• On Wednesday, Capital Metro announced it's canceling a contract with Veolia Transportation to get its MetroRail system up and running. Cap Metro said Veolia had requested changes to insurance provisions in its contract that the transit agency couldn't abide. Herzog Transit Services will now handle MetroRail operations and maintenance, and Watco Companies Inc. will operate the freight rail side.
• New leadership at Solid Waste Services: California Resource Recovery Association executive director and seasoned recycling policy expert Robert Gedert takes the reins at the underperforming department on Feb. 1, 2010, to much applause from environmentalists.
• The City Council holds its second to last session of 2009 today, Dec. 10. Lots of zoning action on the agenda, including a pilot program for "form-based code" along Airport Boulevard and an avalanche of historic zoning requests. See "City Hall Hustle." Mayor Pro Tem Mike Martinez is in Israel as part of a Latino leadership delegation traveling to the Holy Land. Mazel tov!
• Big shake-ups in the race for State Board of Education: Controversial right-winger Cynthia Dunbar, whose District 10 seat includes Austin, will not run again. Round Rock teacher Rebecca Osborne has filed to be her Republican successor, while UT professor Lorenzo Sadun has stepped out of the Democratic race in favor of Texas Education Agency veteran Judy Jennings.
• Last Sunday saw the lighting of the Zilker Tree, a 155-foot tower of 3,000-plus colored lights. Formerly the centerpiece of the Trail of Lights, the tree presides over a scaled-down light display this year (through Dec. 21) due to budget constraints.
• Voting ends today (Thursday) on the employment contract before members of the Austin Firefighters Association. If the contract is approved, City Council is expected to ratify it at its final meeting this year, Dec. 17.
• Maybe we can spend our way out of the recession: Austin was named one of the Top 5 cities "most likely to experience quarterly retail sales growth for the remainder of 2009 and into 2010," according to Pitney Bowes Business Insight. (Headlines reminds you to shop local!)
• Filing for the 2010 primaries began in a flurry on Dec. 3: Houston Mayor Bill White left the U.S. Senate race to immediately become top contender for the Democratic nomination for governor, while Gov. Rick Perry and Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison signed the paperwork for the GOP face-off.
• A team of liberal and conservative Democrats hammered out a rough bargain in the U.S. Senate to resolve the impasse on health care. In exchange for dropping a neutered public option, lawmakers are proposing easing enrollment criteria for Medicare and Medicaid, along with a "trigger" which would create a public option if health care costs don't drop.
Quote of the Week
"Sounds like we have some major splaining to do." – Mayor Pro Tem Mike Martinez responding on his Facebook page to "The Tire Mound of Mystery," News, Dec. 4, regarding the city-owned scrap tires illegally abandoned in a field in Southeast Austin. See "Untiring Efforts" for more.