"I thought this was the Year of the Child. I didn't know this was the Year to Screw the Child." Rep. Joe Heflin, D-Crosbyton, responding to colleagues' claims that easing eligibility requirements for the Children's Health Insurance Program would be too expensive.
Quote of the Week
After years of trickling drainage, the city's proposal to redevelop Waller Creek finally passed Travis. Co. Commissioners Court last week; council approval is also expected for the tunnel and tax-increment-finance project. Out of the woodwork: white-water rafters yearning for fierce rapids.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Monday that the EPA must regulate greenhouse gases as pollutants unless it can provide valid scientific arguments to the contrary. State Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, described the ruling as "further vindication for those of us in Texas and 12 other states who are tired of waiting on Washington and are, instead, working to pass our own statewide vehicle emission plan." See "Beyond City Limits" for more.
The Texas House laid out the budget last week, pretty much as defined by the Appropriations Committee, except for a bipartisan rebellion over teacher incentive pay canned in favor of across-the-board raises. The marathon session this week was over the children's health insurance bill, which should moderately expand the program to 100,000 more children, leaving another million or so waiting at the emergency room.
Duke head coach Gail Goestenkors announced she's leaving the Blue Devils to replace Jody Conradt as head coach of the Texas Longhorns, thus damning all Austin sportswriters to learn how to spell "Goestenkors."
In the midst of a Travis County district attorney investigation into alleged financial mismanagement at the Austin Convention Center, Bob Hodge has been fired from his job as director of the center. The termination was announced by City Manager Toby Futrell on Monday, April 2; Hodge had been fired the day before "for violation of city policy." Futrell went on to say, however, that the firing was separate from the district attorney's investigation. The Statesman revealed Wednesday this isn't exactly right. According to anonymous city officials, Hodge was fired for altering customer-service surveys used to gauge user satisfaction and with it bonuses for Hodge and his employees. The look at the Convention Center's finances began as an administrative investigation by the Office of the City Auditor in early February, but as Assistant City Manager Rudy Garza announced last week, the DA's office took over the investigation, a common occurrence when an audit reveals possible criminal actions. Austin Convention Center assistant director Hymie Gonzales has been named acting director, while Garza himself will "take on a more direct role" at the center, according to Futrell. She anticipates beginning a search for a permanent replacement soon. Wells Dunbar
The University of Texas will soon be getting a blast from its radical past. Government student David Bradley announced he plans to start a new UT chapter of Students for a Democratic Society in a column featured in The Daily Texan on March 26. In its heyday during the late Sixties, SDS was a vibrant activist organization spanning the nation with autonomous groups on nearly every major campus. UT's own chapter was responsible for mobilizing several thousand students in protest of the Vietnam War and was a thorn in the saddle of then-regent Frank Erwin, who called the group a bunch of "dirty nothings." In the past year, SDS has seen a sudden nationwide resurgence, claiming more than 140 college chapters and 46 high school chapters. Bradley says he was drawn to SDS by its vision of autonomous participatory democracy. About seven people showed up for the new chapter's first meeting on March 27, not bad considering there was little or no publicity, Bradley said. The group plans to organize around issues such as staff wages at the university, he said. "Any type of democracy that happens needs to start where we are," Bradley said. "We need to make tangible changes on campus where we can make a difference." SDS meets each Tuesday at 7pm in Parlin Hall. Justin Ward
We received multiple worried e-mails from readers stating that, on the west side of South Lamar, between Riverside and Barton Springs Road, they spotted around April 1 or so a sign reading "Wal-Mart Coming Soon." (Reportedly, Jeff Jack is recovering nicely from his heart attack.) In fact, you can see a project planned for 300 S. Lamar at www.urbanaustin.org/index.php/Image:300SoLa.jpg ground-floor restaurant and retail, with five to six floors of apartments above. No Wal-Mart included. Lee Nichols, Katherine Gregor
Kay Longcope, founder of the state's first serious gay newspaper, the Austin-based Texas Triangle, died March 29 of pancreatic cancer. She was 69 and shared the last 17 years of her life with her partner, Barbara Wohlgemuth, who managed the business operations of the Triangle, which began its run in 1992. The couple's point of pride was the paper's crossover appeal to mainstream advertisers, which was a rare accomplishment at the time, given gay publications' historical reliance on sex ads featuring scantily clad men with come-hither looks. Longcope, who grew up in Brownwood, Texas, launched her career in the early Seventies, covering civil-rights and gay and lesbian issues for The Boston Globe; 22 years later she retired from the Globe and returned to her home state of Texas, this time with Barbara. Instead of complaining about the lack of a strong gay press presence in Texas, Longcope decided to launch her own statewide paper one that would attract readers longing for community news. Sadly, Longcope sold the paper in 1996 to a Dallas-based media outfit, which sold it once more, in 2004, to Qtexas Publishing, which merged the Triangle with another of its publications to form the free TXT Newsmagazine. Financial straits forced the company to put the newsmagazine to bed Dec. 30, 2006. Amy Smith
There's one less glossy competitor in the magazine competition for the hearts and minds of affluent Austin suburbanites. Austin Magazine, launched with high hopes in March of 2006 by the publishers of Tribeza magazine, has officially ceased publication. Published bimonthly, the last issue came out in January, according to Publisher Zarghun Dean. Tribeza is expanding into Houston and Dallas, which stretched resources and made it difficult to give Austin Magazine proper attention, Dean said. After Austin Magazine launched, the owners of Austin Monthly sued Dean and his backers, charging them with infringing on their trademark and purposely trying to confuse Austin Monthly readers and advertisers. The suit has continued to work through the system, but Dean said that didn't have anything to do with the decision to shut down Austin Magazine. Kevin Brass
Researchers at UT and the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board looked at how well students who took Advanced Placement classes in high school did at several Texas universities and found that they did better than non-AP students when they got to college, regardless of academic ability or economic status. Students who take an AP class in a particular subject and earn a qualifying score on the AP test can receive college credits and are often able to skip the introductory class in that subject. UT Department of Educational Psychology professor Linda Hargrove said that even students who fail to score high enough on their AP test to earn college credits still outperform their peers. "They still do better in college," said Hargrove, "than students who don't take AP courses or who skip the AP exam." The study was released as part of the College Board's Advanced Placement Report to the Nation. Michael May
In other education news, students who left high school without passing the exit-level Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills or the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills tests have another chance. Those still needing to pass can call the Austin Independent School District testing office at 414-3711 or simply register before 8:30 on the morning of the test at any Austin high school. AISD will be administering a make-up test for TAKS English Language Arts and TAAS Writing on Tuesday, April 17; TAKS and TAAS Math tests on Wednesday, April 18; TAKS Science and TAAS Reading on Thursday, April 19, and TAKS Social Studies on Friday, April 20. M.M.
The Austin Public Library Commission has chosen AISD's VICTORY program as its "project of the year" for 2006. The VICTORY program, which stands for Volunteers in Communities Tutoring Our Responsible Youth, matches volunteer tutors with students who need extra help; they meet once a week at a local public library branch. The program, in its 15th year of operation, helps around 550 students each year; the program can't keep up with demand, and every year students are put on waiting lists. For info on volunteering, see www.communityeducation.org/victory or call 974-7317. M.M.
Speaking of volunteering, the Austin Parks Foundation needs 1,600 volunteers to help improve Austin parks during "It's My Park! Day" on Saturday, April 14, from 9am-1pm. Austinites of all ages can sign up to volunteer at 45 citywide park projects. The free event, now in its fifth year, offers a fun way for people to spend a few hours outdoors together making a difference for Austin's parks. Volunteer sites range from the Barton Creek Greenbelt to Walnut Creek Metro Park. All registered volunteers get a T-shirt and goodie bag. For more info and registration, visit www.austinparks.org. K.G.
Since Texas Youth Commission Executive Director Dwight Harris quit on Feb. 23, there has been a deluge of sackings, arrests, and resignations at the embattled agency; however, two upcoming mass firings could dwarf these staff losses. One of the first actions of Jay Kimbrough, TYC's conservator as of March 29, was to announce that all superintendents and assistant superintendents will have to reapply for their jobs. He followed up with a promise to purge all felons currently working for TYC, whether there are any allegations against them or not. (Out of 4,800 TYC employees, 101 have felony convictions, and 437 have been arrested on misdemeanor charges.) They could potentially join several senior executives at the curb, including director of Youth Care Investigations Ray Worsham, Deputy Executive Director Linda Reyes, General Counsel Neil Nichols, and the entire seven-member board. If Kimbrough follows through with his purge promise, he could leave the state open to litigation. TYC knew about these convictions and signed waivers allowing the staff to be legally employed, meaning these could potentially be illegal firings. For more TYC news, see "TYC Update: Conservator Conflicts." Richard Whittaker
Beyond City Limits
Visiting District Judge Jon Wisser postponed on April 2 the execution of Cathy Lynn Henderson until June, offering her lawyers additional time to prepare her final appeal. Henderson's execution for the 1994 Travis Co. murder of 3-month-old Brandon Baugh was scheduled for April 18. Her attorneys argued last week that they need time to prepare an appeal using "new" science to prove Baugh's head injury was the result of an accident as Henderson has maintained and not the result of deliberate abuse; the state says Henderson slammed Baugh to the ground, crushing the back of his skull. Wisser agreed, in the interest of justice, to postpone the execution until June 13. Henderson was babysitting Baugh at her Pflugerville-area home when the baby died. Instead of calling for help, she took off with Baugh's body, buried him in a field in Bell Co., then fled to her native Missouri. Henderson is the only female from Travis Co. on death row. Jordan Smith
Carbon dioxide is an air pollutant, ruled the U.S. Supreme Court 5-4 on Monday in the environmental landmark case Massachusetts v. Environmental Protection Agency, and the federal government has the authority to regulate CO2 emissions from cars, as several states have already voted to do. Sen. Rodney Ellis' SB 124 seeks to imitate California's tailpipe regulations in Texas. The Supreme Court also ruled EPA's grounds for refusing to regulate greenhouse gases were legally insufficient and directed the agency to reconsider its refusal based on the factors set forth in the Clean Air Act. "Because greenhouse gases fit well within the act's capacious definition of 'air pollutant,' EPA has statutory authority to regulate emissions of such gases from motor vehicles," Justice John Paul Stevens wrote. Yet, said Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley, "the Bush administration has done little or nothing to regulate greenhouse-gas emissions." Massachusetts was joined by 11 states, three cities, and 13 environmental and science groups, including the Union of Concerned Scientists. "The Supreme Court came down on the side of common sense," said Alden Meyer, policy director at UCS. "We have the technology today to dramatically reduce tailpipe pollution, so it's time to bench the lawyers and bring in the engineers." Texas sided with the EPA, nine states, as well as the auto, utility, and other polluting industries on the case Daniel Mottola
The Joint Council on International Children's Services, a 200-member association, which, according to its Web site, represents "organizations who work in 51 countries around the globe and support more than 75% of all children adopted internationally by U.S. citizens," is hosting its annual Medical Institute Conference in San Antonio this year. Building Bridges for Children: Navigating the Waters of Change in Intercountry Adoption will run from Wednesday through Saturday, April 11-14 at the Crowne Plaza Riverwalk. Also, on Tuesday, April 10, qualifying conference participants can take part in a day of free preconference training for becoming intercountry-adoption evaluators for the Council on Accreditation. For more info about the conference and preconference training, check out www.jcics.org or call 703/535-8045; to learn about the Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Cooperation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption, see www.coanet.org/front3/index.cfm. Cheryl Smith
The Texas Department of Public Safety is launching a campaign encouraging Texans to forgo the drudgery of renewing licenses in person for the convenience of its online service. According to the DPS, one in five Texans currently renews his or her license online. DPS is hoping to change this with an aggressive half-million-dollar campaign consisting of billboard, print, and radio ads in select cities, including Austin. Online renewal requires a credit card and costs a dollar more than renewing in person. Lost licenses must be renewed in person, and you must renew in person every other time in order to update photos and eye exam. To renew online, see www.txdps.state.tx.us/administration/driver%5Flicensing%5Fcontrol. Justin Ward
On Tuesday, March 20, rocker Ted Nugent sat down with Evan Smith for an upcoming session of Texas Monthly Talks, and the furor around the "Cat Scratch Fever" author's onstage comments at the Guv's inaugural ball could pale in significance of a new revelation: that Perry's favorite love song is "Wang Dang, Sweet Poontang," with opening couplet "That Nadine, what a teenage queen/She lookin' so clean, especially down in between." The Nuge also clarified that "if you can't speak English, you got to learn as fast as possible or get the hell out of America." He also blamed everything on bureaucrats, bad drivers, and the "overtly irresponsible, unprofessional, obscene left-wing media in Texas" and claimed that no one had said they had been tortured by U.S. forces. But whether Perry distances himself from Nugent could be moot, since his favorite song has the lyrics "She's so sweet when she yanks on my meat." Perry's office was contacted for a comment, but we got no response, possibly because they're all too busy rockin' out to "Yank Me, Crank Me." The interview will appear on KLRU; see www.klru.org for details. R.W.
Last but not least, perennial candidate Jennifer Gale, only six months gone from Austin, has thrown her hat into the ring for mayor of Dallas. According to the information Gale supplied to the online survey from The Dallas Morning News, she has run once for Congress, six times for mayor, four times for school board, and five times for City Council, all since 1990. Gale's slogan "Let's Keep Dallas Dallas" sounds suspiciously like one she offered up in Austin. In fact, her Web site at www.jennifergale.com still features Austin and a picture of Will Wynn, her last opponent. Kimberly Reeves