Naked City

News briefs from Austin, the region, and beyond

Local Democratic officials rally behind gubernatorial candidate and Houston Mayor Bill White, stumping at Scholz Garten Dec. 6. See <a href=><b>Guv's Race Shuffle</b></a>.
Local Democratic officials rally behind gubernatorial candidate and Houston Mayor Bill White, stumping at Scholz Garten Dec. 6. See "Guv's Race Shuffle." (Photo by Jana Birchum)

Alleged Bike Thief Accomplice Exonerated

Late last month, Travis County prosecutors dropped all charges against Layne Severson, the woman police accused of conspiring with local bike thief James Clayton to sell stolen parts on the Internet. Clayton, who befriended local bicyclists and then stole their high-end bikes and equipment, was arrested in February. Police found more than $60,000 worth of stolen bikes and gear in his North Austin home and a storage unit. They later charged Severson, his then-girlfriend, with felony money laundering, saying her PayPal account was used to sell some of the items. "As it shook out, they couldn't prove anything," said Rip Collins, Severson's attorney. "She always took the position that she was not guilty of the money laundering. She never denied that her PayPal was used ... that her boyfriend used those accounts. At the same time, she took the position that she didn't know the items were stolen." Clayton pled guilty May 14 in Travis County District Court and agreed to a plea bargain of four years in state prison. At his sentencing, he told the judge that Severson was innocent and had no knowledge of the thefts. "He was going to testify in her defense," Collins said. Prosecutors could not be reached for comment. – Rob D'Amico

One Pledge Under God

Attorney General Greg Abbott is still working hard on behalf of Texas schoolchildren by defending the state's addition of the phrase "under God" to the Texas pledge. The wording was added by state lawmakers in 2007, and a couple from Dallas promptly sued, on behalf of their children, arguing that the phrase violates the First Amend­ment's Establishment Clause. Earlier this year a federal district judge disagreed, and the plaintiffs appealed to the 5th U.S. Court of Appeals (where, it would seem, they're unlikely to get a different result). On Dec. 2, Abbott filed a brief with the appeals court defending the pledge, arguing that it isn't really about religion but about a "patriotic acknowledgment of religion," which is constitutional, he wrote. "Virtually every court to have addressed the issue, whether squarely or in passing, has concluded that the U.S. Pledge" (which, of course, also includes the phrase) "does not violate the ... Constitution." And, he argues, the same should apply to Texas' pledge. – Jordan Smith

Solid Waste Services: Onward and Upward

Environmentalists are applauding the selection of Robert Gedert as the new chief of the city's Solid Waste Services Department. Prior to his current post as executive director of the nonprofit California Resource Recovery Association, Gedert was chief of recycling operations for the city of Fresno, Calif. In a press release, Austin City Manager Marc Ott noted that Gedert also "designed and operated several material recovery facilities (MRFs) in Ohio in the cities of Cincinnati, Hillsboro and St. Mary's." That experience is vital because one of Gedert's first big projects will be overseeing the development of a local MRF for Austin's recyclable waste. Solid Waste Advisory Commission Vice Chair Rick Cofer said, "I think the best compliment I can pay is that Bob Gedert will do for Solid Waste what Roger Duncan has done for Austin Energy, which is bring it into the 21st century and make it a leader, not just in Texas or the country, but the entire world." Gedert will take charge of SWS, complete with its 398 employees and $66 million annual budget, on Feb. 1, 2010. – Richard Whittaker

New APD Assistant Chief

Veteran Austin Police Officer Sean Mannix has been tapped to join Chief Art Acevedo and the rest of his administrative cadre on the fifth floor of APD's Downtown headquarters. Mannix, who most recently served as commander over the organized crime division, takes over for retiring Assistant Chief Sam Holt. Mannix will oversee patrol operations in East Austin, the activities of the organized crime division, and the department's forensics operations. – J.S.

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