"Clean darky." KVET deejay Sammy Allred, satirizing Joe Biden's characterization of Barack Obama as a black candidate who is "clean." The remark drew complaints, and spineless KVET management suspended Allred.
Quote of the Week
Wal-Mart representatives visited Northcross Monday for an open house intended to impress upon residential neighbors, mostly opposed to the megastore moving in, the company's good intentions and willingness to revise its plans to a (very slightly) reduced size. Responsible Growth for Northcross, leading the opposition, says it was not amused.
Neiman Marcus opens March 9 at North Austin's Domain, the high-end retail and residential development of the Simon Property Group and Endeavor Real Estate Group. Despite some complaints about city subsidies granted the project, officials defend the decision as keeping irreplaceable sales-tax dollars within city limits over the long term.
Scooter Libby, VP Dick Cheney's former chief of staff, was found guilty Monday of four of five felony counts of obstructing justice and perjury for lying to the FBI and a grand jury. A juror told reporters that jurors found themselves asking, "What are we doing with this guy here? Where's [Karl] Rove? Where are these other guys?" Libby's lawyers said they will appeal.
In a great moment of layered irony, the Texas House voted (House Bill 8) to "protect the children" by extending the death penalty to some repeat child molesters while officials simultaneously scrambled to confront a sex-abuse scandal at the Texas Youth Commission that had been ignored for years and committees dithered earnestly about the mystery of why so many Texas children have no health insurance. Would capital punishment help?
The Homeless Media Project, publisher of street-corner tabloid The Austin Advocate, is complaining to the city of illegal harassment by Austin police. In a letter to Mayor Will Wynn and the City Council, Project Chair Valerie Romness and Editor Clif Taylor charge, "Recently a number of our vendors for the Advocate have been ticketed by APD officers for violating the panhandling ordinance. These vendors were clearly identified with vendor badges and were not asking for handouts they were selling the paper." The letter charges the harassment has intimidated potential vendors and asks the city to educate police officers about legal street sales and to end the harassment. Michael King
KVET-FM personality Sam Allred, half of the popular Sam and Bob in the Morning, was off the air this week after he used the term "darky" in a joking reference to Sen. Barack Obama. During last Thursday's show, when partner Bob Cole mentioned Sen. Joe Biden's controversial reference to Obama as a "clean" African-American candidate, Allred said, "Clean darky." Allred told the Austin American-Statesman he was simply mocking a "foolish-sounding remark." Nelson Linder, president of the Austin chapter of the NAACP, quickly waded in to protest and plan meetings with KVET management. Allred's future status is uncertain. In the obligatory online lawyer-approved statement, KVET management acknowledged, "a statement [on the air] was made that might have been heard as offensive to some of our listeners." And just to make KVET's position clear, management assured listeners, "It is not our station's intention to be offensive." KVET management did not return calls seeking further comment. Kevin Brass
The AISD board of trustees voted Monday to move 143 Wooldridge Elementary School pre-K students to the Lucy Read Pre-Kindergarten Demonstration School. Pre-K is available in Austin for children who have limited English proficiency, live in a low-income household, are homeless, or whose parents are active-duty members of the military. The move will give students access to a school devoted to prekindergarten and will also help alleviate overcrowding at Wooldridge. Michael May
In other education news, the Center on Education Policy, a national nonprofit, looked at how high-stakes exit exams are affecting instruction in Austin and in Jackson, Miss. The study found that the exams do increase the amount of time spent on the subjects being tested but at a cost. The students spent more time on core subjects like math and reading and less on electives or other school learning experiences. Students were also more likely to learn test-taking strategies during class time, and failing students were often given "double doses of the same subject." This emphasis on testing was found at schools across Austin but particularly in schools that serve lower-income and minority students the schools that tend to struggle the hardest to meet state standards. Educators at schools with higher-income students tended to characterize the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills test as simply an "inconvenience." Local educators reported that the tests have had one positive effect: Testing and curriculum streamlining has meant more consistency in curriculum between schools, which helps students who transfer from school to school within a district. See www.cep-dc.org for the full report. M.M.
Also, Austin has announced its "strategic compensation initiative" a plan to create some type of performance pay plan for principals and teachers but AISD won't be able to rely on the federal government for any help. Democrats slashed George W. Bush's Teacher Incentive Fund in the new budget, cutting off significant five-year grants to Houston and Dallas and a possible future grant to Austin. Instead, Dems shifted funds to Title I. Some blame a lack of applicants and opposition from the National Education Association for the cuts to the fund. Regardless of where plan funding comes from, Superintendent Pat Forgione promises a collaborative effort that includes plenty of community feedback. A pilot plan would start this July, with full implementation of the plan in July 2008. Kimberly Reeves
Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, chair of the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization's Transportation Policy Board, told participants of a work session on Monday that all members of CAMPO's joint powers agreement have signed off on proposed changes to the CAMPO board. That means a leaner and more local board, with fewer proxies and elected officials, should be in place by the CAMPO meeting in April. K.R.
Austin Police Department stops of pedestrians drove an increase in the total number of police stops in 2006, according to APD's annual report on racial profiling released March 5. In all, police recorded 199,016 traffic and pedestrian stops, an increase of 7.4%. Pedestrian stops are most common where foot and bike cops patrol in the Downtown, North Central, South Central, and Central East area commands and the increase was driven in part by the midyear addition of several new bike patrols, acting Chief Cathy Ellison wrote in a memo attached to the report. Though Ellison notes that consent searches of blacks dropped nearly 7% in 2006, overall the number of consent searches where police request permission to conduct a search of a car or person though they lack probable cause or a warrant to do so increased 4.9%, due to "initiatives designed to address specific problem areas" of town. Strikingly, the total number of police searches of pedestrians skyrocketed 56.9%. The report doesn't contemplate a reason for the increase, aside from pointing out that these interactions are concentrated in high-pedestrian areas, like Downtown. Traffic-stop searches also increased last year, 15.5% overall and 18.5% in consent searches. In all, however, the total number of consent searches reported by police remains low: only 326 searches out of nearly 200,000 stops last year. Jordan Smith
Fourteen people are behind bars and facing federal drug charges for their alleged connection to an Austin-based heroin-trafficking organization, APD reports. The investigation into the Castro crime family began in 2005 when APD narcos began looking into the dope-trafficking activities of three brothers: Henry Castro, Rene Gaitan Castro, and Randy Gaitan Castro. APD's investigation earned the interest and assistance of the feds specifically from the Austin offices of the Drug Enforcement Administration and Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and officers made a string of busts, seizing heroin stashed inside balloons, ready for distribution to dealers, and uncut "black tar" heroin not yet processed for street sales. The 14 alleged members of the Castro family operation were indicted by a federal grand jury on Feb. 20, and by Feb. 28, all were behind bars, police report. The investigation into the Castro operation followed in the wake of another joint APD-federal investigation into the heroin-trafficking of the Celedon family, which concluded in November with the sentencing in federal court of 17 members of the organization. Police say it's likely the Castro ring grew to fill the market once controlled by the Celedons. J.S.
The Travis County Sheriff's Office has joined St. Paul, Minn.-based company CitizenObserver, creator of a Web-based alert system to connect local law enforcement agencies with local residents, to get "critical information out to the public" in a timely manner, according to a TCSO press release. Consider it a phone tree for the 21st century: Residents register online (at www.citizenobserver.com/signup) and are notified by e-mail, pager, text message, or fax whenever TCSO posts an alert to the CitizenObserver Web site. "We can put the information out on a single site, and we don't have to keep up with any address databases," said Sheriff Greg Hamilton. It's "a way for us to get critical information out to the public very quickly." J.S.
The Austin Public Library is unveiling a first-ever multimedia history of the city, Austin Past and Present, in time for the South by Southwest Interactive Festival. Computer terminals at the library system's 22 locations will carry the presentation, which borrows heavily from the Austin History Center's vast collection. Kiosks at City Hall, the Convention Center, and the airport also will feature the presentation, and a DVD version will be on sale at SXSW to benefit the History Center. For more, see www.austinpastandpresent.com and Chronicle Screens feature "Community Acces," March 1. K.R.
The Jollyville Plateau salamander, a sassy 1- to 2-inch-long amphibian with lots of charisma, is native to five creeks in Northern Travis and Western Williamson counties. Late last month, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced it has found substantial biological information to consider adding the salamander to the federal list of threatened and endangered species. The USFWS study was based on a petition filed in 2005 by the Save Our Springs Alliance, which cited habitat threats including expanded urbanization, degradation of water quality and quantity, and insufficient regulatory mechanisms to protect the salamander's habitat. SOS Executive Director Bill Bunch said the central problem is development within the habitat, which includes parts of Shoal and Buttercup creeks but primarily Bull Creek. Ideally, SOS would like to see more protection of Jollyville Plateau recharge areas, as in stricter impervious cover limits and improved sewer lines protections, Bunch said. He added that the determination was a result of an SOS lawsuit, since the USFWS is now only taking action to list species under court orders. By December, USFWS will complete a full review as to whether to propose Endangered Species Act protections. The salamander could eventually benefit from the federal Endangered Species Recovery Act, proposed by Idaho Republican Mike Crapo, which would extend $2.7 billion in tax credits over 10 years to landowners who take steps to help endangered species recover. Daniel Mottola
In other wildlife news, 50 cedar waxwing birds migrating north through Austin got drunk on fermented yaupon berries, keeled over, and died in the courtyard of the offices of the state Department of Aging and Disability Services on Monday, says state Department of Health Services spokesman Doug McBride. A drunk waxwing will do things it wouldn't normally do like repeatedly fly into a plate glass window and/or won't do the things it would normally do to protect itself like puff out its chest to stay warm overnight which can spell disaster for the little yellow-chested, dark-masked bird, says McBride, who noted that the avian deaths posed no public-health threat. J.S.
Law enforcement officers from across the state attended a military funeral, with bugle and honor guard, held Thursday in Cedar Park to honor former Williamson Co. Sheriff Jim Wilson, 53, who died March 5 in his home in Burnet County. In December 2003, Commissioners Court appointed Wilson to replace disgraced John Maspero, who resigned after allegations of public drunkenness surfaced in a removal suit. Wilson held this post for slightly more than a year until the current sheriff, James Wilson (no relation), defeated him in the 2004 election. In January 2004, one of Jim Wilson's first priorities was to form a long-awaited, 10-member task force to revitalize the investigation of the disappearance of Rachel Cooke, a Georgetown teen who went missing in 2002 and was presumed murdered. Prior to his term as sheriff, Jim Wilson served as constable for four terms. As a Williamson Co. sheriff's deputy, he was part of the 1980s investigation that brought Henry Lee Lucas to justice. A Williamson Co. native, Jim Wilson joined the armed forces out of high school and served in Vietnam; he's remembered as an honest and dedicated public servant who believed in keeping his promises. Patricia J. Ruland
Beyond City Limits
The monthly magazine Prison Legal News filed suit in federal court last week against Dallas Co. and Dallas Co. Sheriff Lupe Valdez, charging officials with violating the First Amendment by banning inmate access to newspapers and magazines in the Dallas Co. Jail. The magazine, which reports on issues important to inmates including stories about excessive force, jail litigation, prison rape, and capital punishment has more than 5,000 subscribers, including nine living at the Dallas Jail. According to the Texas Civil Rights Project, which is representing the magazine, Dallas Co. officials unceremoniously issued a policy last year banning inmates from receiving any newspapers or magazines TCRP says Dallas officials decided that since inmates can watch TV in their cell blocks, they don't need access to other media. "It's been a while since I've seen an in-depth discussion of constitutional rights on any television program," said TCRP attorney Scott Medlock in a press release. "Inmates in the jail have paid from their own pockets for subscriptions to Prison Legal News. The First Amendment gives them the right to receive it."ÊDallas officials last week told Texas Cable News that the ban was designed to "help eliminate clutter" at the jail. Chief Deputy Sheriff Gary Lindsey said the U.S. Department of Justice has approved similar bans when TVs are available; inmates locked in single cells, without TV, are exempted and allowed to have a newspaper and up to three magazines. J.S.
The fledgling market for HD radio received a boost this week when Wal-Mart announced plans to sell HD receivers in 2,000 stores. It was the smallest of baby steps Wal-Mart will only carry one JVC car receiver, retailing for "less than $190" but it was still badly needed good news for the HD rollout. Even though broadcasters have flooded the airwaves with commercials promoting HD, a digital format that allows stations to offer more than one channel on the same frequency, few retailers carry receivers and local broadcasters have been slow to roll out new channels. According to industry group HD Digital Radio Alliance, 600-plus stations are multicasting around the country. K.B.
Last week the governors of six western states inked the Western Regional Climate Action Initiative, calling for immediate steps to address global warming. "Western states are experiencing the effects of a hotter, drier climate, including prolonged droughts, excessive heat waves, reduced snow packs, increased snowmelts, altered precipitation patterns, and more severe forest fires," reads the agreement, which was signed by the governors of Arizona, California, Montana, New Mexico, Oregon, and Washington but not Texas. The initiative stipulates: an overall regional goal, within six months, to collectively reduce statewide emissions; a design, within 18 months, for a regional mechanism such as a cap-and-trade program to achieve global-warming-gas-reduction goals; and a multistate global-warming-gas registry or inventory. Also, as part of the agreement, the governors committed to promote the development and use of clean and renewable energy and to increase energy efficiency within their jurisdictions. The initiative recognizes the "economic and environmental benefits" of such actions. D.M.
Austin drivers, especially commuters, are at serious risk of fine particle pollution from diesel trucks, according to a report released last week by the Boston-based Clean Air Task Force and the Texas office of Public Citizen. Researchers tested air quality in traffic behind 18-wheelers, city buses, and garbage trucks in New York, Boston, Austin, and Columbus, Ohio, and found elevated levels of particulate pollution tied to asthma, lung cancer, stroke, heart attack, and infant death. There are "13 million diesel engines in service today, and virtually all are exempt from modern pollution controls," said Conrad Schneider, advocacy director for the task force. "However, our study showed that simply replacing the muffler of trucks or buses with a diesel particle filter can reduce commuter exposure substantially." Advocates are calling on the Environmental Protection Agency to require all highway trucks to be retrofitted with particulate filters, which typically cost about $2,000 (or $5,000 to $7,000 for buses) but never need to be replaced. Also recommended are Texas' proposed HB 1291, the Clean School Bus program, and the addition of particulates to the Texas Emissions Reduction Plan, which now targets ozone-forming nitrogen oxide. Researchers found drastically less particulate pollution on MoPac, where 18-wheelers are banned, than on I-35. When amid the big-rigs, researchers recommend, put windows up and set cabin ventilation to recirculate. D.M.