"I respect the Speaker and his family, but I believe the House has to be governed from the middle." Rep. Patrick Rose of Dripping Springs, announcing that he will no longer be one of the few Democrats supporting Tom Craddick as speaker of the House. Quoted in the Quorum Report.
Quote of the Week
The city announced it will hold public meetings June 11 and 12 with the five remaining candidates for Austin Police chief, and review teams are being sent to candidates' home communities, although Austin community groups continue to complain that the search process has been too restrictive. See "APD Idol."
City Council meets today, Thursday, with the most curious agenda item: the dog that doesn't bark. The budget-policy discussion, scheduled for today, has been postponed two weeks to June 7. See "Beside the Point."
The closing days of the 80th Legislature scheduled to end Monday at 10pm have been more confused and acrimonious than usual, as many bills foundered while members called for House Speaker Tom Craddick to step down and GOP rivals filed to oppose him. See "On the Lege."
On Tuesday, U.S. House and Senate negotiators cratered on enforceable timetables in the Iraq war appropriations bill, saying they don't have the votes to override a presidential veto of specific actions to end the war.
Mayor Will Wynn assured Webberville residents at last week's City Council meeting that Austin has no plans to lease a city-owned 2,800-acre parcel off FM 969 to a private landfill operator. See "Beside the Point."
The city recently announced that free parking under City Hall having morphed from best- to worst-kept secret Downtown over the last year is going the way of Liberty Lunch, the Intel shell, and affordable housing that is, it's going away. June 4, the city will start charging for its underground parking, but City Council watchers can still park there free for Thursday meetings and from 11am to 1:15pm Fridays for the city's Live From the Plaza music series. Also, Second Street shoppers can get their parking validated, but if you can afford to shop there, you probably live in a condo next door, so what's the difference. Check the city's Web site for more hours and rate info. Wells Dunbar
The city Planning Commission wants to make sure that ordinances in Austin's extraterritorial jurisdiction either meet or exceed the county's new Conservation District Ordinance. That's a new one for the city, which is usually leading rather than following on environmental issues. At a meeting last week, city staff told a Planning Commission subcommittee that the city's standards are probably more stringent in the Drinking Water Protection Zone to the west but likely less stringent in the Desired Development Zone to the east. The commission will continue to mull proposed changes before passing recommendations on to City Council. Kimberly Reeves
State Attorney General Greg Abbott reached an agreement with UT-Austin to adopt guidelines governing its dealings with student-loan providers. The agreement follows the firing of financial aid director Larry Burt, who was discharged last week after an internal investigation revealed that student lenders courted the Office of Student Financial Services regularly with gifts and that Burt himself owned shares of a company he helped place on the university's preferred lenders list. Among other things, the agreement prohibits revenue-sharing between lenders and the university, requires that employees not accept gifts or compensated travel for serving on advisory boards, and bars employees from owning stock in student lenders. New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, whose investigation into the student-loan industry revealed widespread payola earlier this year, has already reached similar agreements with several universities in New York. Unlike many of the New York universities, UT has never participated in revenue-sharing, but Abbott added the provision, lest the university be tempted in the future. The agreement also includes mandatory ethics lessons for OSFS staff after the investigation released last week showed office staff was ignorant of basic ethics. Abbott said he was pleased by the university's cooperation: "With this agreement, the University of Texas at Austin set new standards for ethics and fair dealing in the student-loan industry." Justin Ward
It's going to get even harder on the homeless in Austin: Front Steps, the decade-old nonprofit overseeing the Austin Resource Center for the Homeless and several other outreach programs as part of its Keep Austin Housed program, has lost key funding from AmeriCorps meaning 25 employees won't be returning this fall. Keep Austin Housed is a comprehensive homeless-care initiative covering shelter, housing, substance-abuse treatment, counseling, and more; the 25 AmeriCorps employees will leave posts at Front Steps, SafePlace, LifeWorks, the St. David's Trinity Center, Caritas, Casa Marianella, the city's homeless health clinics, A New Entry, VinCare Services, Austin/Travis County Mental Health Mental Retardation Center, and the Foundation for the Homeless. Front Steps Executive Director Helen Varty was at a loss over the funding cut; a press release said, "[W]e were surprised but we don't have any information yet." But she says the organization will persevere: "We are going to be looking hard for other funding. To many people, homeless people are just a statistic; to the AmeriCorps members on the front lines, the homeless people are friends." W.D.
The University of Texas Elementary School on East Sixth Street, a charter school, will expand this summer to include a new facility next door, the University Co-op Campus Center. The new building will be used for school celebrations, as an extra classroom, and as an indoor place for kids to play on rainy days. Dr. Ramona Treviño, the school's principal, says the school will have some space to share and welcomes the neighborhood to hold meetings in the center. "We welcome the surrounding community, and the university community, to make greater use of our campus," Treviño said. The school plans to start building the new building this summer. Michael May
In other education news, many Austin schools will provide free breakfast and dinner to children through the summer. Meals will be served at schools where at least 50% of the students are eligible for free or reduced lunch although everyone is free to eat during the summer, regardless of income. The program runs through June in most of the eligible schools and on into August at some middle schools. The list of around 40 schools participating in the program, plus dates and times, is available at www.austinisd.org. M.M.
Also, the Austin Independent School District is trying to cultivate a cadre of citizen advocates through its new program, AISD UpClose. The monthly sessions will provide parents and community leaders with an overview of the district's schools and its programs and services. The district hopes participants will sign up for the district's committees and task forces, encourage others to get involved with the schools, and stand up for the district during periods of bad press. The program will begin in August and run through May 2008. For an application, see www.austin.isd.tenet.edu/inside/initiatives/upclose, e-mail email@example.com, or call 414-3992. M.M.
As bike month rolls on, it appears local law enforcement is trying to make roads safer for cyclists. On Thursday, May 24, Travis Co. Sheriff Greg Hamilton kicks off RoadShare, an educational initiative designed to increase awareness and lower bicycle-auto accidents. He noted in a statement that Texas has led the nation in cycling deaths every year since 2004. Climbing aboard the effort are state and local law enforcement, area cycling groups, city staff, and the city's bicycle-safety group, Street Smarts Task Force whose members have loudly called for more road-user education. "Most bicycle and motorist collisions are caused by failure to yield the right-of-way," Hamilton said. "Motorists always need to be on the lookout before they turn and allow at least 3 feet when passing cyclists. Cyclists must obey all traffic laws and also use hand signals." Daniel Mottola
In other bike news, a Bikini Bike Wash, benefiting the Be Kind to Cyclists campaign, will lather up on Saturday, May 27, 11am-5pm, at Austin Tri-Cyclist, 923 Barton Springs Rd. Be Kind to Cyclists, an educational initiative, was started by local biking enthusiast Alvaro Bastidas, who was hit and seriously injured by a car while riding. D.M.
In other transportation news, just in time to help mitigate this week's widespread whining over rising gas prices, Capital Metro revealed on Monday a new, easier-to-use system map, which includes route and frequency information as well as a "how-to-ride" guide, all packaged in a more portable alternative to the previous Destinations schedule book. The new maps are now available free on all buses and at Cap Metro ticket locations. Never bused your way around Austin before? Route and schedule info is available 24 hours at www.capmetro.org or by phone at 474-1200. Cap Metro's handy online Trip Planner, which offers multiple itineraries and concise walking-distance requirements, is also useful, as is Google's transit trip planner (www.google.com/transit), which offers detailed cost comparisons to driving. D.M.
The Twin Oaks Branch Library (2301 S. Congress #7) will close on June 4 for renovations. The book drop will be open through June 14. Twin Oaks is scheduled to reopen Sept. 29; until then, Austin Public Library encourages patrons to use Faulk Central Library or the Terrazas Branch at 1105 E. Cesar Chavez and reminds everyone that books may be returned at any APL location, not just the one from which they were checked out. Lee Nichols
Advocacy Inc., which addresses the legal needs of citizens with disabilities, has established a Sign Up Fund to provide critically needed sign-language interpreter services to legal parties who are deaf; the Texas Bar Foundation provided the $20,000 start-up grant. While attorneys are required by law to comply with the Americans With Disabilities Act by accepting clients regardless of disability and furnishing such "auxiliary aids" as sign-language interpreters, reality often falls short of this statutory mandate. "A common complaint in the deaf community is the inability to find an attorney who not only understands the requirements of the ADA, but [who's] also willing to comply with it," said an Advocacy press release. Another goal of the Sign Up Fund will be to educate attorneys on their responsibility to deaf clients by offering statewide training to bar associations. While other state bars have reported success with similar outreach efforts, the State Bar of Texas is the first to provide funds for interpreters. "We hope that our work on this fund will be expanded to meet the needs of all deaf clients in Texas and create a template for use in other states," said Mitchell Katine, chair of the bar's Disability Issues Committee, in the release. For more info, call Lucy Wood, 454-4816. Patricia J. Ruland
In the recent May 12 election, 100% of district voters approved Williamson County Water Control and Improvement District No. 2, passing Proposition 1, to create the district, and Proposition 2, to allow the WCID to levy taxes. The total vote count: One to zero. According to Connie Watson, public information officer for the county, such slim vote counts are "common" in undeveloped areas, especially with respect to municipal utility districts and road districts. The common scenario: One voter is the sole landowner who votes to establish the taxing entity, then the land is sold and subdivided, then new residents are taxed, funding provision of services by the WCID. The backstory of WCID No. 2 is more complicated, however, because Frankie Limmer, a former Williamson Co. commissioner, pushed for the creation of a new water district while in office, though he's also the potential developer. As reported in the Chronicle ("Hutto Wastewater: Is Limmer at it again?" Aug. 11, 2006), Limmer and his partners are reportedly planning to develop WCID No. 2 into a subdivision of as many as 1,800 residences. The election results revealed more oddities: WCID No. 2 board members Douglas Coe, Elton K. Malish, David E. Riggan Sr., Russell L. Schmidt Sr., and Gene Finley also won with one vote each, according to WilCo election results. That sole voter, by the way, was 99-year-old Edna Werchan, who, as noted on the Early Voting Roster, has a hand tremor. Did Werchan's "voter assistant," Judy B. Limmer, Frankie Limmer's wife, offer the creation of WCID No. 2 a literal helping hand? P.R.
Beyond City Limits
Bottled water is far more environmentally damaging than it is thirst-quenching, according to new data from the D.C.-based Worldwatch Institute. Global consumption of bottled water more than doubled between 1997 and 2005, making it the world's fastest-growing commercial beverage. In the U.S., excessive withdrawal of natural mineral or spring water for bottling has threatened local streams and groundwater, while production and shipping consumes significant amounts of energy. Millions of tons of oil-derived plastics, mostly polyethylene terephthalate, are used to make the water bottles, most of which are not recycled. Worldwatch says about 2 million tons of PET bottles end up in U.S. landfills annually; in 2005, the national recycling rate was only 23%, compared to 40% a decade earlier. U.S. water-quality regulations are generally the same as for tap water but are weaker for some microbial contaminants. The Food and Drug Administration, which regulates bottled water, permits certain levels of fecal matter, whereas the Environmental Protection Agency does not allow any human waste in city tap water, Worldwatch reports. Also, bottled-water violations are not always reported, and products may be recalled up to 15 months after the problematic water was produced, distributed, and sold. Solution: Carry your own water container, and fill up at fountains and taps. D.M.