and the varied means used to combat drought, the Barton Springs/Edwards Aquifer Conservation District is now accepting nominations for its annual Conservation Awards. In light of the intensifying drought, this year's awards – given to individuals, organizations, companies, or agencies – will focus closely on water conservation. The District will accept nominations through Friday, Sept. 29, in the following five categories: water conservation, education, research, water quality protection, and innovation. For more info, see www.bseacd.org, or call 282-8441. Also accepting nominations is nonprofit Preservation Texas, which is compiling its 2007 Most Endangered Places list, designed to spotlight historic sites at risk. The program was started in 2003, and 2006's list included historic Texas cemeteries, a landmark El Paso railroad and freight depot, an Amarillo hotel that was home to cattle and oil barons of the 1920s, and a Houston apartment complex that was an important 1940s Federal Housing Administration project. Nomination forms are available at www.preservationtexas.org or by calling 472-0102 and must be postmarked by Oct. 13. – D.M.

• Also in local environmental news, September is Commute Solutions Month, and organizations across Central Texas are making it easier then ever to try alternatives to driving to work – such as taking the bus, carpooling, vanpooling, biking, walking, and teleworking. From Sept. 10-23 you can even win prizes for leaving your car at home. According to the Commute Solutions Coalition Web page, "some 'human-powered' commuters find that they rediscover their neighborhoods, enjoying subtleties of landscape and architecture that go unnoticed from an automobile." The month's events climax with the third annual Weirdest Commute Contest on Friday, Sept. 29 at 11am, in which contestants are to arrive at Wooldridge Park using the weirdest form of transportation possible. For more info, including a monthly commuting-cost calculator, go to www.commutesolutions.com. – D.M.


Beyond City Limits

• Texas Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn is asking Attorney General Greg Abbott to consider whether several defendants snagged in the infamous 1999 Tulia drug sting will be eligible for state compensation in connection with their wrongful convictions and imprisonment. Texas law provides for monetary compensation ($25,000 per year, up to a maximum $500,000) for victims of wrongful incarceration; however, Strayhorn notes that a technicality may bar Tulia defendant Jason Paul Fry – and other similarly situated Tulia defendants – from prevailing on their compensation claims. In a request for opinion penned to Abbott on Aug. 15, Strayhorn explains that at the time, he was one of 46 arrested in the since-discredited drug bust, Fry was on probation for an unrelated drug-possession charge. Solely because he was arrested in the Tulia sweep, Fry's probation was revoked, and he was sentenced to serve concurrent time on the unrelated charge along with a three-year sentence in connection with the Tulia debacle. Although Fry was exonerated and received a full pardon in connection with the Tulia case, Texas law may block him from receiving compensation for his wrongful imprisonment. "Although I am fully satisfied that a great injustice occurred in Tulia and that equity clearly justifies full payment, there is a statutory issue that I am compelled to present to you for your opinion," Strayhorn wrote. According to state law, Fry's concurrent time appears to, "technically … disqualify Mr. Fry from entitlement to any compensation." Strayhorn is asking that Abbott determine whether Fry may receive compensation even though he was jailed for two separate offenses – a circumstance that Strayhorn says will likely affect several Tulia defendants' bid for remuneration. – Jordan Smith

• The Texas attorney general's office announced Friday, Aug. 25 that federal budget cuts had all but decimated the state's child support collection efforts - a potential loss of more than 1,800 jobs that could lead to $2 billion in lost child support revenue. The announced gap in funding – $196 million in federal funding cuts and a proposed $43 million in proposed state baseline budget cuts – could eliminate up to two-thirds of all employees in the child support division. Attorney General Greg Abbott pledged to lobby both state and federal officials to restore the funding cuts to child support, a state program that generates far more revenue than it costs. – Kimberly Reeves

Federal emergency sheltering aid is slated to end Thursday for thousands of last year's hurricane survivors. For several months now, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has been providing rent and utility assistance to hurricane survivors all over the country through local and state governments. About 2,700 hurricane evacuee families in Texas will be on their own as of Sept. 1, according to FEMA spokesman Don Jacks. In Austin, about 330 evacuee families will lose their assistance, according to the Neighborhood Housing and Community Development Office, because they didn't qualify for FEMA's 408 Individual Assistance Program, which ends at the end of February. As FEMA noted in a press release Wednesday, qualifying for individual assistance requires documentation "that the disaster victims are head of household, can prove occupancy in a disaster-stricken residence and had damage not covered by insurance. Disaster survivors must also sign statements declaring their need for assistance." On a related note, the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now filed a lawsuit Tuesday in federal district court in the District of Columbia against FEMA. According to an ACORN press release, "The suit asserts that FEMA systematically fails to explain why benefits have been denied and what evacuees may do to fix any problems with their applications for continued housing assistance." Texas RioGrande Legal Aid and Public Citizen Litigation Group are representing ACORN. For more on the lawsuit, see www.citizen.org. – Cheryl Smith

• In related news, Texas now has the fifth-highest poverty rate in the nation, according to new Census Bureau data released Tuesday. American Community Survey numbers from 2005 show that the number of Texans living below the federal poverty line – $19,350 for a family of four – rose from just over 15% of people surveyed in 2000 to almost 29% in 2005. In Travis Co., slightly more than 26% of people lived in poverty in 2005, up from 12.5% in 2000. – C.S.


Happenings

Camp Casey is in high gear once again, with campers staking their tents and painting their signs in time to greet President Bush upon his return to the ranch Monday night. This weekend is the final hoorah for this go round, as Cindy and the gang will be leaving Saturday, Sept. 2. With teach-ins, screenings of Sir! No Sir!; daily GI Rights actions at Fort Hood; and a big blowout goodbye concert on Saturday. Anyone is welcome to attend any and all of these events, just check the Web site for guidelines – www.gsfp.org/article.php?list=type&type=21.

• The Annual Texas AFL-CIO Labor Day Fish Fry doesn't actually happen on Labor Day – instead it's Friday, Sept. 1, 5:30-8:30pm at Texas AFL-CIO headquarters, 1106 Lavaca. For more info, call 477-6195, or e-mail labor@texasaflcio.org.

• On Labor Day itself, with the Chronicle as one of the sponsors, comes Solidarity: A Celebration of Labor, Film, and Music, Austin's first film and music festival for Labor Day: an evening of poetry, music, and documentaries, plus a panel moderated by union carpenter and writer Dagoberto Gilb. Monday, Sept. 4, starting at 7:30pm at Ruta Maya, 3601 S. Congress, 707-9637. Pay what you want.

  • More of the Story

  • Weed Watch

    North Dakota ag commissioner signs off on final version of proposed state rule that would allow farmers to obtain state approval to grow industrial hemp

    Salvaging Our Parks

    Texas State Parks Advisory Committee releases list of recommendations for saving long-neglected state park system

    Cyclists Run Over Helmet Law Idea

    Former Mayor Bruce Todd's proposed mandatory bicycle helmet ordinance coasts to a stop for now
  • Affordable Housing in NOLA

    New report on housing conditions in post-Katrina New Orleans offers immediate and long-term recommendations for fixing the city's decimated fair and affordable housing market

    Feds Nab 'Prophet'

    Warren Jeffs – leader of breakaway Mormon sect the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints – caught during a traffic stop just north of Vegas

    Morning-After Pill Approved

    After years of wrangling and delays, FDA accepts a bid to make Plan B emergency contraceptives available for over-the-counter sales t o women 18 and older

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