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November, 2007:

Hostages taken at Clinton NH headquarters

This does not sound good.

A man claiming to have a bomb walked into Hillary Rodham Clinton’s storefront campaign office today and took at least two hostages, police and witnesses said. One woman was later released.

”We are in close contact with state and local authorities and are acting at their direction,” Clinton said in a statement. “We will release additional details as appropriate.”

The man ordered the hostages onto the floor and then released a mother and her baby, said State Police Maj. Michael Hambrook. Two campaign volunteers were still being held, said Bill Shaheen, a top state campaign official.

Witness Lettie Tzizik told television station WMUR of Manchester that she spoke to the woman shortly after she was released and that she was crying, holding the infant.

“She said, ‘You need to call 911. A man has just walked into the Clinton office, opened his coat and showed us a bomb strapped to his chest with duct tape,” Tzizik said.

Thankfully, it now appears that at least two more hostages have been released, although it’s not clear whether there are others. Live video coverage of the situation is here. I sincerely hope that this comes to a safe and peaceful resolution.

UPDATE: It’s over, with no one getting hurt. Thank God for that.

Statement from Lawrence Allen on District D runoff

(I have asked the candidates involved in next Saturday’s runoff to send me a brief statement saying why people should vote for them in that runoff. I will run the responses for candidates for each race concurrently. This statement is from Lawrence Allen in District D.)

My name is Lawrence Allen and I am asking you for your support for Houston City Council, District D. I have been a life long resident of District D, and have given back to the community as a Teacher, Assistant Principal and Principal in District D schools (Dowling Middle School, Jack Yates High School and Jones High School). I graduated from Jones High School and eventually returned to serve as Principal. I am currently serving District D as an elected Member of the Texas State Board of Education. During the last legislative session I represented Houston Independent School District, rallying support for the issues that affect our community schools. As a proud husband and father, I am committed to rearing my children, along with my wife Clothild Allen, in the community. I believe that District D has much to offer, and in the hope that our children will grow up with the same desire to give back to their community.

The people of District D should vote for me because I will always have their best interest at heart. District D is experiencing a change and I want to nurture that change. Businesses are prospering, the community bond is strengthening and I believe that the District is ready for a visionary with new ideas.

I have consistently expressed that my priorities for District D are quality of life (after school programs and park development), housing (mixed income housing and structural integrity), infrastructure (flood control and road improvement) and safety, but above all else, I want the people to tell me what they want. I want to be their voice.

Thank you, Lawrence Allen. Please click here for a statement from Wanda Adams.

Statement from Wanda Adams on District D runoff

(I have asked the candidates involved in next Saturday’s runoff to send me a brief statement saying why people should vote for them in that runoff. I will run the responses for candidates for each race concurrently. This statement is from Wanda Adams in District D.)

Today I say thank you to everyone in District D for your support in the general election, and I humbly ask for your vote in the December 8th run-off election. It is a privilege and an honor to have received the most votes of the seven exceptional candidates in the November general election. Voters have shown that they believe that “Experience is the Difference,” and experience is needed to improve the quality of life for all residents of District D. Experience is also needed to keep our community moving forward.

Each day that I walk the neighborhoods of District D, I am reminded of what makes our community so great—the people. I have had the honor to meet, work alongside, and befriend many wonderful neighbors in our district. I will consider it a true privilege to serve all residents of District D as their representative on Houston City Council once I am elected.

Helping to create good, healthy, quality lives for Houstonians has always been my passion. Over the years, whether as a student at TSU or as an employee of this great city, I have served the citizens of Houston by working directly with the Super Neighborhoods and the civic clubs of District D to address issues of infrastructure, affordable housing, and to increase constituent services. My commitment to the environment has led me to conduct community education workshops, which educate citizens about recycling and solid waste procedures of the City of Houston. As a result of these efforts, the Mayor asked me to coordinate Houston’s “Go Green Initiative.”

To best realize the limitless potential of District D, all residents deserve to have a voice. Most importantly, they deserve accessibility to their councilmember who will work not only to confront their issues but to get resolutions for their concerns.

In District D:

I have faith in our ability to create significant economic development opportunities;

I have faith in our ability to improve the environmental quality of our neighborhoods;

I have faith in our ability to increase public safety for all citizens;

I have faith in our ability to provide affordable housing options for those who dream of home ownership;

I have faith in our ability to improve the quality of the roads and sidewalks that lead them home.

These issues impact District D every day, and the issues I will spend my time on council addressing.

We must preserve what we love about our community and have the determination to fight for what we believe in. I encourage you to elect me as your council member because I have the wisdom and the skill to make a difference. Experience is the difference!

I hope to have your vote on December 8th.

Thank you, Wanda Adams. Please click here for a statement from Lawrence Allen.

Help send Rick Noriega off to Austin to file for Senate

Monday is the official opening of Filing Season for 2008. Rick Noriega will be heading to Austin that morning to do the paperwork for his Senate campaign. You can help send him on his way:

Come join Rick Noriega

Monday, December 3rd, 2007
7:30 am to 9:30 am

at Taqueria Del Sol Banquet Hall

8188 Park Place Boulevard
Houston, TX 77017

Come join Rick and his family for breakfast as we send him off to Austin to file as a Democratic candidate for the United States Senate.

Contributions are welcome.
Please make checks payable to “Rick Noriega for Senate”
PO Box 231163, Houston, TX 77223-1163.

For more information, please contact James Cardona at 713-621-7425

For those of you in Austin, Noriega will be at TDP headquarters (505 West 12th Street, Suite 200) some time after 11:30 for his filing. That event is also public, so come show up and cheer him on.

Cornyn defends his anti-CHIP votes

Nice try.

U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, predicting voters will see through Democrats’ bid to turn health coverage for working-poor children into a “political football,” on Tuesday defended his August and September votes against a proposed expansion of the Children’s Health Insurance Program.

Mr. Cornyn said the legislation went too far, cost too much and would place some children who have private insurance onto government rolls.

“There is a question of fiscal responsibility and of how much we want to grow the size of the federal role when it comes to health care,” Mr. Cornyn said after visiting a privately run call center for social program signups in Austin.

Mr. Cornyn, a Republican, faces re-election next year. Two Democrats who want to unseat him criticized his call center tour and photo-op, which they said were designed to conceal mean-spirited votes.

“He can use all the semantics and misdirection he wants. At the end of the day, he had an opportunity to vote for working families’ children and he chose not to,” said state Rep. Rick Noriega, D-Houston.

Pretty much. And please, let’s not forget that along the way, Cornyn was patently dishonest throughout the proceedings. It’s all he’s got at this point.

Mr. Cornyn opposed the bill, though Texas’ other GOP senator, Kay Bailey Hutchison, backed it.

One infers from this that Cornyn thinks his senior colleague supports fiscal irresponsibility. Nice to know.

Just hear those sleigh bells jingling…again and again

My inner math geek was amused by this story about the annual onslaught of Christmas music from one of the local radio stations.

Chestnuts roast, sleigh bells ring, drummers drum and angels are heard on high in 700 combinations for the next 26 shopping days and beyond on Houston radio station KODA (99.1 FM), one of more than 260 stations nationwide playing Christmas music and nothing but Christmas music through Dec. 25.

This is the eighth year the Clear Channel Radio-owned station has put its soft adult contemporary format on post-Thanksgiving Day hiatus in favor of nonstop holiday music, said Sunny 99.1 program director Mark Sherman, who co-hosts the station’s morning show with Dana Tyson.

Sherman said the station has about 700 holiday performances in its library. It plays about 20 songs an hour, which means each performance will receive multiple plays over the next month. Sherman, however, said the format never wears on him, even though he’s been doing it since 1999.

“Multiple plays”? We can do better than that.

First, do they really play 20 songs an hour? I figure between commercials, promos, and DJ chatter, each hour has about 45 minutes of music. Christmas songs are often shorter than your standard pop offering, but this is an average length of two minutes and fifteen seconds. Is that for real? I’d assume it’s more like 15 songs per hour, but hey, he’s the program director.

So let’s assume 20 songs per hour and run with it. If the total catalog is 700 songs, then they will run through the entire thing every 35 hours. From the day after Thanksgiving (Nov 23) to Christmas is 33 days – if we cheat and expand things to Nov 22-Dec 26, we get 35 days and a simple solution of each song getting 24 plays during the interim. At the very least, each one will get spun a minimum of 20 times. That’s a lot of rum-pa-pum-pums, you know?

I’m still at that happy place where I haven’t yet been so inundated by Christmas music that I reflexively cringe when I hear it. Probably a good thing for me that KODA is not one of the preset buttons in my car.

How to do a college football playoff

I’ve got to agree with King Kaufman here. This is such a sensible plan for a college football playoff that I can’t quite envision an argument against it. Oh, all right, I suppose it means that as many as four teams might wind up playing 16 or 17 games in a season, which might be a bit much for college players. Simple answer: Shorten the season back to 11 games, and ban conference championship games. Or, quit worrying about it since it doesn’t much matter anyway. All I can say is I hope I live long enough to see something like this implemented.

Will the Pig Stand ride again?

I’ve said before that one of my great regrets as a Houstonian is that in all the times I drove past the venerable Pig Stand on Washington Avenue, I never paid heed to that little voice in my head saying “I really need to try that place sometime”. Well, according to Swamplot, I may get a second chance to rectify that.

A Sixth Ward reader writes in with this report from the sneak preview of Beaver’s, Monica Pope’s new barbecue joint at 2310 Decatur near Sawyer, just south of Washington Ave.:

Tasty food there, nice interior. There is also a rumor (overheard at Beavers from someone that should know) that a man bought the Pig Stand on Washington, and another Pig Stand (my guess the Beaumont one) and plan to reopen them.

The shuttered Pig Stand stands just north of Beaver’s, at the corner of Washington and Sawyer. Bring on the roasted animals!

Amen to that! I’ll try to keep an eye on this, and if I get my reprieve, I’ll make the most of it.

By the way, that description of Beaver’s, Monica Pope’s new joint, sounds pretty tasty, too. It’s here for those of you who think the same.

Gmail forwarding problems

I’ve used the kuff – at – offthekuff – dot – com address for as long as I’ve had the domain. I still use it today, though I’ve had it forwarded to Gmail for some months now. Unfortunately, it looks like my webhost is having some issues with forwarding email to Gmail:

Update: (11/29/2007 3:00 PST) We’ve moved all outgoing gmail forwards to their own server so that they’ll have dedicated processing time without affecting the rest of outgoing mail. The outgoing mail queue is still pretty full, but it’s steadily decreasing. We’re in contact with a Google support representative to get this resolved permanently. Mail to Gmail forwards are being delayed, but they are going through. A temporary workaround is to point your email forwards to a non-Gmail address or local DreamHost mailbox, as those are not affected by the delay. We’re sorry for the problems this causes you, and we’re doing all that we can to resolve this.

I hadn’t really noticed this problem before today, but it’s definitely been affecting me. If you’ve sent me an email to the kuff address today and are wondering why I haven’t responded, this is the reason. I’m sure I’ll have a pile of mail to wade through tomorrow, but in the meantime, if you need to reach me right now, address your correspondence to cakuffner – at – gmail – dot – com. Sorry for the inconvenience, and thanks very much.

HISD Trustee runoff overview

One HISD Trustee race, in District II, has gone to a runoff. Here’s the overview story for that.

Both candidates in the runoff for the District II seat, Carol Mims Galloway and Michael Yarbrough, say they have serious concerns about the consolidations proposed in the Houston Independent School District’s $805 million bond package that was narrowly approved by voters this month.

They also agree that the district needs to improve vocational education. And Galloway and Yarbrough say they are troubled by the district’s performance pay program for employees.

The candidates, however, say voters have a clear choice.

Galloway touts her experience as the District II trustee from 1992-99. Yarbrough says the board needs a fresh face.


“What sets me apart from my opponent, first of all, is character,” said Galloway, who is president of the Houston branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. “Second of all, my proven commitment in the past for being accessible and inclusive of the community and the constituents I serve.”

The Harris County Appraisal District contends that Yarbrough wrongly accepted property tax discounts for years. The tax office says he could owe more than $7,770, plus penalties, for the over-65 homestead exemption he received.

“My paperwork shows something different from theirs,” Yarbrough said, declining to comment further.

He said Galloway is more committed to those who encouraged her to run than to the students, and that HISD’s high dropout rate reflects on past trustees.

Galloway said she has the support of former candidates Larry Williams, who finished third, and Reginald Adams, who finished last. The other candidate, Charles McCloud, supports Yarbrough.

I thought Reginald Adams was the real fresh face in this election, and I was sorry to see him not get any traction. I’m glad to see he’s supporting Galloway, because Yarbrough has a pretty questionable past.

Yarbrough, who graduated from Texas Southern University with a degree in political science, said he would work to reduce dropouts. He also hopes to solicit money from businesses to raise teacher pay.

Voters, he said, are not bothered by his past legal troubles. In 2000, he was acquitted on charges that he had accepted an illegal campaign contribution. He also was tried twice on charges that he had accepted bribes in exchange for votes, but both trials ended in mistrials because the juries deadlocked.

Here’s an old Houston Press article that goes into that in more detail. I don’t have a vote in this race, but if I did it would be going to Galloway.

Do we name too many storms?

Even though we just had a second consecutive relatively quiet hurricane season, some people think this one should have been quieter still.

With another hurricane season set to end this Friday, a controversy is brewing over decisions of the National Hurricane Center to designate several borderline systems as tropical storms.

Some meteorologists, including former hurricane center director Neil Frank, say as many as six of this year’s 14 named tropical systems might have failed in earlier decades to earn “named storm” status.

“They seem to be naming storms a lot more than they used to,” said Frank, who directed the hurricane center from 1974 to 1987 and is now chief meteorologist for KHOU-TV. “This year, I would put at least four storms in a very questionable category, and maybe even six.”

Most of the storms in question briefly had tropical storm-force winds of at least 39 mph. But their central pressure — another measure of intensity — suggested they actually remained depressions or were non-tropical systems.

Any inconsistencies in the naming of tropical storms and hurricanes have significance far beyond semantics.

The number of a season’s named storms forms the foundation of historical records used to determine trends in hurricane activity. Insurance companies use these trends to set homeowners’ rates. And such information is vital to scientists trying to determine whether global warming has had a measurable impact on hurricane activity.

The rest of the story, as well as the accompanying SciGuy blog post, is interesting and informative in its discussion of the science and data of hurricane tracking, but I still came away a bit disappointed. The reason for that is that the only mention of how this affects insurance rates is what you see in the paragraph above. Even then I wouldn’t pay any mind, except that the potential cost of this hurricane inflation was highlighted everywhere – in the print edition, on the Chron index page, where the headline reads “Rush to name storms may be costing you money”, and on the story page, where the subhead is “As season ends, some say center rushes to classify, which costs you”. That’s an awful lot of emphasis on cost for what we got in the story, which raised the subject then never explored it. I think a followup article is needed here to make up for that.

The 2007 hurricane season: Hot or not?

On the one hand, as the 2007 hurricane season officially ends, it wasn’t that bad.

Despite alarming predictions, the U.S. came through a second straight hurricane season virtually unscathed, raising fears among emergency planners that they will be fighting public apathy and overconfidence when they warn people to prepare for next year.

Friday marks the official close of the Atlantic season, so unless a storm forms in the next few days, only one hurricane — and a minor one at that — will have hit the U.S. during the June-to-November period. Mexico and Central America, however, were struck by a record two top-scale Category 5 storms.

The preliminary total for the season: 14 named storms, six of them hurricanes, two of them major.

That was less activity than the government predicted before the season started, and stands in stark contrast to 2004 and 2005, when the U.S. was hit by one devastating storm after another, including Hurricane Katrina.


The season’s 14 named storms were on the low end of the 13 to 17 government scientists predicted. The six hurricanes didn’t reach the seven to 10 forecast. The two major hurricanes were also below the three to five predicted.

Colorado State University weather researcher William Gray was further off the mark. Before the start of the season, he forecast 17 named storms, including nine hurricanes, five of them major, with a strong chance that a major hurricane would hit the U.S. coast.

Humberto, a Category 1 storm that hit Texas and Louisiana in September, was the first hurricane to strike the U.S. in two years. It was blamed for one death and $30 million in damage.

Gerry Bell, a hurricane forecaster at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said the season was relatively quiet largely because La Nina, a cooling of the water in the Pacific that normally boosts the formation of hurricanes, had weaker-than-expected effects.

The government’s 2006 preseason forecast proved overly pessimistic as well. Scientists predicted 13 to 16 named storms, eight to 10 of them hurricanes, with four to six of them major. Instead, there were nine named storms and five hurricanes, two of them major.

Bell said that this marks the second “near normal” season in a row. However, storm activity tends to go in cycles, and he said the Atlantic is still believed to be in a more active hurricane period that began in 1995.

On the other hand, if you were outside the US, this hurricane season was very bad indeed.

For a second year in a row, the United States has escaped a severe hurricane hit, pushing memories of Hurricane Katrina and the flooding of New Orleans another notch into the past.

But for Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean, the 2007 hurricane season ending on Friday has hardly been benign.

“No, not at all. The consequences for the poor have been very high,” said Judy Dacruz, a representative in Haiti of the International Organization for Migration.

The 14 tropical storms that formed in the Atlantic this season killed more than 200 people in Martinique, Jamaica, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Nicaragua and Mexico and caused hundreds of millions of dollars in damage to often impoverished and vulnerable communities throughout the region.


In the Mexican town of Mahahual on the Yucatan Peninsula, Hurricane Dean destroyed a cruise ship pier which had been a key source of income. “Windows, doors, electrical systems — except for the basic structure of the hotel, everything was destroyed by Dean,” said Rodolfo Romero, owner of the boutique Hotel Arenas.

Dean, which became a maximum-strength Category 5 hurricane, killed at least 27 people as it roared through the Caribbean in August and struck the peninsula.

Hurricane Felix in September also became a Category 5 storm on the five-step scale of hurricane intensity, killing 102 and leaving another 133 missing in Nicaragua, according to the Pan-American Health Organization.

Dean and Felix were the first two Atlantic hurricanes since records began in 1851 to make landfall in the same season as Category 5 storms.

The last storm of the season, Noel, soaked the Dominican Republic and Haiti, killing more than 150 people as rivers broke their banks and surged through towns.

“It’s been very busy, especially in Central America but also in the Caribbean,” said Tim Callaghan, a senior official with the U.S. Agency for International Development in Latin America and the Caribbean. “We have provided disaster assistance to Dominica, Belize, St. Lucia, Jamaica, Nicaragua, Honduras, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Mexico.”

That first story talks about how after two quiet years in the US, folks here are likely to get complacent and less willing to pay attention to warnings and evacuation notices. I can’t speak for anyone else, but I sure as hell haven’t forgotten our 20-hour odyssey to Dallas from 2005, and I haven’t thought it would get any easier now that we have two kids to think about. We were on full alert for Hurricane Dean, and would have hauled ass out of here at what would probably have been a fairly low objective risk level. I don’t plan on taking this any less seriously any time soon.

Here’s a summary and review (PDF) of the year’s activity from William Gray and Phil Klotzbach, the two Colorado State dudes who make the predictions that get the press. Here’s their press release if you want the condensed version. And here’s a great quote to wrap it all up:

“Meteorologists are known to be absolutely brilliant at after-the-fact explanation of weather phenomena … but please don’t press us too hard on future events!!”

You can freely substitute “political scientists” and “elections” (or, if you prefer, “smartass political bloggers” and “elections”) in that statement and it wouldn’t be any less true.

Red light tickets jump in October

Not a surprise.

The number of motorists nabbed by the city’s red-light cameras spiked dramatically last month after the Houston Police Department added 20 locations and began citing illegal turns, records show.

The department noted about 27,000 violations last month, more than twice the total in September, according to a review of camera data released to the Houston Chronicle.

The 130 percent increase from September to October was not too much of a surprise, police say, because the state began requiring citations for illegal turns — and because the new cameras went up at the city’s busiest intersections.

“I expected an increase,” said Martha Montalvo, an executive assistant chief who oversees officers tracking the program. “I had no idea what the increase was going to be.”


Until now, the number of $75 violations had been decreasing. There were 14,808 violations in May, for example, but only 11,767 in September — a 20 percent reduction.

The department in late August announced plans to install the additional 20 cameras to alternative approaches at intersections already being monitored. They began noting violations at them in October.


Police say about 3,600 turn violations were noted in October. The remaining increase came from the new locations, which accounted for nearly half the 27,000.

The new locations were chosen because they are busy. The average per-camera citation total for the original 50 locations was 290 in October. But the new cameras accounted for about 635 citations per approach, on average, according to the data.

There’s an accompanying graphic that shows five new cameras accounted for 6212 citations all by themselves. Going by the 290-per-original-camera average cited about, the first 50 cameras generated 14,500 tickets, leaving 12,500 for the new ones. Taking out the top five total, the remaining 15 new cameras nabbed about 6300 violators, or about 420 per camera. In other words, even the lower-volume new cameras were busier than the older ones. I feel certain those totals will decline over time, perhaps sharply, but still. Makes you wonder why these new additions weren’t higher up on the priority list to begin with.

The increase in citations, which presumably will bring in millions of dollars to city coffers, could fuel new complaints that the camera program is intended to generate revenue.

“It’s about making money. It’s very clear to me it’s so obvious,” said Randall Kallinen, a local civil rights lawyer. “It’s just a revenue machine.”

I really can’t adequately express how completely unimpressed I’ve been with the arguments of the anti-camera folks. They’ve made the “revenue machine” claims all along, and show no sign of abating despite evidence from elsewhere that camera revenues decline over time, not to mention the state law that caps fines and directs much of that fine money to trauma centers. They continue to scoff about the effect on safety even though the bulk of the data we have so far shows that such an effect definitely exists. They carp about signage, as if drivers should need to be reminded that running red lights is illegal and dangerous and can bring undesired consequences, though none have made any claim that the city has failed to comply with state law on the matter. I’ve said before there are plenty of things about the cameras that ought to concern people, but what we get from the critics is mostly the same tired assertions, repeated over and over. What’s strange about this is that in many cases, the things they’ve complained about were addressed by SB1119, but I never see any acknowledgment of that. It seems to me that if you still believe the cameras are money-grubbing, ineffective, unnecessary, or inadequately signed, you should be directing your ire at the Legislature for not going far enough in that bill, or for not banning the use of cameras altogether, as State Rep. Carl Isett (R, Lubbock) had tried to do for at least the past two sessions. Yet we’re hearing the same arguments today as we did when the cameras were first introduced. I don’t get it.

Houston. It’s Worth It: The Book

Houston. It’s Worth It. is now in book form. Houstonist has a conversation with its authors, Randy Twaddle and Dave Thompson. There’s also info in there about a couple of “big blowout parties” related to the book, one of which is tonight. Check it out.

Truitt to run as an independent in CD07

John Truitt, the fellow who had told a couple of us bloggers last week that he was going to run as a Democrat in CD07, has now decided to run as an independent instead. PDiddie has the press release. Like PDiddie, I wish him luck with that. I also hope those rumors I’ve heard of another Dem (or Dems) jumping into this race turn out to be true. Filing season opens Monday, so we’ll know soon enough.

An invitation from

Metro has made its decision about the Universities line, but there’s still work to do to make sure it’s done right. The folks at want your help with that.

We are only at the beginning of the neighborhood friendly part of our goal. has an important part to play in sharing specific ideas and concerns with METRO as they develop the detailed design of the rail line, and in urging the City and other stakeholders to make important investments in sidewalks, lighting, trees, signage and other improvements that make our streets safe and attractive public places. We also need to continue our commitment to Richmond Ave. businesses to see them through construction.

On Tuesday, December 4, we invite you to join us for a special Tuesday Night Out at a favorite Richmond restaurant, Maria Selma. Please come and help us CELEBRATE our successes and ENVISION Richmond Avenue with rail. This will not be our typical Tuesday Night Out. We’re expecting a senior official from METRO and representation from City Council to share their views on the role has played and can play in the next phase. Bring your ideas – we’ll also take time to begin crafting a vision of what will make the University Line the neighborhood asset we all want.

What: A Special Tuesday Night Out for RichmondRail
Hot Hors d’oeuvres & Soft Drinks, Cash Bar
When: Tuesday, December 4, 2007, 6:00 to 8:00 pm
Where: Maria Selma Restaurant, 1617 Richmond Ave.
Reservations: $15 in advance, admission $20 at the door

Click here to reserve your place and pay in advance. When you make your reservation we ask you to also consider making an additional donation. With your help, will continue to promote constructive solutions that look towards the greater good of our community and a sustainable quality of life.

Things have been quieter than I expected on this front since the official route announcement. Somehow, I expected more prolonged and pronounced whining. I’m not sure if that’s a sign that the opposition was never all that deep to begin with, if RichmondRail made a real impact on those who weren’t originally on board with them, or if they’re just biding their time for some as yet unknown to me future event. In any event, join in if you can and help make a difference.

Briles goes to Baylor

I’m not quite sure I understand this.

Art Briles on Wednesday accepted the position as head coach at Baylor, accepting a seven-year deal worth approximately $1.8 million per year.

“It looks like my tenure here at the University of Houston has come to an end,” Briles said. “I’m thankful for the great players, coaches and fans that I’ve been associated with these past five years.”

University of Houston athletics director Dave Maggard said Wednesday that Briles will not coach the Cougars in the Texas Bowl, saying he would name an interim coach by 5 p.m. Maggard also said that a “national” search will begin immediately for a new head coach, but would not specifically identify any candidates.

“I think Art has done an outstanding job here,” Maggard said. “We appreciate everything he has done for us.”

Briles has four years remaining on a contract extension he signed last year. The reworked contract paid $900,000 per year and could have exceeded $1 million with incentives. That contract has a $300,000 buyout clause that allowed Briles, 51, to accept the Baylor job.

The Bears have scheduled a 5:30 p.m. press conference to introduce Briles as their new head coach.

Okay, the money part I understand. At least, I understand it from Briles’ perspective. Why Baylor would want to shell out nearly $10.6 million over seven years on a coach is a bit of a mystery. Can they really afford that? If there’s one thing that the Lords of Baseball have learned lately, it’s not the annual salaries that kill you, it’s the length of the contracts. You can really get stuck down the line with a commodity that’s no longer worth anywhere near what you originally paid for it. It doesn’t have to work out that way, of course, but it is a risk.

The other thing I don’t quite understand is why Briles thinks Baylor is going to be a good opportunity for him.

Briles is replacing Guy Morriss, who was fired Nov. 18, one day after the Bears completed a 3-9 season, their 12th straight losing season, and went 0-8 in the Big 12. Bears went 18-40 overall under Morriss, 7-33 in Big 12 games.

“I think the challenge is always (a lure),” said Briles of moving on. “That’s why you coach. We crossed a few bridges here that haven’t been crossed before. I can find comfort in the fact that this program (Houston) is on solid ground. There are some good players in the house here that are coming back and ready to go. We’ve built a winning tradition here, one that people will be proud of.”

The Bears last above-.500 finish came in 1995, when they went 7-4 under coach Chuck Reedy, and they have not been ranked since the second week of the 1992 season when they were No. 24 in the AP poll before a 45-21 loss to No. 10 Colorado. Since joining the Big 12 in 1996, the Bears have gone 11-85 in conference play, winning no more than three games (3-5 in 2006) and getting outscored by an average of 39.2-16.9 in 96 Big 12 games.

How do you compete in the Big XII as Baylor? Briles did a fine job at UH, which as Richard Justice notes is a challenging environment. He may well have what it takes to succeed in a much tougher conference, I don’t know. Whatever confidence he’s got in his abilties, he’s gonna need, that’s all I’m saying.

Early voting starts today for city election runoffs

Early voting for the City Council and HISD runoff elections begins today and runs through Tuesday.

WHAT: The second and final round of voting to fill the four public offices.

WHY: No candidate got a majority of the vote in those contests in the first round this month.

WHO CAN VOTE: Registered voters who live in the city of Houston can vote in the only citywide race, for council At-Large Position 5. The candidates are Jolanda Jones and Joe Trevino.

Residents of Council District D in central and southern parts of the city also can vote in the district race between Wanda Adams and Lawrence Allen Jr.

Residents of Council District E in northeast and southeast parts of the city also can vote in the district race between Mike Sullivan and Annette Dwyer.

Residents of HISD board District 2 on the north side can vote in the race between Carol Mims Galloway and Michael Yarbrough.

WHEN: For in-person early voting, 20 balloting stations are open 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. through Saturday; 1 to 6 p.m. Sunday and 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday and Tuesday. Votes may also be cast early by mail.

HOW: For voting information, call the Harris County Clerk’s Office at 713-755-6965.


  • Main office: Harris County Administration Building, 1001 Preston, 1st floor
  • Acres Homes: Acres Homes Multi-Service Center, 6719 West Montgomery
  • North: Hardy Senior Center, 11901 West Hardy
  • Alief: Alief Regional Branch Library, 7979 South Kirkwood
  • Southwest: Bayland Park Community Center, 6400 Bissonnet near Hillcroft
  • Near west side: Tracy Gee Community Center, 3599 Westcenter
  • Far west side: Altharetta Yeargin Art Museum, 901 Yorkchester
  • Spring Branch: Harris County Courthouse Annex #35, 1721 Pech
  • Southeast: Palm Center, 5300 Griggs Road (Enter JP/Constable door)
  • Astrodome area: Fiesta Mart Inc., 8130 Kirby
  • South Houston: The Power Center, 12401 South Post Oak
  • Sunnyside: Sunnyside Multi-Service Center, 4605 Wilmington
  • Southeast: H.C.C.S. Southeast College, 6815 Rustic
  • Clear Lake: Freeman Branch Library, 16616 Diana Lane
  • Kashmere: Julia C. Hester House, 2020
  • Kingwood: HC Library-Kingwood Branch, 4102 Rustic Woods
  • Moody Park: Moody Park Recreation Center, 3725 Fulton
  • Northeast: BeBe Tabernacle Methodist Church, 7210 Langley
  • Neartown: Metropolitan Multi-Service Center, 1475 West Gray
  • East side: Ripley House, 4410 Navigation

Here’s a list of the interviews I did with candidates who are in the runoff:

Joe Trevino – At Large #5 – MP3
Jolanda Jones – At Large #5 – MP3
Lawrence Allen – District D – MP3
Wanda Adams – District D – MP3
Annette Dwyer – District E – MP3

I did not have the opportunity to interview District E candidate Michael Sullivan, or either of the two HISD candidates. I am in the process of asking the Council candidates to send me a statement about why you should vote for them in the runoff. I will print those as I get one for each candidate involved in a particular runoff.

Washburn fires back

In my previous entry on Governor Perry’s email retention policy, I noted that the strategy for dealing with John Washburn, the activist who’s giving the Governor a pain in the tuchus by making TPIA requests for his office’s emails, is to nickel and dime him to death. Well, Washburn is not taking that lying down.

Now Washburn is responding. With a formal complaint to the Texas Attorney General’s office.

Dear Mr. Simpson:
I would like to file a formal complaint with the Attorney General of Texas regarding the excessive charges to copy electronic records to electronic media. The charges amount to $568.00 for one CD-ROM worth of data.
As I articulated below, I believe Texas statues and administrative rules only allow for the charge of two dollars ($2.00) not $568.00 as asserted by the Office of the Governor. Attached are the relevant correspondences. I am also mailing the attached to the Austin address of the Attorney General.
As an aside I must say the “itemization” leaves something to be desired. What services exactly am I getting for $567.00?

Washburn also wrote back to the governor’s deputy counsel, disputing some of the charges as well as the governor’s office contention that Washburn has not paid for his total of seven TPIA requests. Washburn says this is untrue, because he only got an itemization of costs for one of his seven requests.

And here’s that letter he sent (PDF), along with a check for $2 and two self-addressed stamped envelopes to cover the cost of CDs and shipping. Read the letter, and you will understand that this guy is Not. Going. Away. I can’t begin to tell you how much fun this has been already, and how much the prospect of this being drawn out makes me smile. Here’s more from Elise Hu, the Observer blog, and the Star Telegram, which adds this useful fact:

Jesse Wilkins, a records retention expert at Houston-based Access Sciences, last month headlined an “e-records” conference in Austin designed to help state bureaucrats manage records in the electronic era.

He said that governments everywhere are grappling with how to balance the requirement for transparency with the need to handle ever-larger inboxes and run an efficient office. There are no hard and fast rules, but Wilkins said there’s affordable technology that allows governments to manage clutter, index and archive e-mail messages and ensure that important information is retained.

Wilkins said he didn’t know the specifics of Perry’s records retention policies, but he said a seven-day delete policy was a bit unusual, even in the private sector.

“In my mind, seven days is not reasonable,” Wilkins said. “That strikes me as a very short period of time.”

Indeed. Your move, Governor.

The Hall of Fame ballot for 2008

Here are your Hall of Fame hopefuls for 2008.

Tim Raines and David Justice head 11 first-time candidates on the baseball writers’ 2008 Hall of Fame ballot, joining Mark McGwire, Rich Gossage, Jim Rice and 11 other holdovers.

McGwire, his candidacy hurt by suspicions of steroids use, was selected on just 23.5 percent of ballots when he was eligible for the first time in 2007.
When Cal Ripken Jr. and Tony Gwynn were elected in January, Gossage fell 21 votes shy of the necessary 75 percent and Rice was 63 votes short.

Rice is on the ballot for the 14th time and Gossage for the ninth. Players can be on the Baseball Writers’ Association of America ballot for up to 15 years.

Gossage’s percentage increased from 64.6 in 2006 to 71.2 in 2007, while Rice’s declined from 64.6 to 63.5. The highest percentage for a player who wasn’t elected in a later year was 63.4 by Gil Hodges in 1983, his final time on the ballot.

Raines was a seven-time All-Star who played 23 seasons and batted .294 with 2,605 hits and 808 steals, fifth on the career list. He was the 1986 NL batting champion.

Justice was the 1990 NL Rookie of the Year and a three-time All-Star. He had a .279 average, 305 homers and 1,017 RBIs in 14 seasons.

Brady Anderson, Rod Beck, Shawon Dunston, Chuck Finley, Travis Fryman, Chuck Knoblauch, Robb Nen, Jose Rijo and Todd Stottlemyre also are first-time candidates. The five-year waiting rule was waived for Beck, who died June 23.

Other holdovers (with their 2007 vote percentages) include Andre Dawson (56.7), Bert Blyleven (47.7), Lee Smith (39.8), Jack Morris (37.1), Tommy John (22.9), Dave Concepcion (13.6), Alan Trammell (13.4), Dave Parker (11.4), Don Mattingly (9.9), Dale Murphy (9.2) and Harold Baines (5.3).

Rijo retired after the 1995 season and appeared on the 2001 Hall ballot, when he received one vote. He then returned to the major leagues and pitched for Cincinnati in 2001 and 2002, making him eligible to go back on the ballot.

Well, that’s something you don’t see every day. My ballot would have Raines, McGwire, Gossage, Blyleven, Trammell (whom I’d clearly been underrating, based on his JAWS score), and Tommy John, based more on my continued affection for his days as a Yankee than anything else. For those of you who are still carrying a grudge against McGwire, here’s my case for him from last year. Like David Pinto, who thinks this is the Goose’s best shot at induction, I hope the voters were just delivering a message to McGwire last year, and not making a final decision.

What’s in a headline?

More than 49,000 ineligible voters on Texas rolls, the headline blares. Sound scary to you? Consider this:

More than 49,000 people on the Texas voter registration rolls in May may not have been eligible to vote, state auditors reported today.

The ineligible voters included 23,114 possible felons, 23,576 people who were deceased and 2,359 voters with duplicate records. The auditors said the ineligible voters represented 0.4 percent of the state’s 12.3 million registered voters.

In other words, a headline reading “Fewer than 1 in 200 registered voters are ineligible” would be equally accurate. But not nearly as scary.

Putting it another way, the closest statewide election in the last 10 years was the 1998 contest between Carole Keeton then-Rylander and Paul Hobby for Comptroller. Rylander won by 20,000 votes, so had each of these felons and dead people participated (and assuming they were either felons or dead back then), they could conceivably had tipped the election to Hobby. Of course, if we assume that felons and dead people turn out at the same rate as other registered voters, then the 36% of the 49,000 of them would not quite have been enough to affect the outcome, even if they all voted for Hobby. Point I’m making is that in context, this is a very small number.

Obviously, the Secretary of State and the various county officials have done a pretty good job of keeping the voter rolls up to date. Frankly, the truly scary prospect is that they’re so good at cleansing the rolls that they’ve been (accidentally or otherwise) throwing perfectly legitimate (i.e., non-dead, non-felon, non-duplicate) people out as well. Unfortunately, I don’t think anyone is keeping track of how many such disenfranchised voters there may be, so we’ve no basis for comparison. But we should at least bear it in mind.

UPDATE: Here’s the fuller version of the story.

State auditors found more than 49,000 potentially ineligible felons and dead people on Texas voter rolls this year, but did not find that any cast ballots in May’s special election.

The audit report released Tuesday said that there may be even more potentially inaccurate voter information but they were unable to check for U.S. citizenship status or federal felony convictions or verify records that lacked a Social Security number and Texas driver’s license number.

The audit recommended that the Secretary of State’s Office do a better job of matching criminal conviction and death records with the voter list.

Although there were no instances found of potentially ineligible voters casting ballots in the May 12 special election, auditors noted the “relatively low 7 percent voter turnout” for that special constitutional amendment election to extend a school property tax cut to senior citizens and disabled homeowners.

The audit also found inadequate security controls over a new computer system that maintains voter records and weaknesses in data backup that increase the risk of prompt and full recovery of data from a disaster.

Scott Haywood, a spokesman for Secretary of State Phil Wilson, said the office has implemented many of the auditors’ recommendations but wants to be careful about wrongly removing anyone from voter rolls.

He noted that the auditors were unable to verify that the 23,114 possible felons and 23,576 possibly deceased voters actually should be removed from voting lists.

“We can’t remove someone from the voter roll unless it’s a strong match because we don’t want to take away an eligible voter’s right to vote,” Haywood said.


Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, said the audit didn’t find any fraud had occurred in the May election. He said the ID requirement could suppress turnout among many Texans who are eligible to vote.

“Every time someone says, ‘Show me the fraud,’ there isn’t any,” said Coleman.

So there you have it.

What about that tower’s traffic?

Christof takes a look at the Bissonnet Tower controversy, and asks just what it is we’re aiming to do about it.

To start with, the residential part of this project isn’t actually a traffic issue. Bissonnet is a major arterial; it carries 17,720 cars a day. The proposed 230-unit tower would increase the number of units on the site by 163 (there are 67 apartments there today). Assuming that each unit would create 4 trips a day, and half of those trips would head in each direction, that would increase the number of cars on the street by 2% — a trivial number. A purely commercial project could have worse traffic impacts — but the ordinance wouldn’t apply to it, nor even to a high-rise office building.

And what does lane count have to do with anything? Greenbriar in this neighborhood is 3 lanes, but it’s congested, too, and presumably the people living in nice houses with secluded backyards there don’t want a highrise next door, either (they just fought a two-story dental clinic). Conversely, there are two lane streets where a big highrise would be appropriate.

The real issue here isn’t traffic; it’s scale. There’s an important discussion to be had about how big or tall a building is appropriate in a residential neighborhood. There are good ways to write ordinances addressing these issues — so-called form-based codes. But because the neighborhood is talking about traffic, and because City Council feels politically comfortable addressing traffic, we’re debating a traffic ordinance based on faulty assumptions.

So we might ask whether the ends justify the means: is it OK to block a bad project by equally bad arguments?


Development policy ought to have two goals: it should automatically block projects that have unacceptable impacts, and it should make it easy to build projects that don’t. As long as we depend on neighborhoods to organize to stop a project, some neighborhoods will be unable to organize in time. And as long as we make it more difficult and risky to build, we make projects more expensive and chase even good development out of the city.

But the only way we’ll get a better set of ordinances is if we have the right conversations. If we’re concerned about buildings being out of scale, let’s talk about that. If we’re concerned about traffic, let’s talk about traffic. But let’s not talk traffic when the issue is scale.

I agree completely.

The Dynamo will not play at the Dome

Tory reminds me that there were a couple of letters to the editor on Sunday that called for the stadium-seeking Houston Dynamo to be united with the purpose-needing Astrodome. We’ve been over this before, but let me reiterate the key reason why this ain’t gonna happen: The Dynamo have no interest in using the Dome. The franchise relocated here from San Jose because they wanted their own stadium and couldn’t make it happen there. They’re putting up their own money to cover somewhere between 75 and 90% of the cost of that stadium. There’s no way on earth that they will suddenly decide they’re better off as tenants in a cavernous, out of date venue, no matter how much nostalgia there is for it. It makes no sense.

Now, if the Dynamo were seeking a publicly-financed stadium as our other franchises had done a few years ago, then I could see this. But given how much public opinion has turned against such largesse, don’t you think Mayor White and Judge Emmett would prefer the Dynamo’s mostly privately financed venture to a taxpayer-funded refurb/retrofit of the Dome for them? Maybe I’m misreading the save-the-Dome sentiment out there, but I don’t think people have factored a multimillion-dollar expenditure into their thinking.

Finally, regarding the issue of air conditioning versus the Houston summer, I say the Dome’s utility bills would be another negative from the Dynamo’s perspective. Why pay to cool off 60,000 people when your high-end attendance estimates are in the 25,000-30,000 range? And as for the summer weather, I have two words: night games. They do open the roof at Minute Maid when the sun goes down, you know.

Seriously. Dome/Dynamo – not gonna happen. If the hotel idea won’t fly for the Dome, they’re going to have to think of something else.

HOPE versus the city over 9-1-1 ads

So early this morning I got a press release from HOPE about a radio ad they plan to run that highlights issues with the Houston Emergency Center (HEC).

Houston public employees are calling on the city to fix long-standing problems at Houston’s 9-1-1 call center in radio ads starting Tuesday morning on five local stations. To hear the ad and read about the sources behind it visit: (The ad is running on Sunny 99.1 FM, KILT 100.3 FM, Majic 102.1 FM, K-Hits 107.5 FM and NewsTalk 740 AM.)

“Three independent reports have told the city the time has come to fix serious problems at the Houston Emergency Center,” said Jere Talley, a civilian employee of the Houston Police Department and a member of the Houston Organization of Public Employees (HOPE). “Instead of paying these critical workers a competitive wage, the city has tried to fill holes with part-time high school students.”

Starting pay for Houston’s 9-1-1 call takers is 25 percent less than for emergency dispatchers at the Harris County Sheriff’s Office. Houston’s call takers have a turnover rate 35 percent higher than the national average.

HOPE is seeking to raise the substandard pay of HEC employees and other city workers in ongoing contract talks with the city. A recent City of Houston study showed that Houston public employees have the second-worst pay among eight Texas governments surveyed.

A transcript of the ad is here, and there’s a link to listen to it as well. You may as well click over and check it out, because later in the day, I got this release:

City of Houston officials are trying to quash radio ads that highlight long-standing problems at the city’s 9-1-1 call center.

This afternoon high-ranking city officials called the Houston Organization of Public Employees (HOPE), which produced the ads, demanding that it stop running the spots. The ads note that the Houston Emergency Center (HEC) is using high school students to fill staffing holes on its 9-1-1 lines.

“This kind of censorship would threaten public safety and we won’t let that happen,” said Norm Yen, president of HOPE. “Instead of dealing with this critical problem, the city is trying to cover it up. But we’re going to fight and make sure that Houston’s citizens have emergency services they can count on.”

This is all a bit strange, since as yet another HOPE email pointed out, the fact that high schoolers take 9-1-1 calls is not exactly a secret. I don’t know whose idea it was to try to quash the ads, but that sort of thing never works. I’ll be surprised if there isn’t some kind of public disavowal of that. Stace has more.

Krusee to not run for re-election

Via Eye on Williamson (who is not surprised to hear it), Texas Weekly and now Postcards from the Trail are reporting that State Rep. Mike Krusee (R, Round Rock), who barely cleared 50% running against the underfunded Karen Felthauser last year, will not run for re-election.

Krusee, 48, is set to announce his retirement, effective at the end of his term in January of 2009, in a written statement released later today.

Krusee, who had served in the House since 1993, had been rumored to be in line for a gubernatorial appointment, possibly to the Texas Transportation Commission, because of his legislative work on toll roads. But a source close to the situation says state law forbids the appointment of a legislator to any job requiring Senate confirmation during his term in office.

That would mean Krusee would not be eligible for most state appointments until the end of his term.

Krusee had already drawn a strong opponent in Diana Maldonado, who is now being supported by Annie’s List. His departure will move this race up the profile charts. It’ll be interesting to see if the Republicans nominate someone as pro-toll road as Krusee was, or if they tacitly admit that was a loser for them and find someone with a bit more nuance on the issue.

Of course, you can’t talk about this sort of thing without also mentioning Speaker politics. As Elise Hu notes, Krusee gave a long anti-Craddick speech at the end of the spring session, which was interpreted by some as a “So long and thanks for all the fish” moment. Postcards paints a more convoluted picture:

“Questioning leadership is the highest privilege this body has,” Krusee said that night as Craddick looked on. “And it belongs to the body, not to the presiding officer.”

Yet this summer Craddick attended a Krusee fundraiser, raising speculation that the two former allies had settled their differences. On several occasions this summer Krusee insisted he would be running for re-election.

So much for that. Let’s pay close attention to the Republicans that get in the primary to replace him. It should be obvious who Craddick’s preferred choice will be.

Meanwhile, moving over to East Texas, Rep. Mike “Tuffy” Hamilton in HD19 has drawn an opponent that could give him a tough race, former Vidor Mayor Larry Hunter. The name Vidor obviously carries some baggage, but I’m told that Hunter spent his time as Mayor trying to get the city past that. We’ll see how he does. This has the potential to be a competitive race, as Hamilton has never done better than 57% in his three previous elections, and both Bill Moody and Dale Henry topped 45% in the district last year. Democratic gains have mostly come in urban and older suburban areas lately, so this will be a departure from that formula. I’ll keep an eye on this one.

UPDATE: More on Krusee from Karen Brooks.

UPDATE: And more on HD19 from PDiddie.

Tulsa files complaint against the MOB

Since I’m sure someone is going to send me this link, I figure I’d better blog it now and get ahead of the curve.

Tulsa has filed a formal complaint with Conference USA over the Rice marching band’s performance of “Todd Graham’s Inferno” during halftime of Saturday’s football game in Houston.

Graham left Rice for Tulsa after just one season. His Golden Hurricane defeated Rice 48-43 to win the C-USA West Division title. Tulsa plays Central Florida for the conference championship Saturday.

The band’s show depicted a search for the former Owls coach through different circles of Hell — based on Dante’s “Divine Comedy.”

The Tulsa World reported Tuesday that the show ended by calling Graham an offensive name over the public address system.

That would be “douchebag”. Here’s the script. The bit in question is at the very end, our walkoff line:

You know, that reminds me of a joke: A priest, a nun, and a rabbi walk into a bar. Now, I forgot how the rest of it went, but I think in the end Todd Graham is a douchebag.

Ladies and gentlemen, the two-thousand seven Marching Owl Band. Please send all complaints to: your mom at mob dot rice dot E-D-U.

I should note that the “your mom at rice dot edu” address did once belong to an actual MOB member, and that we’ve used it in a script before. I don’t know if it still works, but that’s not really important right now.

Back to the story:

“We filed a formal complaint with the conference and that’s where it stands now,” Tulsa athletic director Bubba Cunningham said. “I talked to their AD (Chris Del Conte) this morning. Our conversation was very cordial and he said to do what we thought was appropriate.”

Cunningham said sportsmanship has been a point of emphasis in C-USA.

“When we don’t meet those standards, we need to look at ourselves as a league and find how we can make that experience better,” he said.

I’ll leave that one open to your suggestions. Beyond that, I’ll just say that this one will go down as one of my favorite shows ever. It was totally worth freezing my butt off for.

Do red light cameras work?

Chron reporter Carolyn Feibel, in response to the badgering of a persistent red light camera critic, did some research into their effectiveness, and blogged about what she found. Bottom line is that most of the studies she located indicated that red light cameras reduced serious accidents and total injuries, though there was often a smaller accompanying rise in rear-end collisions. There’s plenty of links there, so go see for yourself. To answer Carolyn’s question at the end, yes the city needs to fund its own study. In fact, they’re required to provide a written report to TxDOT as specified by SB1119, authored by State Sen. John Carona (R, Dallas), which was the bill that granted cities the authority to assess civil penalties for red light violations caught by cameras and which was passed this session. From the bill:

Sec. 707.004. REPORT OF ACCIDENTS. (a) In this section, “department” means the Texas Department of Transportation.

(b) Before installing a photographic traffic signal enforcement system at an intersection approach, the local authority shall compile a written report of the number and type of traffic
accidents that have occurred at the intersection for a period of at least 18 months before the date of the report.

(c) Not later than six months after the date of the installation of the photographic traffic signal enforcement system at the intersection, the local authority shall provide the department a copy of the report required by Subsection (b).

(d) After installing a photographic traffic signal enforcement system at an intersection approach, the local authority shall monitor and annually report to the department the number and type of traffic accidents at the intersection to determine whether the system results in a reduction in accidents or a reduction in the severity of accidents.

(e) The report must be in writing in the form prescribed by the department.

(f) Not later than December 1 of each year, the department shall publish the information submitted by a local authority under Subsection (d).

In theory, we should be seeing that report soon.

And speaking of persistent red light camera critics, Kevin Whited left the following comment to that post:

Here’s something also to consider — if we have identified certain intersections as extremely dangerous (dangerous enough for the cams), wouldn’t it make sense heavily to publicize the fact that those intersections are under surveillance?

The current signage is minimal. If an intersection is dangerous enough for cameras, I would think it would also be dangerous enough for maximum signage warning people that they will be ticketed for running a red light in that intersection, to raise awareness completely (after all, if it’s ALL about safety, then we can’t go far enough to deter/educate those evil red-light runners, even if it means fewer citations!). But so far, the city has resisted that approach….

Well, Kevin, if all the news coverage of the red light cameras plus the Chron’s nifty map of their locations is insufficient for you, then SB1119 and HB1052, authored by State Rep. Bill Callegari (R, Houston), address your concern. Here’s the text from HB1052, which amended Chapter 544 of the Transportation Code to add Section 544.012:

(c) The municipality shall install signs along each roadway that leads to an intersection at which a photographic traffic monitoring system is in active use. The signs must be at least 100 feet from the intersection or located according to standards established in the manual adopted by the Texas Transportation Commission under Section 544.001, be easily readable to any operator approaching the intersection, and clearly indicate the presence of a photographic monitoring system that records violations that may result in the issuance of a notice of violation and the imposition of a monetary penalty.

(d) A municipality that fails to comply with Subsection (c) may not impose or attempt to impose a civil or administrative penalty against a person, including the owner of a motor vehicle or an operator, for a failure to comply with the instructions of a traffic-control signal located at the applicable intersection.

You’ve probably seen one of these signs at the camera-enabled intersections. If you don’t, then the city is in violation of this law, and can be enjoined from collecting the fines it imposes. Similarly, if you think the signs that are there don’t meet the requirement that they be “easily readable to any operator approaching the intersection, and clearly indicate the presence of a photographic monitoring system that records violations that may result in the issuance of a notice of violation and the imposition of a monetary penalty”, then that’s a violation of the law as well. In either case, I recommend doing something about it, like writing a letter to City Attorney Arturo Michel to point out the failure to comply with the law, and then blogging about it. If instead you think the city is complying with the law but that the standard set by that law is too lax, I suggest you contact Sen. Carona and Rep. Callegari with your complaint and urge them to address it in the next legislative session. And if you think the city should do more, above and beyond what state law requires them to do, well, that’s your right. Take whatever action you think is appropriate.

UPDATE: Changed some of the wording in the last paragraph for clarity.

Texas blog roundup for the week of November 26

Have we all recovered from the Thanksgiving weekend? Here’s a few non-leftover Texas Progressive Alliance posts from Turkey Day Week to help get you back into the swing of things. Click on for more.


A little love from the DMN

Noting the arrival of Netroots Nation in Austin next year, the Morning News surveys the liberal blog scene in Texas, with a little link-love thrown in for me and a few of my colleagues. It’s a good read, but I wouldn’t be a blogger if I didn’t have a nit to pick:

It’s still unclear whether bloggers can translate their activism into votes, though. Nationally, they took credit for Democratic wins in 2006 congressional elections. Some of their highest-profile efforts – on behalf of 2004 presidential candidate Howard Dean and against Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman – have flopped, although those races showed the bloggers’ potential.

Howard Dean’s rise in 2004 (really, 2003, since his candidacy was more or less toast after Iowa and New Hampshire) was certainly fueled by blogs and online activists, but that was a fairly special case in that it was really its own separate infrastructure. There’s an establishment to the liberal ‘sphere that existed in smaller form back then, and the Dean Nation movement was for the most part not part of that. On the other hand, Dean’s subsequent ascension to chair of the DNC was very much an effort pushed by the wider community.

As for Lieberman, he did lose in the Democratic primary, which was the goal at the time the Lamont movement caught fire. He is still in the Senate, of course, so that does count as a failure, but then so are Jim Webb and Jon Tester, both of whom first had to survive primaries against establishment candidates. I’d argue those two races – Webb’s in particular – were at least as high-profile as the battle in Connecticut, and should be given equal weight when evaluating bloggers’ won-lost record.

Here in Texas, we’ve followed all kinds of races, and I’d claim a share of the success the Democrats have seen in State House races for the progressive bloggers. I wouldn’t claim we’ve got more wins than losses, but then we get invested in candidates with longer odds of winning than the national folks do. The bottom line is that people know who we are and they take what we do seriously. We intend to build on that.

Anyway, that’s my nitpick. Now go read the article, it’s good stuff. In the Pink has more.

We have met the enemy, and it is us

Why I support Mayor White’s efforts to crack down on area polluters, in 25 words or less:

Some of Texas’ biggest industries have an important ally in trying to keep the Environmental Protection Agency from ordering nationwide smog cuts: the state’s top clean-air officials.

Yes, it’s as screwed up as it sounds. Read it and try not to wheeze.

They charged for a CD?

Elise Hu has a fifth entry in her series called “The Purge”, on how Governor Perry’s office disposes of email, possibly in conflict with Texas’ open records laws. (See here, here, and here for background.) Along the way, Perry has picked up a bit of a thorn in the side, a fellow who has taken advantage of the fact that the Governor’s office will retain emails for which a public information request has been made. We pick up the story from there:

Twice a week for the last three weeks, open government crusader John Washburn has sent out a TPIA request for the governor’s office emails, excluding constituent mail. He received an itemized response from the Governor’s Deputy General Counsel this week, with charges for FOUR DAYS worth of emails:

31.5 hours of staff time at $15/hour = $472.50 (to compile and redact emails)
Overhead at 20% of staff charge = $94.50
CD for compiled material = $1
TOTAL for four days worth of emails = $568

The letter from the Governor’s office once again encourages Washburn to narrow his request to save money.

I’m not sure which surprises me more, that staff time is only billed at $15/hour (try to find that in the private sector), or that they added in a dollar to cover the cost of the CD. It’s pretty clear that the Governor’s office has realized it can’t easily extract itself from this situation, so they’re taking the approach of hoping to nickel and dime the guy until he cries uncle and goes away. Hu notes that Perry requested and then withdrew (both PDF) an opinion from AG Greg Abbott about its responsibilities, so I’d say they’ve conceded the point but not defeat. We may have to start a fund to ensure that this tactic doesn’t work. Stay tuned.

UPDATE: The Observer blog has more.

Washburn could be looking at an open records request fee total of more than $2,000 per month — and Perry’s office also noted that a failure to receive the funds would result in automatic withdrawals of outstanding requests, along with a note that no disclosure of the records requested would begin until the governor’s office receives a “deposit.”

What was Washburn’s reaction?

“I laughed at it, to be honest with you,” he says. “It is exorbitantly high.”

Washburn says he knows exactly what he asked for, and he knows that it can be easily obtained.

“How hard can email extraction be from a server?” he asked. (I must admit thinking about that for a minute. Perry’s office is claiming 31.5 hours of staff time at $15 per hour, which results in the bulk of the $568 figure. What will those staff members be doing during those hours? We called Perry’s office and they said they’d get back to us with more details.)

Washburn asked for the emails in their original, digital format. There is a question as to how such documents can be redacted, and for that matter, what is the logic of the redactors?

Washburn, who has a history of open records activity in Wisconsin, Florida, and now Texas, says he has never before encountered a charge for staff time, although it is standard in the Lone Star state.

He did tell me that he was surprised by what he called Perry’s ‘gambit.’ He said he thought Perry would take the ‘drag-it-out’ approach to stifling records requests.

“Before, I thought it was just going to be stretched out,” Washburn says. “Now, they’re hoping that I won’t come up with the money.”

So far, Washburn has requested the governor’s emails from preceding days on Nov. 6, 9, 13, 20, and 23. The objective, Washburn said, was to stop a pro-forma email destruction policy that Perry’s office had in place — and which it said it inherited from Governor George W. Bush.

Washburn does have a plan to thwart Perry’s latest move, but it will take another post to assess its merits.

To answer the “how hard can it be?” question, it can be complicated and time-consuming if we’re talking about restoring data from backups – the architecture of Microsoft Exchange makes it more involved than simply pulling files off of tapes. Here, we’re basically talking about dumping people’s Outlook Inbox to a PST file, which is a trivial task. I suppose redacting could take some time and effort, but that does seem to be a high figure budgeted for it. Anyway, I look forward to hearing what Washburn’s plan to “thwart” the Governor’s gambit will be.

A contender in CD07

I’ve mentioned before that there just don’t seem to be as many Democratic Congressional challengers this year as there were last year. Not sure why that is, but it’s definitely noticeable. There’s still time, of course, but it just feels like most of the action is going to be in other races next year.

So I was pleased to have the opportunity recently to meet John Truitt, who is announcing his candidacy for CD07 as a Democrat. I’ve also heard some rumors lately that one or more other Dems may be jumping into CD07 as well. Truitt’s website needs to be redone, but that’s easy enough to fix. He came across well in person, and has clearly given a lot of thought to a variety of issues. I look forward to seeing him at events in the future, and if other candidates do get in, I look forward to a vigorous debate about how that district can best be represented.

I’m including a copy of his press release beneath the fold. Has anyone heard anything about other districts? Filing season begins next week, so it’s getting to be now or never time.


Bye-bye, Trent

Senator Trent Lott has resigned in order to “spend more time with his family”. All I can say is that he lasted longer than Robert Eckels. Enjoy your new life as a lobbyist, Trent. It’s what you’ve been working for all these years.

Side note: Will Lott’s departure mean a more prominent and visible role in the Republican power structure for John Cornyn? That could be fun.

The anti-business tax sentiment

The new business tax won’t be collected for another six months, but there’s already a media campaign being waged against it.

Radio ads in San Antonio, Austin, Dallas and Houston draw on tidal waves and scary movies to make a point about something they paint as just as frightening: Texas’ new business tax.

“It’s the difference between a tiny drop and a tidal wave. Because of the new Texas Margins Tax, small-business owners may see a slight drop in property taxes, but their business tax will increase up to 1,000 percent,” says the script for one of the ads by the National Federation of Independent Business.

A second ad begins, ” ‘Tax Rage in Texas.’ It’s not a scary movie. It’s a scary development for small-business owners across our state. Many small-business owners are seeing their tax bill increase 200, 400, even 1,000 percent!”

The campaign is a membership drive for the small-business group, but it’s also an effort to urge legislative changes to the expanded business tax part of a package that also lowered local school property tax rates, and to make the tax a top 2008 campaign issue.

“I don’t know how on Earth someone can run for election saying, ‘Hey, you’re not making money. Give the state a little extra money,’ ” said Will Newton, executive director of the National Federation of Independent Business/Texas.


The new business tax, which replaced the franchise tax, is based on gross receipts — either 1 percent or half a percent, depending on the type of business — with deductions for cost of goods sold or employee benefits.

Backers say the new tax is fairer, bringing businesses into the system that weren’t paying. They say companies that will owe higher business taxes must also look at whether that’s offset by lower local school tax rates. They cite adjustments made this year meant to benefit smaller businesses.

“The goal … is to keep Texas business-friendly,” said Rep. Jim Keffer, R-Eastland, chairman of the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee. “We certainly in the Legislature strove to protect small business.”

Keffer bristles at the ads, contending that NFIB/Texas “did not come and really try to work with us on any of this. Pretty much they were against the whole process.”

Whatever. Look, the new business tax isn’t the end of the rainbow. It’s got to be a better idea than the pointless, almost-never-collected franchise tax, but it was designed for a purpose it couldn’t ever fulfill, which was the ridiculous property tax cut. I can’t say it’s good public policy, because our entire outdated, jerryrigged tax structure in this state is bad public policy. It may be the best we can do given that a complete overhaul of the system isn’t in the cards, but if so it’ll be more by accident than design. Sooner or later, something is going to give, and when it does it won’t be pretty.

None of this is to say that I have any sympathy for NFIB/Texas and its whining. They’re not interested in solving problems, they just want to not be taxed. The line for that one forms to the left, fellas.