Quote of the Week
"Although individuals from all faiths are welcome to worship with us at Hyde Park Baptist Church, the church cannot provide space for the practice of these non-Christian religions on church property." – HPBC statement explaining its last-minute cancellation of a Thanksgiving prayer service at its Quarries location, four months after Austin Area Interreligious Ministries had reserved the facility for the annual event
It's time once again for our annual celebration of the European conquest of the North American continent; not to mention the UT-Aggie game. Happy Thanksgiving!
Testimony concluded in the Responsible Growth for Northcross lawsuit against the city of Austin and Lincoln Property Co. over the planned Northcross Wal-Mart – Judge Orlinda Naranjo promised a decision in a few weeks. See "Wal-Mart Case Could Take Several Weeks to Decide."
Mayor Will Wynn announced a revised timeline for the search and hiring of a new city manager, now expected to conclude in January. See "Beside the Point."
Houston state Rep. Rick Noriega won't have a clean shot at the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate after all – Corpus Christi high school teacher Ray McMurrey announced Tuesday that he's throwing his hat in the ring as well. Although on the Democratic ballot, he says he's running as a "populist independent." "I feel like I'm the only real progressive in the race," McMurrey told the Chronicle.
Austin's economy continues to cruise along, according to a report by the Texas Workforce Commission. The Austin unemployment rate went from 3.7% in September to 3.3% in October – more than a full point below the national average of 4.4% and better than the state's overall rate of 3.9%. The number of nonagricultural jobs in the Austin area has increased 3.1% over the past year, to a total of 757,400. In other local economic news, the number of foreclosures in Austin rose 12.2% over the past quarter, according to research conducted by RealtyTrac. There were 3,063 foreclosures filed in the last quarter, or one for every 193 homes. That put Austin 44th out of the top 100 markets in terms of foreclosure activity and indicates the city is not immune to the subprime mortgage problems sweeping the country. Still, Austin is doing somewhat better than Dallas, San Antonio, and Houston and a lot better than, say, Stockton, Calif., the No. 1 market on the list. One out of every 31 homeowners there is looking for a new place to live. – Michael May
The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center at UT-Austin has embarked on developing a national rating system for sustainable landscapes. The Sustainable Sites Initiative (which includes many other partners) released its first report Nov. 1, with more than 200 recommendations for designing and building (see www.sustainablesites.org). The standards and guidelines finally adopted will lead to a uniform national standard, which does not currently exist; Sustainable Sites will produce a rating system by 2011. The U.S. Green Building Council supports the project and plans to adopt its metrics into future versions of its Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Green Building Rating System. – Katherine Gregor
An advisory panel has recommended raising UT tuition next fall by 7.8% and by another 6.9% in 2009. The panel, which includes administrators, faculty, and students, says the increase is necessary to recruit new faculty and give 3% annual raises to staff. The proposal would increase fees by $318 a semester next year and by $303 the year after, bringing the average cost of a semester at UT to $4,686. If the plan is approved, the cost of a UT education will have almost doubled since 2003, when the Texas Legislature agreed to let universities set their own tuition. The university blames the state for the increases, saying their costs have gone up much faster than the increase in state appropriations for higher education. Surprisingly, the increases have not sparked much opposition, perhaps because students whose families earn less than $40,000 a year have been spared the rate hikes so far. – M.M.
The Texas Public Policy Foundation recently released a study examining what characteristics separate the good schools from the bad. The study looks at 39 high-performing Texas schools and identifies traits they share, finding that effective schools offer incentives to attract more talented teachers in math and sciences, spend more on instruction and school leadership, minimize Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills test preparation during class time, and allow for school choice through magnet programs. Also, the report defies conventional wisdom on small class size, recommending schools consolidate math and science classes, enabling them to hire a few higher paid, more experienced teachers rather than small classes with less experienced faculty. To view the full report, go to www.texaspolicy.com/pdf/2007-10-PB32-bestpractices-execsummary-js.pdf. – Justin Ward
Although the most recent Atlantic hurricane season spared the U.S. any major turmoil, Central America wasn't nearly as lucky. On Sept. 4, the Category 5 Hurricane Felix slammed into northern Nicaragua, killing about 100 people and causing immense destruction in communities within its reach. On Tuesday, Nov. 27, from 8 to 10pm, MonkeyWrench Books, 110 E. North Loop, will host a presentation on relief efforts for the region. Donations can also be sent to San José Catholic Church, 2435 Oak Crest Ave., Austin, 78704. The money goes to Amigos y Hermanos de Nicaragua, so please note the organization in the bottom left corner of all checks, and make checks out to the church. The Red Cross is also accepting donations for Hurricane Felix relief; contribute online at www.redcross.org/news/in/profiles/intl_profile_hurrfelix.html. On a related note, in late October and early November, the southern Mexican state of Tabasco suffered flooding and then landslides after excessive rain caused regional rivers to overflow. "More than half of Tabasco's two million population [evacuated] their homes at the height of the flooding," and tens of thousands of people are homeless, Agence France-Presse reports. To contribute to Red Cross Tabasco flooding relief efforts, see www.redcross.org/news/in/profiles/intl_profile_mexicanfloods.html. – Cheryl Smith
Beyond City Limits
In a suit filed Monday, the Texas Civil Rights Project accused the Texas Youth Commission and 33 other defendants of denying a 16-year-old inmate his constitutional rights through a catch-22-like clause in TYC's Resocialization preparole program. Inmate A.B. has been held at the McClennan County State Juvenile Correctional Facility Unit II since Nov. 2, 2006, but was appealing his charge of sexual assault. TYC told A.B. he would be paroled on Nov. 14. However, his counsel had advised him to not discuss the case while it was in appeal. Since he would not admit to the original charge, TYC refused to let him join the sex-offender treatment program necessary for his parole. The Texas Civil Rights Project claims the policy violates his Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate himself and his 14th Amendment right to rehabilitation and is seeking an injunction ending the policy and ensuring that TYC takes appeal status into account on parole decisions. – Richard Whittaker
Thanksgiving dinner is not a given – one in four of America's children do not know where their next meal will come from any day of the year, according to the study Child Food Insecurity in the United States: 2003-2005, released this week by America's Second Harvest – the Nation's Food Bank Network. The study reports 11 states and Washington, D.C., have child food-insecurity rates above 20%, with "food insecurity" defined as lacking enough food to meet basic needs. Texas and New Mexico top the list with a 24.3% insecurity rating. Moreover, most families going hungry are headed by working adults. "There are bigger and bigger gaps between paydays, thus putting more pressure on the emergency food system," says Michael Guerra, chief operating officer of Capital Area Food Bank, which partners with more than 370 agencies to feed families year-round. One-third of those fed are children, according to the local food-bank statistics. Another Austin group on a mission is Operation Turkey, begun in 2000 with Richard Bagdonas "delivering one turkey to one homeless person on Sixth Street," he recalls. This year, Operation Turkey will deliver dinner to 3,000 Austin residents and will fan out to 20 other cities. Bagdonas says his group never turns away volunteers. Also needed this year are clothes and coats, all sizes, so that fewer will go hungry and cold. For more info, see www.austinfoodbank.org and www.operationturkey.com. – Patricia J. Ruland
Many of us will arrive at our Thanksgiving feast via automobile, so let us reflect on the fact that as the world's largest carbon emitter, 33% of our CO2 emissions comes from transportation-sector fossil-fuel guzzling, which also gives us the bountiful cornucopia of smog and ozone pollution garnishing most urban areas. Therefore, let us be thankful for two recent court cases challenging the pathetic federal fuel economy and emissions standards that helped make it all possible. Last week a federal court struck down the lame Bush administration-imposed economy standards for light trucks and sport utility vehicles that didn't exceed 24 miles per gallon by 2010 and failed to regulate large trucks and SUVs at all. The law says mpg standards must be set to the maximum feasible level. The 2007 Energy Bill now being debated in Washington sets a minimum economy standard at 35 by 2020. Also, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger recently announced that his state will sue the Environmental Protection Agency for a waiver to implement the state's 2002 stricter-than-federal regulations to cut autos' greenhouse-gas emissions by up to 34% within 10 years. Eleven other states have adopted the standards; state Sen. Rodney Ellis and Rep. Mark Strama led thwarted attempts to get Texas on board. – Daniel Mottola
The U.S. Supreme Court has announced it will hear on Jan. 7 the oral argument in the case of two Kentucky inmates who argue the trichemical lethal injection method used by 36 states violates the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment. The case, Baze v. Rees, has had the effect of sparking a temporary moratorium on executions across the country while the outcome is pending before the high court. Baze v. Rees does not challenge the constitutionality of the death penalty – only the specific formula used, which opponents say has the potential of causing great, unnecessary pain. The three chemicals work in sequence: The first is meant to render an inmate unconscious; the second, to paralyze the muscles; the third to cause cardiac arrest. At issue is the efficacy of the first, which may not cause unconsciousness. If that happens, then the second, causing paralysis, may in fact only mask severe pain – leaving the inmate aware of his condition but powerless to express the pain. Among the arguments raised by the Kentucky inmates is that a more humane alternative is readily available. – Jordan Smith
Immigration and Customs Enforcement's rationale for operating detention centers – that they keep families together – wore even thinner with this week's Associated Press report that a 28-year-old Honduran detainee housed at T. Don Hutto Residential Center in Taylor was deported without her 8-year-old child, who was left in the care of government officials. Mother and child are now in Honduras, but the incident has raised the ire of activists who deplore jailing families. "This is outrageous because it is exactly what ICE says Hutto exists to prevent," said Scott Medlock, prisoners' rights attorney for the Texas Civil Rights Project. The AP quoted ICE spokesman Carl Rusnok as saying the woman had twice resisted deportation and was "potentially disruptive." Since documents related to lawsuits against Hutto have affirmed that separation is a routine form of discipline at T. Don Hutto, the nagging question remains: Was this woman deprived of her child to punish her? Parent-child separation is par for the course for ICE, with raids often leaving children stranded at day cares and schools, according to one study. Ironically, ICE had beat the system by convincing the state it should not be subject to child-care licensing laws because parents would be in charge of their own children at Hutto. AP also reported that, if a complaint were filed that child care is being provided there, a state investigation could result. – P.J.R.
On a related note, a whopping 500 residents attended a public meeting Monday in Burnet County, most to express their opposition to county commissioners regarding a proposed 500-bed private detention center in the area. "Burnet County residents are concerned that the proposed jail will be operated by a Louisiana-based for-profit private prison corporation and that out-of-county prisoners will be shipped to the prison and that Burnet has taken steps to float revenue bonds to pay for the prison, which could endanger the county's future bond rating, without a public vote," according to Bob Libal, spokesman for those opposed to the facility. Libal is also concerned about track records of private prisons, which include human-rights abuses, lawsuits, higher rates of violence, and financial mismanagement. "Research shows that prison construction has no positive economic impact in communities. Counties that finance private prison construction have been held liable for abuses that take place in the prisons," Libal said. The commissioners met Wednesday, but at press time, there was no word on any action taken. – P.J.R.