"I detest the word 'illegal aliens.'
My friends, look at me. I am a brown man. Where do you think this came from? This came from my Indian heritage.
My family has been all over North and South America for centuries and centuries. Yes, we have been here a long, long time, and we should not be called illegal aliens." El Paso Rep. Paul Moreno, responding to Tyler Republican Leo Berman's complaint about "illegal aliens" spreading disease and problems in East Texas
Quote of the Week
Early voting ended Tuesday for this Saturday's general and special election, and at press time, Travis Co. reported a whopping 3.26% of 532,684 registered voters. The good news: Your vote (on the constitutional amendment and myriad local offices and initiatives) weighs more heavily.
City Council takes a break this week, in the wake of last Thursday's gloomy preliminary budget forecast; despite boom times the faster we grow, the behinder we get. For more, including a Star Trek bump scene, see "Beside the Point."
It was good news/bad news out of the Capitol this week, as Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst withdrew his opposition to expanded Children's Health Insurance Program coverage because another 17,000 children were dropped from the program last month. Meanwhile, legislators wrestled over a tepid smoking ban, the governor's border-security bludgeon, and a quick fix for the Texas Youth Commission. For a stock-taking roundup, see p.28.
Faced with a certain override of a veto, Gov. Rick Perry announced Tuesday he is allowing House Bill 1098 overturning his executive order to require human papillomavirus vaccinations for all sixth-grade girls to become law without his signature.
The field of finalists for the top cop job at the Austin Police Department has been narrowed from nine to five, city officials reported Tuesday. After a series of interviews with a panel mostly made up of city officials with a few community leaders, a representative of the Travis Co. District Attorney's Office, and the Fort Worth police chief thrown in and a spate of "assessment center" exercises (designed to test supervisory, interpersonal, and administrative skills), City Manager Toby Futrell has chiseled the field to these candidates: Art Acevedo, from the California Highway Patrol; Jimmie Dotson, a former assistant chief with the Houston Police Department, who's now a law-enforcement consultant; acting APD Chief Cathy Ellison; Roger Reinke, a former assistant chief in Milwaukee and currently chief of police in the Florida resort community of Marco Island; and current El Paso Chief Richard Wiles. During the next phase of the selection process, "assessment teams" made up of representatives of city management, the Office of Police Monitor, and the Police union will visit with the candidates in their communities, and each candidate will be in Austin for a one-on-one "visit" with Futrell. From there, the process will open for another round of meetings, including meetings with the general public. Futrell will then take all info in hand and choose a final candidate to present to council for confirmation. Jordan Smith
The Dobie Mall U.S. Army Recruiting Office kept its doors locked for more than two hours Monday as anti-war protesters sat outside waiting in vain to speak to an Army recruiter. Hoping not to have a repeat of the protest two weeks ago, when two demonstrators were arrested for criminal trespassing, members of Campus Antiwar Movement to End the Occupations entered the mall silently, without signs, and waited on a bench outside. Eventually police arrived and issued one protester a criminal-trespass warning. Recruiters said they regularly lock the doors when forewarned of protests. The Dobie's Navy Recruiting has even taken to keeping office doors locked all the time. "If we can get them to lock their doors, then mission accomplished," CAMEO member Kyle Kaptain said. Justin Ward
The South Congress Cafe may finally have to eighty-six its rear deck and patio, which has been the subject of a two-year-long legal feud with the city, based on a judge's ruling last week. In 2005, neighbors reported the illegal deck construction, which covered the restaurant's only parking lot as well as city right-of-way and sidewalk and for which no permits had been approved by the city. Following the initial bust, the cafe ignored three municipal stop-work orders, drawing the legal wrath of city officials, who demanded the deck's removal. Legal scuffles and attempts to bring the eatery into compliance have gone on intermittently. But, as the city was about to head back into court last week for a jury trial on a suit it filed against the cafe's parent company, Trudy's Texas Star, Travis Co. District Judge Stephen Yelenosky granted the city's motion for an expedited summary judgment, ruling in favor of the city. Yelenosky essentially found that the cafe's rear deck, fence, and bar will have to be removed. Not yet finalized is the city's demand that Trudy's repay its attorney's fees throughout the saga, estimated at some $191,000. Trudy's attorney Eric Taube said the city isn't entitled to the fees, that the ruling is not proper, and that once it's finalized, he'll appeal it immediately. Daniel Mottola
Austin Police say 44-year-old Marjorie Charlotte Chote Ahmed, who was found dead in an alley in the 3400 block of Montrose Street on Monday, April 30, likely died somewhere else and was dumped in the alley. There was no apparent trauma to Ahmed's body, Police reported in a press release, but the cause of her death is still open, pending toxicology results. In the interim, Police ask that anyone with information about Ahmed's death or anyone who might have seen unusual activity in the area that day to call APD's homicide tip line at 477-3588. J.S.
Also in cop news, working with Texas Department of Public Safety investigators, Austin Police have nabbed four people in connection with an undercover stolen copper-wire sting. Joel Moore, owner of the Recycling Center at 9405 Dessau, and three employees (Abalardo Drago, Melissa Blount, and Juan Roman Hernandez) were each arrested and charged with a total of 11 counts associated with buying copper wire the undercover officers intimated was, in fact, stolen. (The copper phone wire was on loan to cops from AT&T.) Moore was charged with theft and several other charges related to improper record-keeping and failure to report to DPS the sale of "regulated material" as required under the Texas Occupations Code. Drago was also charged with theft, and the other two employees were charged with failing to verify the identification of the copper seller. The undercover operation manned by detectives with the APD's Pawn/Centralized Theft Unit and DPS investigators was undertaken in response to an increased number of thefts of copper and copper-containing items like wire and cable, reports the APD. J.S.
City officials flipped the switch this week on free wireless Internet access across parts of East Austin. This bridge in the digital divide is part of the Austin Outdoor Wireless Mesh Project; spurred by the World Congress on Information Technology's conference here in March 2006, the project seeks to "mesh" open, continuous broadband Wi-Fi outdoors across Downtown, Zilker Park, East Austin, and more. On hand Wednesday at Saltillo Plaza to symbolically turn the connection on were Mayor Will Wynn, Council Member Mike Martinez, and Tom Wilburn, vice president of sales for project supporter Cisco Systems. Wells Dunbar
Responsible Growth for Northcross is holding a community meeting on Thursday, May 10, to discuss plans to stop Dallas-based Lincoln Property Company from building a Wal-Mart Supercenter at Northcross Mall. Topics include legal options, including a planned lawsuit against the city of Austin, and plans for a major RG4N traffic jam event called Drive Wal-Mart Away to be held May 17. The meeting is at 7pm at Grace Church of the Nazarene, 1006 W. Koenig. Katherine Gregor
Austin's Meals on Wheels and More is facing a critical shortage of drivers and is calling out for assistance. The organization serves meals to more than 2,100 homebound, disabled, and elderly folks in the area and relies on more than 3,000 volunteers, but in the coming months, it expects its number of unfilled delivery routes to double, straining its limited staff and budget. "We have had several people comment on the hardship of gas costs," said Dan Pruett, MOWAM CEO and president. "It is always hard to preserve the number of volunteers we need to serve our clients during the summer, and this year it looks to be even more difficult." Volunteers deliver in Austin between 11am-1pm, picking up meals from one of 15 distribution sites around town. All that's required to start delivering is a valid driver's license and proof of current auto insurance. The program involves a commitment of one hour per week. Interested volunteers may call 476-6325 for more info or check out www.mealsonwheelsandmore.org; volunteer orientations are every Thursday, 12:15-1:15pm, at MOWAM's office, 3227 E. Fifth, on the southwest corner of Fifth and Allen. D.M.
The Austin Independent School District named Kealing Middle School teacher Michael Perkins the district's Teacher of the Year. Perkins graduated from LBJ High School and was a first-generation college graduate in his family. Now he helps students to reach their goals as part of an elective course called Advancement Via Individual Determination. He says his mission is preparing his students for success. "My greatest accomplishment in education," he says, "will be the day my current students enroll in college." Perkins will now be the district's nominee for Texas Teacher of the Year. AISD also named Garza High teacher Keziah De Fusco High School Teacher of the Year and Allan Elementary teacher Jacqueline Ash Elementary School Teacher of the Year. Michael May
May is Austin Bike Month, and the annual overload of keen pedal-powered activities is already under way. "Liberating film from the theater," Waterloo Cycles at 2815 Fruth is holding a bike-in movie Thursday night, 7pm-12mid. On Saturday, the Austin Cycling Association holds its annual Armadillo Hill Country Classic road ride, with routes between 14 and 105 miles, benefiting the association's safety education and free helmets for kids programs (see www.austincycling.org for more). Also on Saturday, the Community Bicycle and Art Carnival beginning at 1pm at Kealing Middle School will feature the Cycle Circus Austin bicycle puppets, Bikes to Schools youth bike and helmet giveaway, and a community bicycle parade, in addition to tons of live music and kids stuff. Rounding out Saturday's agenda, Rene's Imports at 2308 E. Cesar Chavez is holding a Low Rider and Cruiser Bike Show, 11am-3pm. Get valuable bike-commuting wisdom including how to change a flat in five minutes, plus route selection and equipment info from nationally recognized bike-safety guru Preston Tyree, Tuesday night, 7-9pm, at REI Downtown. And finally, fallen riders will be remembered in the eight-mile Ride of Silence, which departs from the Pfluger bridge at 7pm Wednesday. For a full list of Bike Month activities, see www.austincycling.org/bike_month.html. D.M.
Also in AISD news, in what promises to be a moo-ving experience, local elementary school students will get a chance to get up close and personal with a dairy cow. The Texas Cooperative Extension for Travis Co. and the Southwest Dairy Farmers will truck a cow to 10 elementary schools for a live presentation. The mobile classroom includes a milking parlor, where instructors show the kids how to milk a cow and educate them on how milk reaches the aisles of their grocery stores. The Mobile Dairy Classroom will travel through May 22 and will visit Blanton, Williams, Allison, and Pecan Springs elementary schools, among others, having visited Rodriguez and Becker elementaries on May 7. M.M.
Fourteen enterprising students from Martin Middle School are attending the Business Professionals of America National Leadership Conference in New York City through May 13. The BPA is an organization for aspiring young businesspeople, providing them with practical business experience. The students will be entering a competition that includes Web site development, extemporaneous speech, and team research projects. M.M.
Do you own or hope to a small, independent, local store, restaurant, or other business? Could you use expert advice on finding lease space, permitting, financing, marketing, and business plans? Could you imagine locating your indie biz in a shiny new mixed-use development? Then hi-de-ho your entrepreneurial hiney to the second annual Austin Independent Business Alliance Trade Show on Tuesday, May 15. The event kicks off with a luncheon, followed by a slate of workshops. In the exhibit hall from 1 to 5pm, indie-biz folks can meet and greet developer reps seeking local tenants (Endeavor Real Estate, Catellus Development Group, Stratus Properties). For info on workshop topics and online registration, visit www.ibuyaustin.com, or register by calling 441-2123 or at the door at St. Edward's University's Ragsdale Center, 3001 S. Congress. Katherine Gregor
Hays Co. voters will cast ballots this Saturday on a $172 million road-bond package that would supersize a handful of Hill Country roads, including FM 1626, SH 21, and a portion of RR 12, and lay new, growth-inducing pavement east of San Marcos. All the projects are viewed by critics as likely accelerators for sprawling Austin bedroom communities and water degradation, as well as beacons for greater traffic volume and pollution. A San Marcos Daily Record report recently revealed that the pro-road PR campaign is being bankrolled by home builders and road-construction firms, some of which have already been awarded contracts pending bond approval. What's more, two former county officials, whose commission spearheaded the road bonds, now represent two of the road builders poised for paving. Bond opponents Citizens for Responsible Roads claim current commissioners Jeff Barton and Will Conley, the only two actively pushing the road bonds, received almost half of their campaign contributions from special-interest firms tied to the contracts, based on reviewed campaign finance filings. County Judge Liz Sumter has remained neutral on the issue but said funds are sorely needed to solve county water-resources dilemmas (a top constituent priority), to address an overcrowded jail and dilapidated precinct offices, and to provide health care for Hays' growing indigent population. D.M.
Beyond City Limits
Watchdog group Corporate Accountability paid a visit to a Pepsi shareholders' meeting last week in Plano to call attention to the company's allegedly misleading advertising. Members charge that in marketing Aquafina, Pepsi's brand of bottled water, Pepsi execs have been bamboozling consumers into thinking the water is from a natural source when it is actually fancily packaged tap water. The packaging on the bottle depicts mountains, implying the water comes from a natural source, not a faucet, the group said. "Corporations promote water privatization under the guise of efficiency. But whether it's Coke or Pepsi bottling our tap water, Nestlé draining groundwater, or Suez taking over municipal water systems, none of these corporations pay the full costs of the public infrastructure they use, the environmental damage they cause, or the health problems of the people they hurt," said CA spokeswoman Patti Lynn. J.W.
The U.S. House passed a bill recently that would make it illegal for employers and insurance companies to use genetic information "to deny someone health insurance or job opportunities," reports the Associated Press. On April 25, representatives voted overwhelmingly, 420-3, in favor of the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2007. "If your grandmother had breast cancer, you shouldn't be denied a job or a promotion," the AP quoted Rep. Robert Andrews, D-N.J., as saying. Under House Resolution 493, a health plan or insurer cannot "deny coverage or charge higher premiums to a healthy person based solely on a genetic predisposition to a disease. Similarly, an employer could not use genetic information in making hiring, firing or promotion decisions," the AP reports. The Senate has passed similar bills twice in recent years, but the House hadn't voted on such legislation until this session. The Senate Health, Education, Labor, & Pensions Committee has passed a bill by Maine Republican Olympia Snowe, which awaits a full Senate vote, reports the AP, also noting that the White House has expressed support for HR 493. Cheryl Smith