Quote of the Week
"As brothers in the fight for equality, our separate struggles are really one for freedom, dignity, and humanity." Presidential candidate Barack Obama at the National Council of La Raza's annual conference in Miami Beach, quoting a 1968 telegram the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. sent to fellow civil rights leader César Chávez
Summer's a bummer when Barton Springs Pool is closed. City Parks and Recreation officials closed the pool this week for the 12th time this year, setting a new record for the number of times the pool has been shuttered by murky floodwaters spilling over the dam from Barton Creek. Damn.
Fired city consultant Bill Moriarty has filed an explosive lawsuit against a raft of well-connected engineers and lobbyists (including former Mayor Bruce Todd), claiming they had a hand in getting his contract yanked. See "Beside the Point" for the latest in this City Hall caper.
On Friday, July 20, former Williamson Co. Regional Animal Shelter vet tech Kathy (Lopez) Abdella filed a formal grievance alleging violation of the Texas Whistleblower's Act after she was fired on July 16. See "Damage Control at Shelter Raises More Dander" for more.
Everybody loves a winner – unless she's Hillary Clinton. This week, GOP hopeful Mitt Romney compared her to Karl Marx. She's so far out there, Romney says, "she wouldn't be elected president of France today." Damn, he's good.
Ever wondered where the worst traffic congestion in Austin during rush hours is? According to the latest study underwritten by the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization, the answer during morning rush hour would be southbound Dessau Road from Rutherford to Highway 183, followed by State Highway 71 coming into town at the "Y" in Oak Hill. In the afternoon, the toughest congestion is on northbound Parmer Lane from McAllen to I-35, with northbound MoPac from Cesar Chavez to Enfield coming in second. A full list of the congestion hot spots can be found on the CAMPO website at www.campotexas.org/pdfs/item6Jul.pdf. – Kimberly Reeves
Speaking of getting around town, the city still has a few bonds left from its 2000 bond issue, and most of that money will go toward road projects that require either joint city-county participation or relieve bottlenecks on various clogged arteries across the city. Federal cutbacks in transportation funding, however, have left the reconstruction of Brazos Street underfunded to the tune of $6.5 million. At a meeting Tuesday night, the Urban Transportation Commission suggested the city shift bond money out of the proposed West Gate Boulevard project – intended to complete a gap, so the north-south arterial runs from U.S. 290 to Slaughter Lane – and into the Downtown Brazos project. The commission's rationale is that it's better to support development where the city wants it – Downtown – than to encourage additional sprawl in far South Austin. The proposed projects will go to City Council Aug. 9. – K.R.
Vino Vino wine bar won its off-site parking variance before the Planning Commission this week, despite the protests of a neighboring business owner. Parking in Hyde Park is at a premium along Guadalupe – various businesses are simply a series of early 1900s storefronts with no parking spaces – and Vino Vino wanted to extend its hours into the evening, so it plans to rent the parking lot of Midas Mufflers a few blocks up the street. Well-known civic leader Karen McGraw, who owns the adjacent building, protested strongly against the variance, saying she never entertained the notion of a full-scale restaurant in her own small, subdivided building because she understands the constraints on parking. What McGraw fears – besides Vino Vino customers parking in her own 27-space lot – is the pressure to demolish the homes on Avenue A behind the storefronts in order to create parking. After the hearing, Vino Vino supporters boarded a large tour bus parked out in front of City Hall. Clearly, the owners didn't want supporters to have to worry about the hassle of parking. – K.R.
The Austin Independent School District will soon be holding registration for its free prekindergarten program. Students must be 4 years old by Sept. 1. Also, they must qualify for free or reduced school lunch, which depends on their family's income and size; have at least one parent on active military duty; or be learning English as a second language. Registration will take place at most schools on Monday, Aug. 13. Call the school to find the exact time. Students attending the Lucy Read Pre-Kindergarten Demonstration School in North Central Austin can register Wednesday through Friday, Aug. 1-3, 8am-noon or 1-3pm. Lucy Read is for students who will attend Wooldridge, Walnut Creek, McBee, and Cook elementary schools. Parents must bring the child's birth certificate, Social Security cards for parent and child (if available), proof of income, proof of address, and current immunization record. Find out which school your child will attend by going to the AISD website, www.austinisd.org, or call AISD's Early Childhood Education program at 414-4790 for more info. – Michael May
Beyond City Limits
Former Round Rock Express infielder Mike Coolbaugh died tragically Sunday, July 22, after being hit behind his left ear by a line drive while standing in the first-base coach's box during a AA baseball game in Little Rock, Ark., between the Tulsa Drillers and the Arkansas Travelers. Coolbaugh, 35, was a hitting coach for the Drillers at the time and had spent several productive seasons in the Astros' organization. Picked by the Toronto Blue Jays in the 1990 amateur draft, he played 39 games with the 2001 Milwaukee Brewers and five with the '02 St. Louis Cardinals, compiling 82 major league at-bats, with two homers and a .183 batting average. Coolbaugh was voted to the AAA All-Star team in 2005, hitting .281 with 27 home runs, 30 doubles, and 101 RBIs; he was also named the Astros' AAA Most Valuable Player that year. He leaves behind two sons – Joseph, 5, and Jacob, 3 – with a third child due in October. Donations for the Coolbaugh family can be dropped off at the Dell Diamond weekdays between 9am and 5pm made payable to the Mike Coolbaugh Memorial Fund or mailed care of Spirit Bank, 1800 S. Baltimore Ave., Tulsa, OK 74119. – Mark Fagan
Gov. Rick Perry is threatening to call the Legislature back for a special session on the most unexpected of topics – getting state retirement funds out of firms that deal with Iran. A measure to do this, Senate Bill 1330, by Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, failed to even get out of the Senate State Affairs Committee in the last session. Business with Iran is already strictly limited by U.S. Treasury Department regulations, and several large corporations, including Halliburton, are voluntarily ending all operations there. Dumping unethical investments was one of the few parts of Perry's legislative agenda in the last session that received near-universal support. SB 247, the "Stop the Darfur Genocide Act," was touted as divesting all Employees Retirement System and Teacher Retirement System investments from Sudan. However, unlike more extensive legislation passed in Illinois and New Jersey, the bill is not a blanket ban. Instead, it only bars investment in a "scrutinized business," a strictly defined group that includes less than 15% of all multinationals currently operating in the country. If Perry were to call a special session, this would be his eighth since taking office. This would put him well behind Bill Clements' record of 11 but ahead of Ann Richards (four) and George Bush (zero). – Richard Whittaker
In other Lege news, Speaker Tom Craddick has finally made his legal case for his right to ignore motions in the House, and it could cause a major rift among House Republicans. On June 18, Rep. Jim Keffer, R-Eastland, asked Attorney General Greg Abbott for a formal opinion on whether Craddick abused his powers to shut down debate during the last session. Abbott gave interested parties until July 20 to respond. On Friday, as the deadline approached, Craddick sent his strongly worded rebuttal. Written by his hand-picked parliamentarian, criminal defense attorney and former Austin Rep. Terry Keel, it accuses Keffer of trying to open the door to filibusters and making the speaker effectively powerless. Keel's lengthy opinion suggests that rule interpretations should be left to the House. He also argues that Keffer, one of seven candidates who have already registered to challenge Craddick in the next speaker race, is trying to make a power struggle a legal matter and "to absolve House members from any responsibility" by dragging the executive branch into the fight. In what can only be seen as a drawing of the battle lines, Keel's opinion comes with a letter of support for the speaker from House Appropriations Chair Warren Chisum, R-Pampa. Chisum goes so far as to call Keffer's actions politically motivated and "misuses of a chairman's authority to request AG opinion." – R.W.
Up on Capitol Hill, the House Finance Committee agreed to push forward with a broad five-year plan that will spend upward of $90 billion on health insurance for low-income children and boost Medicare payments to doctors. The price tag would be funded, in part, through additional tobacco taxes. President Bush and Republicans both promise to oppose such a plan, but Texas advocates for the poor support such measures. "All of the [Children's Health Insurance Program] gains Texas made this legislative session will be at risk if Congress doesn't put enough money in the program at the federal level," said Anne Dunkelberg of the Center for Public Policy Priorities. "Texas, more than any other state, needs adequate federal funding so that we can grow our program and provide low-cost health insurance for all eligible kids. CHIP not only keeps kids healthy, but it's a good investment for Texas." – K.R.
Secondary schools not wanting to host the Junior Reserve Officers' Training Corps could lose core federal funding, if U.S. Sen. John Cornyn gets his way. The Texas Republican has tabled an amendment to House Resolution 1585, the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2008. Under this, the secretary of defense would get to decide whether local education agencies, or parts of the agencies, can stop the JROTC from setting up a unit at their secondary schools or prevent students from enrolling with a unit at another school. The local education agency would not even have to have a written policy, or even have actively resisted the establishment of a unit, to have the cash withheld. This would remove not just Department of Education funding but effectively all federal cash, including homeland security funds. According to the state Legislative Budget Board, Department of Homeland Security grants to the Texas Education Agency were worth $343 million in 2006 alone and included cash for natural disasters. – R.W.
If you've always wanted your very own personal electroshock Taser gun but have shied away from buying the weapon because it doesn't really go with your Prada bag or complement your rosy complexion, then today is your lucky day. That's right. Taser International, maker of the most popular shock weapon – used by thousands of cops, including our very own Austin Police – announced last week that it's ready to ship its first batch of new personal Taser C2 weapons to retailers across the country. The weapon, which retails for about $350, was "designed ... with the consumer in mind," Taser President Kathy Hanrahan said in a press release. The new, "affordable, futuristic palm-sized device" combines "fashion [and] personal safety" for consumers, the company says. The device – which requires buyers to complete a public-safety background check before it can be activated – will be available in the coming weeks at several retail locations, including Academy and Cabela's. – Jordan Smith
Dazzling energy watchers and greens, Florida's Republican Gov. Charlie Crist recently signed three executive orders, bringing to the state sweeping environmental reforms aimed at attacking climate change. Crist committed to an 80% reduction in global warming pollution by 2050 and to adopting the strict California clean car standards for auto emissions, intended to lower emissions from new cars 30% by 2016 and to improve fuel economy by 40%. Crist also seeks to tighten energy-conservation standards for new buildings, as well as requiring utilities to produce 20% of their electricity from renewable sources. He specifically hopes to expand Florida's solar energy generation, promising to install solar panels on the Governor's Mansion and other state buildings. Stressing Florida's acute vulnerability to rising seas, increasingly violent weather, and severe droughts (all linked to climate change), Crist was quoted while announcing the reforms as saying: "We have a responsibility to face this reality head-on and take action to address it. Florida is providing the moral leadership needed to preserve our state's beautiful natural environment, and state government is leading by example by taking immediate action to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions." Is there such a thing as governor envy? – D.M.
In other energy-related news, TXU has announced that CEO John Wilder will step down if shareholders approve the purchase of the energy utility by Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co. (KKR) and Texas Pacific Group (TPG) at the annual shareholder meeting on Sept. 7. The deal, valued up to $45 billion, would put the publicly traded utility into private hands. TXU was frequently in the crosshairs of the Legislature during the last session because of the merger and plans to build 11 coal-fired plants across the state. That number now has been cut to three. If the deal is not approved, Wilder announced he would stay on with the company. – K.R.