Quote of the Week
"I am proud that Texas has taken bold, visionary steps toward our looming infrastructure problems. There is no silver bullet to infrastructure needs, but we've taken the issue off the back burner and made it a priority. Communities now have the power and tools to address infrastructure needs as never before. Time will show that we were right to take bold steps on transportation policy." – State Rep. Mike Krusee, R-Round Rock, announcing that he will not seek re-election in 2008
District 52 state Rep. Mike Krusee, a House member since 1993, announced Tuesday that he won't seek another term. He didn't specifically address his reasons for stepping down. See "Beyond City Limits," below, for more.
The 3rd Court of Appeals ruled on Wednesday morning against an appeal by Williamson Co. Constable Gary Griffin and affirmed a lower court dismissal of his lawsuit. Griffin had contested a 2005 Commissioners Court decision slashing his budget in a dispute concerning his office's coverage of mental-health calls. The court ruled "the budget transfer was authorized by the local government code and did not improperly intrude into Constable Griffin's sphere of authority."
Austin Police Department Chief Art Acevedo terminated Sgt. Michael Olsen Wednesday for the June shooting of Kevin Brown. Olsen's Disciplinary Review Board hearing was Wednesday afternoon, and the 180-day civil service deadline for the APD's disciplinary decision was Nov. 30.
You can add two more City Council candidates to the list: This week Ken Weiss held an outreach meeting announcing his hopes for Place 3 – the seat held by Jennifer Kim. (Randi Shade is also gunning for the seat.) Weiss' website (www.weissforplace3.com) emphasizes his local ties and history with the Texas Army National Guard. Also – no surprise – incumbent Lee Leffingwell formalized his plans to run for re-election this May. Local consultant Mark Nathan is aboard for the campaign, while former aide Andy Mormon is expected to return from Ghana to manage it; a kickoff party is expected in January. Leffingwell hasn't drawn a formal challenger yet, but Responsible Growth for Northcross' Jason Meeker is thought to be mulling a run. – Wells Dunbar
It was a rough week for Will Wynn – or anyone blocking his car. After a Sunday profile in the Statesman castigating him for limp local leadership, the daily reported Tuesday on a disturbing 311 call regarding hizzoner. On Oct. 11, an 18-wheeler backing into the Monarch apartments construction site Downtown temporarily blocked traffic across West Fifth – until Wynn himself went over and ripped into the guilty parties, ordering them to call the cops and spewing what he called "a fog of profanity." The 311 audio afterward speaks to Wynn's voracity, with the building foreman describing the mayor as "extremely upset," "shouting," and "threatening." Wynn issued a press release Tuesday: "I want to confirm that, yes, I was angry about the illegality of what I witnessed, and I was even more angry about the complete disregard for Austin motorists. ... Did I use some rough language? You bet I did – and if I offended the sensitivities of those construction workers, I'm sorry about that." – W.D.
The Urban Transportation Commission recently recommended lifting the restrictions on operating hours for Downtown pedicabs, a decision not likely to be met with enthusiasm from the staff of the Public Works Department. Capital and Roadkill pedicabs would like to take to the streets during rush hour. Public Works, which sets the pedicabs' hours of operation, says there were too many problems during a recent test run. If Public Works does not support the recommendation – which the UTC made to put more alternative transportation Downtown – the commission would like a subcommittee to meet with the interested pedicab operators to try to work out a compromise. – Kimberly Reeves
The Austin Independent School District released a report this week that takes a comprehensive look at the city's middle schools. Unlike other studies, this one looks beyond test scores to the underlying problems at struggling campuses – finding, among other things, that a clear correlation exists between Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills scores and family income – a connection that doesn't appear to exist at elementary schools, the report notes. The research also documents that African-American students are much more likely to be punished with disciplinary action (five Austin middle schools have suspended more than a third of their African-American students), as well as the importance of teacher retention, which accounted for 39% of the variation in math test scores. – Michael May
Austin students continue to perform better on the National Assessment of Educational Progress test than those from other urban districts across the nation. AISD is part of a U.S. Department of Education study of 10 urban districts, including large districts like Los Angeles and New York. Austin tied with Charlotte, N.C., for the highest scores on eighth-grade math, with 68% of the students scoring above basic proficiency. Also, Austin's English language learners did better at reading and math than similar students at large urban districts. But it's important to put the good news in perspective. Austin's students performed below the national average (but above the large urban district average) in areas like eighth-grade reading. Also, Austin's students have not shown any substantial improvement overall on the NAEP test since 2005, nor did the district make any improvement on the so-called achievement gap between white and minority students. – M.M.
In a study destined to shake our basic understanding of college life, UT psychologist Kim Fromme and Kent State University's Dan Neal have released a study showing that college students drink more on the night of big football games. Although some of you may have already noticed this phenomenon, this is the first study to monitor the drinking of a group of students through two full seasons of football, and some of the conclusions are a bit surprising: For one thing, the UT students drank more on the night of a big game – an average of three drinks – than they did on New Year's Eve or Halloween. And although men drank more whether the Longhorns played at home or not, that wasn't true for women. Socially active women drank more when the team was on the road, which may indicate men were more likely than women to attend tailgate parties. – M.M.
For more on this topic, see "The Score."
Austin's October home sales are down 15% from last year. The report, from the Austin Board of Realtors, indicates tightening credit markets are affecting the local market. The sales price is still 3% higher than last October, with a median price of $180,000. But sales fell to 1,772 homes last month, even though active listings have risen 19% to 9,431 homes. It's important to put the downturn in context, however – Austin's market was booming in 2005 and 2006. – M.M.
A survey released last week ranks Austin the sixth most attractive city for job-seekers. The report based on the survey's results – drafted by Human Capital Institute, which studies job markets – looks at what features make a city ideal for workers thinking of relocating. It notes that workers generally tend to stay put, but when they do move, factors such as cost of living, job opportunities, cleanliness, and safety come into play. Also, negative images have a stronger impact on decisions to relocate than positive ones, says the report, which also notes that people tend to think about cities abstractly but make decisions about relocating concretely. "Our study found that the brand or perception of a city, is a critical factor in the decision-making process. ... Cities and employers that understand, manage, and promote their brands will be best positioned to attract and keep knowledgeable workers of all ages," said Allan Schweyer, the report's author, in a press release. – Justin Ward
The holidays are here, along with a chance to pitch in. The Austin Police Department's Blue Santa program is looking for volunteers to gift-wrap the food and presents it's giving to needy families. Wrappers are needed at Blue Santa headquarters, 4101 S. Industrial Blvd. #260, from noon to 9pm through Dec. 8 (except 9am-1pm on Saturdays). Groups of 10 or more should call 974-4900 or e-mail email@example.com in advance; more details are at www.bluesanta.org. The Trail of Lights also needs helpers. The sparkling holiday tradition is gearing up for its grand opening Dec. 9, and the folks at the Parks & Recreation Department putting it on are looking for assistance. Due to the large number of volunteers needed to operate the Trail of Lights – 100 each night – PARD's looking to enlist groups of 25 and more from local employers and organizations. See more info at www.ci.austin.tx.us/tol/volunteers.htm. – W.D.
Doing good never tasted so good, thanks to a new sandwich delivery service by nonprofit Caritas of Austin. The organization kicked off its new Do Good Deli with a luncheon on Monday. Caritas is slinging sandwiches to raise money for its work with refugees, the homeless, and the working poor. The service, aimed at catering corporate functions, is available in the Downtown area; $20 minimum on all orders. More info at www.dogooddeli.com. – J.W.
Beyond City Limits
State Rep. Mike Krusee, R-Round Rock, announced Tuesday that he will not run for re-election in 2008. The 48-year-old Krusee has represented District 52, which covers the southeastern half of Williamson County, since 1993. Thus far, his only announced opponent for 2008 had been Democrat Diana Maldonado. While Krusee's focus was transportation, Maldonado has said her campaign – and her candidacy – would focus more heavily on education. "I'm excited because this is an opportunity to have a change in leadership, which is what our community needs and what our districts need," Maldonado said. "Having worked at the local level, I know what it takes to represent this district. My issues will be education, of course, but also answering the needs of the hardworking families in our district on issues such as home affordability, keeping our neighborhoods safe, and getting our kids to college. Those are all important issues in this district." Krusee had come under fire in some corners for his support of toll roads and the Trans-Texas Corridor and from others for standing up to Speaker of the House Tom Craddick during last spring's power struggle at the Lege. – Lee Nichols
The Lone Star Sierra Club is prodding Dallas utility TXU, now doing business as Luminant, to solidify its commitment to cancel applications to build eight new coal-fired power plants – made as part of its private-equity buyout deal earlier this year – by changing the permits' dismissal status at the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to dismissed "with prejudice" as opposed to "without prejudice," as it stands now, which makes it easier to refile them, the Sierra Club says. TXU also recently applied to become part of the U.S. Climate Action Partnership, a group of corporations calling for mandatory greenhouse-gas regulations. If accepted, it would join fellow mega-utility NRG Energy Inc. NRG and TXU operate the two worst greenhouse-gas polluting power plants in the state, dually ranked numbers 45 and 50 globally for CO2 pollution. – Daniel Mottola
In other climate-change news, six Midwestern states and one Canadian province just signed the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Accord, a regional multisector cap-and-trade program. And Rainforest Action Network reports thousands turned out in more than 50 cities nationwide last Friday to protest Citi and Bank of America's investments in new coal-fired power plants and dirty coal extraction methods such as mountaintop-removal coal mining. – D.M.
Listen up, Louisiana hurricane evacuees. If you own a home back home, hopefully you've already gotten in on the Road Home, the state-run program that administers Katrina and Rita federal rebuilding money. If you haven't, however, there's still a little time. The deadline for signing up for a required appointment with a housing adviser is Dec. 1. According to the Road Home's website (www.road2la.org), appointments are available at 11 Housing Assistance Centers in Louisiana and Houston or by calling 888/762-3252 and completing an application through the mail. Road Home participants are supposed to receive up to $150,000 in compensation, although the program's funding capabilities have been in question. – Cheryl Smith
It isn't just Republicans and Democrats facing a crowded field of presidential contenders: The Green Party currently has seven candidates around the nation hoping they'll be the first eco-commander in chief. One of the highest-profile names in their race, Cynthia McKinney, former Democratic U.S. representative of Georgia, will be in Austin on Wednesday, Dec. 5, attending a fundraising event, including a silent auction and live music, hosted at Ruta Maya Coffee House by the Travis Co. Green Party. McKinney switched party affiliation in October, after losing a primary challenge in 2006 to Henry "Hank" Johnson Jr. Prior to that, she had a reputation as a pugnacious fighter for civil and human rights but also gained notoriety for punching a U.S. Capitol police officer in the chest. – R.W.
It appears New Jersey is poised to abolish the death penalty. The state has eight men on death row but has not executed an inmate since 1963, reports The New York Times. A bill that would abolish capital punishment was approved by the state Senate Judiciary Committee in the spring, and the state assembly is scheduled to consider a nearly identical measure on Dec. 6. Gov. Jon Corzine, a death penalty foe, has said he will sign the measure into law if it reaches his desk. "It would be a historic measure," Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, told the Times. "I think it is part of this bigger picture where the death penalty is on the defensive." – Jordan Smith