Naked City

News briefs from Austin, the region, and beyond

A bundled-up homeless woman takes a break for a hot meal on Congress Avenue.
A bundled-up homeless woman takes a break for a hot meal on Congress Avenue. (Photo by Sandy Carson)

Two Months, $2 Million City Council voted unanimously last week to approve a $1 million settlement with the family of Daniel Rocha, who was shot in the back and killed by former Austin Police Department Officer Julie Schroeder during a scuffle connected to a drug sting operation in Southeast Austin in June 2005. Chief Stan Knee fired Schroeder, and the termination was later upheld by an independent arbitrator. This is the second $1 million wrongful-death case settlement in as many months. In November, council approved the same amount in a settlement with the family of Kevin Brown, who was killed by Sgt. Michael Olsen in June 2007. – Jordan Smith

Hutto on Thin Ice? On Dec. 23, the William­son Co. Commissioners Court will vote on whether to renew a contract that has the county serving as the middleman between U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the T. Don Hutto Residential Center, a controversial holding facility for noncriminal immigrants that has come under international fire for jailing children. The contract – first struck in 2005, with the understanding put forth by Sheriff James Wilson that the county's participation was necessary – specifies that ICE fill and fund the facility; that private, for-profit Corrections Corporation of America run it; and that the court funnel the multimillion-dollar finances, for a cut. Buoyed by the revelation that the county's participation is, after all, optional, activists are again pressuring commissioners to opt out, according to former Georgetown Mayor MaryEllen Kersch. Hoping to see a strong crowd at the meeting, Kersch e-mailed Hutto opponents: "Contact anyone in the county hierarchy who might be able to help us," she wrote, "but also anyone who could talk to [commissioners] ... ministers, friends, family members, etc." Apparently, the ice is indeed cracking. "[County Judge Dan] Gattis revealed that he was not necessarily in opposition to my position! I count him as a sure vote," Kersch wrote. – Patricia J. Ruland

Green Light for Green Line On Monday, the Transit Working Group approved Capital Metro's phase one Green Line passenger rail proposal for the Austin-Manor-Elgin corridor. Now the agency and its potential partners must come together on a financing plan; that proposal will take several months. Chair Will Wynn also announced that the group will reconvene Jan. 5 to begin considering the phase one proposal for the city of Austin's Urban Rail Circulator (aka streetcar). If and when both financing plans are forwarded by the TWG to the Capital Area Metro Planning Organization board, both projects are likely to be incorporated into CAMPO's long-range plan – a necessity for federal approval and funding. Clocking out the steps in the process, it appears the window is already closed for a May voter/bond referendum, pushing that step back yet again – this time to November 2009. That horizon is needed to get both projects officially into the draft CAMPO 2035 plan, backed by solid financing plans, and to rally voters; the state Legislature could also lend a helping hand by then. A November election would need to be called by early August 2009. Look to Austin council and mayoral politics to be a deciding factor. – Katherine Gregor

John Montford
John Montford

UT Chancellor Race Heats Up Two front-runners have emerged in the search for a new University of Texas System chancellor: John Montford, a politically connected AT&T exec, and Dr. Francis­co Cigarroa, a renowned pediatric surgeon, president of the UT Health Science Center in San Antonio, and former chief resident at the Harvard teaching hospital. Gov. Rick Perry reportedly threw his support behind Montford in April, which could give him a leg up with the regents, all Perry appointees. Known as the man with "eight careers," Montford has a history of weaving in and out of the public sector. He started as a Marine Corps officer and prosecutor, then went on to become a state senator, chancellor of Texas Tech, and executive at Southwest Airlines and Southwestern Bell. Now he serves as AT&T's senior VP and top lobbyist. Finalists haven't been officially named, and regents are still taking applications, board of regents Chair Scott Caven said. Candidates will be interviewed by the full board at the meeting today (Thursday). – Justin Ward

City officials on Tuesday ceremoniously decommissioned the old Green Water Treatment Plant. The facility is part of the Seaholm District, which is slated for major redevelopment. Taking part in the ceremony were (l-r) Council Member Mike Martinez, Assistant City Manager Rudy Garza, City Manager Marc Ott, Council Member Lee Leffingwell, Mayor Will Wynn, and others.
City officials on Tuesday ceremoniously decommissioned the old Green Water Treatment Plant. The facility is part of the Seaholm District, which is slated for major redevelopment. Taking part in the ceremony were (l-r) Council Member Mike Martinez, Assistant City Manager Rudy Garza, City Manager Marc Ott, Council Member Lee Leffingwell, Mayor Will Wynn, and others. (Photo by John Anderson)

Future Looks Bright for Energy Efficiency Green leaders are cheery about a new report set to be released by the state Public Util­i­ty Commission finding that beefing up energy-efficiency mandates for investor-owned electric utilities is not only feasible but would create billions in savings for customers. A bill passed in 2007 requires utilities to offset 15% of new energy demand with efficiency measures, growing to 20% by 2009. The Legislature called on the commission to investigate more stringent standards last year. The findings, prepared by consulting firm Itron, show that more investment in efficiency measures could cut statewide energy use by 23%, saving Texans as much as $11.9 billion on their electric bills over 20 years. The report said that small utilities may have trouble meeting a proposed goal of 30% offset by 2010, but it expressed optimism about a possible standard of 50% by 2015. Last week a group of 100 prominent Texas business and political leaders urged the Lege to mandate that new electric demand growth be eliminated by 2020 through investments in efficiency. Greens pointed to the myriad economic tools and available technologies at utilities' fingertips and urged legislators to act in the upcoming session. – Daniel Mottola

Paul Bettencourt
Paul Bettencourt

Texas Dems Pursue Bettencourt

The Texas Democratic Party says it will continue its lawsuit against Harris Co. Tax Assessor-Collector Paul Bettencourt, regardless of his plans to resign. Dems allege that Bettencourt – also the county's voter registrar – overzealously rejected voter registration applications. Houston media reports prior to the November election found several would-be voters rejected for minor errors or, in some cases, when they'd committed no error at all; Betten­court said those were just staff clerical mistakes constituting a tiny fraction of all applications processed. He took heat also for being slow to process applications, with 13,000 still unprocessed when early voting began. Dems have criticized him for actively supporting legislation requiring a photo ID to vote, which they say would disproportionately disenfranchise women, elderly, and minorities. Bettencourt announced this month that, despite having just won re-election, he would be stepping down to pursue a private-sector business opportunity. "It appears Paul Bettencourt is hoping that he can sneak off behind a late night resignation announcement and the problems facing his office will simply go away," said the TDP in a press release. Added TDP attorney Chad Dunn: "The TDP will continue its efforts to bring accountability and transparency to the Harris County voter registration process. And Paul Bettencourt will have to take responsibility for any wrongdoing that has occurred within his office." – Lee Nichols

Naked City
Photo by John Anderson

Big Bins, Big Results

It's official: The city's first month of single-stream recycling has proven that the bigger the bin, the bigger the efforts to fill it. In October, the city collected 2,941 tons of recyclable waste – up 18.4% from the same period last year. In addition, only 6.5% of the trash put in the new blue bins was unrecyclable, well below the 15% projected. Carbon emissions and employee injuries were down as well. But the project fell short in one area: the money it made. The city received $27,444, well below projections. In a memo to council, Solid Waste Services Department Director Willie Rhodes blamed the Asian markets for recyclables, which dropped 75% in one month. Solid Waste Advisory Commission Vice Chair Rick Cofer was concerned that the numbers obscured the impact of the city's decision to hire commercial recyclers Greenstar on a cost-plus contract rather than build its own materials recovery facility as planned. "The collapse of the commodities market for recycling makes it very difficult to determine just how bad the contract actually is, but clearly this is not a good start," he said. – Richard Whittaker

Got something to say? The Chronicle welcomes opinion pieces on any topic from the community. Submit yours now at

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Keep up with happenings around town

Kevin Curtin's bimonthly cannabis musings

Austin's queerest news and events

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle