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March, 2008:

Rep. Cohen responds to court ruling on HB1751

Rep. Ellen Cohen, author of HB1751, which assessed a $5 per-customer surcharge on strip clubs to fund a sex assault prevention fund among other things, sent out the following press release in response to the court ruling that declared the fee unconstitutional:

Representative Ellen Cohen held a press conference today issuing a statement regarding Judge Jenkins’ ruling on House Bill 1751 otherwise known as the Adult Entertainment Fee. Joining Representative Cohen was Mica Mosbacher, a survivor and advocate of HB 1751 and Kelly Young a Vice-President of the Houston Area Women’s Center.

“While we are discouraged by Judge Jenkins verdict, we are not disheartened and we are determined to move forward” said Representative Cohen. In the 2007 legislative session, the Governor and the Legislature provided overwhelming support for the Adult Entertainment Fee. Representative Cohen will work with her colleagues, the Attorney General and Comptroller of Public Accounts to refine HB 1751 in the next Legislative session.

In her remarks, Representative Cohen invited sexual assault advocates and hospitals to continue their support of this legislation and extended an invitation to the sexually oriented business industry to step forward and work with her towards a solution to the lack of sexual assault resources across the state. Mrs. Mosbacher pointed out during her remarks that “54 of the 254 counties in Texas or 20% of the state do not have any resources for sexual assault victims.” This lack of resources is one of the primary reasons that Representative Cohen will be diligent in her efforts to continue her work on HB 1751 in the next legislative session.

The intention of HB 1751 is to provide funding for rape crisis centers statewide, research at the University of Texas at Austin Institute of Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault, prevention campaigns and equipment grants for sexual assault nurse examiners. Ms. Young remarked that in her day-to-day work of providing resources for victim survivors of sexual assault that “we can never do enough because every sexual crime is one too many and nearly 2 million adult Texans in our state have been sexually assaulted. This type of funding is critical and gives hope to victim survivors.”

Representative Cohen added “what we must keep in mind is that we are talking about people. We need funds to educate, provide medical services and support research. These victim survivors deserve our best efforts and I promise them that we will do nothing less.”

The AusChron has more on this. I think it’s clear that Rep. Cohen’s goal was and is a worthy one, and that it would be best if the Lege recognized that such things are better paid for in a straightforward manner from general revenue rather than this kind of limited fee. I hope this can be fixed in the next session.

Higher cost projections for new light rail lines

Some good news and some not-so-good news for Metro.

The Metropolitan Transit Authority got federal permission last week to move forward with preliminary engineering on its planned North and Southeast lines, work that was halted in November while Metro revised its funding applications to reflect the switch from Bus Rapid Transit back to light rail.

Just a brief interruption to say that this item did not appear to make the news anywhere – not in the Chron, not on Metro’s site, nowhere I can find. The last news I’d heard was from a month ago when the FTA met with a bunch of local honchos and said some nice things about the current state of Metro’s plans. This is very nice to hear, of course, but seeing it mentioned in an as-you-know kind of way was a bit jarring, and made me think I’d missed something.

That was good news. The bad news was the soaring cost estimates that came with it.

The Federal Transit Administration, using data provided by Metro, said in its letters that the estimated cost of the North line, which would run 5.5 miles from north of downtown to Northline Mall, has risen to $677 million, from $276 million. The Southeast Line, 6.8 miles from downtown to Palm Center, has risen to $664 million, from $158 million, the FTA said.

By comparison, the 7.5-mile Main Street line cost $324 million and needs $104 million in new rail cars and improvements.

The FTA also sent a review of Metro’s proposals that attributes the increases largely to the higher costs of light rail than BRT, which uses special buses running on guideways. The increases also reflect light rail’s higher ridership projections, extended through 2030, which would require 29 new rail cars and other infrastructure.

Then there are the rising costs of fuel, labor and construction materials. Although Metro’s estimates assume 3.5 percent annual inflation, the FTA reviews describe this as optimistic and say Metro should “refine and update” its figures.

Letters from FTA regional administrator Robert Patrick advise Metro that the go-ahead on engineering is not a promise to fund final design or construction, and that Metro must still fulfill all federal requirements. Both lines are rated “medium” as candidates for the funding, FTA said.

“We are excited about the positive report,” Metro said in a statement. “A ‘medium’ rating endorses the North and Southeast Projects as competitive for federal New Starts funding.”

I think this may look a bit more dramatic than it is. As BRT is less expensive than LRT, which is why Metro fell back to that when FTA funding was unavailable due to insufficient ridership projections, what much of this really represents is a return to square one. A better comparison, if we’re trying to make a statement about genuine cost increases, would be to the original estimates for LRT, if we ever had them. I should also note that cost increases due to an expectation that even more people will use this service than we first thought is to my mind a good problem to have.

Bill King, who could be the city’s next mayor — and appoint five of Metro’s nine board members — says he can’t see how Metro can afford its ambitious plans, which include three other light rail lines, two or more commuter rail lines, an intermodal terminal on the north side and a major expansion of bus service.

Numbers released by Metro varied. In February, the agency said that “by an order of magnitude,” not exactly, all five planned light rail lines would cost about $2 billion, shared equally between Metro and the FTA, with the North and Southeast lines accounting for $500 million of that.

A month earlier, King says, Metro told him that the two lines would cost $854 million out of a $2.2 billion total. “A million here, a million there … ,” he quipped.

That’s an interesting position for a guy who not too long ago was advocating for Metro to abolish the fare box to take. Obviously, we need to understand why the cost estimates have increased, and we need to fully understand how these costs can be paid, but my argument is that if one of the factors here is heightened demand, then we really need to figure out how to make this work.

One more thing:

But just remember that transit, unlike some toll roads, loses money. Little if any of this would come from profits from transit service itself.

Untolled highways don’t make any money, either, and their costs can dramatically increase over time, too. We find a way to pay for them anyway.

Early voting for runoffs begins today

Early voting for the primary runoff elections begins today. Unlike the primary itself, there are some rules governing how you can vote.

Voters who participated in a March 4 primary can vote in the second round only in the runoffs for the party they chose in the first round.

Voters who did not vote in the March 4 primary can vote in either the Republican or the Democratic runoff contests.

So if you’re one of those mythical Rushbots who followed orders to cast a vote in the Democratic primary, you can’t now vote in the GOP runoff. I’d say I’m sorry about that, but if such people do exist, then I’m not, so it’s just as well.

For the rest of you, if you plan on voting in the Democratic runoff, I hope you’ll consider voting for one of these people:

For Railroad Commissioner, Dale Henry.

For 80th District Court (Civil) in Harris County, Larry Weiman.

For Fort Bend County Commissioner, Precinct 1, Richard Morrison.

For Travis County District Attorney, Rosemary Lehmberg.

For CD32 in Dallas County, Eric Roberson.

I also recommend voting early, so you don’t forget and so there’s no confusion about where to vote. Early voting runs 7 AM to 7 PM from Monday, March 31 to Friday, April 4. Runoff Day itself will be Tuesday, April 8. Happy voting!

A new Republican name to replace Janek

It’s a little hard to remember amid all the primary excitement that we’re going to have a special election sometime this year to replace State Sen. Kyle Janek, who announced his resignation in January. Janek hasn’t formally resigned yet, so no special election date is set, but according to The County Seat, there appears to be a serious Republican contender out there, a fellow named Austen Furse. I’ve never heard of the gentleman, so I’ll leave you to peruse that link and this one from Chris Elam to acquaint yourself. No word yet on a Democratic hopeful; State Rep. Scott Hochberg’s name has been in the mix, but that’s all been speculation as far as I know.

The Census and the Congress

News item: Texas cities on top in population growth.

The Houston metropolitan area ranked fourth in the nation for overall population growth between 2006 and 2007, according to new census data — an increase demographers attributed largely to the region’s economy.

The Houston-Sugar Land-Baytown area attracted slightly more than 120,500 new residents from July 2006 through July 2007, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates released today for geographic regions known as metropolitan statistical areas.

The Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington area ranked No. 1 in the nation in terms of raw population growth, and Austin-Round Rock and San Antonio also made the top 10. Karl Eschbach, director of the Texas State Data Center in San Antonio, said the job market and economy are driving the state’s population growth.

“It’s the combination of international and domestic migration that’s pushing Texas cities to the top,” Eschbach said.

Back in January, I blogged about the projections by Election Data Services that said Texas was in line for four new Congressional seats in the 2010 reapportionment. I projected that Dallas/Fort Worth, Houston, Central Texas, and South Texas would be the likely locations for those new seats. Clearly, nothing in this story contradicts that. Feel free to start speculating about who’ll be in the best position to become our 33rd through 36th Congresspeople.

By the way, let me add my endorsement to the concept of a bigger Congress, which is a subject I’ve discussed before as well. Three hundred thousand residents per representative sounds dandy to me.

(Cross-posted from Kuff’s World.)

New frontiers in outsourcing

Giving “Made in India” a whole new meaning.

Clinics that provide surrogate mothers for foreigners say they have recently been inundated with requests from the United States and Europe, as word spreads of India’s mix of skilled medical professionals, relatively liberal laws and low prices.

Commercial surrogacy, which is banned in some states and some European countries, was legalized in India in 2002. The cost comes to about $25,000, roughly a third of the typical price in the United States. That includes the medical procedures; payment to the surrogate mother, which is often, but not always, done through the clinic; plus air tickets and hotels for two trips to India (one for the fertilization and a second to collect the baby).

“People are increasingly exposed to the idea of surrogacy in India; Oprah Winfrey talked about it on her show,” said Dr. Kaushal Kadam at the Rotunda clinic in Mumbai. Just an hour earlier she had created an embryo for Gher and his partner with sperm from one of them (they would not say which) and an egg removed from a donor just minutes before in another part of the clinic.

The clinic, known more formally as Rotunda — The Center for Human Reproduction, does not permit contact between egg donor, surrogate mother or future parents. The donor and surrogate are always different women; doctors say surrogates are less likely to bond with the babies if there is no genetic connection.

There are no firm statistics on how many surrogacies are being arranged in India for foreigners, but anecdotal evidence suggests a sharp increase.

Rudy Rupak, co-founder and president of PlanetHospital, a medical tourism agency with headquarters in California, said he expected to send at least 100 couples to India this year for surrogacy, up from 25 in 2007, the first year he offered the service.

“Every time there is a success story, hundreds of inquiries follow,” he said.

If you’re okay with the idea of surrogacy, then I don’t see any reason to object to this. Why not get the best price? Globalization is changing our lives in so many ways.

The Senate conventions

The Chron story on the Democrats’ Senate conventions yesterday is pretty much in line with what I’ve heard from folks who attended theirs – some were chaotic, some went smoothly, all had a lot of people and took a long time. I’m just going to link to various reports so you can get a feel for what happened.

BOR reported real-time results from all the county and Senate conventions. As of midnight, they had Obama leading in delegates 56.05% to 43.95%, with 133 conventions representing 72% of all delegates reporting.

– According to Stace, the SD04 convention was “Smooooth” and featured numerous candidates who were well-received.

Tammy has some concerns with how the delegates acted in Brazoria County.

Rep. Aaron Pena reports from Hidalgo County.

Hal says the SD18 convention was “everything anyone could possibly expect in this singular year of high interest and involvement”, which mainly means it was confusing.

Muse has some iPhone-blogged reports from SD17, including this complaint about a committee chair not following the rules.

– There’s loads of through-the-day posts and updates at the various media blogs: Political Junkie, Houston Politics, PoliTex, Postcards, Trail Blazers, and the Observer blog.

So. Those of you who attended a Senate convention, what was your impression? Leave a comment and let me know.

KTRK on Skelly versus Culberson

Here’s the video from a story Miya Shay did on Thursday:

I’d argue that Jim Henley was a serious challenger to Culberson in 2006, but obviously Henley didn’t have Skelly’s fundraising capacity. Believe me, that makes a difference.

You can pretty much see Culberson’s entire campaign in this story. It’s going to be one part “I widened I-10 for you!” and one part “Vote for me or the Democrats will take over Harris County and maybe the world!” Miya commented on this on her blog:

One interesting note about Culberson, he is telling supporters that this is one of the toughest races he’ll face. In addition to an interesting letter to supporters online, he told me yesterday that he sees the District 7 race as a “Firewall” for county wide Republicans. “I believe that if we don’t get my re-election numbers into the 60s percentage, then every Republican in Harris County could lose.” Culberson says that’s why the Democratic party is running such a rich guy, basically to beat him down.. and bring the Repub party along. In essence, he says he can still win his seat, while Harris County Repubs lose all of theirs. He also says that if his winning percentage isn’t high enough, John Cornyn could lose his Senate seat. So basically, in his view, the survival of the Republican ticket depends on re-electing him… and thus, donating money to make him competitive against Skelly.

That is a pretty neat trick, setting himself up as The Most Important Candidate In The County, which naturally means all good Republicans should give him money and work for his re-election. Note too that Culberson is setting the bar a lot higher for himself than what Jared Woodfill thinks he’s going to clear. I’m thinking a little message coordination might be in order here.

One more thing from Miya:

Skelly is expected to report at least $750,000 cash on hand, and Culberson is targeting at least $260,000.

As we know from the February reports, Skelly had a 5-1 cash-on-hand advantage, showing $400K to Culberson’s $80K. If both make the numbers Miya mentions – and note that Skelly “expects” $750K while Culberson is “targeting” – hoping for – $260K – that still means Skelly doubled him up ($350,000 to $180,000) for this period, again in COH. I’m liking the trends so far.

Endorsement watch: The Chron and the AusChron

The Austin Chronicle makes its runoff recommendations.

Railroad Commissioner: Dale Henry

We endorsed Dale Henry in the initial primary voting, and we’re happy to endorse him again, after he finished second to advance to a run-off against Mark Thompson. Either man would bring a breath of fresh air to this commission, whose current and past members are too often beholden to the oil-and-gas industry they’re supposed to regulate. Both have vowed to place public safety and the environment above industry needs. Henry is our preferred candidate because of his extensive oil-and-gas experience and his familiarity with how the commission operates. That’s the type of knowledge he’ll need if he expects to conquer long odds and oust the incumbent Republican chairman, Michael Williams, in November.

Travis Co. District Attorney: Rosemary Lehmberg

Four assistant district attorneys filed to succeed retiring Ronnie Earle in one of the most successful and high-profile prosecutor’s offices in Texas. The two left standing after the March 4 primary are Earle’s experienced longtime first assistant D.A., Rosemary Lehmberg, and the relatively junior Mindy Montford, who brings the youth and enthusiasm of the next generation of legal professionals, as well as much support from traditional Democratic sources. On balance, we agree with Earle that Lehmberg is the overall most qualified person to carry on his considerable legacy. She has worked in all the units of the office and has been both a practicing prosecutor and (as first assistant) a chief administrator, with the responsibility and long experience in balancing the varying demands on the office: from prosecution to budgets to managing personnel and, beyond that, to the complicated political considerations arising from the Travis Co. D.A.’s jurisdiction over state corruption investigations and prosecutions. We are impressed by Lehmberg’s experience in building the office, in developing and expanding innovative and progressive programs, and in her broad sense of the office’s wide-ranging responsibilities, as well as the nuances of addressing high-profile political cases. (We do believe the office needs to be more technologically proactive in working with the defense bar, a legal and political mandate as much as a technical one.) The campaign has noticeably strengthened Lehmberg’s public profile and her comprehension that the D.A.’s job is not just administrative, not just prosecutorial, but a communitywide engagement. We believe she will be a better public official because of it.

Link via BOR. Given how slow and erratic they were about producing endorsements for the March 4 primary, I’m pleased to note that the Chron has done its duty for the runoff today.


  • U.S. representative, District 22, Pete Olson — A former aide to U.S. Sens. Phil Gramm and John Cornyn, Olson knows how Congress works. A naval officer, Olson served as an aviator and Navy liaison officer to the Senate. He promises that if elected he will make defense and veterans’ care his priorities.
  • State representative, District 144, Fred Roberts — The owner of an insurance agency and industrial inspection company, Roberts says he wants to concentrate on the issues that mean most to Texans, including taxes, education and insurance rates. A trustee of the Pasadena Independent School District, he is active in his church and community.
  • Judge, 174th Criminal District Court, Kevin Keating — A career prosecutor, Keating has a wealth of experience. He has appealed capital murder cases for the state to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals and the U.S. Supreme Court. He is an expert on forensic mental health issues that increasingly affect the course of justice.
  • Harris County district attorney, Pat Lykos — A former state district judge and Houston police officer, Lykos is well-qualified to be the county’s chief prosecutor. She promises to seek justice, not convictions regardless of guilt or innocence. An outsider, Lykos is better prepared than her opponent to restore ethics and judgment to the district attorney’s office.
  • Justice of the peace, Precinct 8, Place 1, Richard Risinger — An experienced municipal attorney and judge, Risinger is ideally suited to serve as a justice of the peace. A life-long resident of Pasadena, Risinger holds a degree from the University of Houston Law Center.


  • Railroad commissioner, Dale Henry — A petroleum engineer, Henry has four decades of experience in the oil and gas industry — the primary object of the Railroad Commission’s interest. Henry also has government experience as Lampasas city manager and Mills County commissioner.
  • Judge, 80th Civil District Court, Larry Weiman — Weiman has 16 years’ experience as a civil trial lawyer. A mediator, he can see both sides of the case and rule fairly. Weiman says he wishes to bring balance to Harris County’s district courts, which sometimes have failed to correct miscarriages of justice.
  • Justice of the peace, Precinct 8, Place 1 — A lawyer in solo practice, Jeff Heintschel has broad experience in criminal, civil and family law.

On time and good choices – be still my heart. Early voting starts tomorrow.

The sellout that wasn’t

This may be the last time I beat this particular horse, though I can’t promise that.

Texas coach Rick Barnes never has been one to tell 299-pound sophomore center Dexter Pittman to take advantage of his weight.

But the UT coach changed his thinking during Friday night’s NCAA South Regional semifinal against Stanford’s two 7-foot giants. It paid huge returns, as Pittman leaned, pushed and shoved the Cardinal’s Lopez twins during a critical second-half stretch that paved the way to the Longhorns’ 82-62 Sweet 16 victory in front of a pro-Texas crowd of 32,931 at Reliant Stadium.

In other words, there were ten thousand unsold seats, and all of about 2000 tickets sold since Monday when it was known that the Longhorns would be in town for this. Someone at Reliant Stadium better start rethinking their marketing strategy for 2010 and 2011. I still can’t believe they didn’t do better than this.

Pasty time

With all their setbacks in court, the local strip clubs are contemplating other options.

Eric Langan says he may respond to the U.S. Supreme Court with pasties.

Langan, 39, is the chief executive officer of Houston-based Rick’s Cabaret International Inc., owner of four strip clubs in the city. On March 17, he and other club owners lost an 11-year fight to overturn a city ordinance when the country’s highest court refused to hear their case.

The regulation, passed in 1997, bans topless dancing clubs and other adult businesses within 1,500 feet (457 meters) of daycare centers, schools and churches, double the previous distance. The idea is to force the clubs to move, if not shut down entirely. An easy fix for ordinance-violating bare breasts may foil the plan, Langan said.

“The City of Houston will win the battle and lose the war because they won’t be able to regulate us once we move to latex pasties,” said Langan, whose company is the largest publicly traded owner of strip clubs, with a market value of $176 million. Pasties are latex coverings used to conceal nipples.

This subject has come up before. I recall that several clubs went the latex-pasties route in the immediate aftermath of the 1997 ordinance, as a way of getting around the requirement for dancers to get licensed with the city. It won’t surprise me if that is the preferred option now, as it would be less costly than relocating. How successful it will be, I couldn’t say, but I don’t recall any clubs closing down at that time, so perhaps that bodes well for them.

Here’s an angle I hadn’t considered:

The regulation may have unintended consequences, Langan said. “Any ice house can now compete with us just by throwing a girl on the bar in a bikini or pasties without being subject to any additional regulation,” he said, referring to neighborhood taverns. “I think we’re going to see a lot more clubs putting dancers on stage.”

Well, strictly speaking they could have done that at any time before now. Why they’d think it’s a good idea all of a sudden is not clear to me. I mean, I guess that could happen, but this sounds like bluster to me.

And for those of you not in Houston thinking “there but for the grace of God…”

Unlike most city ordinances restricting adult entertainment, Houston’s measure doesn’t have a grandfather clause that lets existing businesses remain, said defense attorney John Weston, who represented the club owners. The businesses also must pay for their relocation, he said.

The Houston ordinance is odd, coming from the only major U.S. city with no zoning laws, said Weston, who filed the Supreme Court petition.

“Politics is a dirtier game than any lap dance I’ve ever witnessed,” said [Angelina] Spencer of the Association of Club Executives. “A bad precedent like this, which is so restrictive, opens up the doors for this to take place across the country.”

Keep an eye on your City Councils, that’s all I’m gonna say.

In the meantime, the strip clubs did score a victory yesterday, on a different matter.

A Travis County judge ruled Friday that the state’s new $5-per-patron strip club fee is an unconstitutional tax, but the state promised to appeal.

State District Judge Scott Jenkins’ ruling prohibits Texas from assessing or collecting the tax. Clubs were to have made their first quarterly payments next month.

Jenkins said the fee is actually a “content-based tax” that must be strictly scrutinized because it is imposed on a business activity protected by the First Amendment. He said it did not pass constitutional muster because the state failed to link the activity being taxed to the programs being funded.

The Legislature enacted the adult entertainment fee, effective Jan. 1, and dedicated the first $25 million to sexual assault prevention and additional revenue to low-income health care. The fee was expected to raise more than $50 million for health care in its first two years.

It was the dedication of money to health care that caused the tax to be unconstitutional, Jenkins said.

He heard testimony from club owners, state employees and sexual assault prevention officials during a four-day trial earlier this month.

“There is no evidence that combining alcohol with nude erotic dancing causes dancers to be uninsured, that any dancer is in fact uninsured, or that any uninsured dancer could qualify for assistance from the fund,” the judge said.

“The programs that were to be funded from this money were worthwhile, but we disagree with the unconstitutional manner in which they were imposed,” said Stewart Whitehead, who represented the Texas Entertainment Association and an Amarillo club, which challenged the fee.

The Texas Attorney General’s Office said it would “vigorously appeal” Jenkins’ ruling.

At the time the suit was filed, I thought the clubs’ argument was weak. Clearly, I underestimated them. Vince got it right.

The Texas Association Against Sexual Assault, which was slated to receive money from the fee, said in a statement on its Web site that it was disappointed by the decision.

“We are hopeful that the attorney general will choose to appeal this decision,” said Karen Amacker, a spokeswoman for the group. “In the interim, TAASA intends to continue (to) work with key legislators, the attorney general, the governor, the comptroller and others to ensure we learn from our missteps and pass a dedicated, sustainable funding source for sexual violence-related services in our state.”

The statement said the association does not claim that patrons of adult entertainment venues are more or less likely to perpetrate sexual violence.

“It can be reasonably concluded that an industry that flourishes by objectifying women does impact the attitudes and beliefs that support sexual violence,” Amacker said. “The fees assessed to adult entertainment venues are a mechanism to mitigate those greater resulting societal ills.”

The author of the bill that enacted the fee, Rep. Ellen Cohen, D-Houston, was unavailable for comment. An aide said Cohen would study the ruling and planned a news conference Monday.

Cohen, former head of the Houston Area Women’s Center, said when she filed the bill that she was not suggesting that strip club patrons commit sexual assault, but that money generated by sexually oriented businesses should pay for sexually oriented crimes.

I’m more in agreement with Rep. Cohen’s justification for the bill than I am with Ms. Amacker’s. Despite the win yesterday, I still think the state will have decent odds on appeal.

Judge fines Rosenthal for contempt


A federal judge on Friday ordered former Harris County District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal to pay $18,900 in sanctions after finding him in contempt of court for deleting more than 2,500 e-mails that had been subpoenaed for a federal civil rights lawsuit.

Additionally, U.S. District Judge Kenneth Hoyt determined Scott Durfee, general counsel for the district attorney’s office, was jointly responsible for paying $5,000 of that, finding Durfee failed to appropriately advise Rosenthal on how to comply with the subpoena.

Both Rosenthal and Durfee have until April 30 to pay their respective fines, according to the judge’s order released late Friday afternoon.


Whether the county pays those sanctions with taxpayers’ money is a question to be decided by Commissioners Court. The court must determine whether paying the sanctions would serve a public purpose, said County Attorney Mike Stafford.

“They have to be able to articulate a public purpose and decide that’s worth paying it. That’s the general rule of law,” Stafford said, adding that he does not know what the Commissioners Court will do.

Mark Bennett, president-elect of the Harris County Criminal Lawyers Association, said he cannot see what public purpose would be served by the county paying the sanctions.

“I don’t have any reason to think the county’s going to do the right thing here, which is to say, ‘Look, you got yourself into this mess, you pay it yourself,’ ” Bennett said.

Bennett noted the county has already approved spending $227,000 to defend Rosenthal in court.

Mark expands on his remarks here. I agree with him completely. I see no reason why Commissioners Court should take Rosenthal off the hook for this fine. Rosenthal has already cost the taxpayers plenty of money. It’s time he paid his fair share of it. I’m sympathetic to the Court paying for Durfee’s fine, but if they cave and pick up the tab for Rosenthal, I’m going to be pissed.

In blistering and scathing language, Hoyt’s court order rebuked Rosenthal for knowingly violating an Oct. 31 subpoena seeking his e-mails.

Hoyt criticized Rosenthal for showing “an intentional willfulness” to disobey the law.

“This conduct reveals a man confident in his status, entrenched in his brand of law,” Hoyt wrote. “He would not or could not acknowledge an authority beyond himself.”

Various contradictions and misrepresentations made Rosenthal’s testimony unreliable and incredible, Hoyt said. “The court views his conduct as venomous and hostile to the judicial process,” Hoyt wrote.

Rosenthal gave several explanations for why he deleted the

e-mails, Hoyt noted, such as believing his general counsel had printed hard copies of the documents and claiming he thought the documents were preserved on the computer network’s backup tapes.

Rosenthal also later testified that he deleted the e-mails to increase his work efficiency and to free memory space on his computer, Hoyt said.

“There is no evidence that Rosenthal’s computer memory space was threatened by additional e-mails or that, in fact, it was short of space. Hence, these reasons — all implausible inconsistencies — defy the law of common sense,” Hoyt wrote.

The judge’s comments about Rosenthal, though stinging, were accurate, said Pat McCann, current president of the criminal lawyers association.

“When you get to this point, I don’t think the judge had any choice but to make it clear to Harris County officials that they are not beyond the reach of the law,” McCann said.

The full contempt order is here (PDF). I think Judge Hoyt hit on all the main points, and I think McCann summed it up accurately. Now it’s just a matter of Commissioners Court doing their part.

While Hoyt said there is no evidence Durfee committed obstructive acts, he found the evidence is “abundant and compelling” that Durfee failed to advise Rosenthal as his professional and ethical duties required.

Durfee showed a “deliberate indifference” to the court’s orders and the subpoena by not advising Rosenthal to preserve the subpoenaed documents and remaining silent when he learned that Rosenthal had deleted the e-mails, Hoyt said.

By failing to bring Rosenthal’s actions to light upon becoming aware of them, Durfee violated the rules of professional conduct that apply to all attorneys, Hoyt said.

“In sum, while it is undisputed that Rosenthal deleted the e-mails sought by the subpoenas, it is also apparent that copies of many of these e-mails were belatedly produced and/or lost as a result of Durfee’s dereliction of duty,” Hoyt wrote.

McCann said he was saddened by Durfee’s punishment.

“I think it is, at best, difficult to deal with a client who believes that he is smarter than a federal judge,” McCann said, referring to Rosenthal. “When that client is not only a client, but your actual boss who hires and fires you, I think that puts a very different take on your relationship.”

I’m sympathetic to the position Durfee was in. It’s even made me rethink some of the things I’ve said about Kelly Siegler’s failure to do anything about (as she claims) Rosenthal’s impaired judgment. I still think she showed a lack of courage, as she had a lot more freedom to act than Durfee would have had; if nothing else, she could have had a few off-the-record talks with a reporter or two. But I can appreciate the bind someone can be put in when they have a bad boss who’s behaving erratically.

On a tangential note, with the arrival of a new interim DA and her reassignment to another division in that office, this is no surprise.

Chuck Rosenthal’s former secretary has resigned rather than report to the new job to which she was assigned by his replacement.

Kerry Stevens, who became widely known as the object of Rosenthal’s desire following the release of hundreds of his private e-mails, told the district attorney’s office that she was retiring effective Monday. She has been on authorized leave since she was informed she would be reassigned to the grand jury division.


Kenneth Magidson, recently appointed to fill the remainder of Rosenthal’s term, expressed appreciation to Stevens for her years of public service and wished her well in future endeavors.

Stevens could not be reached for comment.

Stevens, 56, became a character in the drama surrounding Rosenthal’s downfall not only through their close relationship but because of questions of possible preferential treatment. At $89,500, her salary was higher than that of executive assistants for most local public officials, including the mayor and county judge, and she also received the use of a county car and free gas. Rosenthal approved an $11,500 raise for her just weeks before he stepped down.

I feel a certain amount of sympathy for Kerry Stevens. While Chuck Rosenthal clearly acted like a jackass, she kept her email behavior on the professional side, at least as I recall from the original leak of all that stuff. She certainly benefitted from his besotted behavior, so my sympathy only goes so far, but I think she deserved better from this embarrassing episode. Here’s hoping she can find something quiet and unobtrusive to do so that her name fades from the public memory and she can get on with her life.

The new DA’s new direction?

This article is about a guilty plea being entered by two of the four former staffers of the Mayor Pro Tem’s office who were arrested for improperly giving themselves bonuses, but the most interesting bit in the story to me is this:

The news comes on the heels of Harris County prosecutors’ decision to plea out two high-profile cases Wednesday, signifying what some believe is a change of philosophy under newly appointed District Attorney Ken Magidson.

Under former District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal, defense lawyers say, it’s doubtful that former Texas Southern University President Priscilla Slade and a man who faced the death penalty for gunning down a volunteer firefighter, could have avoided jury trials.

Lewis said he is “striking while the iron is hot.” He said antiquated and unreasonable policies Rosenthal put in place hamstrung his prosecutors from making good decisions.

“He had a draconian policy that he had to set the offer, not the prosecutors who handle the case, which I think is idiotic,” Lewis said. “Now the powers that be, now that he’s not there mucking it up, have started to get on a more reasonable track. It’s evidenced by Slade.”

Calls to Rosenthal were not returned about the two cases: Slade, who got 10 years probation and restitution to the university of more than $127,000, and Keith Hines, who faced the death penalty for gunning down a volunteer firefighter.

Vivian King, a defense attorney who assisted in the Hines case, agreed with Lewis’ strategy to try to get a more lenient deal.

She said she doubts prosecutors under Rosenthal would have allowed Hines to save his life by accepting life in prison without parole.

“I attribute it to the new DA,” King said. “I may be wrong, but that’s what I attribute it to.”

She said she also has the impression that Rosenthal didn’t reel in underlings who sought the harshest punishments.

Several assistant district attorneys, including Smyth, disagreed with the analysis of Lewis and King.

Magidson released a statement that said he does not believe anyone should draw any conclusions about him or the office’s philosophy on the basis of the plea agreements.

“Those plea agreements were case-specific, reached after careful consideration of the facts and circumstances presented by each matter. Future cases with similar charges may result in completely different outcomes depending on the facts and circumstances.”

Well, one could argue that this kind of careful, case-specific consideration is in itself evidence of a change of direction from the Rosenthal days. If the people who deal with the DA’s office think things are different now, they’re going to act as though it’s true. All I know is that whether these are isolated cases or part of an emerging pattern, it’s all good to me.

Friday random ten: Why are there so many songs about rainbows?

No intro, just random music…

1. “The Rainbow Connection” – Kermit the Frog. From The Muppet Movie, of course, probably the first truly quotable movie I ever saw. “Bear left!” “Right, frog!” “You, you with the banjo, can you help me? I seem to have lost my sense of direction!” “Have you tried Hare Krishna?” “Sparkling Muscatel, one of the finest wines of Idaho.” I could go on, but you get the picture.

2. “That Was Your Mother” – Paul Simon. Kind of a bookend piece to “Born At The Right Time”, though you’d think the idealistic latter song would be the one to write first.

3. “War” – Bruce Springsteen. From the 1975-1985 live CDs. Remember when the NFL took the Edwin Starr original, cut out all of the “What is it good for?” stuff, and turned it into a glorification of guys hitting each other? That was probably the most flagrant abuse of a song and its meaning till Wrangler Jeans turned Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Fortunate Son” into a backdrop for flag-waving.

4. “This Land Is Your Land” – Bruce Springsteen. Yeah, two from the same CD. I’m fascinated by the idea that this song was written as a response to “God Bless America”. I can kinda sorta see that, but if no one had ever told me that fact, it never would have occurred to me.

5. “Romeo and Juliet” – Dire Straits. My favorite song off of my favorite Dire Straits CD. I realize that Douglas Adams preferred Tunnel of Love, not that there’s anything wrong with that, but this one’s my fave.

6. “Crawlin’ King Snake” – John Lee Hooker. Here, have a video.

7. “The Cross” – The Jubilettes. From a CD of Prince covers by Austin artists. As with many of the songs on this CD, if you didn’t know it was a Prince song going in, you wouldn’t realize it as you were listening to it. I love it when music crosses genres like that.

8. “Love Hurts” – Nazareth. Many moons ago, on Valentine’s Day, one of the local DJs – it may even have been Dayna Steele – played a listener-suggested block of songs in honor of the day. (She did a regular feature during her shift, which covered the lunch hour, called Work Force Blocks, which were usually three or four songs from a particular artist, with some variations like this one thrown in.) The playlist was, in order, “Love Stinks” by the J. Geils Band; “Love Hurts”; and “Love Bites” by Def Leppard. Clearly, someone was feeling a bit cynical about the whole enterprise.

9. “Wonderwall” – Oasis. Tiffany attended grad school in Manchester around the time these guys were hitting it big. So yes, she has their stuff in her collection.

10. “52nd Street Theme” – Tommy Flanagan. From a CD tribute to Thelonius Monk. All my playlists have some jazz on them.

What are you listening to these days?

Lastest Ashby plans nixed

The developers may be moving forward, but the city is saying “not so fast”.

City officials have rejected the latest permit applications for the controversial Ashby high-rise, saying the developers must provide more information about traffic impact and take other steps before the project can be approved.

In returning the plans for the 23-story building to developers Matthew Morgan and Kevin Kirton of Buckhead Investment Partners Inc., city engineer Mark L. Loethen said they must supply more data about anticipated traffic volumes, including figures about traffic generated by similar projects in other parts of Houston.

Loethen also expressed concern that a planned driveway into the project at 1717 Bissonnet might cause problems, including encroachment into the westbound lanes of Bissonnet by large trucks backing into the driveway.

Morgan said he and his partner would work with their traffic consultant to provide the requested information and resubmit the plans, which they first submitted almost a year ago.

Although Mayor Bill White has said publicly that the city will not approve the project in its current form, Morgan said the outcome of the application process is not certain.

“We continue to believe we have followed all the rules and regulations that were in place at the time we submitted our plans,” Morgan said. “We have a legal right to build this project as originally designed.”

I still believe that in the end, there is nothing the city can do to stop this project. The best outcome is to improve codes and regulations to prevent the next inappropriately located high rise from getting built.

Chris Amandes, a leader of the neighborhood-based Stop Ashby High Rise task force, said he doesn’t understand why the developers are continuing a project that the mayor has said the city won’t approve.

“They may be setting themselves up to sue the city, or using this application as a bludgeon” to pressure the neighborhood to agree to proposals that it has so far found unacceptable, Amandes said.

I believe the lawsuit option is indeed what they have in mind, and frankly I think they’d win. I think they know that, and I think the city does, too. The city can bluster all it wants, but I think the developers win now or win later, and it’s just a matter of how much it costs.

Freight rail versus light rail

And freight rail wins, for now.

The Metropolitan Transit Authority may cut six blocks off its planned East End light rail line, leaving passengers short of the Magnolia Transit Center and much of the developing commercial area around Harrisburg and Wayside.

Metro board chairman David Wolff said Thursday that the roadblock is the former Houston Belt & Terminal Railway tracks, now owned by Union Pacific Railroad. The crossing, on Harrisburg between 65th and Oldham, is familiar to motorists and pedestrians delayed by freight trains.

Wolff said Metro had considered crossing the double tracks at street level.

“But it doesn’t seem the railroad is too enthusiastic about that.”

Metro spokeswoman Sandra Salazar later said UP would not agree to share its right of way with Metro trains.


Metro has been planning the line almost since voters approved it in a 2003 referendum. Asked why the issue is surfacing now, Salazar said Metro initially hoped to obtain permission from the railroad for a street-level crossing.

In 2003, when Metro changed its plans from light rail to Bus Rapid Transit, thinking that was necessary to qualify for federal funding, the issue was moot because the buses would cross the tracks with other street traffic.

“The issue became critical again in 2007 when we changed back to light rail,” Salazar said.

A prepared statement from Metro said the agency is “committed to taking the line to the Magnolia Transit Center, even if it may have to be at a later phase. Our long-range plan (to go to Gulfgate and beyond) makes it necessary to resolve this sooner rather than later.”

Wolff said he hoped the city of Houston would build an overpass at the tracks. That may enable Metro to extend the line to the transit center within two to four years after its scheduled completion in 2012. Until then, he said, Metro would bridge the gap with a bus shuttle.


Frank Michel, spokesman for Mayor Bill White, said the city and Metro have not discussed an overpass yet, nor is funding for such a project in the city’s current five-year capital improvement plan. “But shortly, we are going to start a major mobility study and we could consider a grade separation at that point,” Michel said.

Grade separation makes sense here with or without taking the light rail line into account. There’s a lot of freight tracks in the East End, and parts of that neighborhood can be completely cut off when the trains are running. Building an overpass that can handle a light rail train as well will be more expensive, but that cost can be shared by the city and Metro, and it will have a big impact. I hope this happens, and I hope it happens quickly.

UPDATE: Christof has more.

Is that all there is?

As we know, as of Monday, some 31,000 tickets had been sold for the NCAA Regional Finals at Reliant Stadium, which includes at least one game featuring the UT Longhorns. The presence of the Horns makes this a very desirable matchup for Reliant and ticket brokers. So how are we doing with those ticket sales now, on game day?

The majority of tonight’s expected crowd of 32,000-plus likely will be backing [the Horns].

So since Monday, when it was known that UT was coming to play, about 1000 more tickets have been sold. Boy howdy, that’s some kind of draw. Imagine how brisk things will be in 2010 when there’ll be 72,000 tickets available and maybe not such a strong local attraction. Are we a great sports town or what?

“Am not!” “Are too!”

You know, I’m enjoying the GOP DA runoff as much as the next political junkie, but I can’t shake the feeling that we’ve seen the last original episode and are now just watching reruns.

The Harris County District Attorney’s Office is in shambles after being shamed around the world. Or, prosecutors are briskly carrying out the job of obtaining guilty verdicts in criminal cases after recovering from the scandals involving former District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal.

Republican candidates for district attorney Pat Lykos and Kelly Siegler presented those contrasting pictures Wednesday, in that order.

“The office is in disarray,” former judge Lykos said. “And it has been discredited nationally and worldwide.”

Rosenthal, known nationally as chief of the local law enforcement agency that produces the most death penalty sentences in the nation, resigned after the disclosure of racist and sexist material and campaign communications on his government e-mail, along with romantic messages to his executive secretary.

Lykos, citing Rosenthal’s explanations that a mix of prescription drugs had clouded his thinking, said, “So he has had a core group of people running that office, and the culture that it has created has led to the scandals we have now.”

Siegler is chief of the agency’s special crimes division — part of the leadership group that Lykos criticized.

“Morale is back up” now that Rosenthal is gone, Siegler said. “Attitudes are good and we are back in the business of prosecuting criminals.”

For what it’s worth, I agree somewhat with Lykos, and I agree somewhat with Siegler. I don’t think there’s any question that the Harris County DA’s office has a bad reputation around the country and the world, though I think that pre-dates the whole ear-kissing thing; I’d flag Rosenthal’s buffoonish performance before the Supreme Court in Lawrence v. Texas as the point where the rest of the world first noticed our DA’s office, though of course every time there’s an article about the death penalty we get more publicity. On the other hand, I think a lot of this bad press is attributable to Rosenthal himself, and so his departure was an immediate lift. We can of course still have an argument about how much more the office needs to disassociate itself from the man – that’s what this runoff, and if Siegler wins the November election is and will be about – but it’s fair to say that things are different now than they were in January and early February. At least, they look different, and since we’re talking the perceptions of others, that matters.

This is about where Siegler loses me:

Siegler said she is not responsible for Rosenthal’s errors in judgment, partly because he wouldn’t listen to advice from people such as herself.

I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again: Either Kelly Siegler and other members of the leadership group in the DA’s office knew that Rosenthal’s judgment was seriously impaired and they did nothing about it, or they didn’t know there was anything wrong. The former shows a lack of courage, the latter a lack of perceptiveness. I’m sorry, but saying “Rosenthal wouldn’t listen to me” isn’t good enough. If Siegler knew he was a problem, she needed to put pressure on him to get help or get out. She didn’t, and she has to own that.

Macias still loses after HD73 recount

The recount in HD73 has been completed, and the result is the same.

The unofficial recount results in the Dist. 73 state representative race indicate that Doug Miller will be the Republican nominee on the ballot in November; Miller now leads incumbent Nathan Macias by a 17-vote margin.

A canvass will occur within a day or two to confirm recount results.

Miller had a 26-vote lead Tuesday after the recounts in Bandera, Comal and Kendall Counties; Gillespie, the remaining county, held its recount Wednesday.

Macias did not return repeated calls to his cell phone this week, but in a release, he said: “We expect the final canvass will occur within the next day or two, and at this point I am weighing several options with my family, friends and advisors.”

There was no change in Bandera’s results after that county’s recount Monday, according to election officials. But on Tuesday, Macias picked up one vote in Comal County while in Kendall County, Macias picked up three votes, and Miller picked up one.

“The votes were counted and counted and recounted,” said Miller. “The people have spoken; I won, and I think it’s time to move on.”

Miller added, “I’d like to reach out my hand to Representative Macias to make a smooth transition and represent the good people of District 73.”

I’m wondering if one of those options is to contest the election in the House. I’m not sure how that would work for a primary, given that Miller will have a Democratic opponent in the general election. Not that it matters that much, in the sense that any Republican will be a heavy favorite to win in the fall, but if such a contest doesn’t take place till the Lege actually convenes, then Macias would have to argue that he’d have won in November as well, and it could get messy. Anyway, for now, Miller is in and Macias is out. I don’t think this is over yet, but that’s where we stand.

Density and walkability on Montrose and Studemont

I’ve mentioned before that I lived in Montrose for nearly ten years, before I bought a house in the Heights. From 1993 to 1997, I lived on the northern end of Montrose, near Montrose and West Dallas. There wasn’t much there back then – lots of rental housing, empty lots, and a few small businesses. It was a funky, kind of run-down but still interesting urban neighborhood.

Well, a lot has changed since then, and there’s a lot more change to come. I’ve blogged about quite a bit of it, and will keep doing so as the area keeps evolving. I think a lot of good things have happened, along with a few not-so-good things, and I think there’s the potential for a lot more good to be done. I also think there’s the potential for all the changes to have a lot of negative effects, mostly having to do with overwhelming the infrastructure, and I think it’s important to keep an eye on what’s happening.

So towards that end, I had the opportunity a few weeks ago to take a bunch of photos of the area; basically, the stretch of Montrose/Studemont from West Gray to Washington Avenue. I did this partly to document what it looks like now – if you used to live there but haven’t seen it in awhile, you’ll be amazed – and partly to point out what I think can be done to make the eventual finished product better. I’ve compiled the pictures, along with my comments, into a Flickr photo set, which you can also view as a slideshow – click on Options, then Always Show Title And Description to see my comments if you view it this way.

My thesis is simple. This is already an incredibly densely developed corridor, and it’s going to get more so as the new high rise is built and several parcels of now-empty land get sold and turned into something else. It’s already fairly pedestrian-friendly, but that needs to be improved. And for all the housing in that mile-long stretch of road, there’s not enough to do. Not enough places to eat and drink, to shop and recreate. Midtown has a lot more such options, and I think this area has at least as many people. I think there’s an opportunity being missed, and I think with a little vision, this part of Montrose can be a real activity hub.

Anyway, that’s how I see it. Take a look at the pictures and let me know what you think.

Council OKs contract with HOPE

The collective bargaining agreement that was ratified by HOPE last week has now been officially accepted by City Council.

Houston municipal workers celebrated Wednesday after the City Council approved a union contract that will give 13,200 employees an immediate 3 percent raise.

The 13-2 vote made Houston the first city in Texas to sign a pact with employees who are not police officers or firefighters.

“We have made history,” said Wanda Sterling, a customer service representative for the municipal courts. “I think it was worth the battle.”

The three-year contract will cost the city $5.2 million this fiscal year, but $179 million overall. The pact calls for additional across-the-board 3 percent pay raises in fiscal 2010 and 2011.

The contract also guarantees that all workers will earn at least $10 an hour by September of next year. That will affect about 1,000 workers who currently earn annual wages below $20,400 — the federal poverty level for a family of four.


Council members Toni Lawrence and Mike Sullivan voted against the pact.

“It should not have been across the board,” Lawrence said. She also said she did not like that workers making six figures would get the 3 percent raise, too.

For example, the mayor’s chief of staff, Michael Moore, is paid $115,760 a year. The 3 percent raise will mean an extra $3,473 for him. By contrast, a refuse truck driver who earns $20,958 annually will see an additional $628 from the first raise.

Lawrence wanted a cap on increases for higher pay grades, which would leave more money for the lower-paid employees.

“Our goal for HOPE (the union) was to help the people making minimum wage,” Lawrence said.

But [Mayor Bill] White said higher-paid professionals, such as city attorneys, could get poached by the private sector, so the city has to stay competitive at all pay levels.

I can understand Council Member Lawrence’s reasoning, but I disagree with it. Inflation affects people at Michael Moore’s salary level, too. And Mayor White is correct about the need to pay professional staff a competitive wage. I don’t think that’s a sufficient reason to reject the agreement.

Sullivan said he opposed the contract as a fiscal conservative.

“It’s just a huge amount of money,” he said. “It’s the starting point for future costs.”

Sullivan said he wanted more time to find out if turnover really was a problem for the city, and if jobs were not getting done because of vacant positions.

“Is it a matter of just giving employees a raise to feel good, or is it necessary to keep the employees that we have?” he asked. “I’m not convinced that being the first city in Texas to have unionized employees is something to be proud of.”

I’m sorry, but that’s just putting ideology ahead of everything else. By that reasoning, you can reject any raise for city employees. And with all due respect, these negotiations took place over nearly a year. There’s been plenty of time to answer those questions about turnover and vacancies.

Be that as it may, I think this is a good day for the city and its workers. Congratulations to all for a job well done.

UPDATE: Stace has more.

More cameras, fewer tickets

I would classify this as good news.

Red-light camera citations have decreased steadily since Houston police boosted their monitoring at intersections six months ago, newly released records show.

The number of citations declined by a third, to 17,000 last month from a high of 27,000 in October — all after police added an extra 20 cameras and began fining motorists for illegal turns.

The rapid decline at the 70 camera locations is a sign, city and police officials say, that more motorists know they are being watched and are more cautious about getting nabbed.

“If a person is going the same route day after day, and then they get a ticket because they ran a red light, they are less likely to run the light,” Mayor Bill White said Monday.

For a period of about a year, the eastbound service road for I-10 at Studemont was a regular speed trap. A couple of times a month, you’d see officers with their radar guns, pulling people over for speeding, mostly people who’d just exited the freeway. They caught me the first time I drove through their setup. You bet your ass I was extremely watchful of how fast I was going after that; I may be dumb enough to get nailed once, but I sure as hell wasn’t going to be a repeat customer. So yes, I think Mayor White is exactly right here.

And that was the point of the cameras, wasn’t it? Not just to catch those who ran red lights, but to discourage everyone else from doing so as well. The data suggests that they’re doing a good job of that.

Overall, the cameras have nabbed more than 230,000 vehicles since they went online in September 2006.

About 60 percent of those motorists have paid their fines, resulting in more than $11.5 million in revenue. The police department has spent $4 million operating the system, including $2.7 million to its vendor, American Traffic Solutions. Another $2.1 million must be shared with the state, leaving a profit of about $5.4 million, records show.

The information about camera revenue is very interesting. As Grits pointed out last week, the city of Dallas is seeing a similar decline in red light violations being captured by their cameras, but that decline is causing a big drop in revenue, which in turn is forcing Dallas to re-evaluate its usage of the cameras, lest they be operated at a loss. Now maybe Houston signed a better contract than Dallas did. Maybe Houston did a better job of locating the cameras at intersections that had real problems with red light running. And maybe Houston will be in the same position Dallas now finds itself in some day, regardless of how good the contract and camera placement are. I can’t really tell if we’re smart, lucky, or just not yet at the crossroads. But it’s worth thinking about what should be done in the event the cameras don’t pay for themselves. If this is about safety, then it’s worthwhile for the city to spend some amount of money to keep the cameras running and maintain the gains it has made in reducing red light violations. Obviously, there’s a limit to this, but what is that limit? And what do we do when we reach it? Those questions need answers.

While the citation figures show that fewer motorists are breaking the law at monitored intersections, it remains unclear whether the intersections actually are safer.

“The simple fact that the cameras are giving out more citations at intersections, that doesn’t mean that Houston is safer,” said lawyer Paul Kubosh, a critic who unsuccessfully sued the city over the legality of the red-light camera program.

Researchers from Rice University and the Texas Transportation Institute are conducting a statistical study on accident trends at the monitored sites, but it was unclear when the results will be released.

Kubosh said that study could show that minor accidents actually increased at the intersections as motorists make abrupt stops to avoid citations — a dynamic other cities across the country have seen.

“The whole purpose of the cameras is to decrease accidents,” he said. “They sold this thing on accident prevention.”

Officers who monitor the program say the study should show that accidents have decreased, said Sgt. Darrell Prince, who supervises the program and monitors video.

“Honestly,” he said. “I’ve seen very few accidents.”

Yes, it’s certainly possible that minor accidents may increase – we’ll know for sure when that study is finalized. But an increase in minor accidents may be an acceptable outcome if major accidents, especially accidents that involve injuries, decrease. It’s not about decreasing accidents so much as it is about increasing safety. Fender-benders and T-bones are not the same, and they shouldn’t be treated the same.

Vote early in the runoff

I know, I know, everyone including me bombarded you with Vote Early! messages during the primary. The reason for that as we know was because of the high turnout that we expected, which turned out to be even higher than we thought it would be. The runoff isn’t going to be anything like that – you’ll be in and out in a couple of minutes no matter when you vote. So why vote early? Because your regular polling place very likely won’t be available on Runoff Day.

Forget about returning to a March 4 primary polling place to cast a ballot on April 8 — unless you live in southeast Harris County and plan to vote Republican.

Elsewhere in the county, GOP voters can vote only at a single polling station designated for their precinct — and the number of locations has been drastically reduced from March 4.

In most cases, the April 4 locations will be the buildings used for early voting. For instance, Bellaire residents will have to vote on election day at Bayland Community Center in southwest Houston.

On the countywide GOP ballot are runoffs for the nominations for district attorney and a felony court bench. Southeast Harris County is the exception because of Republican runoffs there for a U.S. House seat, a state House seat and a justice of the peace position. Most, if not all, of the polling places used March 4 will be open for voting in those areas.

Democrats countywide will have to go on April 8 to the polling stations used in early voting. On the party’s runoff ballot are a statewide race for a Railroad Commission seat, a countywide race for a civil court bench and a justice of the peace contest.

On March 4, Democrats used 367 polling places to serve the county’s 874 precincts. On April 8 they will use 35, according to party chairman Gerald Birnberg.

Democratic turnout on March 4, with the presidential race on the ballot, exceeded 400,000. Birnberg said the party will be lucky to attract 10,000 for the runoffs. Runoffs were needed in each race where no candidate got a majority of the vote in the first round.

With far fewer voters expected by both parties, polling places have been reduced to save public money. The state subsidy was about $700,000 for the Democratic primary and is expected to be about $100,000 for the runoff, Birnberg said. Republicans are expected to reduce costs by almost as much.

For early voting, which starts next Monday and runs through April 4, voters can cast ballots at any of the 35 locations in the county. They can vote at only one location on election day.

“My advice: Vote early,” said County Clerk Beverly Kaufman, whose staff runs the elections.

That’s my advice, too. Remember that early voting for the runoff is only five days long – basically, Monday through Friday of next week. There won’t be much in the way of reminders to vote – I doubt any of the Democratic candidates will be sending mail or doing robocalls – so mark your calendars now and don’t forget.

“Privatization failure is taxpayers’ burden”

This Statesman editorial nails it.

Because of an effort five years ago to run part of state government more like a business, the Texas Health and Human Services Commission is struggling to provide food and medical services to some of the state’s poorest people. It’s a disaster that ought to be remembered every time a legislator or lobbyist starts babbling that “privatization” of this or that state service will boost efficiency, lower costs to taxpayers and cure all fraud and waste.

As the American-Statesman’s Corrie MacLaggan outlined in a Sunday story, the commission’s staff of about 6,500 workers — down from about 10,400 in 1998 despite the state’s population growth — who determine the eligibility of applicants for aid is heavily overworked and increasingly inexperienced. Since September, the commission has hired 1,010 workers, even as 733, including veterans who know the system, quit.

These employees process applications for food stamps and Medicaid for about 3.7 million people. To do so, they must master both the rules for qualifying and the computer systems to track applicants. Because of the staff’s workload and inexperience, many applicants are having to wait too long for help.

Those tempted to shrug off the departures as “good-bye, good riddance” should understand that such turnover hits taxpayers in the pocketbook. It costs $7,500 to train an eligibility worker, so when one leaves, the investment in training is not only lost, more must be spent for the next worker.


You can argue that the privatization theory is correct but, in this case, was badly carried out; or that the theory is wrong and no amount of competence could have saved it; or that the theory is wrong and it was incompetently carried out.

What’s not debatable is that this attempt to run state government more like a business failed. And the price for that failure is being paid by taxpayers, the state workers and poor people who truly need the help.

Amen. Be sure to read that Sunday Statesman article, too. I believe the HHSC fiasco will be one of the biggest components of Rick Perry’s legacy when he finally leaves office. In so many ways, it characterizes his tenure as Governor. The Bluebonnet blog has more.

Lottery privatization still lurking out there

I thought the idea of privatizing the Lottery was pretty much dead after it went over with such a thud last year, but apparently some bad ideas never truly go away.

Texas would have to expand gambling to see the multibillion-dollar profits Gov. Rick Perry promised last year when he proposed selling the state lottery, according to a report an Austin watchdog group plans to release today.
Texans for Public Justice, which monitors money in politics, obtained Texas Lottery sales projections by three private companies compiled for Perry from 2006 through 2007.

The Public Justice report indicates that to generate the $14 billion or more Perry said the lottery would yield, Texas would have to allow more gambling and more-addictive games.

“If Texans oppose such a gambling expansion, then these documents suggest what they should play with the Texas Lottery games is Texas Hold ‘Em,” the report concludes.

The report is here. I think the main point to be aware of is here:

Today, more than a dozen states are studying lottery privatization. California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger said last year that his state’s lottery could be auctioned off for as much as $37 billion. Yet the Associated Press reported this February that seven Wall Street banks privately priced the deal for Schwarzenegger, who publicly touted the most “wildly optimistic” quote. Significantly, to reach its highest valuations, Wall Street said that the state would have to “allow a significant expansion of gambling in California.”

Lottery privatization is not dead in Austin, either. Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst has directed two interim Senate committees to assess the merits of lottery privatization. Meanwhile, gambling interests continue to ply Governor Perry with lottery-privatization schemes.

As in California, many of the documents that the Texas governor’s office has released thus far to Watch Your Assets suggest that the payout that Governor Perry has touted is unrealistic unless Texas aggressively expands into new games and widens the venues in which gambling occurs. Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott has issued non-binding opinions indicating that many of the new kinds of games that the gambling industry is pushing require a constitutional amendment. Yet the Dallas company Aces Wired now openly operates electronic gaming machines in selected Texas markets that already cross some legal lines drawn by the Attorney General. Aces Wired, which spearheads a business consortium interested in running the Texas Lottery, has flooded the governor’s office with advice on how to go about making this happen.

The two Senate committees, according to a footnote, are Finance and State Affairs. May mean nothing, but it doesn’t sound like it. Just keep this in mind for when the next Lege convenes.

A new leader for the Hall of Fame

David Pinto brings the news.

Dale Petroskey stepped down as president of the National Baseball Hall of Fame after the museum’s executive committee found his financial and business decisions weren’t in the best interests of the organization.

Petroskey had been at baseball’s Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York, since July 1999.

The Hall’s board of directors accepted Petroskey’s resignation because he “failed to exercise proper fiduciary responsibility,” the executive committee said in a statement without elaborating.

Jeff Idelson will replace Petroskey as acting president after spending the past nine years as the Hall of Fame’s vice president of communications and education.

To which all I can say is Good riddance, and about damn time.

Vote early, and vote often

Apparently, some people took the “Texas Two-Step” thing a bit too literally.

Harris County Clerk Beverly Kaufman will provide the Harris County District Attorney’s office today copies of the Democratic and Republican poll books that show 1147 names of individuals that may have voted illegally or unlawfully participated in both primaries in the March 4th Elections.

“Texas law prohibits individuals from voting twice in an election, as well participating in both the Republican and Democratic primaries during the same election cycle. In most elections, there are less than a handful of such cases. In this election, there appears to be a significant number that may call for further investigation,” said Harris County Clerk Beverly Kaufman, the chief elections officer of the County.

According to the County Clerk, during the Primary Elections 389 individuals may have voted illegally by voting in person during the Early Voting Period and also on Election Day. In those instances, 378 occurred in the Democratic Primary and seven in the Republican Primary. Four voters voted early by mail in the Republican primary and then voted in the Democratic Primary on Election Day. Under section 64.012 of the Texas Election Code on ILLEGAL VOTING, A person commits an offense if the person: knowingly votes or attempts to vote more than once: An offense under this section is a felony of the third degree. A person found to have committed a third degree felony may face 2 to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000. In the case a person is convicted of attempting to vote twice, the offense is a Class A misdemeanor. The person may face up to 1 year in the County jail and/or a fine up to $4,000.

Also, according the County Clerk, 758 individuals may have participated in both the Democratic and Republican Primaries. Of those instances, 701 occurred on Election Day and four voted in one Primary during the early voting period and in the other on Election Day. Section 162.014 of the Election Code stipulates that UNLAWFUL PARTICIPATION IN PARTY AFFAIRS occurs if a person knowingly votes or attempts to vote in a primary election or participates or attempts to participate in a convention of a party after having voted in a primary election or participated in a convention of another party during the same voting year. A person found to have committed a Class C misdemeanor may be fined up to $500.

So in an election in which a sizable number of people had never voted before, a bit more than 0.2% of all 580,000+ participants got confused and either voted twice in the same primary, or voted in one and then the other. Forgive me if I’m neither surprised nor impressed by that.

I think you’re going to have a real hard time proving that any of these people was something other than unclear on the concept, or given bad information by someone. There was a barrage of ads on the Democratic side exhorting people to “vote twice”, meaning once in the primary and once in the precinct convention. That one in a thousand of these voters might have misinterpreted the meaning of that strikes me as a very foreseeable consequence. As for the people who voted in both primaries, I would again ascribe this to ignorance rather than deliberate malfeasance. Even if you could convince me it was a conspiracy of some kind, what exactly could it possibly have accomplished. I’m just not seeing anything sinister here.

In fact, the Chron story provides an illustration of how this kind of double-voting might happen:

Robert Duran Jr. said he walked into the wrong room to vote in the March 4 primary. But he said he should not be indicted for it.

“It was an innocent mistake,” said Duran, who works for an oil services company. “I just failed to read the sign.”


Duran said he rushed to the polls after work, meaning to vote as a Republican. Duran was voting in his first primary, and he unthinkingly went to the same room he always does for general elections. But after Duran signed in the poll book and went to the booth, he saw the ballot had the names of the Democratic candidates, Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama.

“I clicked on it and said, ‘Whoa, this is not what I meant to do,’ ” Duran said.

Duran alerted a poll worker, who redirected him to another room, where Republican balloting was taking place. The poll worker told him the accidental ballot would be canceled out of the system.

“They told me, ‘Don’t worry about it,’ ” Duran said.

I’ll bet most of the folks who did this will have a similar story to tell. Investigate as you see fit, but I wouldn’t expect to find much of anything worth really pursuing.

It’s amusing to me that one commenter in that Houston Politics thread brought up voter ID, because I can’t see how that would have made any difference. The argument behind voter ID laws is to prevent people from impersonating other voters. It seems to me that if any of these double-dippers had maliciously intended to cast multiple ballots, they would have done exactly that, rather than present themselves as themselves each time they showed up, which when you think about it pretty much guarantees you’ll get caught. I mean heck, if the problem here was sloppy record-keeping by an election judge or County Clerk’s office employee, then these overzealous participants may well have shown a driver’s license each time they voted instead of their voter’s reg card. You figure that had they shown their card and gotten it stamped the first time, they’d have been unable to vote again because the evidence of their prior participation would have been right there to see.

Anyway, I see this as much ado about nothing. Surely the DA has better things to do than spend a lot of time chasing this down.

The last time there was an indictment for voting violations was in 1999, according to Scott Durfee, an assistant district attorney in Harris County. The voter was acquitted at trial.

The new list has been referred to the district attorney’s Public Integrity Division, Durfee said. “We are going to review all the names in due course,” he said.

I’ll bet. PDiddie and Stace have more.

More on a public defender’s office for Harris County

Lisa Falkenberg keeps the ball rolling on the public defender’s office for Harris County idea by asking a few candidates for countywide office where they stand on it.

The Democrats seemed uncharacteristically united and on message.

“It promotes fairness and justice, period,” said former Houston Police Chief C.O. Bradford, Democrat for district attorney.

“I would make it a top priority of mine,” said businessman David Mincberg, Democrat for county judge.

Republicans, meanwhile, were stammering, indecisive, claiming ignorance or ordering up a task force or some other form of further study.

“It’s not something I have thought about,” said County Judge Ed Emmett, who faces Mincberg in a race to keep his job. “It’s on my plate for reading material.”

“It’s not really our decision,” said chief prosecutor Kelly Siegler, who faces former felony court judge Pat Lykos in the April 8 Republican primary runoff for district attorney.

“It’s going to take some considerable thought,” said Lykos. “We certainly can’t go on the way we are. And I certainly don’t have a visceral rejection of it by any stretch.”

She paused.

“That doesn’t make sense, what I just said, does it?”

It is a tougher question for Republicans, who are wary of any issue that might make them appear soft on crime.

And they acknowledged at some level the merits of proponents’ arguments, namely that the current system, in which lawyers are appointed by judges, doesn’t always provide indigent defendants a fair shot at justice, either in terms of resources or quality of counsel.

Lykos, the former judge, agreed that “there has to be more resources for indigent defense,” and allowed that a public defender office is “worth studying,” but she cautioned about some of the pitfalls, as relayed to her by judges in other parts of the country.

“If it’s not well-run, then you have the problem of them and the prosecutors kind of getting cozy with one another, if you will, and trading out and not vigorously representing their clients,” Lykos said.

Siegler, though she fairly argued that the issue wasn’t within the jurisdiction of the DA’s office, also said, “You know, if that ultimately turns out to be the way the people in charge decide to go, that’s fine with me.

” … I would say, from the last three months, with all the things that I learned about our system, about our office, about the appointment of defense lawyers, that there are changes that need to be made in all aspects,” Siegler said. “And I’ll tell you, a year ago, I didn’t know all that.”

Reading Siegler’s response raised a question for me: How would a public defender’s office get created in Harris County? Is this something the Lege would have to authorize and/or fund (which was my initial impression), or is it something the Commissioners Court can do? Judge Emmett’s comment at the end of the story that no one on the Court has mentioned this and that he himself has no intention of bringing it up makes me think it’s the latter, but I’m not sure.

Regardless, wherever the power to create this office rests, it’s certainly the case that the opinion of the District Attorney will be taken into account when and if the matter comes to the fore. A DA who strongly opposes a public defender could very well derail it, whereas one who loudly advocates for it can help make it happen. And of course, if this is within the purview of the Commissioners Court, then it seems pretty clear that David Mincberg would pursue this path, while Ed Emmett will not; at least, he won’t be an advocate, though he might go along if the other Commissioners say they want it. I don’t know how many votes might change based on a candidate’s position on this issue, but the distinction is there if it matters to you. I certainly think this is a good idea, and I hope there will continue to be a focus on it. Houtopia has more.

Harris County juvenile facilities criticized

Given the state of the jails, this should not come as a surprise.

Local judges, probation employees and others are operating under a patchwork of sometimes quirky standards for deciding which youths get sent to Harris County’s crowded juvenile detention facilities, according to a new study.

One juvenile court judge, for example, orders youths with cases in his court into a detention facility if they miss school seven days, a report by the Annie E. Casey Foundation found. Other youths who possibly should be detained before trial are released because there is no space to hold them.

“The development of a uniform, objective approach to detention decision-making should be a high priority,” the report says.

A committee that will be chaired by County Judge Ed Emmett and include Houston Police Chief Harold Hurtt, Commissioner Sylvia Garcia and juvenile court Judge Mike Schneider will hold its initial meeting Wednesday to discuss ways of implementing the report’s recommendations.

I’ve searched around but can’t find a copy of the report online. Anyone out there know where it is?

The report said the district attorney’s office clogs up the juvenile justice system and takes time away from serious cases by filing charges against all youths accused of Class A and B misdemeanors.

Class B misdemeanors include shoplifting, possession of less than two ounces of marijuana and evading arrest. Class A misdemeanors include assaults related to fighting and thefts.

Harvey Hetzel, director of the county Juvenile Probation Department, said the system would be less burdened if the district attorney’s office deferred prosecution in some of these cases.

But Bill Hawkins, chief of the District Attorney’s juvenile division, said juvenile crime would rise if prosecutors didn’t hold youths accountable and bring them to court. In Harris County, too many juvenile cases went the deferred prosecution route until the mid-1990s, and juvenile crime increased, he said.

“We’d be turning back the clock to something that was a disaster before,” Hawkins said. “It’s important that kids come to court and see some formal level of accountability in court.”

Okay, but have we learned anything from that earlier experience that may help us to better decide which cases need full prosecution and which ones can be handled with a lighter touch? Saying “we tried that before and it didn’t work” isn’t really constructive here, because the opposite approach isn’t working, either. If “too many cases” went to deferred prosecution in the 1990s, then maybe there’s some number between what we did then and what we’re doing now that would represent an improvement. Let’s keep an open mind here.

As with related issues like the state of the jails and the public defender’s office proposal, this is both about better justice and better management of scarce resources. If you’re not looking for ways to improve, you’re not being fiscally responsible. Take the report as a starting point and see what can and should be done. This should not be controversial. Grits has more.

NCAA regionals: Did we mention there are still tickets available?

The first-ever NCAA Regional Finals in Houston continues to provide me with easy entertainment.

From the moment tickets went on sale March 19, 2007, through the run-up to the 2008 Tournament, upward of 31,000 tickets were sold for this weekend’s South Regional at Reliant Stadium.

With an estimated capacity of 43,880, that means roughly 13,000 tickets are left for the three games on tap, and since the remaining seats likely are in less-than-desirable areas of the stadium, fans might want to consider their options.

“Less than desirable”? But I thought every seat was a good one!

“Having a facility the size of Reliant, we needed a Texas- or Memphis-type team in there with a large interest or large draw,” said Jim Barr of Ticket Attractions. “I don’t think this regional could have had any better matchup than it did or got. We were very fortunate.”


Reliant Stadium, Ticketmaster and brokers are all still offering tickets. It might take some maneuvering, not to mention patience, to sit where you want for a price you desire, but at least Joe Fan can buy his way into the festivities, which wasn’t the case when Reliant hosted Super Bowl XXXVIII four years ago.

“There aren’t a lot of opportunities for people in the community to buy tickets to the Super Bowl,” said Reliant Park president Shea Guinn said. “And that’s how this is different. Anybody can go out there and get a ticket if they want to come.”

Like the ticket brokers, Reliant Park officials could not have asked for a more ideal scenario than Texas making its way to Reliant Stadium. A team with strong regional ties virtually guarantees a sellout.

Okay then. Let’s get those less-than-desirable seats sold so nobody looks like a fool for predicting a sellout that wasn’t.

West U cellphone ban ordinance passed

The proposal by the city of West University Place to ban cellphone use in school zones has been unanimously adopted by their City Council.

The ordinance must be approved a second time to become law.

It would go into effect on August 1 and carry a $200 penalty for a first offense and $500 penalty for repeat offenses. All cell phone usage — including talking on a hand-held or hands-free device, text messaging or viewing images — would be illegal in the three-block school zone in front of West University Elementary School.

Police Chief Ken Walker said the ordinance is intended to keep drivers alert and children safe.

“It only takes a split second for a child to run out in the street and be injured,” Walker said after the meeting.

This ordinance would make West U. the first city in the nation to ban hands-free devices, Mayor Bob Kelly said.

“We would be way out front on that,” Kelly said.

While Walker ackowledged that enforcing the ban against hands-free devices will be difficult to enforce, he recommended them in the ordiance.

“Occasionally it will be enforced. I can see officers working on foot in the area might observe something like that,” he said.

Councilman Michael Talianchich said he believes including hands-free devices makes the ordinance stronger.

“I think it is important that it sends a message,” he said.

Councilwoman Phyllis Cohen said even if it is difficult to enforce that portion, “I think most people are going to comply voluntarily.”

Councilman Chuck Guffey said he wanted to be sure the law applies to moving vehicles only.

“As long as (drivers are) sitting still in the carpool line, I don’t think they should be given a ticket,” he said.

Walker said police would not enforce the law against drivers who were stopped and that language will be added to the ordinance to make that clear.

I think the hands-free ban will be more trouble than it’s worth, but it’s not that big a deal. I agree with the suggestion to limit it to moving vehicles only. You want to encourage people to wait till they’re stopped before using their phones, not ticket them.

The question now, which was raised before but not addressed in this article, is whether Houston will follow suit. I’d guess that it will, but probably not for a few months so our City Council can see how this gets implemented in West U. May as well see what problems arise and how they can be fixed before diving in. Assuming nothing terribly unexpected pops up, I fully expect this to be adopted by Houston in the not-too-distant future.

Noriega wins Progressive Patriots poll

Excellent news from Sen. Feingold:

I’m proud to announce that the Progressive Patriots community has chosen U.S. Senate candidate of Texas Rick Noriega as our first ‘Progressive Patriot’ of 2008. Of the thousands of progressives who cast their vote, Rick received the most votes and we’ll be sending him a $5,000 contribution today to help his campaign. While I’m sure it was difficult to choose among so many great candidates, we’re thrilled to support Rick’s campaign for the Senate seat in Texas.

Rick has spent his entire career serving this country. Following a 14 month deployment to Afghanistan, Rick returned to his native Houston to coordinate Hurricane Katrina relief efforts. In addition to his military background, Rick was elected to four terms in the Texas House. I urge you to check out Rick’s website at to learn more about his record and to find out how you can help Rick succeed in November.

We’re also proud to have made smaller contributions to the other six great Senate candidates that you nominated. With thousands of progressives voting from all 50 states, this round of ‘Pick a Progressive Patriot’ was exceptionally close and I’m proud the Progressive Patriots Fund is able to financially support all seven in their campaigns for the U.S. Senate.

Thank you for voting and I look forward to more ‘Pick a Progressive Patriot’ events as we move closer to the election in November.

Awesome. The March 31 finance reporting deadline is this Monday, so now is as good a time as any to throw a few bucks at candidates like Rick to make that next report look good. Michael Skelly is also making a push, for $7000 in seven days, so if you want a choice, or just another place for a few more extra dollars, there you have it.

On the road to victory with Rick Noriega

The DSCC continued their “Road to Victory” series this week with a pretty rockin’ look at the Noriega campaign. Having spent a good amount of time at Noriega HQ and having declined invites to their early morning runs, I don’t think the campaign or the candidate could have been represented in a 2 1/2 minute video any better. Take a look:

Let’s skip over the fact that he messed up the words to “Deep in the Heart of Texas” (please). Watching this video and thinking about the kind of representation we’ve had in the Senate with John Cornyn (the last Road to Victory video showed the country a little bit about that), it’s easy to imagine Noriega winning in November.

WiFi bubbles

Last month, after EarthLink officially defaulted on its contract with the city to provide municipal WiFi and paid a $5 million penalty for doing so, the city announced a pilot project to provide WiFi hotspots in certain neighborhoods, to be paid for with that EarthLink cash. That plan is now moving forward.

On Monday, Mayor Bill White announced the city will use about $3.5 million of that money to build 10 free wireless network “bubbles” in low-income parts of Houston to give residents access they otherwise might do without.

The long-term possibility, White said, is that the bubbles could be connected and the areas between them added to the network, providing WiFi access across the city.

“It’s a matter of connecting those bubbles,” White said.

Monday’s announcement launched the first bubble in the densely populated Gulfton area of Southwest Houston. The city is establishing a committee to determine where future networks will be located. Build-out is expected to happen over the next two years.


To expand the network beyond the first 10 bubbles will require partnerships with other private businesses, said [Craig Settles, an independent municipal wireless consultant and author of two books on city WiFi]. He suggested deals with area hospitals, which tend to be spread throughout the city and might have interest in establishing a network to communicate with ambulances, clinics, doctors and patients citywide.

Last week, the city finished the formal process of requesting information from potential service providers about how it might build out the network, said Richard Lewis, director of the city’s information technology department. The city likely will ask for bids to build the remaining nine networks, maintain them, provide technical support for users and create a system for businesses to advertise on the network, potentially building revenue for operational costs, he said.

Hewlett-Packard, Microsoft, Verizon Wireless and Tropos Networks — which donated equipment for the Gulfton network — are pilot sponsors. HP will help develop an “affordable computer purchase plan,” according to a news release.

In addition to installing Internet service, the city is working with social service groups to provide computer access and training for users. Each bubble will include about 15 public access points at schools, city facilities and community organizations within the area.

Dwight has more. I liked this plan when I first heard of it, and I like it now. If full coverage isn’t in the cards, this sounds like the next best thing.