"There is nothing cavalier about how I feel. I feel like a truck ran over me." City Manager Toby Futrell, in response to Tuesday's Statesman editorial criticizing her "alarmingly cavalier attitude toward a legitimate area of inquiry."
Quote of the Week
Former first lady Lady Bird Johnson died Wednesday at her home in West Lake Hills. She was 94.
On summer break, City Council resumes July 26, when the proposed budget, now in revision, resurfaces. City Manager Toby Futrell reports this week that the crunched numbers are within "a couple million" of balancing. For a council member vacation itinerary, see "Beside the Point."
City Manager Futrell found herself in hot water over the weekend, as the Statesman reported Saturday that she had apparently created a city job for her brother-in-law. See Point Austin," and "Beside the Point" for more.
Police arrested Kurtiss Colvin, 20, in the June 19 beating death of David Morales in an Eastside parking lot, which briefly became an international story. See Morales Murder Update."
Debate began in the U.S. Senate over various proposals to reduce U.S. involvement in the Iraq war, as the Bush administration dug in its heels despite continuing bad news from Baghdad. And peace activist Cindy Sheehan went to Crawford to announce her intention to run against House Speaker Nancy Pelosi if Pelosi does not move to impeach President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney by July 23.
The weeks of heavy Central Texas rains have finally passed, leaving flooded neighborhoods along the Highland Lakes, plenty of mosquitoes, and the return of heavy heat. See "Local Critters Struggle Through Wet Weather."
Tuesday's Statesman editorial on l'affaire Futrell wasn't the only major (and mostly overwrought) opinion piece in the daily last week, sayeth our Chronic rant of the week: "Even under editorial impresario Arnold Garcia's tortured reign, the Statesman's screed in defense of the new, 'radically alter(ed)' Wal-Mart at Northcross is just god-awful, an overflowing drool-cup of know-nothing, pseudo-centrist dribble that applauds the little people surrounding the mall for having made their positions oh so very clear, but it's time for the grownups to get down to business; you've had your word, and we've rewarded you with 'a more pedestrian-friendly look,' so, uhh, get lost." See austinchronicle.com/chronic. W.D.
Bicyclist Mandi Terese Boswell, 28, was hit by a car and killed in Northeast Austin last Monday. According to the Austin Police Department, the car was traveling west on Highway 290 and collided at the Springdale Road intersection with Boswell, who was wearing a helmet. The driver stayed at the scene; Boswell was taken to Brackenridge Hospital, where she was pronounced dead. APD spokeswoman Laura Albrecht said investigators concluded that Boswell had disregarded a red light as she rode south on Springdale through the intersection, based on witness accounts. The case is still open, and anyone who may have witnessed the collision should callÊdetectives at 974-4724. This was 2007's 34th traffic fatality. Daniel Mottola
It's hard to find an upside to flooding, but the unseasonable rains mean the Lower Colorado River Authority was recently able to take the unusual summer step of turning on its hydroelectric generators around Austin. From June 28 to July 4, the six LCRA dams that form the local lake system produced 30,207 megawatt hours of electricity enough to power 12,000 houses for a week. While the LCRA no longer considers hydropower absolutely core business, it still accounts for 3% of the electricity and water firm's total capacity, roughly equal to its wind purchases. The dam system produced an average of 180 megawatts per hour during the week the generators were on. That's still below the maximum capacity of 281 megawatts, and even though there's still plenty of water in the river system, production may have to drop. The LCRA is bound by U.S. Army Corps of Engineers operating guidelines to prevent downstream flooding, so the authority may have to hold more water in Lake Travis and further upstream. This would slow the flow and possibly cut back on this summer's bonus electricity. Richard Whittaker
Two area conservation programs will get six-figure boosts from the federal government in the near future, thanks to some old fashioned pork-barrelin' from Texas U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison. The Senate Committee on Appropriations recently approved $275,000 to expand the 22,000-acre Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge and awarded $300,000 to the Austin Clean Water Program for a sewage-management project. "This funding will ensure that the city of Austin has essential infrastructure to serve its citizens," Hutchison said. Justin Ward
The Planning Commission met Tuesday, July 10, to discuss recommendations to the city's capital-improvement projects, including moving more affordable-housing bonds to the front end of the bond program, tweaking priorities in sidewalk building, and making sure utility extensions follow Envision Central Texas' principles of avoiding sprawl. At a Planning Commission subcommittee meeting last week, Chair Dave Sullivan also suggested looking for a way to tie parkland-dedication and sidewalk fees to neighborhood-plan goals so neighborhoods can see more results from their planning. Kimberly Reeves
Despite some early distractions, the 2007 legislative session was declared fairly healthy for the Travis County Healthcare District, lobbyist Marsha Jones told the district's board of managers last Thursday. Overall, funding for the Children's Health Insurance Program is up, as are hospital reimbursement rates for Medicaid. Most significant to the district, however, was the district's local legislation, Senate Bill 1107, which addressed retirement benefits for district employees, authorized regional affiliations and entities, and authorized the collection of revenue anticipation notes, among other things. The board of managers has been especially interested in creating some type of regional health-care insurance product, so the cost burden of the growing uninsured population, particularly those who take advantage of Brackenridge Hospital's trauma services, can be shared with surrounding counties. K.R.
Austin was among 13 U.S. burgs named an Inaugural Solar America City by the U.S. Department of Energy last month, winning $185,000 in grants. Meanwhile, the city implicitly confirmed its plans to pursue a concentrating solar (aka solar thermal) plant which uses sun-heated water or gas to spin a turbine generator in the West Texas desert. The DOE award was recognition for Austin Energy's solar rebate program, among the best in the nation, which assisted installations on more than 400 homes and 24 businesses locally since its 2004 inception. AE reaffirmed its commitment to meet the goal of 100 megawatts of solar by 2020, set forth in its 2003 strategic plan, but privately admitted it won't meet the plan's earlier goal of 15 megawatts by 2007, as only around 1.5 megawatts are now online. In addition to the $185,000 in grants, the DOE award includes matching funds for solar installations at six Austin schools bringing the total number of installations to 20. The DOE will also bankroll an AE study of solar-suitable rooftops locally, as well as research into combining energy from West Texas wind farms (already used by AE) and the planned solar-thermal plant there. D.M.
Twenty-four of the 44 dogs that have been in quarantine at the Austin Humane Society since a rabid bat was found in a dog-run area in late May have been given a clean bill of health by city inspectors, AHS officials report. On July 3, half of the quarantined dogs those that had recently gotten rabies vaccinations were given independence, just in time for a holiday celebration at the shelter, during which several of the newly liberated pups were adopted. Meanwhile, 15 dogs (those that had not had a rabies vaccination within the last month) will remain in quarantine until Aug. 18, AHS spokeswoman Lisa Starr says. The shelter has placed eight of the 15 in foster homes and is looking to place the remaining seven in foster care for the rest of the quarantine. To volunteer to foster one of the quarantined pups, e-mail email@example.com or call 646-7387 x226. Jordan Smith
After lengthy speculation, state Rep. Rick Noriega, D-Houston, is one step closer to entering the 2008 U.S. Senate race a very small step. On Tuesday, the five-term representative announced by press release that he would formally announce on Thursday in front of the Capitol that he's filed paperwork with the Federal Election Commission to set up an exploratory committee to consider a run against U.S. Sen. John Cornyn. In 2002, Cornyn succeeded Phil Gramm in the seat by beating former Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk, 55% to 43%. But now the Bush loyalist is seen as an easy target for a strong challenger, and Noriega is seen by many as the Democrat to do it; 49 of his fellow legislators had already signed a "Draft Lt. Col. Rick Noriega" petition before his announcement. Boosters are talking up the Army veteran for 26 years of military service, which even continued while he served in the Lege. He actually missed the 2005 session because he was in Afghanistan with the Texas National Guard, running a training center. That compares to Cornyn, whose uniform experience extends to sitting on the Senate Armed Services Committee and helping draft controversial legislation like the Military Commissions Act. R.W.
Beyond City Limits
Used to be that Texas Republicans were in court for trying to gerrymander the entire electoral map, but now we have something new to marvel over: Former GOP state Sen. Drew Nixon is up on charges of trying to fix a water-board election. Last Thursday, after an investigation by Attorney General Greg Abbott into the May 2006 elections for Panola County Fresh Water Supply District No. 1, a grand jury accused Nixon of two counts of abuse of office. They charge that in 2005, Nixon, then the district's accountant and self-appointed elections administrator, tried to keep names off the ballot. He deliberately misled two potential candidates, Dickie Jacks and Jon Kunkel, into believing they could not file to run against the incumbents. If found guilty of the class A misdemeanor, he could face a $4,000 fine and up to a year in prison. Of course, this wouldn't be his first time behind bars: The former senator for Carthage, Panola's county seat, stood down in 2000 after pleading guilty in 1997 to soliciting an undercover cop for sex on South Congress and unlawfully carrying a firearm. He served his six-month sentence on weekends while still a sitting member of the Legislature, making him the only person in living memory in the statehouse and the big house at the same time. R.W.
Remember the state employee pay raise the Lege passed last session? State Comptroller Susan Combs has figured out there's actually money to pay for it. On July 10, Combs issued a press release announcing that her office had finally certified the 2008-'09 Biennial Revenue Estimate, confirming the budget estimate. This means the people she glowingly called "one of Texas' most valuable resources" will get their 4% wage hike. Only it's not really 4%, and it's not all in one go. Instead, it's 2% this September and 2% in September 2008, meaning the pay for those "valuable resources" will not even keep pace with inflation. The increases were wholly dependent on Combs certifying the budget and remained less of a budget priority than property-tax cuts for the same period. The sum is also short of what unions had initially hoped for. The Texas Public Employees Association had asked for 2.5% a year over the biennium, with a minimum raise of $75 a month. The Texas State Employees Union lobbied for a more dramatic 8% in 2008 and 7.5% in 2009. Union members argued this would help bring pay back to traditional levels, putting the average state employee on a $41,800 pretax income in 2009. As is, the approved raise will put that average employee at $36,720 in 2008 and $37,454 in 2009. R.W.
Jury selection began July 10 in Los Angeles County Superior Court for the first of five lawsuits filed on behalf of at least 5,000 banana plantation workers from Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, and Panama, who, according to the Associated Press, claim "they were left sterile after being exposed in the 1970s to the pesticide known as DBCP." ¡Sí, se puede! The fact that the case is going to court in the U.S. is a significant victory for the workers; Duane Miller, part of a team of lawyers representing several Nicaraguans, told the AP, "This is the first time any case for a banana worker has come before a U.S. court." The lawsuit, filed in 2004, "accuses Dole Fresh Fruit Co. and Standard Fruit Co., now a part of Dole, of negligence and fraudulent concealment while using the pesticide," the AP reports. For more on this, see www.news.yahoo.com/fc/World/nicaragua. Cheryl Smith