"There's a movie, a little-known movie called Bring It On, and that's basically what we're saying [to the DOJ]: Bring it on." Acting Police Chief Cathy Ellison, responding to news that the civil rights division of the U.S. Department of Justice will investigate Austin Police Department's use of force by comparing the investigation to a movie about high school cheerleading
Quote of the Week
The U.S. Department of Justice announced on Friday that it will investigate the Austin Police Department for its use-of-force training and implementation, in response to a 3-year-old request from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the city. On a related note, early Sunday morning at Chester's East Side bar, a confrontation between Austin Police officers and a patron who may have been carrying a gun ended in the fatal shooting of Kevin Brown, 25, by APD Sgt. Michael Olsen. See "APD Shooting: What went down."
Meet the five APD chief finalists this week at public meetings: June 11-12, Monday, 6pm, and Tuesday at 8:30am and noon. Palmer Events Center, 900 Barton Springs Rd. See "How Not to Pick a Police Chief."
One headline item in today's City Council agenda is the suddenly controversial proposal for a partly "forgivable" $750,000 relocation loan to Las Manitas Avenue Cafe, still under the shadow of a planned Marriott complex. Opposition is rising from the blog and talk-radio underbrush, and the outcome is uncertain. See "Beside the Point."
On Wednesday, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals ordered a new trial for Michael Scott, serving life in prison for his role in the 1991 yogurt-shop murders of four teenage girls. The court ruled on constitutional grounds that prosecutors had illegally used a confession by another defendant without allowing cross-examination by Scott's attorneys.
A few short lines wedged into a massive Senate water bill will raise pumping caps for the Edwards Aquifer by more than 25%, spurring fears among environmental activists that the aquifer will be drained down to critical levels more often in the future. The Senate raised the pumping cap from 450,000 acre-feet the limit originally set by the Edwards Aquifer Authority's legislative mandate in 1993 to 572,000 acre-feet, in order to resolve a contradiction between the official cap and the permits already issued based on historic usage. The authority issued permits totaling 549,000 acre-feet for this year, and if the Lege didn't set new caps this session, local governments throughout Central Texas would owe more than $750 million to permit holders, lawmakers said. The law sets a firm cap and includes some safeguards to be implemented in the event of extreme drought conditions, like the ones that dried up the springs 50 years ago. But some environmentalists are worried that there's not a timely and accurate way to monitor pumping to decide when to apply the restrictions. "What concerns us about that is there is not really a good handle on what people are pumping. Sometimes it takes several months to get reports," said Dianne Wassenich of the San Marcos River Foundation. Justin Ward
Lee Leffingwell who has striven to end the outsourcing of Capital Metro jobs by making all workers direct employees of the transit authority will be replaced on the Cap Met board by Mike Martinez at today's City Council meeting. "I went over to Capital Metro with a specific purpose in mind," says Leffingwell, "to make an impact on the very difficult labor problem there." That task "getting the board to agree to the concept of a unified workforce," in Leffingwell's words is far from over. A resolution announcing the intent to bring all employees in-house ending the Cap Metro-created intermediary StarTran and the outsourcing of Cap Met jobs to third parties received a tepid reaction from Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1091, Cap Met's largest union. Burned from the last round of contract negotiations, 1091 is reluctant to give up its bargaining power including the last resort of a strike in exchange for meet-and-confer bargaining. Having made the case to the board, Leffingwell says the next "sales job" needs to be directed to ATU. "Mike would perhaps be better qualified in that than I would, to show them that this will work out in the best for them," referring to Martinez's precouncil days as firefighter union president. Wells Dunbar
Last week the Travis Co. Democratic Party Executive Committee unanimously approved a resolution calling on the city of Austin to refuse any exceptions to the Waterfront Overlay Ordinance, which governs development on Town Lake. Party Chair Chris Elliott said that some businesses are petitioning the city to bypass some of the ordinance's provisions, allowing them to build higher and expand closer to the water than the ordinance allows. The Dems are joining forces with newly formed SaveTownLake.org, which advocates strict compliance with the original 1986 ordinance. Both groups say they want to strike a compromise between the often conflicting objectives of promoting economic development and preserving green space. "If development runs amok on Town Lake, the city will lose something very special," Elliott said. J.W.
Austin Energy's regular electric rates fell slightly last Friday, thanks to a 9% fuel-charge decrease, a direct pass-through cost that includes upkeep fees for the statewide electric grid in addition to fuel used to generate energy. For a residential customer who uses 1,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity a month, the savings will be about $3. The utility credits slightly cheaper natural gas prices and the improved reliability of railroad coal deliveries to AE's Fayette Power Project coal plant, which supplies roughly a third of the utility's electricity. When coal is scarce, AE has to rely on more expensive natural gas, which accounts for another third of its generation. The other third comes from the South Texas Project nuclear power plant, co-owned by AE. Renewable energy (mostly wind) makes up 6% of AE's total power supply. Customers on the GreenChoice renewable energy plan won't see a change, as their fuel charge is based on 10-year wind farm contracts. The lower rates won't last, however. AE predicts a coal-related fuel charge jump of up to 20% in January. Daniel Mottola
The city of Austin extended an agreement last week to accept 5,000 evacuees with special needs from Galveston and surrounding areas in the event that a serious hurricane strikes the coastal city. Austin has agreed to shelter evacuees who have nowhere else to go or lack transportation, as well as those with special medical needs not serious enough to require hospitalization or a stay in a nursing home. Austin will coordinate with other cities in Travis and Williamson counties to house as many as 25,000 evacuees as a part of the Capital Area Shelter Hub plan. Austin's system is one of the most sophisticated in the nation, said Scott Swearengin, head of emergency management for the city. And pet-owners need not worry, since Austin's shelters will be pet-friendly. Swearengin said this is important, as many pet-owners won't evacuate if they have to leave their animals behind. He also said there's a dire need for anyone with any management experience to help run local shelters and for other volunteers to assist with day-to-day operations. To volunteer, contact the Red Cross at 928-4271. J.W.
A split Travis Co. Commissioners Court signed off on a letter on Tuesday to support Browning-Ferris Industries' permit before the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality for a vertical 75-foot expansion of its existing landfill at Sunset Farm. Neighbors who have said BFI's landfill has been nothing but problems are still vehemently opposed to the permit, but county leaders see it as a quid pro quo because, in exchange for the expansion, BFI has promised to vacate the site by 2015. Commissioners Ron Davis and Sarah Eckhardt voted against the motion. County Judge Sam Biscoe says the county still reserves the right to oppose the permit if the TCEQ decides the 2015 closure date won't stick. Kimberly Reeves
Henry and Dora Reimers first settled their original 160-acre ranch in 1893 on the banks of the Pedernales River. More than 100 years later, Travis County acquired the ranch which had grown to 700 acres from the couple's great-grandson Milton in 2005, coupling it with 2,300 acres of bond-fund-purchased Pedernales frontage in the county's southwest corner to form Milton Reimers Ranch Park. Having completed the transformation from private land to public park, the county is ready to share its recently completed master plan for improvements with the public. Planners hope to accommodate the fishermen, hikers, rock climbers, and mountain bikers who already use the park, along with new users, by providing parking lots, drinking water, toilets, shade shelters, and picnic areas. With the public review process under way, the preliminary master plan is viewable on the county Web site and at several public libraries around Austin. Remaining public meetings are Monday, June 11, at the Criminal Justice Center in Pflugerville, 1611 E. Pfennig Ln., and Wednesday, June 13, at Austin's Baty Elementary, 2101 Faro Dr. Submit comments through June 29, electronically or by mail. See www.co.travis.tx.us for details. D.M.
A memorial service for longtime local writer Daryl Janes is scheduled for Thursday, June 7, at 2pm at University Hills Church of Christ, 7506 Ed Bluestein Blvd. Janes was half of the duo that published The Daryl Herald, along with former Council Member Daryl Slusher. Janes was a mentor to many young writers in his roles at the Austin Business Journal and the comptroller's office. Those who wish to sign the online guest book can go to obit.harrellfuneralhomes.com/obit_list.cgi. K.R.
The Travis Community Education Foundation will give two Webb Middle School students a $5,000 scholarship after they graduate from high school and are admitted to college. The Rourke Scholarships for the Mentored were given to A'shanta Carroll and Zaira Garcia, who took part in the school's mentoring program. The students filled out an application and wrote an essay about their mentoring experiences, and their mentors submitted a letter of recommendation on their behalf. Michael May
In other education news, the Austin Independent School District's board of trustees approved a number of new leaders for Austin schools this week. Daniel Girard will take over as principal of Akins High School. He's coming from El Paso, where he was principal of Bel Air High School. Antonio Medina has moved up to principal of Burnet Middle School, where he's been an assistant principal since 2003. Leticia Botello is moving from assistant principal to principal at Allan Elementary. Rose Willey, a principal in Copperas Cove, is the new principal of Houston Elementary. Valerie Ann Gutiérrez, an AISD academic programs supervisor, is now principal of Metz Elementary. Janna Lilly is the district's new director of special education; she had that position in Llano since 1999. At Kealing Middle School, Mary Ramberg will move from interim director to director of the magnet program, and Helen Fleming Johnson will move from interim director to director of the comprehensive program. M.M.
The Social Justice Summer School will be training young activists in the art of building a social movement. Austin Voices for Education and Youth, Austin Community College's Center for Public Policy and Political Studies, and ACC's Latino/Latin American Studies Center have joined to hold the program. Students will learn about the history of social protest, the economics and origins of poverty, how to organize in communities of color, and how students have changed public schools. The school will run from June 19-July 26 at ACC's Eastview Campus. Apply at www.austinvoices.org. M.M.
The Capital Area Food Bank celebrates 25 years of service with the release of its 2006 Annual Report, a chronicle of the agency's rich history in dispensing food, assistance, and a commodity money cannot buy heart. Created in 1981 as a joint venture with United Urban Council and Caritas, CAFB had initial warehouse space of just 1,500 square feet its first "truck" was a 1974 pickup that hauled 135,000 pounds of food that year. Today, the food bank is recognized as a national role model. The report shows just how much the food bank's numbers have grown, naming every donor, partner agency, and participating site by year. "You helped feed children, the elderly and families and keep the lights on," it says. Specifically, in 2006, the bank provided 400,000 meals, donations of 14.3 million pounds of food and groceries, 61,000 volunteer hours, and participation in 600 food drives providing 4 million meals. Revenue and expenses came in slightly less than $30 million each. The report laments that the agency's "work is not going to get easier" due to increases in poverty and population but notes just how far the average person can go to help feed the hungry in Central Texas: "Each $1 in donations provides five meals to those in need." See the report at www.austinfoodbank.org. Patricia J. Ruland
"We face urban traffic with our naked body on our bikes as the best way of defending our dignity and of living the social struggle. [C]ycling can reduce our carbon footprint, but we are also vulnerable on the street and ask for consideration from motorists in the mix of traffic." So reads the manifesto of the World Naked Bike Ride. Austin's fourth annual bare-bottomed jaunt is scheduled for June 30 at 4pm, beginning at the parking garage across from Waterloo Park at 13th and Trinity. Organizer Stephen Bosbach said the ride itself is not as much a demonstration as it is a celebration of peace, green transportation, and cyclists' right to use the road. "People see the writing on the wall about oil dependence, and cycling is a cheap, safe, and sane alternative that needs to be used more," Bosbach said. While toplessness is legal in Austin, tooling around with bare genitalia isn't and represents a citable offense. More than 70 cities in 24 countries now hold naked rides. Eager, bike-bound exhibitionists are encouraged to congregate beforehand for body-painting and costuming. For more info, see home.austin.rr.com/wnbr and www.worldnakedbikeride.org. D.M.
The public outcry for the release of children incarcerated at the T. Don Hutto Residential Center in Taylor, which detains 400 women and children awaiting the outcome of deportation hearings, is gaining steam this month. Hutto Vigil IX will take place from 11am to 4pm Saturday, June 9, at TDH, 1001 Welch St. Hutto Vigil X will take place Saturday, June 23 same time, same place and will be hosted by Amnesty International. Jay Johnson-Castro Sr., founder of Free the Children Coalition, reports that the second vigil will loosely coincide with one sponsored the following day by the Valley Coalition, to protest a tent detention camp at Raymondville and to commemorate World Refugee Day, which is June 20. "Some of us will make a weekend of it to show that we feel that imprisoning the innocent
is a human rights violation that is shocking internationally," Castro says. P.R.
Beyond City Limits
Texas Department of Public Safety troopers set new records last year for the amount of drugs seized and drug traffickers busted, the agency reports. Troopers seized nearly 48 tons of pot, three tons of cocaine, and 267 pounds of methamphetamine; in all, troopers pulled in drugs worth an estimated $335.9 million and arrested 1,975 "drug smugglers." "Our troopers are highly trained in drug interdiction," DPS Highway Patrol Chief Randall K. Elliston said; the record-setting year is a "reflection of that training." While we don't doubt their skill, it's worth noting that at least some of the busted traffickers appear to have made the troopers' job embarrassingly easy like, for example, the criminally challenged saps who packed their pot into the rear of their SUV so that it pressed into and obscured the rear window. Jordan Smith
Lurking deep within a pending federal energy bill is a measure wind power advocates fear could be devastating to the booming, young industry. With the stated purpose of protecting birds, bats, and other wildlife, House Resolution 2337, proposed by Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., would establish a federal bureaucracy to certify windmills through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service ranging from backyard windmills to huge wind farms. Susan Sloan, Austin-based spokeswoman for the American Wind Energy Association, says the legislation would be crippling, effectively shutting the industry down for up to a year while rules are written. That's unnecessary, Sloan said, since the wind industry has participated in a three-year, ongoing federal advisory committee with the USFWS. A recent National Academy of Sciences report showed that windmills caused but three of every 100,000 bird deaths in 2003, she noted. Wind enthusiasts see this as an old-guard industry hatchet job. D.M.