Naked City

Sen. Jane Nelson
Sen. Jane Nelson (Photo By John Anderson)

Quote of the Week

"[It] was more like a suggestion." – Sen. Jane Nelson's new characterization of Gov. Perry's HPV-vaccination order after a conversation with Attorney General Greg Abbott convinced her that the order does not carry the force of law


• Add Texas to the list of states that have pulled their contracts with Accenture for poor performance. The private firm's nightmarish handling of enrolling needy Texans in state benefits programs has been a long-standing point of controversy since 2003, when legislation backed by Gov. Rick Perry directed Health and Human Services to privatize some of its services.

• AISD withdrew its plan to split Kealing Middle School into magnet and neighborhood schools for accountability rankings – instead dividing only the administration and promising programs to address academic shortcomings among neighborhood students. See A Kealing Compromise.

• If you can't enjoy your regular quiet cup of coffee at Magnolia, there are even fewer places to park Downtown, and the streets seem full of slightly dazed, disoriented, happy tourists – you got it – it's SXSW Festival time. Interactive zipped past, Film is more than halfway done, and Music starts tonight (Wednesday).

• On Monday, the Public Utility Commission charged TXU Corp. with manipulating the state wholesale energy market in 2005, costing consumers excess charges of as much as $70 million during peak power times. According to a report by the PUC's independent market monitor, the company withheld power from the grid during peak demand to inflate prices as many as 554 times.

• Maverick U.S. Rep. Ron Paul formally declared his candidacy for presidency Monday, saying he will run as a Republican although the party has gone "in the wrong direction. We used to be the party of small government. Now we're the party of big government."

Naked City

• Beware the "safety glow vests": According to the APD, valet parking posers have popped up in the Downtown entertainment district, clad in safety vests, to urge revelers in cars to park in metered street spots – for a fee. Don't be fooled, warns the department, metered street spots are public spaces – unless they're bagged as tow-away spots or marked as official valet spots. And, while they're at it, the APD's Downtown Area Command would like to add a few additional reminders: Put valuables in the trunk, lock your doors, leave your open and/or glass containers at home, and, as always, don't drive drunk. – Jordan Smith

Jody Conradt confirmed Monday night what Lady Longhorn basketball fans had wondered about for weeks: Would the iconic women's coach retire this year? After two consecutive disappointing seasons, logic held that she would. But the suddenness of her announcement – just 15 minutes after learning of the team's failure to qualify for the NCAA tournament – came all too soon for friends and fans who had followed her 31-year career at UT. "Losing is not acceptable," Conradt said, explaining her decision to retire, one week after achieving her 900th coaching victory in Oklahoma City. Conradt's career milestones could fill a book; she took her team to a national championship in 1986, and she has groomed hundreds of talented players. Now the search is on for her successor. Potential candidates include Duke University's Gail Goestenkors and Baylor's Kim Mulkey. – Amy Smith

• As the temperature slowly rises, the city is asking lawn lovers to "wage war on weeds, not water." Austinites run through 45,000 pounds of atrazine in tending their yards, but the popular weed killer is easily washed off into the city creeks and streams, where it can end up in our groundwater. According to the city, atrazine appears in 70% of monitored groundwater sites, and more than 85% of samples from Barton Springs. To fight its spread, the city is encouraging gardeners and yard-guardians to "grow green," fighting weeds by select spot-treating or just pulling them, old-school style. That and more environmentally friendly horticultural hints are available at – Wells Dunbar

• In other Austin-enviro news, City Council Member Lee Leffingwell held a press conference March 8 announcing his intention to have Austin certified as a Community Wildlife Habitat in the eyes of the National Wildlife Federation. Don't say we never did anything for ya, salamander. – W.D.

Hundreds of teachers and public school employees descended on the Capitol Monday to hear from union leaders and supportive state lawmakers and then lobby their individual representatives to support public schools. Among their demands: Enact reforms to Texas' high-stakes testing system; restore cuts in education spending from two Legislative sessions ago, including a $1,000 health-care stipend for employees; bring Texas' teacher pay up to the national average (which would require a raise of about $4,000); and abandon performance pay programs.
Hundreds of teachers and public school employees descended on the Capitol Monday to hear from union leaders and supportive state lawmakers and then lobby their individual representatives to support public schools. Among their demands: Enact reforms to Texas' high-stakes testing system; restore cuts in education spending from two Legislative sessions ago, including a $1,000 health-care stipend for employees; bring Texas' teacher pay up to the national average (which would require a raise of about $4,000); and abandon "performance pay" programs. (Photo By Jana Birchum)

• The audience at the MBE/WBE and Small Business Advisory Committee expressed serious concerns last week about contractors' ability to dump subcontractors on various city jobs. A total of 447 times last year, prime contractors hired by the city chose to abandon and replace subcontractors. According to minority and small-business owners who addressed the committee, abuse of the policy is rampant; prime contractors can say they're going to use minority subcontractors but then dump them, often without notice, and sometimes for flimsy or unverified reasons. Stephen Elkins, interim director of the Department of Small and Minority Business Resources, admitted his department lacked the resources to review each subcontractor switch, saying it also needed to be a priority among the project managers in the city departments with oversight of the various contracts. – Kimberly Reeves

AISD may underwrite one of the three venues at the Long Center if the city agrees to the deal and the district can get voters to pass another $10 million in bonds for a districtwide performing-arts center next year. Voters already approved $8 million in bonds in 2004, with the district intending to get a big-name business to sign on for sponsoring rights. That never materialized, but Superintendent Pat Forgione is hopeful a 1,200-seat venue at the Long Center could be an attractive proposition to voters. – K.R.

• In other schools news, the district wants to hear what you think about its long-range plans. The Task Force on Strategic Plan Review has released a revised version of the strategic plan on the AISD Web site, with the changes highlighted. The revised plan has less emphasis on the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills test, at least in some areas, and more attention paid to how well students are learning English. There's also a greater emphasis on attracting bilingual and experienced teachers. You can download the revised plan, and offer comments, at You may also contact Joey Crumley at 414-9961 with any questions. – Michael May

• Getting around town greenly just got a bit easier. Capital Metro has teamed with Google to roll out a handy public-transit trip planner – just in time for SXSW, which itself turned over a new green leaf this year, going carbon neutral among other eco-reforms. The planner, at, operates almost the same as Google Maps' driving directions, but when you enter your starting point, destination, and desired arrival time, the planner checks Cap Metro bus schedules and provides you with the best route(s), nearest stop, precise walking instructions once you get off the bus, and detailed estimates of how much time each step will take. Perhaps the planner's most enlightening feature, however, is its ability to calculate your public-transit trip's cost compared to driving. Google's figure is based on a 44-cents-per-mile IRS operating cost estimate and doesn't account for tolls, parking fees, or excessive gas-guzzlers. Cap Metro trips cost 50 cents. – Daniel Mottola

• During SXSW, Cap Metro is also offering free 'Dillo service throughout Downtown – north to south between 23rd and Oltorf and east to west from near MoPac at Lake Austin Boulevard to Pleasant Valley Road – as well as $1 all-day passes for frequent riders, shuttles to and from the free concerts at Auditorium Shores, and its usual Night Owl routes. If your public-transit plans go awry, you can always call Cap Metro's Go Line for assistance at 474-1200, or visit – D.M.

• Don't mean to stress you out, but you have just about a month to get squared away with the tax man. With federal income taxes due April 15, local affordable-housing nonprofit Foundation Communities' nine area Community Tax Centers have kicked their free tax-prep services into high gear. People making $25,000 or less or households bringing in $50,000 or less qualify for the centers' free services. For more info, call 447-2026, or check out Also, Texas RioGrande Legal Aid is partnering with the Community Tax Center at 3036 S. First during Microenterprise Week – Monday through Sunday, March 19-25 – to offer small businesses – those with five employees or less, including the owner – free assistance with tax returns. For more info on qualifying for assistance and/or to make an appointment, call 374-2713. – Cheryl Smith

• The James Patterson PageTurner Awards has recognized the Austin Public Library's Second Chance program, which puts books into the hands of incarcerated teens at Gardner Betts Juvenile Justice Center. The program also launched a reader forum so teens could discuss their reading interests, meet authors, and have an in-house lending library. The PageTurner Awards provided the Second Chance program with a $5,000 grant. – K.R.

KLRU's Spark Engaging Speaker Series brings global-warming experts Tim Flannery and Elizabeth Kolbert to town for a panel on climate change, a topic especially timely here given Mayor Will Wynn's recent unveiling of Austin's ambitious Climate Protection Plan. Flannery is an internationally known scientist who recently won the Australian of the Year award despite having called his home country "the worst of the worst in terms of addressing climate change." The prime minister even thanked the outspoken conservationist for helping Australians better understand the environment, a feat no doubt aided by his exhaustively researched 2006 book The Weather Makers, which has been instrumental in shutting down the perception that global warming is debatable. While Flannery is known for clarifying climate-change science, journalist Elizabeth Kolbert is known for putting a human face on it. For her 2005 New Yorker series "The Climate of Man" (now part of her book Field Notes From a Catastrophe), she traveled the world to see first-hand the devastation wrought on communities by global warming. Mayor Wynn will moderate the panel, which begins with a 45-minute discussion and ends with a 30-minute audience Q&A. – Nora Ankrum

Beyond City Limits

• Although no court ever considered the cumulative effect of prosecutorial misconduct on the capital conviction of Joseph Nichols – including that prosecutors completely changed their theory of how the crime occurred in order to obtain a death sentence and evidence that prosecutors misled the defense about the real name and actual location of an eyewitness – the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles denied Nichols' bid for clemency, clearing the way for his execution by lethal injection on March 7. Nichols was killed for his role in the 1980 murder of 64-year-old delicatessen employee Claude Shaffer in Houston. Nichols and Willie Ray Williams – who was executed in 1995 – attempted to rob the deli where Shaffer was working the counter. Williams was convicted and executed for firing the single bullet that killed Shaffer; when prosecutors failed to secure a conviction for Nichols using the law of parties – that even though Nichols did not fire the fatal bullet he was nonetheless culpable as an accomplice – prosecutors retried him, successfully arguing that it was in fact Nichols that fired the fatal shot. (For more on this, see "Nichols Execution: Another Texas death row travesty," March 1.) – J.S.

• Last week the Environmental Protection Agency added two new Texas sites to the National Priorities List of the Superfund program, both cases of groundwater contamination from unknown sources: The Bandera Road Ground Water Plume, located in the city of Leon Valley, northwest of San Antonio, and the East 67th Street Ground Water Plume in Ector County, northwest of Odessa. The Superfund program was initiated in 1980 to locate, investigate, and clean up the most polluted sites nationwide. When EPA places a site on its National Priorities List, the site becomes eligible for federal cleanup funds. According to the EPA, five private water wells within the Edwards Aquifer near the Bandera Road site contain concentrations of tetrachloroethene and trichloroethene, both neurotoxins and suspected carcinogens, above EPA Safe Drinking Water Maximum Contaminant Levels. The contamination is spreading and potentially threatening eight other drinking wells, says the EPA, including two local city public water supply wells. Out in Odessa, elevated levels of the same two chemicals were detected in groundwater, in addition to the chemical irritant dichloroethene. Further testing showed that 31 private drinking-water wells contain contamination, the EPA said, eight of which had concentrations above safety levels. For more info, see – Daniel Mottola

• It's generally agreed that fecal matter in swimming areas and exhaust fumes from aging diesel machinery are both pretty undesirable elements. Fortunately for all who swim and breathe, help is on the way. Two Texas companies will each receive $70,000 contracts from the EPA's Small Business Innovation Research program to develop solutions to these pollution problems. The program is designed to support small business and encourage the translation of their innovative ideas into commercial products that address environmental problems. Operational Technologies Corp. of San Antonio will develop a sensor that can detect fecal matter in fresh and marine recreational waters and determine whether it's safe for swimming. The second firm, Lynntech Inc. of College Station, is actually developing two products for the EPA. In addition to a diesel retrofit technology, which will reduce nitrogen oxide, carbon monoxide, and unburned hydrocarbon pollutants from older, off-road diesel vehicles such as bulldozers and other construction machines, Lynntech is also developing a dry powder formulation that can destroy chemical warfare agents and inactive viruses and kill vegetative organisms and bacteria spores. – D.M.

• Last but not least, Captain America is dead. In the latest issue of the long-running Marvel comic, the hero in the red, white, and blue is murdered. It was not a shock to anyone, however. The Sentinel of Liberty, who stood for the best of America, had become disenchanted with what his nation had become. His disenchantment began when he visited Guantanamo Bay and was asked to serve on a military commission. It culminated with the icon taking on the entire U.S. government over a law that looks suspiciously like the PATRIOT Act – and losing. Arrested and gunned down on the steps of a courthouse, the man born of the hope of the greatest generation was shot three times in the belly. – Richard Whittaker

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