Archive for the ‘Austin’ Category

Tax-fattened hyena watch.

Tuesday, February 4th, 2014

Rep. Rob Andrews (D-N.J.) said Tuesday that he plans to resign from Congress this month to take a job with a Philadelphia-based law firm, a move he said is best for his family.

“a move he said is best for his family”. Is your Spidey-sense tingling yet?

A report released in 2012 detailed how in May 2011 Andrews initially used personal funds to pay roughly $16,500 for four business-class airplane tickets for himself, his wife and two daughters to attend a wedding in Scotland. Andrews later had the money refunded and paid for the tickets with funds from his leadership PAC and has generally denied any wrongdoing. The Office of Congressional Ethics report, which was released by the House Ethics Committee, said that Andrews “refused to provide requested documents” to investigators related to his travels and provided credit card statements only “after making significant redactions.”

Andrews also allegedly used “a graduation party for his daughter to raise campaign cash.” Both of these things are violations of Federal law, in addition to House ethics rules.

By way of Grits for Breakfast, here’s a mildly interesting story: Aaron Rosenberg is suing his former employer and claims to be cooperating in “an ongoing federal investigation” of same.

So? Mr. Rosenberg’s former employer is Redflex Traffic Systems, one of the companies behind red light cameras.

Aaron Rosenberg, who was the company’s top national salesman, said in a civil defamation claim against Redflex that he was made a “scapegoat” to cover up a long-standing practice of “providing government officials with lavish gifts and bribes” after the Tribune began asking questions about the Chicago contract.
Redflex fired Rosenberg and sued him for damages in Arizona court in February, largely blaming him for the company’s wrongdoing in Chicago. In a counterclaim filed in October, Rosenberg disclosed that he provided information to local and federal investigators as well as to the outside attorney who conducted a damaging private investigation of the company.

And more:

Rosenberg said that during his tenure Redflex “bestowed gifts and bribes on company officials in dozens of municipalities within, but not limited to the following states: California, Washington, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Colorado, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Florida, New Jersey, Tennessee, Virginia and Georgia.”

Texas, eh? Would you like to guess some of the cities in Texas that have Redflex contracts? You don’t have to: Grits lists a few of them at his site. And yes, Austin is one of them.

Random notes: July 24, 2013.

Wednesday, July 24th, 2013

Man, this is a day for sad sports stories in the NYT.

George Sauer Jr. passed away in May.

He caught eight passes in the Jets’ upset victory over the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III. In six seasons with the Jets, Sauer caught 309 passes for 4,965 yards and 28 touchdowns. But after the 1970 season, when he was 27, George Sauer retired, criticizing a sport that he described as having a “chauvinistic authority,” “militaristic structure” and that he termed “inhumanly brutal.” He briefly returned to play with the New York Stars of the World Football League three years later, but after that, Sauer’s football days were over.

What makes this story interesting is that Sauer, according to people who knew him, was a really smart guy who may have never wanted to play football in the first place; what he really wanted to be was a writer.

On a slightly more upbeat note, there’s an interesting piece by Frank Bruni in the paper of record. Vetri, a very well regarded Italian restaurant in Philadelphia, transformed itself for three nights into Le Bec-Fin, a legendary restaurant that closed (temporarily?) in 2012.

I like the idea of recreating legendary restaurants for a few nights. I’m not sure what Austin restaurant I’d like to see do this; I think that needs some more consideration than I am currently able to give it.

And since this isn’t behind the paywall, i’ll link to it: the Austin Police Department has fired another officer. What did he do? Well…bad guy broke into someone’s home and stole their pickup and gun. Police chased the bad guy. Bad guy wrecked the truck, fled on foot, and broke into another house.

As police converged on the home, he began backing out of the garage in the homeowner’s car.
In a disciplinary memo, Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo said [Christopher] Allen [the fired officer - DB] fired four shots into the car’s window as it backed out of the driveway before chasing the car down the street on foot while firing an additional 10 shots, forcing other officers to take cover.

This has gone to the arbitrator:

According to the opinion, Allen acknowledged that he shouldn’t have fired all 14 shots but contended that he complied with the department’s deadly force policies because the suspect was an imminent threat to the public.

And the arbitrator said:

…that sustained violations of use of force policies have consistently resulted in termination, and that Allen should have been expected to avoid approaching the vehicle containing a possibly-armed suspect.
Though he said Allen seemed like a “thoroughly decent individual and dedicated police officer,” he decided there was no justification to overturn his termination.

I think the take-away here is: hit what you aim at. And always be sure of your target and what’s behind it:

The chief said Allen’s actions violated several departmental policies, including determining the objective reasonableness of force, and that he was a more of a threat to the public than the suspect.

Random notes: May 12, 2013.

Sunday, May 12th, 2013

Remember Detective Louis Scarcella, aka one of the “likeable scamps” who put David Ranta away for 22 years?

The other shoe has dropped.

The [Brooklyn district attorney's] office’s Conviction Integrity Unit will reopen every murder case that resulted in a guilty verdict after being investigated by Detective Louis Scarcella, a flashy officer who handled some of Brooklyn’s most notorious crimes during the crack epidemic of the 1980s and 1990s.

More:

The development comes after The New York Times examined a dozen cases involving Mr. Scarcella and found disturbing patterns, including the detective’s reliance on the same eyewitness, a crack-addicted prostitute, for multiple murder prosecutions [Emphasis added - DB] and his delivery of confessions from suspects who later said they had told him nothing. At the same time, defense lawyers, inmates and prisoner advocacy organizations have contacted the district attorney’s office to share their own suspicions about Mr. Scarcella.

And more. I don’t want to quote the entire article, but this is an important paragraph because it illustrates a key point: what you post on the Internet doesn’t disappear.

A prosecutor’s view of Ms. Gomez is available in an Internet posting on a cigar-smokers forum. Neil Ross, a former assistant district attorney who is now a Manhattan criminal court judge, prosecuted the two Hill cases. In a 2000 posting, he reminisced about a cigar he received from the “legendary detective” Louis Scarcella as they celebrated in a bar after the Hill conviction.

In the post, Mr. Ross said that the evidence backed up Ms. Gomez but acknowledged, “It was near folly to even think that anyone would believe Gomez about anything, let alone the fact that she witnessed the same guy kill two different people.”

Ms. Gomez is the crack addicted prostitute mentioned above. She’s dead now.

Have you ever wondered what it is like to manage a motel in the Rundberg/I-35 area? The Statesman has your answer.

(Note to my out-of-town readers: the Rundberg/I-35 corridor is notorious as a haven for drug dealing and prostitution.)

Austin politics note (readers who aren’t into Austin politics can skip this one):

We had an election yesterday. Specifically, we were asked to vote on bonds for the Austin Independent School District.

There were four bond proposals on the ballot, totaling $892 million. That’s right: AISD wanted to issue nearly one billion dollars worth of bonds.

This is one of the few times where I’ve actually seen organized opposition to a bond election in Austin. There were a lot of large “vote no” signs in yards and in front of businesses. Surprisingly, even the Statesman came out and opposed the bonds. (Our local alternative newspaper, the Austin Chronicle, endorsed the bonds. But the AusChron has never met a tax, a bond issue, or a government boondoggle they didn’t like.)

The end result: half the bonds passed, and half the bonds failed. This is kind of a “WTF?” moment: you’d figure the voting would go all one way or the other. Then again…

Proposition 2, which totaled $234 million, would have relieved overcrowded schools, which district officials said were among the most critical needs on campuses. The proposition contained three new schools and campus additions that district officials say are desperately needed. It also would have funded a 500-seat performing arts center at the Ann Richards School for Young Women Leaders, something critics called a luxury.

“a 500-seat performing arts center at the Ann Richards School for Young Women Leaders”?!

Proposition 4 would have provided $168.6 million for academic programs, fine arts and athletics. That measure had several controversial proposals in it, most notably $20 million for renovations to the old Anderson High School to create an all-boys school.

Those are the propositions that failed.

Proposition 1, which passed by just a few hundred votes, will provide $140.6 million for health, environment, equipment and technology. The bulk of Proposition 1 will go to technology upgrades, including new computers and networks, and will pump money into energy conservation initiatives.

Proposition 3, the other one that passed, “provides money for renovations across the district”. Proposition 1 and 3 together total out to $489.6 million, and “will add $38.40 to the property tax bill for a $200,000 home.”

Today’s Austin quasi-gun show update.

Tuesday, February 5th, 2013

I have written previously about the activities of the Austin Public Safety Commission, an appointed “advisory body to the city council on all budgetary and policy matters concerning public safety, including matters related to the Austin Police Department, the Austin Fire Department, and the Austin/Travis County Emergency Medical Services Department.”

The Public Safety Commission, it should be noted, is different from the Greater Austin Crime Commission, which has engaged in gun buybacks in the past.

I call that point out because the Public Safety Commission issued a series of “recommendations” to the city council yesterday. As reported in the Statesman, APSC recommends:

  1. “banning the leasing of government-owned facilities to gun shows”.
  2. “vendors at such shows to conduct background screenings”. This doesn’t make a lot of sense: we’re going to ban gun shows on public property, but we’re going to require vendors to conduct background screenings at the gun shows we’ve banned? I don’t believe the city can require vendors to conduct background checks at gun shows on private property; I think this is superseded by state preemption law.
  3. “…enforcing a state law prohibiting the carrying of firearms — except by those with concealed hand gun permits — in public parks, public meetings of government bodies, non-firearm related events at schools, colleges or professional events and political rallies, parades and meetings.” Wow, that’s a daring recommendation, guys. Enforce existing law.
  4. Instruct the “Austin City Council, Travis County Commissioner’s Court and Austin Community College and Austin Independent School District boards of trustees” to “divest ownership in any companies that manufacture and sell assault weapons or high capacity magazines to the public”.
  5. “Direct the Austin Police Department and Travis County Sheriff’s Office to study gun buy-back programs and come back with recommendations.” Oh, boy, I hope they do. As you may have noted at the link above, the last gun buy-back turned into a gun show. If they have another buy-back, I’d love to take a shot at picking up some more nice older Smiths.
  6. “Collect data on guns used in crimes”. I’m not sure from the context of the Statesman article what this means. I was listening to KLBJ-AM briefly last night, and caught part of a story on the commission recommendations; apparently, what they’re looking for is information about where crime guns come from. Are they stolen, legally purchased, bought at gun shows, etc.?

It is perhaps also worth noting that former mayor Will Wynn and current mayor Lee Leffingwell are members of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, and that Wynn is one of the members of that group who has been convicted of a criminal offense.

The more I hear out of these people, the better a recall election sounds.

Art (Acevedo), damn it! watch. (#P of a series)

Friday, January 25th, 2013

Today’s Austin Police Department suspension is brought to you by former Sergeant William Lefebvre.

Sgt. William Lefebvre, called to assist in an incident at a shopping center on Aug. 8, used the bottom of his foot to move a suspect further into a patrol car, striking him in the chest, [Police Chief Art] Acevedo said.

Chief Acevedo says “That tactic was not justified or objectively reasonable and (he) failed to report it in a timely manner”.

Okay. What does “failed to report in a timely manner” mean?

Acevedo said that Lefebvre reported the incident the same day, but upon review, it was determined that he could have been more accurate and timely.

Former sergeant Lefebvre will be suspended for 60 days (“The memo didn’t say whether Lefebvre will be paid during the suspension.”) and has agreed to a demotion to corporal detective. Post suspension, he will be “on probation” for a year. “If he commits a similar act of misconduct, he would be indefinitely suspended without the right to appeal.”

It sounds like this was a negotiated deal with the city, and that Lefebvre will not be appealing his discipline. However, the Statesman does not explicitly state this.

Random notes: January 21, 2013.

Monday, January 21st, 2013

I’ve written previously about the pot growers of Mendocino County. Today’s LAT reports on a new development.

Mendocino County set up a program to register medical marijuana growers:

Those who registered with the sheriff had to install security fencing and cameras, pay permitting fees up to $6,450 a year and undergo inspections four times a year. Every plant was given a zip-tie with a sheriff’s serial number on it.

The DEA raided the first person who registered.

Still, 91 growers signed up the next year.
Agents then targeted Matt Cohen, the grower most vocal in advocating for the program and getting it set up.

In spite of this, the county intended to continue registering growers:

But county officials stopped the permitting and inspections in March after the U.S. attorney threatened them with legal action. The federal subpoena landed in October, demanding records of inspections, applications, internal county emails, notes, memos and bank account numbers.

The county is now fighting the subpoenas. Three things about this:

Meanwhile, in local news: Austin has a moderately successful chains of bars known as “Little Woodrow’s”. The owners want to put a new location at 5425 Burnet, but they need a zoning change first. Here’s 5425 Burnet on Google Maps:


View Larger Map

This is a stretch of road I’m fairly familiar with; there’s not much along there except strip centers and stand-alone businesses. As the Statesman notes, there’s a mixed-use apartment/shopping development (with a parking garage) right across the street, which Little Woodrow’s hopes to cater to. There’s two bars close by that I can think of: Ginny’s Little Longhorn Saloon, mentioned in the article, which is also famous for chicken (stuff) bingo, and Billy’s on Burnet (which does very good hamburgers and has limited parking).

Anyway, the point is: the usual suspects – the Brentwood and Allandale neighborhood associations – are all butthurt over this, claiming there won’t be enough parking, the bar would be too noisy, yadda yadda. In spite of their opposition, “the opponents are short by roughly half the number of signatures needed on a petition that would require six of seven council members to approve the rezoning”. They had two votes against in a preliminary vote: Laura Morrison and Kathie Tovo.

(On a completely unrelated note: anyone got any experience organizing recall elections?)

More of your tax dollars at work.

Friday, January 11th, 2013

A little more than a year ago, I noted the saga of the Turner-Roberts Recreation Center in east Austin: built in 2008, developed structural problems in 2009, closed in 2011 while the city considered how to fix those problems.

Estimates at the time were $2.7 million and seven months to repair, or 10 months and $4.1 million for a tear-down and rebuild.

Today’s Statesman updates the story:

The price tag to rebuild and repair an East Austin recreation center, plagued by structural problems soon after it opened four years ago, has reached $6.4 million — about $1 million more than the original cost to build it.

The city is going to pay $3 million of that cost. The rest will be picked up by the three companies that designed and built the center.

All told, the city will have spent $8.6 million on the building.

The city has also spent another $3.1 million to open a “9,100-square-foot ‘multi-purpose facility; next door that contains a gathering space, restrooms and a kitchen — similar to a rec center.

I noted above that the three firms involved in design and construction are paying $3.4 million of the cost. That’s based on a settlement between those firms and the city, which didn’t require that the firms admit fault:

City officials wouldn’t provide a copy of the settlement this week and wouldn’t say how much each company had to pay. The American-Statesman has filed an open records request asking for the settlement.

And where’s the city’s share of the money coming from?

The city will pay the $3 million that the settlement didn’t cover using certificate of obligation bonds, which don’t require voter approval and are paid back using property taxes.

Those bonds were also used to pay for the new multi-purpose facility.

Something stinks here, and I don’t think it is the trash I need to take out. (Just to be safe, though, I’m going to do that anyway.)

Edited to add: Well, that’s settled. It wasn’t the trash.

Fun. Nasty fun.

Monday, January 7th, 2013

Just finished calling all the Austin City Council members (none were available to talk to me, so I left messages with their staff), and sending emails through the forms on the city website.

My message was short and simple:

  • The Martinez proposal is a bad idea that will do nothing to solve any real problem.
  • It will expose the city to legal action under section 229 of the Texas local government code.
  • If the council member votes for this proposal, I will not only vote against them in the next election, but I will also give money to, and actively work for, their opponent.
  • It only takes 38,000 signatures to get a recall election going.

I can be a real mean SOB if I want to be. (“Take a jam to make you think. Take a challenge to make you great.”)

I plan to back this up with physical letters, which will probably go out tomorrow (assuming I can get my printer working).

Here’s something that folks might find useful: a MSWord merge file of all the council members, with addresses and office phone numbers. The email addresses come off the copies of the emails I sent through the contact forms; the “PO Box 1088″ physical address is the one they all list on their contact pages. The phone numbers come from their contact pages as well.

(I could add fax numbers, I guess. If anyone uses fax machines these days.)

(Subject line hattip.)

Edited to add: At Lawrence’s instigation, here’s a CSV version of the Austin City Council members. And here’s a CSV version of the Travis County Commissioners Court, both commissioners and their executive assistants, including phone numbers and email addresses.

This is intended to enrage you. (#4 in a series)

Saturday, January 5th, 2013

What we do instead of doing something:

City of Austin and Travis County officials plan to take steps to ban gun shows on city- and county-owned property — and potentially even curtail them on private property within the city limits, the American-Statesman has learned.

Additionally, [Austin City Council member Mike] Martinez said the city will likely explore the possibility of enacting a law that would require a special permit — granted only by the City Council — for gun shows held on private property in Austin. Martinez said he will seek legal opinions on that idea. Eckhardt said she doesn’t think state law gives county governments such authority.

And:

“I can’t think of anything dumber,” [Texas Land Commissioner Jerry] Patterson, a supporter of gun rights, said of the proposals. “It’s absolutely not going to reduce gun violence.”

Time to make some phone calls Monday morning.

Edited to add: Giving this some more thought, Charles Harris of Storied Firearms (who is quoted in the article) deserves some praise. He could easily have thrown the gun shows under the bus. After all, that’d drive business to his place. But no.

…he sees the measure as “a feel-good thing. Politicians saying, ‘Look what we’re doing. We’re doing something to curb gun violence,’ when in reality, it doesn’t do anything to prevent crimes. Criminals can still get a gun on the streets anyway. I think there are other laws that can do a lot more good to get bad guys away from their guns.”

If you live in the greater Austin area, why not stop by Storied Firearms and pick up a little something? I visit there fairly regularly and find it to be a very nice shop. If you’re not in the Austin area, but support gun rights, there’s a contact form on their website that you could use to send a “thank you” to Mr. Harris.

Formula 1 is slightly less heckish.

Tuesday, October 23rd, 2012

I wrote previously about the proposals to close large swaths of downtown streets, including Congress Avenue, so people could party when Formula 1 came to town.

We have a deal. The Congress Avenue proposal (from an independent promoter) has been dropped, and that festival is merging with the official F1 “Fan Fest”.

Unfortunately, Congress Avenue is still going to be closed, but it looks like the closures will be for a shorter period than under the original “Experience Austin” proposal.

A bigger festival for 2013 could be held at the circuit in southeastern Travis County, Carroza said. “As COTA becomes more and more finished, it becomes apparent that people will want to spend more and more time there.”

This sounds like a fine idea to me, assuming there is an F1 race here in 2013. I wouldn’t recommend counting that chicken until it hatches, though.

Quickies for October 11, 2012.

Thursday, October 11th, 2012

The vast majority of people renting homes for this weekend’s Austin City Limits Music Festival could be breaking the law, as only four houses out of an estimated 1,500 short-term rental properties had the required license to operate as of Wednesday.

The city implemented the new rules on short-term rentals ten days ago. Odd how that hasn’t been a problem for the last couple of ACL festivals, but yet the city felt compelled to make a new set of rules anyway. (Yes, it may also have something to do with the F1 race as well, but again, there haven’t been reports of massive short-term rental problems with ACL, or SXSW, or UT football games, or (fill in the blank).)

“It isn’t our desire to be punitive,” Christianson said. “We just want people to have a safe place to stay when they come to Austin.”

Because, of course, people are too dumb to make that decision on their own.

More Alex Karras: NYT. A/V Club.

The question before the court was whether Mr. Ndao was enough of an expert in Senegalese spells to testify at the murder trial of Bakary Camara, 42, who says he killed an ex-girlfriend last fall under the influence of evil spirits. He has pleaded not guilty to charges that he murdered the woman, Rita Morelli, 36.

The answer was “no”.

Unfortunately, the Squirrel Report is off the air this week. Which is a darn shame, as not only could they talk about “Commander Squirrel”, but they could also cover this story:

Since the beginning of September, the center has taken in some 400 abandoned baby squirrels, the most in three decades, if you leave out the Ike year.

(Story includes many cute photos of baby squirrels being fed, exactly the sort of thing that’s up Weer’d's alley.)

Once again, I feel some obligation to comment on the Lance situation. It is looking like option #2 on my list may actually have turned out to be true. But I want to sit down and actually read the USADA report first, and I haven’t had time to do that. (I’m trying to finish the book I’m currently reading, I need to work on the Stanford Computer Networking class, I’m working on planning a birthday celebration, there’s still a movie I want to see, and some other things going on. Plus, tubular bells.)

Anyway, I’ll try to get to it, maybe over the weekend if I can manage to knock out the Stanford stuff.

Art (Acevedo), damn it! watch. (#O of a series)

Tuesday, September 25th, 2012

So Austin’s favorite police chief had a press conference this morning “flanked by two of his harshest critics”. (In case you were wondering, those are Nelson Linder, president of the local NAACP, and Jim Harrington, executive director of the Texas Civil Rights Project.)

Why the press conference? APD policy changes, which Chief Acevedo credits to input from Mr. Linder and Mr. Harrington. Specifically:

It isn’t clear to me if these are the only policy changes, or if there were less significant ones that the Statesman is skipping. One other area that’s been highly controversial lately is photographing and recording APD officers during arrests: Scott Henson over at “Grits for Breakfast” has some good coverage of what’s been going on.

Off the top of my head, none of these sound horrible. I do have a concern that requiring a minimum of four officers to respond to emotionally disturbed persons might, just might, cause problems, if that kind of response looks overwhelming to the subject. However, I think the training requirement may offset that concern. The big issue: does APD have enough people, with the right training, to respond in a timely fashion?