Quote of the Week
"I believe it is in the best interests of the Department, the City of Austin, the citizens we are sworn to protect and serve, and Sergeant Olsen himself, that he be indefinitely suspended." – Police Chief Art Acevedo, announcing the termination of Sgt. Michael Olsen
Only two more City Council meetings before Christmas. Today (Thursday) council will finally move on consolidating the city's smaller police forces and again brood over panhandling and its causes. See "Beside the Point."
Official filing for next spring's municipal and primary elections began this week. Local aficionados are keeping close watch on potential GOP filers for retiring state Rep. Mike Krusee and any Democrat who might have the moxie (or delusion) to take on Rep. Dawnna Dukes.
The new national intelligence estimate confirmed what U.N. inspectors have been saying for years – that Iran does not have a nuclear-weapons program – radically undermining the Bush administration's simmering case for war. Bush immediately took credit for the news while also growling that Iran remains "dangerous." And if he had a brain ...
Hoping to stave off future litigation over developments on Lady Bird Lake, last Thursday council ordered the establishment of a Waterfront Overlay Task Force. Council Member Lee Leffingwell said there was controversy over the current ordinance and that "the purpose of this task force is just to go back and look at it and try to correct any ambiguities that might exist." The resolution calls for members of relevant boards and commissions, neighborhood advocates, and the development community to all have seats at the table. The city manager has until the end of January to give council proposals for the body's exact makeup and aims. The task force will have 270 days from its first meeting to make its recommendations to council. – Richard Whittaker
The Travis Co. Community Service and Corrections Division has withdrawn plans to put a drug and alcohol treatment facility down on East 11th Street in an office building owned by Ebenezer Baptist Church. Neighbors from the Guadalupe Association for Improvement of the Neighborhood protested the location, saying it was too close to Ebenezer's own day-care center. General Marshall, who represents the church, said it would never put any of their own facilities in harm's way. The treatment facility would be a place where probationers would go to individual and group counseling sessions, a service that sorely needs expanding in the county. CSCD's meeting with the neighborhood over the weekend led to no resolution. Each week that the county fails to find a place for its counseling services, it loses $11,000 of its $650,000 grant from the state. – Kimberly Reeves
Austin has always been at the forefront of the green-building movement, from the leaders at Austin Energy to the folks building their homes out of straw bales. But now green building is officially trendy. The corporate giant Wells Fargo hopes to have its new bank at the Hill Country Galleria Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design-certified by the U.S. Green Building Council, which is the benchmark for energy-efficient and environmentally friendly design. The certification will require the bank to fill a variety of requirements, from using nontoxic materials to installing an efficient heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning system. – Michael May
The Austin Independent School District's Project HELP (Homeless Education and Learning Program) is looking for Christmas sponsors for homeless students and their families. The program, which helps homeless students enroll and participate in school, is looking for gift-wrapped presents of toys, clothing, and food for Christmas Day (either cooked and delivered or ingredients for a meal). Project HELP needs to receive all the donations by Friday, Dec. 14. For more details about becoming a sponsor, call 414-0759. – M.M.
Ayon Sen, a senior at Westwood High School in Round Rock, won fourth place and a $30,000 scholarship Monday at the ultimate smackdown of high school science geniuses, the Siemens Competition in New York. Sen won for a project that tackled the relationship between undersea currents and ocean temperature, titled (in an apparent nod to George Clinton) "Dissipation of Geostrophic Oceanic Flows by Quadratic Bottom Boundary Layer Drag." He took a look at the friction at the bottom of the ocean, which has implications for predicating global climate change. Sen's parents are both scientists, and he plans to become a professor of mathematics. - M.M.
Beyond City Limits
Last month Waukegan (Ill.) High School seniors Brandy Johnson and Lupe Silva were voted "Cutest Couple" by their peers. Awww. The two young women, who met in drama class, had maintained a yearlong relationship, open at school, and earned a reputation as "just a regular couple." Duh. But when the votes came in, official homophobia began brewing – as far away as Texas. Because of the award and the national stir it caused, officials at Round Rock's Stony Point High School tried to ban "Cutest Couple" from the awards list. According to yearbook editors Vihn Ngo and Ethan Yelle, assistant principal Diana Garcia said she didn't want Stony Point to be associated with the words "cutest couple" because if you Google them, a lesbian couple shows up, "and we can't have the press writing about Stony Point in a negative manner because we have been doing such a great job this year." A great job at what? Discrimination? Garcia couldn't be reached for comment, but Round Rock Independent School District spokeswoman JoyLynn Occhiuzzi said (brace yourselves – if spin makes you nauseous, now would be a good time to shut your eyes) the problem wasn't the "cutest couple" link on Google; it was a "most likely to run off to get married in Vegas" attachment to the title at Stony Point – which, if taken literally, excluded same-sex partnerships, since gay marriage isn't legal in Vegas. Occhiuzzi also said Stony Point has decided to reinstate the "Cutest Couple" part of the title. – Kate Getty
Georgetown Police Department Sgt. Jimmy Fennell has been indicted on charges of aggravated sexual assault, aggravated kidnapping, and official oppression for the alleged sexual assault of a woman he'd detained during a domestic disturbance call. Fennell is off the job pending the outcome of an internal investigation. He is probably best known as the former Giddings police officer who was engaged to 19-year-old Stacey Stites, who was murdered in 1996 and found dumped on the side of a county road outside Bastrop. Bastrop resident Rodney Reed, convicted and sentenced to death for her murder, maintains he is innocent. He insists he was having an affair with Stites at the time of her murder. Although semen DNA found in Stites connected her to Reed, there is no evidence connecting Reed to Stites' murder. In fact, it was Fennell who provided investigators with most of the information about Stites' last hours. He said, for example, that Stites got up for work on time and borrowed his truck to work a 3:30am shift at the Bastrop HEB – he knew that, he said, even though he wasn't awake when she left. Amazingly, however, police never searched the apartment Stites shared with Fennell and allowed Fennell to sell the pickup Stites allegedly drove to work – before any suspects had been arrested and before forensic testing of the interior was complete. Reed supporters contend Fennell was a far more likely suspect in Stites' death and say he was furious to discover that his white fiancée was having an affair with a black man (see "Who Killed Stacey Stites?" May 24, 2002). Fennell's indictment "casts heavy doubt on the integrity of the justice process that [led] to the murder conviction of Rodney Reed and his sentence to capital punishment," said Texas Civil Rights Project Director Jim Harrington in a statement. – Jordan Smith
With filing for the 2008 elections officially opening in Texas Monday, potential candidates now have to put their money, or a nominating petition, where their mouths are. Candidates must file before Jan. 2 with the secretary of state to be placed on the ballot for a district or state office or with the relevant county judge for a county office. Anyone hoping to get in on the March 4 party primaries must also file with their county or state party chair. Official fees range from $300 for the race for State Board of Education to $5,000 to run for the U.S. Senate. However, candidates can offer a petition signed by eligible voters equal to 2% of the total number of voters in the last gubernatorial election. So there's still time for outsider candidates to get out the clipboard and start door-to-door signature drives. – R.W.
On Nov. 28, North Dakota federal District Judge Daniel Hovland ruled against two farmers seeking permission to grow industrial hemp in compliance with state law and without the interference of the Drug Enforcement Administration. Farmers Dave Monson, a veteran Republican state lawmaker, and Wayne Hauge say North Dakota law regulates the cultivation of industrial hemp, the nonnarcotic cousin of marijuana. Monson and Hauge argue the industrial strain of Cannabis sativa L. contains less than 0.3% tetrahydrocannabinol and thus is not a drug – meaning, ultimately, the DEA has no power to regulate their agricultural activities. The DEA has countered that the federal Controlled Substances Act does not differentiate between marijuana and hemp. Although Hovland appeared sympathetic to the farmers' situation, he ultimately ruled the act does not distinguish industrial hemp as a separate strain of marijuana. "The plaintiffs concede that the plant they intend to grow is Cannabis sativa L. The plaintiffs also concede that the plant they seek to grow will contain some quantity of THC," Hovland wrote in a 22-page opinion, granting the DEA's bid to have the case dismissed. "The plant the plaintiffs seek to grow is clearly a ... controlled substance under the plain language of the [CSA]. The language of the statute is unambiguous." And that, he wrote, is not something he can change from the bench: "The proper venue to amend the statute is Congress and not the courts." (The Industrial Hemp Farming Act of 2007, authored by Surfside Republican Rep. Ron Paul, which would legalize industrial-hemp farming, is pending before Congress.) At press time, Monson and Hauge were considering whether to appeal Hovland's decision to the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. – J.S.