• City Council has packed it in for the year, following a marathon meeting last week tackling everything from an incentives deal for auto parts maker US Farathane to the issuance of new taxi permits and a smoking ban in city parks. See "City Hall Hustle."
› Amid cries of "shame, shame, shame" from the audience at the Dec. 19 Austin ISD meeting, the board split 6-3 in favor of a contract to allow South Texas-based IDEA Public Schools to run an in-district charter at Allan Elementary in 2012 and expand to Eastside Memorial High School in 2013. See "AISD Approves Its Big IDEA, 6-3."
› Finally, there's some uplifting news from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, which has denied granting oil giant Valero massive tax breaks at six refineries, which would have squeezed tens of millions of dollars out of financially hobbled Texas school districts.
› The Electric Utility Commission Monday passed a resolution urging City Council to approve Austin Energy's proposed rate increase "as quickly as possible" to shore up the utility's anticipated budget shortfall in 2012; the recorded vote was 4-2-1, but Commissioner Shudde Fath later changed her abstention to "nay," joining Linda Shaw and Barbara Day, amid concerns that the new rate structure favors businesses and large users over low-income and low-usage customers.
› A long-working redesign of the city website launched this week. Redirecting from previous Web addresses to www.austintexas.gov, the new site is still in beta testing – meaning citizens (or city reporters) struggling with the new interface can send comments, suggestions, and hate mail to the designers from any page on the site.
› Convicted murderer Michael Morton on Monday was formally exonerated in Williamson County, after nearly 25 years in prison and an investigation that revealed evidence incriminating another suspect in his wife's murder; defense attorneys requested a court of inquiry into possible prosecutorial misconduct. See "Morton Wants Accountability."
› A San Antonio judicial panel approved a bipartisan deal to move Texas primary elections from March 6 to April 3; the courts still have to thrash out the congressional and state House and Senate maps, so the deal allows candidates to refile or drop out once district lines are drawn. Even without maps, candidates have rushed to meet the initial Dec. 19 filing deadline.
› The U.S. war in Iraq officially ended Tuesday, leaving a devastated country, hundreds of thousands dead, and a legacy of destruction in the entire region.
› "My president is black, he snorts a lot of crack. Holla." That message, tweeted Dec. 18 by UT College Republicans president Cassandra Wright, ignited a firestorm on the Forty Acres and brought international media scrutiny just weeks after former College Republicans Prez Lauren Pierce's similarly stunning Twitter fail, calling it "tempting" to shoot President Obama, just hours after shots were fired at the White House.