News briefs from Austin, the region, and beyond
• Perry Borrows From the Feds Remember that $555 million in federal stimulus money for unemployment insurance that Gov. Rick Perry made a big noise about rejecting? Now he's planning to pay Texas' unemployment benefits with an interest-free loan – from the federal government. The Texas Workforce Commission has received authorization from the U.S. Department of Labor to borrow up to $160 million from the Federal Unemployment Trust Fund for July. TWC spokeswoman Ann Hatchitt called it "a safety net" that the state will use to supplement the state unemployment compensation fund. According to legislative guidelines, there should be $864 million currently in the state fund. As of July 14, it held only $119 million, and new unemployment figures due on July 17 are expected to show its burden increasing. Although Texas has not had to use this line of credit since 2003, the commission anticipates it will need to start using the loan in the next week and has calculated that its total debt could rise to $643 million by Oct. 1. – Richard Whittaker
• Texas Sunshine in Denmark At the recent Roskilde Festival in Denmark, South by Southwest sponsored the SolarPump – a fun solar-charging station for electric scooters. Part petro-retro – it adaptively reuses an iconic 1950s gas pump – and part clean energy, SolarPump provided emissions-free transport for journalists around festival grounds. "We were attracted to the SolarPump because it had humor and was a visual pun," said Eve McArthur, operations director at SXSW. "Even in the planning stages, the project proved itself to be a conversation starter, sparking discussion about clean energy." The pilot project is the brainchild of Beth Ferguson, a masters student in the UT Department of Art and Art History whose creative intent was to help people imagine a future with solar-powered mobility. Like SXSW, the Roskilde Festival has been working to lower its carbon footprint. The SolarPump was fabricated and assembled in Austin by Ferguson's Sol Design Lab, in consultation with Austin Energy and Lighthouse Solar and with assistance from the UT Department of Art and Art History. – Katherine Gregor
• New Libertarian Leader Mr. Benedict goes to Washington: The Libertarian Party has announced that Austin's own Wes Benedict has been appointed as the party's new national executive director, effective July 17. Benedict has been a mainstay of third-party politics in Texas, having run for county commissioner twice and City Council three times – but his real reputation has been built on providing much-needed structure and focus to the Libertarian Party of Texas. Benedict actually applied for his new position after last year's national elections (see "Libertarians Can't Lose for Losing," Nov. 14, 2008). "They had been talking about it and debating and looking at others, and finally they decided on me," he said, adding that the offer was only confirmed when he received a contract on July 8. Packing for his quickly organized move to D.C., he said he plans to parlay his four years of experience as the LPT's executive director into success at his new job. He explained, "A lot of it will be similar to what I did here in Texas but just nationwide." – R.W.
Arrest Made for Evans Murder
After three months of investigation, Austin Police have arrested and charged a 28-year-old man with the murder of Nikolas Evans, 21, who died after being knocked to the pavement outside the Coyote Ugly bar on Sixth Street. Police have charged Eric Dwaun Skeeter with manslaughter in connection with Evans' death. Police say Evans hit his head on the pavement after Skeeter struck him during a late-night altercation on March 27. Evans was knocked out and never regained consciousness; he died April 5. Skeeter is in jail on a $150,000 bond. Meanwhile, police on Monday released a photo of two women (pictured) they believe may have more information about the attack that killed Evans. APD spokesman Sgt. Richard Stresing said investigators believe the two women know Skeeter and may know more about what happened that night on Sixth Street. Anyone with information about the attack – or who might know the identity of the two women – should call APD's homicide detail at 974-5210 or the tip line at 477-3588. – Jordan Smith