Naked City

News briefs from Austin, the region, and beyond

On Saturday, Aug. 1, the ACLU of Texas honored longtime ACLU warrior Ruth Epstein (l) with a lifetime achievement award and recognized Central Texas Chapter President Debbie Russell (middle) for her outstanding activism and Amarillo attorney Jeff Blackburn (r) of the Texas Innocence Project for his work in defense of civil liberties. Epstein, a civil rights activist since her high school days in 1950s New York, hosts the <b><i>Taking Liberties</i></b> show on Austin public access television and told the group it's wonderful to be appreciated. Russell credited the ACLU with giving her wide-ranging activism strategy in a framework. Blackburn praised the ACLU's persistence at the Legislature, adding, You guys have my back – you have everybody's back.
On Saturday, Aug. 1, the ACLU of Texas honored longtime ACLU warrior Ruth Epstein (l) with a lifetime achievement award and recognized Central Texas Chapter President Debbie Russell (middle) for her "outstanding activism" and Amarillo attorney Jeff Blackburn (r) of the Texas Innocence Project for his work in defense of civil liberties. Epstein, a civil rights activist since her high school days in 1950s New York, hosts the Taking Liberties show on Austin public access television and told the group it's "wonderful to be appreciated." Russell credited the ACLU with giving her wide-ranging activism "strategy in a framework." Blackburn praised the ACLU's persistence at the Legislature, adding, "You guys have my back – you have everybody's back." (Photos by Jana Birchum)

Death to 'Dillos and Destinations?

Capital Metro wants to hear from the public regarding its proposal to eliminate the Downtown 'Dillo service as a cost-cutting measure. Staff argues that the 'Dillos are barely used and that their service areas are already duplicated by other bus routes. They'll make a presentation to that effect and take comments today (Thursday), 11:30am-12:30pm and 4:30-5:30pm at the Capital Metro Downtown Customer Service Center, 323 Congress; then, on Monday, Aug. 10, the public can also air their opinions to the Cap Metro board of directors at Capital Metro's Main Administration Building, 2910 E. Fifth, at noon. Also, in another attempt to save money, the agency has announced that its Destinations schedule book will not be printed for the August service changes due to declining use and more reliance on the Internet by bus riders (www.capmetro.org). Printed schedules of individual routes and system maps will still be available free of charge. Cap Metro estimates that not printing the book will save between $60,000 and $160,000 per year and keep 40 to 80 tons of waste out of landfills annually. – Lee Nichols


More Trails for Central Texas

The feds are kicking in more than $400,000 to get the Walk for a Day trail project up and running, U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett announced this week. Officially named the Capital Area Regional Trail System, the Hill Country Conservancy project starts at Barton Springs Pool and winds south; ultimately it will offer hike-and-bike access for more than 30 continuous miles. A $300,000 House appropriation championed by Doggett will go to design and engineer the public trailhead entrances, which will feature educational markers. In addition, $105,000 in federal stimulus funds will support a portion of the trail near U.S. 290 and Brodie Lane; that award went through the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organiza­tion, cheered on by Sen. Kirk Watson. The project has won broad political support because it provides a blend of recreational, conservation, educational, public health, and local small-business benefits to a large swath of Central Texas. Among local partners contributing are Bury + Partners, which donated design and engineering services. The city's Transportation Division is also considering applying for a federal Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery grant (which must be at least $20 million) to fund Walk for a Day trail system components and bridges. – Katherine Gregor


Everybody Loves Gay Perr-ee

Did U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison call Gov. Rick Perry gay? No, but in the heated atmosphere of the gubernatorial primary, that's the story. On July 30, the Statesman reported that the term "Perry Gay" appeared on a Hutchison campaign website, www.standbykay.com. It was actually in the page source code, part of a huge list of terms intended to garner more Internet search engine hits. Within a day, the story had gone national, getting coverage at The Huffington Post and Politico.com. In the inevitable spin, the words became "hidden messages" resurrecting an old and debunked rumor about Perry's sexuality (see "The Real Sins of Gov. Perry," Feb. 27, 2004). By the weekend, Hutchison's website had disappeared and simply referred readers to the main Hutchison campaign site, www.texansforkay.com, which lacks those search terms. Initially, Hutch­ison took some flak for negative campaigning and bad website design, but now the old "Perry Gay" meme is back out there at the start of a tough campaign for the incumbent. – Richard Whittaker


Legislators Make the Green Grade

When it comes to environmental voting, the Travis County delegation gets a green thumbs-up again this year. Environment Texas released its legislative score card on Aug. 4, grading lawmakers based on their votes on key legislation (seven measures in the Senate, eight in the House), with energy efficiency as this year’s big issue. In the upper chamber, both Democrat Kirk Watson and Republican Jeff Wentworth were among the 19 senators to get a perfect 100%, as did Rep. Valinda Bolton, D-Austin, and our neighbor to the north, freshman Rep. Diana Maldonado, D-Round Rock. The lowest local rating went to Rep. Dawnna Dukes, whose 75% isn’t really that bad, considering five House Republicans tied for last place on 13% each. See the full report card at www.environmenttexas.org. – R.W.


FLDS Saga: The End

On July 23, a 15-year-old girl was ordered into permanent custody of her aunt, bringing to a close more than a year of court wrangling stemming from the April 2008 raid of a ranch belonging to the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Of the more than 400 children investigators took from the ranch outside Eldorado, the girl was the last child to remain in state custody. Prompted by a phoned-in tip – later proven a hoax – that children were being abused at the ranch, the raid was later ruled unwarranted by the 3rd Court of Appeals; the Texas Supreme Court agreed, but the damage was already done. Under the new custody agreement, the girl is to have no contact with polygamist prophet Warren Jeffs, the now-incarcerated FLDS leader to whom she was allegedly married at age 12. In 2007 Jeffs was convicted in Utah of rape as an accomplice for his role in arranging a polygamous marriage between an underage girl and her cousin. He awaits trial on similar charges in Arizona, and Texas has charged him with bigamy. Department of Family and Protective Services Commissioner Anne Heiligenstein defended the raid in a statement to The Salt Lake Tribune: “The families now know that the state of Texas will not tolerate sexual abuse disguised as ‘spiritual marriage.’” – Jordan Smith

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