News briefs from Austin, the region, and beyond
• Clocking out, mostly Declaring "Mission Accomplished," Democracy for Texas – part of the Democracy for America organization that grew out of Howard Dean's 2004 presidential campaign – announced last week that it's suspending operations. The group sponsored monthly meetings at places such as Mother Egan's and Scholz Garten to discuss Democratic Party and progressive political goals. "Many of us awoke to our passion for political involvement before we even knew what organizing was – much less how to build a statewide infrastructure," said DFT's goodbye announcement. "Yet we did it. We gained an entire Democratic delegation from Austin, turned Dallas County blue, turned Harris County indigo and unearthed fragments of cobalt blue in the most unlikely places. We gained enough seats in the state legislature to oust a power-entrenched speaker and maintained Congressional seats after partisan redistricting." DFT said it will maintain "a skeletal infrastructure until our mission is renewed out of a statewide need for grassroots training." – Lee Nichols
• Oh, the omissions Court of Criminal Appeals Presiding Judge Sharon Keller last week revised her personal financial disclosure with the Texas Ethics Commission to include some $2.4 million in assets she'd previously failed to report. The problem? Her dad controls much of her assets. Or so she says. One of her attorneys, Ed Shack (a former Ethics Commission lawyer), told The Dallas Morning News that three of the properties Keller owns, worth about $1 million, were actually "acquired and managed" by her father, Jack, without Keller's knowledge – never mind that Keller actually signed a plat record for one of the properties in 2007 and that she was receiving income from those properties. "Even though she might get a check, even though they might be a source of income, I don't think she was aware that she owned the underlying real estate," Shack told the daily. Among the other lame explanations: She didn't disclose being an officeholder in three family-owned businesses because she didn't "think of these as positions," and she didn't mention owning 22 certificates of deposit, from which she gets some $110,000 in interest income, because she didn't realize the CDs were a type of "commercial paper" in need of reporting. (See "Contradictory Keller Conclusions"for more on Keller's legal woes.) – Jordan Smith
• Green test-run As Eastside Memorial High School looks toward a greener future – one of two new schools to be housed on campus next year will be Eastside Memorial Green Tech High – a group of students has decided to jump-start the eco-revolution a little early. On a typical day, 25 bags of trash come out of the school's cafeteria, where, without a commercial dishwasher, staffers must serve lunch in disposable containers. On Wednesday, May 6, in hopes of reducing some of that waste, the school environmental club planned to use a $500 grant from the National Environmental Education Foundation to launch No Styrofoam Day. Students planned to replace the cafeteria's Styrofoam and plastic containers with biodegradable products made of sugarcane fiber, then collect, sort, and deliver the trash to Texas Disposal Systems' commercial composting facility. While the eco-friendly containers – purchased from Austin's Eco-Wise and California-based World Centric – cost about 10 cents each (7 cents more than their wasteful counterparts), costs could be brought down by a long-term contract, said special education teacher Megan Sita, the club's sponsor. Such a move would divert 20 bags of trash a day from landfills and reduce the school's use of petroleum products. – Nora Ankrum
A New Leaf
The private, nonprofit Austin Parks Foundation has announced a $100,000 pledge and set up a fund for donations to plant more trees – big and small – around Barton Springs Pool and in Zilker Park. "The pool area, like many of the other older parks in the city, doesn't have many younger, next-generation trees," noted Austin Parks Foundation Executive Director Charlie McCabe. PARD also will plant new trees, as mature as feasible, to replace those removed. Citywide this year, it has stepped up tree-planting efforts (with help from the Austin Parks Foundation and TreeFolks) and planted about 2,300 new trees – double what the department did a year ago. "We need to start planting the successors to the mature, stressed trees that we have now," noted McCabe. APF has raised tens of thousands of dollars in recent years for young and "teenage" trees and their ongoing watering. To donate to the Barton Springs Tree Fund online, visit www.austinparks.org. – K.G.