Naked City

News briefs from Austin, the region, and beyond

New and returning council members officially started their new terms at a swearing-in ceremony Monday. (L-r) Council Member Sheryl Cole, newcomers Chris Riley and Bill Spelman, new Mayor Lee Leffingwell, and Council Member Mike Martinez.
New and returning council members officially started their new terms at a swearing-in ceremony Monday. (L-r) Council Member Sheryl Cole, newcomers Chris Riley and Bill Spelman, new Mayor Lee Leffingwell, and Council Member Mike Martinez. (Photo by Shelley Hiam)

'Killer' Keller Update State District Judge David Berchel­mann said last week that he would move the Aug. 17 misconduct hearing of Court of Criminal Appeals Presiding Judge Sharon Keller from Austin to his home court in San Antonio. Meanwhile, the State Commission on Judicial Conduct – which has charged Keller with "willful and persistent failure" to follow the court's execution-day procedures in connection with the Sept. 25, 2007, execution of inmate Michael Richard – added two new elements to the charges against her: 1) that she violated portions of the Texas Code of Judicial Conduct requiring a judge to "diligently and promptly discharge" her duties "without bias or prejudice" and to "cooperate with other judges and court officials" in handling court business, and 2) that a judge should require court staff and others "subject to the judge's direction and control to observe the standards of fidelity and diligence" that apply to the judge and to "refrain from manifesting bias or prejudice in the performance" of official duties. The alleged violations of those canons dovetail with a declaration filed by two dozen legal ethicists arguing that Keller has demonstrated a lack of impartiality and a distinct bias in favor of the state during her tenure. (For more, see "Judge 'Killer' Keller to Face Trial," Feb. 27.) – Jordan Smith

Battle Brewing Over SBOE Seat University of Texas math professor and unsuccessful 2004 congressional candidate Lorenzo Sadun declared last week that he seeks to unseat Cynthia Dunbar from the State Board of Education. "Right now, the State Board of Education is dysfunctional," said Sadun. "Instead of working to improve public education in Texas, the controlling bloc of social conservatives is intent on fighting the culture wars. Instead of appointing qualified experts to guide them, they are appointing ideologues. Instead of listening to teachers and scientific experts, they listen to pressure groups. This has to stop." Republican Dunbar, of Richmond, makes a pretty inviting target for Democrats like Sadun – she's made a spectacle of herself in recent months, including writing a pre-election editorial warning of martial law under an Obama administration and a book calling public education "tyrannical" and a "subtly deceptive tool of perversion." Dunbar's District 10 takes in all or part of 16 counties, including all of Travis County north of the Colorado River. Sadun joins former Texas Education Agency employee Judy Jennings on the Democratic ballot. Also expected to jump into the race, also on the Democratic side, is Susan Shelton, who just finished her stint as political director of the victorious Lee Leffingwell for Mayor campaign. Shelton has not made her candidacy official yet. – Lee Nichols


Keeping Austin Posted Another website has launched ­hoping to "redefine journalism for the next era." Austin Post (www.austinpost.org) will initially rely on input from local bloggers and volunteer writers – though it may add paid journalists in the future, said Scott Brighton, president of local technology company Trilogy Enterprises, which is backing the venture through its nonprofit arm, the Trilogy Employee Foundation. "We would ultimately like to be the place where things that matter to people in Austin are discussed," Brighton said. Eventually, Austin Post aspires to play a newspaperlike role in the changing world of journalism. "While the Internet creates problems for the traditional model of local journalism, it also creates opportunities for a new kind of newspaper that can play the same critical democratic role – perhaps even more effectively," the site proclaims. The site is in its "alpha" stage and plans to add more elements in September, Brighton says. – Kevin Brass


City Council Tidbits

•Loins 1, Neighbors 0: Members of the neighborhood contact team around Highland Mall lost the chance to challenge newly opened male strip club LaBare's liquor license. On a 4-3 vote, City Council decided the contact team didn't have standing to challenge the conditional-use permit the city granted to the club; former Austin Neighborhoods Council President Laura Morrison, Brewster McCracken, and Randi Shade sided with the losing contact team. That was one of several items before City Council in last week's meeting, the last before the new council was seated.

Members of the local Iranian community last week demonstrated at the Capitol as widespread protests continue in Iran over questionable election results.
Members of the local Iranian community last week demonstrated at the Capitol as widespread protests continue in Iran over questionable election results. (Photo by Jana Birchum)

Morrison made a change to the $1.5 million contract to develop a master plan for Solid Waste Services, allowing council to receive further community feedback in crafting it, specifically on the department's environmental goals.

Council also approved a 30-year renewal to the Austin Film Society's lease at the former Mueller Airport, although AFS's plans to lease space to Nashville-based music company Soundcheck drew concerns from some speakers. Council doesn't return until July 23, when City Manager Marc Ott presents his proposed budget for the next fiscal year. – Wells Dunbar


Workers Defense Project Accepting Donations

An account has been set up for the family of Jesus Angel Lopez Perez, one of the three men killed in the June 10 construction accident at a West Campus high-rise (see "Three More Casualties of Austin's Growth," June 19). Lopez's family lives in Honduras, and any funds donated will help pay for his funeral expenses there. Send checks, payable to Euclides Coarite, to the Workers Defense Project/Proyecto Defensa Laboral, PO Box 6423, Austin, TX 78762. – Nora Ankrum


Happy Birthday, Wooldridge

Naked City
Photo courtesy of Scott Melcer

Friends of Wooldridge Square Park gathered to celebrate its 100th birthday on Saturday, June 20. Community groups and sponsors also hosted an anniversary reception Friday, June 19, at the Austin History Center, which is hosting an exhibition of photos taken in the park. As one of three historic Downtown squares, Wooldridge will receive fresh attention in the Downtown Parks and Open Space Master Plan now being drafted by ROMA Austin (look for a town hall meeting later this summer). The Austin Parks Foundation put out a call at the celebration for energetic volunteers to help bring new life to Wooldridge Square, which has a colorful history as a venue for political rallies and other events. (Volunteers should contact cmccabe@austinparks.org.) To help boost programming at all Downtown parks, the Downtown Austin Alliance also is seeking a new arts and parks director; see www.downtownaustin.com. – Katherine Gregor


ACPP Manager Resigns

Austin Climate Protection Program Manager Jake Stewart announced Monday that he will be leaving the program, effective Friday, June 26. Stewart had improved program results by providing tighter day-to-day management since January; it's now uncertain who might fill that role (see "Not So Cool," June 19). "This shift in no way changes my fundamental belief that we can take meaningful and sensible climate action at the municipal level," said Stewart. "This is a wonderful city, and I hope to see efforts toward broad-based sustainability continue." He was considering a move to Austin Energy's strategic planning group, to work on smart-grid development and integration – an initiative related to the Pecan Street Project, which seeks to lower energy-related greenhouse-gas emissions.
– Katherine Gregor

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