"I thank you for being here. Twenty-n
28 of my colleagues on the Senate floor join me in thanking you and your friends and family for being with us today." Sen. Florence Shapiro, to Muslims in the Texas Senate gallery, after Sen. Dan Patrick left the floor in protest of an imam being allowed to give the morning invocation. (Sen. Mario Gallegos was absent due to illness.)
Quote of the Week
The search for a new APD chief got more serious, as the nine winnowed candidates were named and City Manager Toby Futrell named a phase one interview panel to perform the initial review. See "How Do You Pick a Chief?"
Today, Thursday, April 12, is the deadline to register to vote in the May 12 Joint General and Special Election, if you're not already registered. Check your eligibility or register at www.traviscountytax.org, or call 854-9473 for help.
In the continuing fallout over the Texas Youth Commission scandal, the Texas Civil Rights Project announced a lawsuit against TYC on behalf of Joseph Galloway, a disabled inmate who was incarcerated for several years beyond his original sentence and repeatedly abused in custody. Also this week, two former administrators of the TYC's West Texas State School were arrested and charged with multiple counts of sexual abuse of former inmates.
The state announced that a tentative agreement has been reached in Frew v. Hawkins, the 14-year-long lawsuit on behalf of Medicaid patients. It will reportedly increase funding for Medicaid, enable more patients to be served, and raise provider rates; presiding federal Judge William Wayne Justice is expected to review a final version in the next few weeks.
There is no joy in UTville: Hoops phenom Kevin Durant announced Tuesday that he's leaving UT for the NBA. See austinchronicle.com/sports for more.
The Save Our Springs Alliance filed for bankruptcy in federal court Tuesday, after the Texas Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal of a lower court judgment requiring SOS to pay the defendants' legal fees nearly $300,000 in the organization's failed attempt to stop the Lazy Nine Municipal Utility District for the Sweetwater development above Bee Creek and Lake Travis. "SOS Alliance will continue to advocate in the court of public opinion and the courts for preserving our Hill Country water and wildlife for today and for future generations.
And we need the community's continued support to resolve this financial challenge," said SOS director Bill Bunch in a press release. SOS had sued the MUD on several grounds, including that the legislation enabling its creation delegated public, governmental powers to a private developer in violation of the state constitution. The lower court ruled that SOS did not have standing to sue, ordered it to pay the developers' legal fees, and this week the Supreme Court refused to review that decision. Michael King
An official at the University of Texas has become snared in an investigation by New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo into what appears to be shady dealings between universities and the student-loan companies they recommend. Lawrence Burt, the director of student financial services at UT, was found to have owned stock in Student Loan Xpress, a company that also happened to land on the university's "preferred lender" list, which is given to students. Burt says he paid for the stock, but in documents turned over to U.S. Sen. Edward Kennedy the president of Student Loan Xpress describes the stock transfer to Burt and others as gifts. Burt has denied any connection between his ownership of stock in the company and its appearance on the list. Still, UT suspended Burt from his position Thursday, and on Friday, U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings asked Burt to resign from an advisory panel on student aid. Cuomo's allegations are being investigated internally by UT's general counsel, Barry Burgdorf. Michael May
City Council's Land Use and Transportation Committee buzzed a bit with talk of a city-backed streetcar connection between the Downtown terminus of Capital Metro's commuter rail line and the soon-to-be-developed Seaholm site. Chair Brewster McCracken, who sees Downtown mobility as critical to the success of city-owned property, would like to see some numbers on a possible system maybe even funded by the city but other council members are less inclined to spend the money. The idea will go to the council's Audit and Finance Committee next. Kimberly Reeves
Wal-Mart may be drastically underestimating the number of car trips its planned supercenter at Northcross will generate, according to a traffic-impact study discussed before City Council last week. According to an article in the ITE Journal (Institute of Transportation Engineers), the traffic draw of 200,000-plus-square-foot supercenters is 5.5 trips per 1,000 square feet, compared to 3.9 trips for smaller stores. Brewster McCracken said that even at a slightly smaller 219,000 square feet (down from 225,000), "under this new data, there's 50 percent more traffic than the bigger store would have had in the old data." By way of comparison, in a follow-up e-mail, McCracken writes, "In the case of the Ben White Super Wal-Mart, in fact it appears the traffic impact is 100% greater, not 50% greater" citing Wal-Mart's adjusted traffic-impact analysis of 8,648 trips per day for the store and gas station, compared to what city staff actually recorded: on Tuesday, Jan. 9, city staff counted 14,192 trips in 24 hours, while on Saturday, Jan. 27, there were 17,453 "That is over 100 percent higher than what Wal-Mart stated." At council, McCracken said if the counts are that inaccurate, "the city has the authority to require mixed-use or smaller store size" to mitigate traffic. "The next step is to find out what the truth is." For more on this story, check out Chronic, the Chronicle's news blog, at austinchronicle.com/chronic. Wells Dunbar
Monday night's meeting of the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization's Transportation Policy Board was a low-key affair, despite the serious changes that new Chair Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, has brought to the regional planning committee. As of this month, most of the elected officials on the board are gone, replaced by small-city representatives. And Watson has added a peer-review committee to take a look at standing transportation organizations such as Capital Metro and the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority. As of now, the 18-member board includes Watson, Austin Mayor Will Wynn, and three City Council members; three Travis County commissioners; the mayors of four smaller cities, including Round Rock; the Hays County judge; a Williamson County commissioner; plus state Reps. Eddie Rodriguez, D-Austin, and Mike Krusee, R-Taylor. Capital Metro and TxDOT also still have representatives on the board. K.R.
Concordia University is moving. Dual land deals one to sell Concordia's existing 22-acre site on the edge of Downtown Austin and the other to buy a major chunk of the Schlumberger tract in far North Austin for a new campus closed simultaneously. Concordia's existing campus site will be redeveloped as a high-density mixed-use planned unit development, although the developer continues to wrangle with the Historic Landmark Commission over how to preserve elements of the original historic building on the Concordia site. The facade of Killian Hall will be taken to the new campus and incorporated into the new campus construction. K.R.
Nonprofit Liveable City has announced the recipients of this year's Vision Awards. Corresponding to a theme of Innovative Public Engagement, the recipients are Responsible Growth for Northcross, the Mueller Neighborhood Coalition, the St. Johns neighborhood, SaveTownLake.org, and Downtown (the locally produced television show). Liveable City grants its Vision Awards annually to recognize people, organizations, and community efforts that demonstrate commitment to improving life in Austin. "Our awardees represent exemplary efforts to support community involvement and decision-making," said LC Chair Mark Yznaga. A May 31 event will honor the award recipients. For more info about Liveable City, visit www.liveablecity.org. Katherine Gregor
Speaking of being a livable city, City Council resolved at its last meeting to adopt an official Vision Statement (drum roll, please): "We want Austin to be the most livable city in the country." Hmmm, is it a vision, or is it a bumper sticker? And what does "livable" mean, exactly? Inspired by their recent retreats, council further resolved, "The City Council adopts Four Citywide Strategic Priorities to realize this vision: 1) Rich social and cultural community, 2) Vibrant urban fabric, 3) Healthy, safe city, and 4) Sustainable economic development and financial health." Well, it's a start. By contrast, consider the vision statement from Vancouver's Livable Region Strategic Plan: "Greater Vancouver can become the first urban region in the world to combine in one place the things to which humanity aspires on a global basis: a place where human activities enhance rather than degrade the natural environment, where the quality of the built environment approaches that of the natural setting, where the diversity of origins and religions is a source of social strength rather than strife, where people control the destiny of their community, and where the basics of food, clothing, shelter, security and useful activity are accessible to all." Now that's a vision. Perhaps at its next retreat, council can squeeze in a remedial poetry class. Katherine Gregor
Evolving into a school that doesn't shy away from homosexuality and gender activism, the University of Texas recently announced that "gender outlaw" Kate Bornstein will keynote the school's first-ever conference for the homo and homo-friendly. Flying on the coattails of this year's declaration of a viable women and gender studies major, the Queer Texas Conference helps UT catch up with other liberal-arts programs across the country. College students from all over Texas will participate in controversial discussions, edgy panels, hands-on training, and breakout sessions, Friday through Sunday, April 13-15, all for the sake of education and community. 'Bout time! Check out www.queertx.org/qtc for details. Kate Getty
At press time, the execution of James Lee Clark, convicted and sentenced to die for the 1993 robbery, rape, and murder of a 17-year-old girl in Denton County, was set to go, which would make him the 13th inmate executed in Huntsville so far this year. Five executions were carried out in March including those of Charles Nealy, condemned to death for murdering a clerk in the course of robbing a Dallas convenience store; Vincent Gutierrez, sentenced to die for a carjacking and murder committed when he was just 18; and Roy Pippin, executed for his role in the kidnapping and murder of two men suspected of absconding with $1.6 million in drug money from a Colombian drug organization to which Pippin was linked. Clark's death Wednesday night brings Gov. Rick Perry's official execution total to 152, notes the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, tying the record of Perry's predecessor, George W. Bush. With eight executions already scheduled through mid-August, Perry is poised to take over as the reigning King of the Damned. Jordan Smith
Beyond City Limits
Texans could lose the right to find out what's happening on 20 million acres of state-owned land if a bill currently before the House passes. HB 699, sponsored by Rep. Sylvester Turner, D-Houston, changes the secrecy rules about deals between the Texas General Land Office and private firms. Currently, all property deals struck by the GLO, which administers state property and leases out its valuable mineral rights, are open under the Texas Freedom of Information Act: If the bill passes, these deals would be secret until the entire property has been sold. According to GLO commissioner Jerry Patterson, "Everything that is currently subject to public disclosure will remain so. All this does is allow us to delay disclosure." By withholding sensitive contract details, he said, the state would keep a strong negotiating position on other deals on the same land. However, this means the state only has to release information when the land is sold, so all lease or development agreements would remain secret. And if the state sells off a property in small parcels, it doesn't have to release anything until all of the land has been sold. If the state kept a single square foot of land, the records would effectively be permanently sealed. Fred Hartman, chair of the legislative committee of the Texas Daily Newspaper Association, said "this bill flies in the face of what open government is supposed to be about. We don't think that it serves the public interest whatsoever to take transactions that have previously been open to the public and make them secret." Richard Whittaker
The right-wing media and wing-nut blogosphere has been up in arms over whether U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi did or didn't violate the Logan Act, the law that makes foreign policy the president's sole purview, when she visited Syria. Quick question: What's the statute of limitations on that? After all, there are some serious questions about whether the staff of a former governor intervened in negotiations with a foreign nation to undercut his opponent in an election. That governor? Ronald Reagan, who, according to consistent rumors from all parties, had his people negotiate with Iran to delay the release of hostages until after the 1980 presidential elections in order to make then-President Jimmy Carter look weak. At the center of the rumors has always been his running mate George H.W. Bush. Why isn't anyone at the U.S. Department of State asking about that? R.W.