Of course no one likes the Texas Medical Board’s proposed abortion guidance

This was never a viable path forward. It was and is doomed to fail.

When Sarah Harrison addressed the Texas Medical Board at a virtual hearing Monday, she added her name to the growing list of Texas women who have shared stories of being denied medically necessary abortions.

Her testimony provided a timely example of exactly how confusing the state’s abortion laws can be in action, even to those tasked with enforcing them.

Harrison, an Austin attorney, learned late last year that one of her twins was not going to survive outside the womb. Her doctors advised her to travel out of state for a selective reduction to terminate the nonviable fetus.

On Monday, Harrison asked the medical board to more explicitly inform doctors they can perform selective reductions if continuing the pregnancy threatens the other fetus’ life. She pointed to the part of the law that says it is not an abortion if it is intended to “save the life or preserve the health of an unborn child.”

Stephen “Brint” Carlton, the board’s executive director, corrected her, saying that line applies to things like fetal surgeries and other interventions aimed at saving single pregnancies, not selective reductions of multiples. But then board chair Dr. Sherif Zaafran chimed in, saying that, in general, if a doctor feels a selective reduction is the standard of care and other expert physicians agree, it could potentially be allowed.

Harrison pushed back, saying her doctors did believe a selective reduction to be the standard of care.

“Under threat of criminal prosecution and losing their license, they were not going to provide a reduction because they couldn’t prove that I was at serious risk of losing my life or serious bodily function,” she said.

Later in the hearing, a retired OB/GYN said he didn’t believe Harrison would have qualified for an abortion in Texas. Then, a health lawyer weighed in to say she agreed with Harrison’s interpretation of the law.

“I thought that exception applied until I heard you today,” Louise Joy, an attorney who advises Texas hospitals, said to Carlton. “But that’s the very confusion we have.”

This is but one example of the ongoing confusion among doctors and lawyers about how to interpret the new abortion laws. The medical board has proposed guidance to clarify some of that uncertainty, but five hours of testimony and hundreds of written comments later, it’s clear no one is particularly pleased with their first attempt including, it seems, the medical board itself.

Zaafran said repeatedly that they would consider revisiting aspects of the proposal where doctors’ interpretations of the guidance was at odds with the boards’ intent.

“If the board was perfect, which we’re certainly not, then that would be it,” Zaafran said. “But having 1,000 sets of eyes [helps with] highlighting things that we may have overlooked and blind spots that we may not have been able to highlight.”

See here for the previous update. I’ve been plenty critical of the TMB but it’s not really their fault. They were set up to fail, because the law is both broad and vague and nothing matters except what Ken Paxton and the Supreme Court want it to be. We’re all just going through the motions, and in the end even the nominal result may be nothing: The Board either put forward the existing guidance for a vote, or start the public comment process over, and have more useless hearings like this one. We both know what the only way forward is. The Chron has more.

Posted in Legal matters | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The senior living situation

This story hit me in a couple of ways.

Ever since the power went out Thursday night from the devastating storm that hit Houston, Brian Cotten has been living on water and peanut-butter sandwiches in his sweltering apartment at a senior living center in the Heights.

“We were trying to help each other as best we could,” said Cotten, who lives with 230 residents at the Houston Heights Towers on 19th Street and serves as president of the community’s resident council.

For two days, no one at the city was aware of the residents’ plight. Cotten was worried about his neighbors, many of whom are on oxygen or use wheelchairs. The building’s landlord, the nonprofit Housing Corporation, had few employees on hand during the outage.

Cotten finally called the city’s Office of Emergency Management on Saturday to request help. City Councilmember Abbie Kamin said she was alarmed by what she saw when she arrived at the facility later that day.

“I pulled up, and an ambulance was already here because somebody was overheated,” said Kamin, who believes the landlord should have done more to make sure residents had what they needed during the Houston power outage.

On Sunday, Mayor John Whitmire harshly criticized the managers of the Heights Towers and other senior-living communities in Houston, alleging that residents had been “abandoned” during the power outage.

“It is outrageous,” said Whitmire, who specifically mentioned the Towers and another facility, Independence Hall, during a news briefing. Most troubling, the mayor added, is that there could be horror stories that the city doesn’t even know about.

“Are there facilities across Houston that no one’s been able to contact?” Whitmire asked. “We’re only able to fix what we know about.”

[…]

Kamin said she’s primarily concerned about what appears to be a lack of emergency planning for the nonprofit’s senior communities in the Heights, which provide housing for hundreds of low-income residents.

The councilmember contacted the nonprofit’s vice president and chief operating officer, Linda Holder, and wasn’t satisfied with her responses.

“‘I asked, ‘What is your emergency response (plan)?’” Kamin recalled. The answer: “‘We don’t have one.’” A message with Holder wasn’t returned Sunday.

“I said, ‘We’re gonna focus on getting y’all what you need right now. But we will be having some very serious conversations after this,’” Kamin said. “They keep claiming it’s a quote unquote, ‘independent living facility.’ I believe most of these residents are in wheelchairs or are amputees. There are individuals who are blind.”

The Fire Department had to be called Saturday night when a generator stopped working and a resident was trapped in an elevator.

“We had, at one point, like, four or five ladder trucks here,” said Kamin, who visited the facility with Fire Chief Samuel Peña.

My in-laws looked at this place in the past. My parents live in an independent living facility in the Portland area, which is a nice community that has had many problems relating to food service and maintenance and security that all boil down to their ownership looking for ways to cut costs without taking the effect of those cuts on their residents into consideration. My heart goes out to the folks at the Heights Tower and the onsite maintenance staff there who did heroes’ work trying to fix the problems caused by the storm.

As the story notes, while nursing homes are licensed by the state, there are no license requirements for independent living facilities like Heights Tower. I’m sure there’s a good argument to be made that reducing such regulatory burdens allows for the greater supply of such facilities, which are absolutely needed as the boomer population gets ever older. But there’s also a cost to that approach, as seen here. Having an emergency response plan, which would allow for better and more efficient coordination with the city when the need arises, is a good start. Whether there should be more federal or state oversight is a matter for another day, but it’s clear from this experience that what we’d always been doing isn’t the right approach. I look forward to seeing the city’s response down the line.

UPDATE: Here’s a second independent living facility that had issues in the aftermath of the storm; I only saw that story after I drafted this post. Residents complain that they were abandoned by building management after the power went out, the building management disputes that, Mayor Whitmire is involved. Again, I am interested to see what the city does about this sort of situation going forward.

Posted in Elsewhere in Houston | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Debris collection time

From the inbox:

Today, the City of Houston’s Solid Waste Management Department (SWMD) will initiate the first pass of storm debris collection for single-family homes and neighborhoods affected by the Derecho Storm on Thursday, May 16, 2024.

Several city departments, within the city’s emergency management operations, have been conducting damage assessment procedures throughout the weekend and are now prepared to initiate debris removal operations on Monday, May 20. In order to safely expedite removal, all debris designated for collection should be placed at the curbside; at least five feet away from any obstructions and overhead obstacles.

Approximately 1 million cubic yards of residential storm debris is estimated to have been generated from this unprecedented storm. Debris removal efforts are expected to last for 2 – 3 months.

Residents are reminded to separate debris into the six distinct categories illustrated on the storm debris regulations document: Garbage, Vegetative, Construction and Demolition, Appliances, Electronics, and Household Hazardous Waste.

To aid in the coordination of collection efforts, residents of the impacted areas of the city are encouraged to report all debris removal needs to the 3-1-1 Call Center, visit our website at Houstonsolidwaste.org, and download the HTX Collects mobile application.

There’s tons and tons of downed tree branches lined up in front of many houses in my neighborhood right now. I hope the city can do something with all this waste – surely, there’s a mulching opportunity here – but I don’t know what the technicalities of that may be. Anyway, look for this stuff to slowly vanish from the streets as the city gets to it all.

I took a few pictures of the damage and the debris in my neighborhood, to document what happened before it all gets cleaned up. A few pics of interest for you:

Derecho2024EuclidTree

Derecho2024WoodlandTreeOnWires

Derecho2024WhiteOakPowerLine

Derecho2024PoliceTape

Derecho2024StudewoodTree

Derecho2024RepairWork1

Derecho2024RepairWork4

Derecho2024StopSign

Among many other things, this is a reminder that it could have all been worse. I wish you all the best with your cleanup and recovery. If you’re still without power, CenterPoint says they hope to be back to “status quo” today. Hang in there.

Posted in Elsewhere in Houston | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Primary Runoff early voting, Day One: First of two runoffs

I don’t plan to follow the early voting totals on a day by day basis for the primary runoffs. I’ll at least have the final totals in addition to Day One, and I may have one more in there if I feel so moved. The Day One totals for the primary runoffs are here. There were 13,695 total votes, with 12,716 coming on the Democratic side. That’s not a measure of anything, as Republicans have two runoffs in heavily Democratic Congressional districts and nothing else (many Republicans have nothing to vote for this round), while Dems have multiple races of great interest, including three countywide contests. You know what the races are and how to evaluate them, so all that’s left to do is vote. I’m aiming for Wednesday.

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Meanwhile, in Gillespie County…

Bless their hearts.

The hand count of thousands of Republican primary election ballots in Gillespie County is on track to cost taxpayers more than double the wage costs of the 2020 Republican primary, according to records obtained by Votebeat.

Public records show Republicans employed 350 people to hand count, who collectively reported working more than 2,300 hours the day of the election at a rate of $12 per hour. That means more than $27,000 in wages.

Those numbers aren’t final, and they’re likely to grow. The tally does not include hourly wages for election clerks who worked at each of the county’s 13 precincts on election day checking in voters and performing duties other than counting. In addition, Gillespie Republicans will also hand-count ballots in a runoff election at the end of the month, which will add to the costs.

Gillespie’s experience illustrates how election costs could rise if the method is more widely adopted across the state.

Four years ago, for the Republican primary election, the party spent less than $13,000 total on election worker wages, including wages for those who worked during a runoff election.

The initial costs also show the hand count of this year’s primary is set to cost taxpayers more than what the county spends annually on electronic tabulating equipment that can be used across multiple elections.

Gillespie County paid $160,968 to purchase voting equipment from Hart Intercivic in 2021, according to a source familiar with the county’s contract. The equipment has a 15-year life expectancy. In addition, the county spends $9,120 annually on licensing fees and technical support for the machines, plus around $6,000 per election for programming the equipment.

[…]

Luis Figueroa, chief of legislative affairs at Every Texan, a nonprofit group that advocates for fair taxation and voting rights, said that over the past two years, Republican lawmakers have approved election policies based on administrative errors and discrepancies in Harris County — a Democratic stronghold — but are doing nothing about the issues that surfaced during the Gillespie hand count.

“A machine breaks down in Harris County, and lawmakers have multiple hearings and pass bills that not only would sanction them, but also to remove county officials, or want a redo of the entire election,” Figueroa said.

In contrast, in Gillespie, “they’re having inaccuracies doing hand counting, and there’s no accountability and no calls from anyone to stop this practice,” he said.

Bruce Campbell, Gillespie County’s Republican Party chairman, told Votebeat that increasing people’s confidence in the election is worth the additional cost. When asked if he thought county residents felt more confident about the process following the hand count, he could not say.

“I don’t have a sense of the county as a whole,” he said. “I know the 350 people who participated in it are mostly enthusiastic about it.”

See here and here for the background. I don’t think I could provide a better summary of the current Republican ethos than Bruce Campbell’s quote, so I’m gonna leave it there. I’m sure there will be more. Enjoy spending all that extra money on this weird obsession, y’all.

Posted in Election 2024 | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

City Council versus HISD

I doubt they can do anything, but I’m happy to watch them try.

One year after the state takeover of Houston Independent School District, some City Council members are urging Mayor John Whitmire to take a more proactive approach in influencing the decisions of state-appointed superintendent Mike Miles.

Empowered by a new measure that allows council members to introduce proposals without the mayor’s approval, six members are banding together to push for a resolution condemning the widespread job cuts for HISD teachers, custodians and principals for the upcoming school year. The statement also expresses solidarity with all school district students and employees.

“The recent abrupt layoffs of hundreds of dedicated HISD employees, executed without sufficient notice or transparency, have caused significant distress within the community,” the proposed resolution reads. “The City Council disagrees with the lack of foresight, sensitivity, and transparency exhibited by HISD’s current leadership in handling significant organizational changes.”

Council Member Edward Pollard, spearheading the resolution effort, said he initially took a “wait and see” approach when state leadership first took control of the school district last year.

“I wanted to give them time to allow them to lead,” Pollard told the Chronicle. “But this one right here with the mass layoffs could no longer be ignored.”

He expressed frustration, in particular, over the departure of Amanda Wingard from Neff Elementary, a school in his district. Wingard, honored as HISD’s Principal of the Year in 2023, confirmed in a recent Facebook post that the district had asked her to resign.

Acknowledging the city’s lack of jurisdiction over the school board’s decisions, Pollard said Houston’s elected officials should still find ways to exert their influence. He said Whitmire, with decades of experience in the state legislature, should leverage his relationships to advocate for HISD teachers and families.

There’s layers to this one, beginning with Mayor Turner versus Mike Miles and the whole Prop A saga, for which CM Pollard appears to be the main protagonist. I’m going to make sure the popcorn machine is in peak working condition going forward.

As the story notes, Mayor Whitmire has discussed HISD and Miles before, and at the time (in January) he declined to mix it up, on the grounds that he wanted to do the whole “work with everyone and come to an understanding” process. Which, fine, perfectly reasonable for a brand new Mayor, especially one who campaigned on his chumminess with the Austin power brokers. That was then and this is now, and an awful lot of people are very mad about the state of HISD, the seemingly capricious ways in which well-loved teachers and principals are being shoved out the door, and so on.

Is that a matter on which the Mayor and City Council should be getting involved? CM Pollard and his co-sponsors (CMs Plummer, Alcorn, Thomas, Evans-Shabazz, and Jackson) would like to, though they understand that there’s not much beyond making noise they actually can do. If they want to put Mayor Whitmire on the spot, and nudge him to use those fabled connections to maybe get Mike Miles to listen to someone other than himself, I don’t see any reason why not. We’ll see how the Mayor responds.

Posted in Local politics, School days | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

Power by Wednesday?

As of 5 PM Saturday, CenterPoint said that 447K customers were still without power, which is about half of the original total from Thursday night. The hope is that 90% of all customers will have power by Wednesday. Which, given that CenterPoint has about 1.9 million customers in Harris County, still means that almost 200K will be out of luck.

As of Saturday night, we were still in that bucket. I’m writing this before heading over to our house to check on it status and plug the fridge into a battery; we’re also providing a battery to our next door neighbors so they can charge their phones and hearing aids. I’m starting to feel a little anxious about all this.

One bit of good news for Harris County is that FEMA will provide reimbursement costs for the recovery effort.

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo said the county “should be eligible” for public disaster funds, which would help the county and likely other public agencies tap Federal Emergency Management Agency funds for costs related to road cleanup and damage to public buildings.

“This is a big deal,” Hidalgo said. “Instead of us having to foot the bill on recovery, we can get reimbursed and use those funds on mitigation for the future and keep a balanced budget.”

The county alone has calculated significant damage to public assets, as well as the cost to help people rebuild. In a release, county officials said the damage included:

• 1.2 million cubic yards of debris that will cost about $27 million to remove.
• Harris County Engineering’s Delta building has significant damage that will cost an estimated $1.2 million to fix.
• 178 traffic signals not working. The county is coordinating with TxDOT to get generators to 8 locations that are critical intersections.
• 14 county buildings without power, 3 of which are courthouses.

“These are estimates for unincorporated Harris County and do not include any damage within individual cities or (school districts),” officials said. “Cities and (school districts) will report damage in the coming days, but this gives us a sense of the cost of the damage.”

So we’ve got that going for us, which is nice. But if you’re without power and trying to figure out what’s up, it’s not so easy.

As crews are deployed dealing with power line and system failures from Thursday’s pounding storm, the site dedicated to alerting Houston area people when their power will return is going through some outages of its own.

CenterPoint Energy’s outage tracker — for many the first place to check on power problems — has been experiencing “technical difficulties” throughout Saturday morning, according to the website.

Company officials eventually abandoned the map in favor of updating people on the total number of outages, steering them toward its X social media platform and its text and phone service.

The tracker was slowed by a combination of the large demand and the wide area of the map with power problems to report, said Alyssia Oshodi, director of communications for CenterPoint.

“It is tied to the amount of outages,” Oshodi said.

She said the company would work to provide information as they can, but as of Saturday the map “was not functional.”

“We will of course look to see what we can do to improve,” Oshodi said, noting CenterPoint’s focus remains on restoring power.

Looking at the outage map that I could see through their online service, I’m not optimistic about getting power restored before Wednesday. I hope I’m wrong about that, but I suppose if it’s not me it’ll be someone else. I’ve no doubt CenterPoint’s staff is working around the clock to get everything restored – one of those live updates from the Chron said they’re dealing with about 5,200 problems related to locations losing electricity, which is juts a hell of a lot. We had our power restored quickly after Ike back in 2008. If this is the cosmic scales balancing out, so be it.

UPDATE: HISD has posted a list of campuses that will be open on Monday. As of 1:24 PM, CenterPoint says 80% of customers should have power back by Sunday evening. They were down to about 350K outages by then. We were still out as of early afternoon.

UPDATE: I have power back! I got the notification from CenterPoint at 6:24 PM on Sunday, just as we were about to settle in for the night at my mother-in-law’s. We got back home as fast as we could, and all is well. Plenty of people still aren’t so lucky. I wish them all the best.

UPDATE: The number of customers without power was 236K as of Sunday at 10 PM. I do a morning walk and saw power restored for the most part in my neighborhood, but there were several blocks that were still dark.

Posted in Elsewhere in Houston | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Early voting to proceed mostly as normal

From the inbox:

Harris County Clerk Teneshia Hudspeth announces that early voting for the May 28 Primary Runoff Elections will start on Monday, May 20, as scheduled. Despite the challenges the county faces due to the storm on Friday, we are pleased to announce that 44 vote centers will be open from May 20 to May 24, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

“Our hearts are with everyone affected by the storm. Although our office was also impacted, we have worked tirelessly around the clock to ensure that the May 28 Primary Runoff Elections proceed as planned,” said Clerk Hudspeth, the county’s chief election official. “Our office is committed to conducting well-organized, transparent, and fair elections. Under the current circumstances, the safety of voters and election workers remains our top priority.”

The Elections Department has been working with the Texas Secretary of State, Harris County Commissioners, the Harris County Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, Harris County Universal Services, the two major political parties, and vote center personnel to safely open as many vote centers as originally scheduled. Click here to view a list of the 44 vote centers open during early voting, May 20 through May 24.

The following locations will not open for early voting:

  • BakerRipley Middle School – 4414 Navigation Boulevard, Houston, TX 77011
  • Hardy Street Senior Citizens Center – 11901 West Hardy Road, Houston, TX 77076
  • Richard and Meg Weekley Community Center – 8440 Greenhouse Road, Cypress, TX 77433
  • North Channel Branch Library – 15741 Wallisville Road, Houston, TX 77049
  • Lone Star College Victory Center – 4141 Victory Drive, Houston, TX 77088
  • First Congregational Church – 10840 Beinhorn Road, Houston, TX 77024

“I want to remind everyone that there are only five days of early voting for this election. The most important thing to remember is that voters must vote in the same party’s runoff election that they voted in during the March 5 Primaries,” added Clerk Hudspeth. “If a voter cast their ballot in the Republican Primary on March 5, then they can only participate in the Republican Runoff Election. The same is true for Democratic primary voters.”

The address where a voter is registered and which party’s primary they chose to vote in determines what contests will be on the ballot. Voters can view and print their personalized sample ballot to take to the polls on the Harris Votes website.

All things considered, not too bad. Hopefully we’ll have the original complement of voting locations for the 28th.

Posted in Election 2024 | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

First look at the HISD budget

We’re up to $500 million in cuts. But we still don’t have any details.

The multibillion-dollar question of how Houston ISD intends to balance its budget went largely unanswered Thursday night, with district administrators revealing few specifics about job or program cuts as they unveiled a long-awaited spending plan for 2024-25.

HISD Superintendent Mike Miles said the district will move forward with slashing over $500 million, equivalent to about 20 percent of the district’s spending in the 2023-24 school year, due to an upcoming budget squeeze, but he only gave broad outlines of which departments would see the reductions. HISD likely will need to eliminate a significant number of jobs and scale back initiatives to trim $500 million next school year.

“We cut a lot of positions in central office and that’s very painful,” Miles said. “Anytime you cut, they’re real people, real jobs.”

HISD released its budget plan to the media Thursday afternoon at the start of the first and only scheduled board meeting about the budget, which trustees expect to vote on next month. However, destructive winds and power outages at HISD’s central office forced board members to cancel the workshop before Chief Financial Officer Jim Terry could present the budget to trustees. Miles spoke to the media prior to the meeting and release of the budget plan Thursday afternoon.

HISD is already behind its typical schedule for detailing its spending plans for the upcoming year. By mid-May last year, HISD had held four public budget workshops to explain plans to the board and gauge community members’ feedback, district records show. District officials plan to reschedule Thursday’s canceled meeting for May 23.

The delay in releasing detailed information to the public concerns elected trustee Sue Deigaard, especially with drastic cuts planned. Deigaard and the rest of HISD’s elected school board technically remain in place, though all of their power has been temporarily transferred to a state-appointed board of managers as part of sanctions against the district.

“It’s easier for the distrust to grow if enough people don’t understand why this is happening,” Deigaard said.

[…]

HISD plans to offset next year’s deficit, in part, by selling $80 million in property and dipping into $130 million of its “rainy day” fund. That would leave $800 million in reserves, which Miles said is a healthy level to maintain the district’s strong bond rating.

The key unanswered question, however, is how many positions the district plans to eliminate to save hundreds of millions of dollars. In early May, HISD terminated over a hundred wraparound specialists who serve students living in poverty, but those cuts likely will only save the district around $10 million.

See here and here for the background. I don’t have the brain space for this right now, so I’ll just note that the much-reviled elected Board of Trustees had its act together on presenting its budget to its stakeholders a lot more than the current bunch has. Make of that what you will. You can read the budget plan, it’s embedded in the story. I hope we get some actual details in the coming week.

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Weekend link dump for May 19

Meet Tonja Stelly, the mother of the only NBA-NHL brother tandem in history.

“For centuries, people have thought of parasites as nature’s villains. They often infect people and livestock. In fact, parasites are by definition bad for their hosts, but today, more scientists are starting to think about parasites as forces for good.”

“But what incentive do Libertarians have to help Trump? Why would the Libertarian Party, long a thorn in the GOP side—for example, forcing runoff elections in Georgia and helping Democrat Jon Tester eke out Senate wins in Montana—give one of the least libertarian Republican nominees in American history their coveted platform?”

“Former President Donald Trump used a dubious accounting maneuver to claim improper tax breaks from his troubled Chicago tower, according to an IRS inquiry uncovered by ProPublica and The New York Times. Losing a yearslong audit battle over the claim could mean a tax bill of more than $100 million.”

RIP, Susan Backlinie, actor and stuntwoman who was memorably the first to be eaten by the shark in Jaws.

Robot dogs armed with AI-aimed rifles undergo US Marines Special Ops evaluation”.

“A new catalyst made from an inexpensive, abundant metal and common table sugar has the power to destroy carbon dioxide (CO2) gas.”

Ernie Johnson is a mensch.

“What Happens After Supreme Court Rejects Trump’s Absolute Immunity: Mapping 3 Scenarios”.

Maybe we will get more “Shōgun”. Not sure how that will work, but we’ll see.

The main upshot of all this is that “Judge” Aileen Cannon needs to be impeached and removed from the bench.

RIP, David Sanborn, six-time Grammy-winning saxophone player who can be heard on James Taylor’s “How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You)” and David Bowie’s “Young Americans”, among others.

RIP, Rev. William A, Lawson, civil rights icon, founder of Houston’s Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church, father of former newscaster Melanie Lawson.

RIP, Dr. Cyril Wecht, celebrity pathologist who argued against the “lone shooter” conclusion in the JFK assassination.

“Julia Morales, Jenny Cavnar make history as women handling play-by-play on Astros-A’s TV broadcasts“. Good on them both.

“Paul Walter Hauser Is the Lead in an Adaptation of the Greatest Game Show Episode Ever“. IYKYK. If not, click and find out.

Meet your Golden Bachelorette, Good luck, ma’am.

Some strategies for winning on The Price Is Right.

“Even Clarence Thomas Can See That the 5th Circuit Is Just Making Up Nonsense“.

I love this story about how Jenny Lawson found some compelling paintings done by a woman who was a patient at the San Antonio State Hospital in the 1950s. The paintings themselves tell quite the story, but the story of the artist may be forever a mystery. See here and here for some background. It’s a great story.

“Turtle’s Minor League Debut Short Lived As It Is Ejected From Field”.

RIP, Dabney Coleman, Emmy-winning character actor best known for the movie 9 to 5.

Posted in Blog stuff | Tagged | 2 Comments

Full Fifth Circuit hears Galveston redistricting case

Always hard to feel any optimism when these guys are involved.

Commissioner Stephen Holmes

Conservatives on the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals occasionally sounded like Fox News talking heads Tuesday as they weighed whether coalitions composed of multiple minority groups are protected under the Voting Rights Act.

“Has the world not changed from a racial standpoint?” “Would you agree that discrimination in favor of a race — preferring a race — is the same thing as discrimination against other races?” the judges asked.

The right-wing judges’ dismissal of these voters’ need for protection — a “seat at the table,” said Chad Dunn, an attorney for the disenfranchised voters — sits in sharp contrast next to the ruling from the district court.

“[T]his is not a typical redistricting case. What happened here was stark and jarring,” wrote U.S. District Judge Jeffrey Vincent Brown, a Trump appointee. “The Commissioners Court transformed Precinct 3 from the precinct with the highest percentage of Black and Latino residents to that with the lowest percentage. The circumstances and effect of the enacted plan were mean-spirited and egregious given that there was absolutely no reason to make major changes to Precinct 3.”

[…]

The case has become a vehicle for one of the most potent, new threats against the already diminished Voting Rights Act: the argument that only single minority groups, and not politically likeminded minority coalitions, get the VRA’s protection from being stretched and cracked out of any meaningful voting power. The argument was raised in a redistricting case out of Georgia too, but the district judge set it aside late last year as having not been sufficiently briefed.

A panel of judges on the notoriously conservative 5th Circuit in November of last year upheld the Texas district court’s ruling — begrudgingly.

“That precedent establishes the validity of so-called minority-coalition claims like those brought in this case,” the panel wrote, adding: “But the court’s decisions in this respect are wrong as a matter of law.”

In other words: The judges are bound to follow their circuit’s precedent, that the coalitions do get VRA protection. But that precedent, they insist, is wrong and should be overturned.

The panel called for a rehearing of the case en banc, arguments for which the full circuit heard Tuesday.

See here, here, here, and here for some background. The map that was struck down by the district court judge for being in violation of the Voting Rights Act will still be used in this election, thanks to the Fifth Circuit and an equally complicit SCOTUS. I may be wrong about this – it will depend to some extent on the timing – but even with a favorable final resolution of this case, there will be a period of time in which the affected voters will have a County Commissioner that they would not have voted for. On the other end of that spectrum, we get an even more emasculated Voting Rights Act. That’s going to take both a legislative fix and some court reform to really deal with. Insert my usual plea here to win more elections. The Trib and the Campaign Legal Center, which is co-representing the plaintiffs, have more.

Posted in Legal matters | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The brain worm guy submits his petitions

He’ll probably be on the ballot.

Robert F. Kennedy Jr., the anti-vaccine activist and environmental lawyer, said Monday he submitted more than double the necessary petition signatures to appear on the November presidential ballot in Texas.

Kennedy, the son of former U.S. Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, needed to collect 113,151 signatures from registered Texas voters who did not vote in the Republican and Democratic primaries in March.

His application to appear on the Texas ballot included 245,572 signatures, Kennedy said.

The Texas secretary of state’s office must verify that Kennedy met state requirements before his name can appear on the November ballot as an independent. Agency spokeswoman Alicia Pierce confirmed Kennedy’s campaign submitted its ballot application Monday.

Kennedy’s campaign said he will be on the ballot in five states — Utah, Michigan, California, Delaware and Oklahoma — and has collected enough signatures to appear on ballots in Texas and eight other states.

[…]

His views on abortion have shifted several times throughout his campaign. Last year at the Iowa State Fair, Kennedy said he supported a federal ban on abortion after three months of pregnancy but later walked that back after receiving criticism.

Last week, he said on a podcast with former ESPN personality Sage Steele that he opposed any government restrictions on abortion, “even if it’s full term.”

On Friday, he dialed that statement back and said on social media that abortion should be legal until a fetus is viable outside the womb — which is about 24 weeks — but should be banned after that point.

I was going to write some things about this but I’m a little addled right now thanks to the power outage at our house. Suffice it to say that I expect him to be on the ballot, and that we will argue over how much of the vote might have gone to Biden and how much might have gone to Trump if he hadn’t been until the heat death of the universe. I think he will ultimately get far less support than current polls say, but that’s just a feeling. You can have whatever feelings you want about it. I don’t intend to pay him much attention.

Posted in Election 2024, The making of the President | Tagged , , , , , , | 4 Comments

HISD school outage report

Your school may or may not be open on Monday. Check for updates before you head out.

Houston ISD reported that nearly half of its campuses are without power as of Friday and dozens have sustained wind and tree damage following severe storms Thursday.

State-appointed Superintendent Mike Miles closed school Friday because of the “safety of our kids,” and he was aiming to have all HISD schools open by Monday after 136 campuses lost power. However, he said district was probably not going to be able to open all campuses by then, given the extent of the power outages and storm-related damage. About 122 campuses remained without power Friday night.

Four HISD schools sustained such severe damage that they may not be ready to open Monday, and others may remain closed if power isn’t restored, but the exact number of schools that may remain closed Monday is still unknown because the cleanup process is ongoing, Miles said.

HISD said is working with CenterPoint Energy, city and county officials to ensure it can safely serve approximately 184,000 students next week. Miles said the district plans to inform parents over the weekend about whether their child’s school would be open or closed on Monday.

“Even on Monday, if we don’t have power in some schools, even if the building isn’t affected, we probably will not send kids to those schools, but let’s wait and see how that turns out before we make any decision about that,” Miles said.

Miles visited the four campuses that sustained the most extensive damage – Sinclair, Pugh, Robinson and Paige elementaries – Friday to evaluate the extent of the damage and establish a plan for school operations next week.

Sinclair is not too far from my house. I drove through that area on Friday on the way from a friend’s house where we had been charging devices, and there were a ton of downed trees. The story doesn’t say about Sinclair, but it wouldn’t surprise me if that is the cause of the damage at Sinclair, as it was at Pugh. I wish everyone at those schools the best. HISD has been sending out updates about their status, and I expect they will continue to do so, so check your inbox or wherever you get HISD messages. If your school isn’t open, they may have your kids go to a different campus. Hopefully all this disruption will be resolved quickly.

:UPDATE: The latest update, from Saturday afternoon, is that there were still 77 schools without power. The hope is still to have nearly all schools open tomorrow. Further updates will be out later today. Also, it was indeed tree damage at Sinclair, which this story describes as the school in the worst shape right now.

Posted in School days | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Early voting for the May primary runoffs begins Monday

From the inbox:

Harris County Clerk Teneshia Hudspeth announces that early voting for the May 28 Primary Runoff Elections starts on Monday, May 20. Be aware that these elections offer only five days of early voting. Voters can cast their ballots at any 50 early voting locations across Harris County from May 20 to May 24, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

“Primary elections are how the Republican and Democratic parties determine who their respective nominees will be for the November general election,” explained Clerk Hudspeth, the county’s chief election official. “The May 28 Primary Runoff Elections are held to determine the winner for the contests that no candidate received more than 50 percent of votes during the March 5 primaries.”

Texas has open primaries, meaning voters do not have to register or affiliate with a political party to vote. Although voters may choose to cast a ballot in either the Republican or Democratic primary, voters must vote in the same party’s elections during the same primary election cycle (March 5 primaries and May 28 runoff elections). If a voter did not cast a ballot in either party’s primary election during the March 5 Joint Primary Elections, they may choose which party’s runoff election to participate in on May 28.

“The important thing for voters to remember is that they must vote in the same party’s runoff election that they voted in during the March 5 primaries,” said Clerk Hudspeth. “If a voter cast their ballot in the Republican primary on March 5, then they can only participate in the Republican runoff election. The same is true for Democratic primary voters.”

The address where a voter is registered and which party’s primary they chose to vote in determines what contests will be on the ballot. Voters can view and print their personalized sample ballot to take to the polls on the Harris Votes website.

Not all Republican voters in Harris County will have a contest on their May 28 Republican Primary Runoff election ballot. Only Republican voters residing in Congressional District 7 or Congressional District 29 can vote in the Republican Primary Runoff election.

All Democratic voters in Harris County have at least three countywide contests on their ballot, including the Justice, 14th County Court of Appeals District, Place 3, 486th Judicial District Judge, and County Tax Assessor-Collector. Voters registered within the applicable districts may also vote in contests for State Senator District 15, State Representative District 139, State Representative District 146, and Constable 5.

Additional election information is available at www.HarrisVotes.com. For news and updates on social media, follow @HarrisVotes.

That’s the normal process, for normal times. This has not been a normal week. Later in the day on Friday we got this.

Yesterday’s severe weather impacted Harris County election facilities.

Like many others across the county, the Election Technology Center (ETC) sustained roof damage and lost power and network connectivity. Significant components of elections are staged at ETC, where the county’s voting equipment is housed. Another county building where election worker training took place was affected and deemed uninhabitable, and the availability of vote centers is also uncertain. So, as the first day of early voting approaches, we are working through these challenges.

I have been in constant communication with the Texas Secretary of State, members of the Commissioners Court, the County Attorney, and the Chairs of both major political parties. We will continue to review the status of facilities, the early voting and Election Day infrastructure, and, most importantly, our ability to conduct the May 28 primary runoff elections.

Updates will be provided once we determine how to proceed. The safety of our voters, poll workers, and election staff remains my top priority.

I’ll keep an eye on this. For now, assume that the vote centers list is up to date and choose accordingly. As far as the races go, see my earlier post for details. The main things to remember are there are only five days of early voting – you get out and do the thing next week, before Friday at 7 PM, or you miss out – and Runoff Day is Tuesday, May 28, which is the day after Memorial Day. Don’t miss out. And then, after drawing a breath, it will be almost time for early voting to start for the two HCAD runoffs. Isn’t life grand? Get out there and vote.

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That was quite the storm

I hope everyone reading this is safe and coping well after that Thursday storm. Our power has been out since Thursday evening, so things are a little chaotic. But we’re fine, we’ll be fine, and there’s plenty to be done to help the folks who really need it. I’m not going to try to track all that’s going on – there’s too much, especially with limited access to power and WiFi – but I did want to note a couple of things. First:

With many residents still in the dark following Thursday’s storm, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo warned it would be “weeks and not days” before power is restored for some.

Hidalgo held a press conference alongside Mayor John Whitmire at Houston TranStar on Friday, seemingly a show of unity after the separate news briefings they held during floods earlier this month.

The storm took out 10 transmission lines, seven of which were in Harris County.

Repairing that damage “could take weeks,” Hidalgo said, adding that Centerpoint is bringing in thousands of workers from outside the area to help.

Hidalgo said when she asked weather officials why they didn’t see the massive wind event coming, she was told it was “at the peak end of an unlikely scenario to happen.”

Harris County hasn’t seen such strong wind since Hurricane Alicia in 1980, Hidalgo said.

[…]

Hidalgo said the county has taken the unprecedented step of requesting that damage be combined from two weather events – flooding that occurred earlier this month and Thursday’s storm – in hopes of meeting a threshold for residents to receive federal assistance. The damage from flooding alone was unlikely to reach the minimum requirement.

“At that point, we will certainly have enough affected individuals,” Hidalgo said.

They’re together and they’re talking, so that’s nice. Could have been nicer, though. Whatever we can do to get federal assistance, we should do it. I would like to think that the feds will be receptive.

And second, speaking about those power outages and getting them fixed.

Restoring power to the areas hardest hit by Thursday night’s storm is expected to take several days or longer, CenterPoint Energy said in a Friday morning statement.

“In certain parts of our service area where the damage to our infrastructure was significant, our restoration efforts are expected to take several days, and some of the hardest hit areas could take longer,” said Lynnae Wilson, CenterPoint’s senior vice president of electric business.

“We are mobilizing all our available resources, as well as mutual assistance resources from nearby utility companies, to begin the process of quickly and safely restoring power to our customers. We appreciate our customers’ patience and understanding as we focus on the important work ahead,” Wilson said.

Nearly 922,000 customers lost power at the height of outages, according to CenterPoint’s statement. The company serves approximately 2.6 million customers across the Houston area. The hardest-hit area was likely over the U.S. 290 corridor from Jersey Village to Waller, in the north region west of I-45, according to CenterPoint.

Strong winds caused significant damage to the region’s electric system, including in Bellaire, Cypress, Baytown, Greenspoint, Humble and Spring Branch, according to the statement. CenterPoint plans to deploy mobile generators at certain substations to enable the company to temporarily restore power to certain areas, it said.

Restoration work is expected to continue through the weekend and into early next week. Information on particular areas will be provided to customers as repairs begin, CenterPoint said, noting that restoration times may be delayed as crews continue to assess damage.

I am reminded that after Hurricane Ike, it took some people three weeks to get power restored. I very much hope that things can move more quickly now, but the damage is extensive and it’s just going to take as long as it takes. The good news is lots of places do have power, so look around if you’re affected and hope for the best. And be patient, we’re all in this together. Hang in there. If you want to know more about just how intense and unusual that storm was, see here.

Posted in Elsewhere in Houston | Tagged , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Last Astroworld wrongful death lawsuit set for September trial

We’ll see if there’s a settlement in this one at some point.

The civil trial over the death of a 9-year-old boy killed at the 2021 Astroworld festival is scheduled to begin in September.

Harris County 11th District Court Judge Kristine Hawkins and attorneys in the case agreed Tuesday to set a fall date for the final remaining civil case over one of the 10 deaths at the concert. Ezra Blount, 9, suffered critical injuries after falling from his father’s shoulders amid the crowd crush during festival headliner’s Travis Scott’s performance.

[…]

In Hawkins’ courtroom on Tuesday, some of the attorneys representing the now-settled victims’ parties announced they were stepping aside and letting the Blount family’s attorneys, as well as lawyers representing thousands of injured concertgoers, take over the handling of the case.

Blount’s family is being represented by attorney Scott West, as well as famed civil rights attorney Ben Crump.

Hawkins set a trial date for Blount’s case for September, and tentatively set an October court date for a group of seven injured plaintiffs, who will act as bellwethers for the remainder of the victims. The seven chosen victims will represent a “degree of injuries” of people who attended the concert, West said.

The remaining victims of the trial are also still seeking to have Live Nation CEO Michael Rapino deposed before the trial.

See here for the previous update. Rapino is currently ordered to sit for a deposition, but Live Nation’s attorneys are still fighting that and say they will appeal it all the way to the Supreme Court. That could potentially delay things, or it could be the catalyst for another settlement. The next hearing in this case is for June 3.

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Judge throws out contested Pierce/Jones election

I was at an event on Wednesday night so I didn’t see this until later in the evening. I didn’t have the best night’s sleep that night, I’ll tell you.

A visiting judge from Bexar County on Wednesday ordered a new election in Harris County’s November 2022 180th District Court judicial race that Republican candidate Tami Pierce lost by just 449 votes to Democratic Judge DaSean Jones.

Jones is expected to appeal the ruling, his attorney, Oliver Brown, said.

In the wake of the 2022 election, 21 Republican candidates for county offices filed lawsuits challenging the results. Though Judge David Peeples previously upheld the results in all of the other cases, he has ruled that the true outcome of the Pierce-Jones race could not be determined given its significantly narrower margin.

“The court has found that 1,430 illegal votes were cast in the race for the 180th District Court and that it is not realistic or feasible to determine which candidate received those votes,” Peeples wrote.

Harris County Republican Party Chair Cindy Siegel called the ruling “monumental” in a statement on Wednesday.

“Judge Peeples’s decision to order a new election confirms what the Harris County GOP has been saying since 2022: The previous election administrations’ handling of our elections was beyond negligent, resulting in voters’ confidence in our elections being damaged,” Siegel said.

But Mike Doyle, the Harris County Democratic Party chair, defended the results of the election.

“There’s no justification for redos and redos just because election deniers aren’t happy with the results of Harris County,” Doyle said.

[…]

In his ruling, Peeples noted that much of the evidence presented by Pierce’s team was the same as what he reviewed in the Lunceford case.

In Pierce’s case, Peeples ruled that 606 voters clearly lived outside of Harris County and another 146 voters likely shouldn’t have counted because their residences were located in nearby city and didn’t specify their county. He determined those 752 votes “were not lawful and should not be counted.”

Adding to the tally, Peeples found another 231 votes did not include sufficient address information to determine if they should be counted, 40 mail-in ballots lacked a required signature and eight ballots weren’t mailed on time. He also deemed six provisional ballots unlawful, along with 445 votes that did not meet requirements related to photo identification.

The judge’s calculations also include the assumption that not everyone who cast ballots in November would have voted in this judicial race.

See here and here for some background. There’s a copy of the decision embedded in the story, give it a read. I’m going to try to keep this brief.

– As noted before, the actual closest election in 2022 was the one in which Democrat Porscha Brown lost to Republican Leslie Johnson for Harris County Criminal Court #3, by 267 votes. If the outcome in this race “can’t be determined”, then surely the same is true for that one. Is it too late for Porscha Brown to file suit?

– The 1,430 votes that Judge Peeples were ruled to be “illegal” were out of 1.1 million cast, or about 0.1% of the total. Most of them were deemed illegal because of paperwork errors, mostly but not entirely on the part of the voters, who didn’t correctly sign absentee ballots or fill out the form to explain why they didn’t have voter ID correctly, that sort of thing. We’d like elections to be run perfectly but elections are run by humans and humans can make mistakes (right, Gillespie County?) or judgment calls that a judge later disagrees with. I don’t know what to tell you, but if the standard is now that you not only have to win but also to cover the spread for it to count, we’re going to see a whole lot more elections that never seem to end.

– As noted, about 600 votes were tossed because the voters didn’t live in Harris County. I’m sure some of those folks had legitimately moved and just didn’t get around to changing their registrations and voting in their new locations because they didn’t realize they had to or didn’t get around to the former and so just did what they had done before or whatever. I have no quarrel with tossing those, but I will note that not everyone who says they’re living someplace else now is doing so permanently. Lots of people moved to alternate locations during the pandemic, some people move to temporary locations for various reasons, and some people maintain more than one home. In Texas, you get to register and vote in the place where you “intend” to live, as the likes of Karl Rove and State Sen. Brian Birdwell and of course Dave “Warehouses R Us” Wilson can attest. A voter who says “I don’t live there anymore” or words to that effect when they show up to vote is supposed to fill out a Statement of Residence, which is supposed to clear that up. Judge Peeples determined that in those 606 instances, they established they didn’t really live in Harris County. He looked at those records and I didn’t, but I have to wonder how many of those people really understood what they were saying. We have extremely loose residency requirements when it comes to candidates for office and certain VIPs, but for regular voters? Apparently not so much.

– Be all that as it may, to erase a 449-vote deficit, the eliminated votes would have had to have been 940-490 in favor of DaSean Jones, which is 65.7% of them. The one thing not noted in the opinion is any indication of who these voters were, specifically anything about them that might suggest which candidate they supported in that race. This was a 50-50 race, you would think that if these voters were a representative sample of Harris County, they’d have been roughly 50-50 on Jones and Pierce. If there’s evidence to suggest that they were disproportionately Democratic, I didn’t see it in the opinion.

– And here’s the thing, if we’re not making and supporting a claim that these voters were definitely a sizeable majority for Jones, then we actually can say that there’s little to no doubt about the election’s outcome. If these voters were a coin flip, as the voters whose votes were allowed to count were, then the odds that at least 940 of them out of 1,430 total would have voted for DaSean Jones is essentially zero. Don’t take my word for it, go try this Coin Flip Probability Calculator and see for yourself. It can’t quite handle it for 1,430 tosses – the formula involves exponentials and factorials, which means they get really really big really fast – but if you plug in 143 tosses and at least 94 heads, you get a probability of 0.01%, or one in ten thousand. If you double those figures to 286 tosses and at least 188 heads – same proportions, just a bigger sample – the odds fall to 0.00000563%, which is 5.63 out of 100,000,000, or one hundred million. It gets smaller from there, much smaller.

– Oh, and even if you knock down Jones’ lead from 449 to 128, which is what happens if you subtract the 321 vote net he got from the extra hour of voting that was later deemed to have been mistakenly ordered, you still need 54.47% of those 1,430 votes to have been Democratic (779 for Jones, 651. If we stick with the coin flip scenario, the odds of 545 heads out of 1000 tosses is 0.243%, which is less than three in one thousand. The calculator won’t let me try sample sizes bigger than 1000, so that’s as far as I can take it, but that already small number will keep going down. I don’t know how “clear and convincing” translates to legalese, but surely it needs greater odds than that.

– Somewhat weirdly to me, Judge Peeples adds the 321 net votes Jones gets from the inclusion of the extra hour of voting to the 1,430 votes he has deemed illegal to say that there was “a total of 1,751 votes that cast doubt” on the outcome. But that’s apples and oranges – that 321 figure comes from subtracting the known votes Jones and Pierce received during the disputed extra hour of voting. Peeples ruled that those votes counted, so they shouldn’t be included with the votes he didn’t count. If you want to consider the scenario in which those votes also don’t count, just subtract 321 from Jones’ margin, and leave the 1,430 figure alone. As noted above, even a 128 vote margin out of 1,430 isn’t quite the significant matter it may seem.

– Now, all this changes if the evidence shows that this was a heavily Democratic group of voters. The opinion doesn’t refer to any evidence of that, so I assume there isn’t any evidence to that effect. I find it really odd that this potential factor gets no mention at all. I don’t know what to say about that.

As noted, DaSean Jones is likely to appeal, so this may drag on for who knows how much longer. As a matter of law, I approve of that because this is a terrible precedent and I think there are some serious questions about the math Judge Peeples used. But there’s a part of me that wants to advise Jones to say “Fine, I’ll drop my appeals if we put this race on this November’s ballot in with the other judicial races.” I’d feel very confident about his chances of winning, whereas I expect that what Pierce and the Republicans want is a special election by itself on some random Saturday when people aren’t expecting there to be an election. (You know, like the HCAD elections.) What do you think would happen? The Trib has more.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Mayor’s committee on HPD dropped cases provides its report

Up to Council and HPD to take action now.

Mayor John Whitmire

The independent panel reviewing the ongoing Houston Police Department scandal over suspended cases identified an interim police chief as the one who ordered the creation of the “SL” lack of personnel code and made a wide range of recommendations to avoid similar systemwide failures in the future.

The preliminary report, shared with City Council on Wednesday morning, said that Martha Montalvo, who served as the department’s acting chief for a few months in 2016, approved the implementation of the code throughout the department and added that the special victims division began using it immediately. In the first six months of 2016, the report says, the division suspended 550 cases involving sex offenses due to lack of personnel.

The report, ordered by Mayor John Whitmire, recommended the Houston Police Department should standardize reporting procedures and put departmentwide directives in writing to prevent another scandal from happening in the future.

It also provided revised numbers on how many total incident reports were suspended using the internal code — going from 264,000 to 268,920 — with around 9,167 from the special victims division, or sexual assault incident reports.

“I still find it so mind-boggling and unacceptable that for 10 years, no stakeholder, no active officers, no employees, no administration, no one brought this to our attention,” Whitmire said.

The report, which focused on the incident reports suspended in the special victims division, confirmed many of the Chronicle’s recent findings — the code was borne out of discussions that started in 2014 about cases that were not being investigated because of a lack of personnel and proliferated in use in the years since because of inconsistent division policy, bad data reporting and no oversight from above on what was happening on a divisional level.

“We learned early on, due to lapses in technology, the divisions could become inundated and lead to the problems we see today,” said Christina Nowak, a committee member and the deputy inspector general of the Office of Policing Reform and Accountability for the City of Houston.

See here for the background. I thank the Committee for their work, and I hope that proper followup action is taken as noted above. I also wonder if we’ll hear from former Chief Montalvo about that. I assume the committee talked to her – the report isn’t public yet so I can’t say for sure. It would be hilarious, and a little embarrassing, if she comes forward now to dispute that finding. Anyway, now it’s time to move forward. Whatever happened happened before Mayor Whitmire took office, but fixing it is now on him. I’m sure he’ll want to get that right. Houston Landing and Emily Takes Notes have more.

Posted in Crime and Punishment | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Dispatches from Dallas, May 17 edition

This is a weekly feature produced by my friend Ginger. Let us know what you think.

This week, in news from Dallas-Fort Worth, we have a grab bag: a big DMN expose on toll roads; education stories, including a chance to see an author whose book about Southlake schools has just been published; judicial appeals news; runoff news ahead of next week’s voting; Six Degrees of Clarence Thomas; how the DMN thinks Dallas should pay to fix its pension funds; Dallas PD news, including how we’re keeping our chief; the DMN looks for the culprits behind the pro-Palestinian protests; what Ms. Opal Lee has been up to; nude beaches in Texas; and baby birds! And more.

This week’s post was brought to you by the music of Orbital whose tour this year is sadly coming nowhere near me.

Let’s dive into the news:

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More on the improper use of funds allegations against Mike Miles

Other outlets are on this now.

A state lawmaker and Houston teachers are calling for Houston Independent School District Superintendent Mike Miles to be investigated after a Spectrum News report revealed that millions in Texas public school tax dollars may have been funneled to a failing school in his Colorado charter school system.

These findings come less than two weeks after the state-appointed administrator announced a $450 million gap in funding at HISD — resulting in districtwide layoffs for the upcoming school year.

A Texas Education Agency spokesperson said agency officials are “aware of the report and are reviewing the matter.”

Miles did not respond to a request from The Texas Tribune for comment on Tuesday.

[…]

In a letter addressed to Morath, State Rep. Ana Hernandez, D-Houston, urged the state agency to conduct an investigation to clarify whether Texas public school tax dollars had been sent out of state.

“These alleged actions cast doubt on his ability to lead HISD and his commitment to providing the best education for our students,” Hernandez told The Tribune. “Texans deserve transparency, accountability, and responsiveness.”

Jackie Anderson, president of the Houston Federation of Teachers, accused Miles of using the tax dollars as his own “personal piggy bank,” echoing Hernandez’s request for an immediate investigation.

“The corruption of this deal stretches beyond just Mike Miles – the board of managers is also complicit in this shadowy scheme by failing to provide oversight and transparency,” she said. “Greg Abbott’s takeover of our schools has failed. Teachers, students and their families deserve better and in response we are demanding the immediate resignation of Mike Miles and the immediate exit of the TEA from HISD.”

See here for the background. I skipped the rehash of the basic story, so go to my earlier post or the Spectrum News report and bring yourself up to speed if you need to.

The Chron did get a response from Miles, and also did a Q&A summary/breakdown of the Spectrum piece.

Miles told the Chronicle Tuesday that while he hadn’t served as CEO of Third Future Schools in more than a year, the board and superintendent were conscious to ensure that Texas dollars stayed in Texas and Colorado dollars stayed in Colorado while he was leading the organization.

“Third Future Schools have been very careful, and they’ve always passed their audits easily,” Miles said Tuesday. “They do audits in Texas. They do audits in Colorado. … so they’re a good organization. They’re very careful about not commingling funds. They follow the law very carefully, and anything else is just to be dismissed out of hand.”

Here’s what you need to know about the charter school network’s financial practices:

[…]

Did either of the Third Future Schools’s other two campuses in Colorado report receiving any funds from Texas?

The Academy of Advanced Learning, one of Third Future Schools’ two campuses in Colorado, reported that it provided “professional services” for about $2.6 million to the Third Future Schools Texas network, and that Third Future Schools Texas owed then $2 million as of June 2022, according to the 2022 audit.

The school’s audit in the following year reported that Third Future Schools Texas owed them $2.4 million for “professional services” provided during the 2023 fiscal year. Coperni 3 also reported that Third Future Schools Texas owed them $78,000 for “professional services” and $1,145 for payments made on their behalf during the 2022 year, according to its audit.

Both campuses did not directly report receiving any funds from Third Future Schools Texas in audits before the 2022 fiscal year.

[…]

Is it illegal or uncommon for charter schools to pay fees to larger charter organizations or to pay outside entities for services?

Chapter 45 of the Texas Education Code states that public schools, including charter schools, can use state funds that are “not designated for a specific purpose” for any other purposes “necessary in the conduct of the public schools determined by the board of trustees.”

Toni Templeton, a senior research scientist at the University of Houston Education Research Center, said this language gives school boards broad flexibility to approve spending funds on nearly anything they determine is necessary for the benefit of the students, including purchasing services from other institutions and paying management or network fees.

“It’s not uncommon for (state) funds to go out of state,” said Templeton, the former director of data services for the Texas Charter Schools Association “I can understand how in the context of this particular conversation, people can be concerned, but no, it’s not an uncommon occurrence.”

Templeton said the local public school boards in Texas are responsible for approving contracts with organizations like Third Future Schools under what’s known as “1882 partnerships,” that designate how and where state funds can flow, which is then submitted to the TEA.

The TEA said in a statement Tuesday that it was aware of Spectrum’s report and was reviewing the matter.

So we have what Ms. Templeton says here, and we have what former State Rep. Paul Colbert said in the Spectrum News report, which is that it was “[his] understanding is that it is not legal in Texas for money from a school district in Texas to educate students in other districts in the state let alone in other states”. That’s less specific than what Ms. Templeton says, enough so that I can’t say his statement is in contradiction to hers. We also have a slightly different statement from Ms. Templeton as reported by Houston Public Media:

Third Future Schools operated in Odessa through a partnership with Ector County ISD, as permitted by Senate Bill 1882, which was adopted by the Texas Legislature in 2017. So a Texas school sending money to an out-of-state partner is not necessarily illegal, according to Toni Templeton, a senior research scientist for the Education Research Center at the University of Houston.

“I am not an attorney and I have not seen the specific transactions in question,” Templeton wrote in an email. “However, I have studied school finance for some time and to my knowledge, there are perfectly legal reasons a Texas ISD could send money to an 1882 partner out of state.”

That’s a more qualified statement, one that leaves room for “but in THIS case, THESE transactions are no bueno” or some such. We just don’t know enough yet.

On Wednesday morning, Miles provided a fuller response.

In a response to the report, Miles said it is either “badly misunderstanding,” or “intentionally misrepresents” Third Future Schools’ finances.

“I have an obligation to make very clear that during my tenure Third Future Schools was always a responsible steward of every public dollar received, all financial agreements and obligations were approved by local boards of directors, authorizers, and in our Texas schools, the school district with which TFS partnered,” Miles said, in part.

He said the schools paid administrative fees to the Third Futures Schools’ central office, which is located in Colorado.

“This is common practice for charters and other independent partnership schools and is not only allowed, but anticipated by Texas’ educational law,” Miles said.

Read Miles’ full response below:

“Friends, Partners, and Board Members:

“I had initially planned not to respond to an article circulating that badly misunderstands, or worse, intentionally misrepresents the financial practices of Third Future Schools. While I have not worked at the Third Future Schools network for more than a year, I find the piece irresponsibly inaccurate, and I cannot let this kind of misinformation go uncorrected.

“I have an obligation to make very clear that during my tenure Third Future Schools was always a responsible steward of every public dollar received, all financial agreements and obligations were approved by local boards of directors, authorizers, and in our Texas schools, the school district with which TFS partnered. Eight different districts in three states have trusted Third Future Schools with the education of their most underserved students and have overseen TFS’s overall financial health and propriety. Third Future Schools has a consistent track record of clean audits year over year, and I have no reason to believe that is any different now. These baseless claims cheapen the hard work and dedication of thousands of staff and students.

“The budgets of all Third Future Schools in Texas are attached to the management agreement with the local school district and are part of the approval process. Administrative fees are applied to all schools in all states in order for the central office to oversee and monitor the schools as well as provide network-wide supports (such as finance and human resources) from people and departments in the central office, which is located in Colorado. This is common practice for charters and other independent partnership schools and is not only allowed, but anticipated by Texas’ education law. Spectrum News either intentionally or, through gross incompetence, mischaracterized these common place financial arrangements between charter schools and the charter management organizations that support them.

“The Spectrum News reporter also worked to undermine the progress we made in Dallas ISD. It appears he is resurrecting old tactics that are not worth more time and attention. I do not intend to comment further on these spurious assertions. I am committed to staying focused on the tremendous challenge of improving Texas’ largest district.

“We have an obligation to finish the year strong for our students and staff, and that is where I will direct my time and attention. I thank you for your partnership and ask that you do the same as we look ahead to the 24-25 school year and beyond. We’ve accomplished a great deal and there is even more left to do.”

And the Chron gets some more statements.

Third Future Schools, in a statement Wednesday, said that “no Texas funds have ever been diverted to subsidize schools in Colorado,” and that administrative fees applied to all of the network’s 11 schools in Texas, Colorado and Louisiana are paid to a central office in Colorado, and then deposited back into a bank account in the school’s home state.

On Wednesday afternoon, Morath said that he had referred the complaint to the agency’s complaints team, which is a preliminary step toward a potential investigation.

He noted, however, that because Third Future operates as a non-profit that signs contracts with local school districts, rather than a charter that receives state funds, the review would focus on Midland, Ector County, and Austin ISDs, the districts where Third Future schools allegedly sent funds to Colorado.

“School districts have autonomy to engage with vendors to provide educational services,” Morath wrote. “As a vendor of the school district, Third Future Schools would have latitude afforded under its contract with each district to spend its funds in service of the contract.”

Miles said Wednesday that he would welcome a TEA investigation into the matter.

And some reactions.

State Rep. Jarvis Johnson wrote to Miles on May 10 to demand his immediate removal after “widespread surprise firings of decorated and high-performing educators.” Johnson called for Miles to submit his resignation and immediately reinstate all terminated principals and teachers.

Molly Cook, who is scheduled for a Democratic primary runoff against Johnson on May 28 for Mayor John Whitmire’s former Senate seat, also called for Miles’ immediate resignation and “the immediate exit of the TEA (Texas Education Agency) from HISD” on Facebook. She also called for a third-party investigation alongside the union Houston Federation of Teachers after Spectrum News reported that Miles’ former charter network, Third Future Schools, illegally used money from its Texas campuses to subsidize its Colorado schools.

“Witnessing this level of incompetence and weaponization of power you are displaying is truly all my greatest fears about the takeover coming to fruition,” Johnson wrote to Miles.

State Rep. Christina Morales, whose district stretches from the northwest to the southeast across Houston, and State Rep. Penny Morales Shaw focused on the potential impact of the shakeup on bilingual and special education.

Noting she has repeatedly requested data on HISD, Morales wrote to the Texas Education Agency Tuesday requesting the number of students and teachers in special education and emergent bilingual programs for the past five years.

“My office has fielded many calls and complaints from parents who feel their children are not being treated appropriately or provided the services to which they are legally entitled.”

On Saturday, State Rep. Penny Morales Shaw said the job loss and resignations were “unconscionable” while acknowledging that Texas has at-will employment.

“HISD has a legal obligation to provide certain services to students with special needs or emerging bilingual students, and they are just blatantly violating those laws and those rights that people have,” Morales Shaw said. “So we are crossing over from things that are just immoral and unconscionable to things that are now illegal and that are against— it violates state law. And we’re going to look into that.”

Calling the takeover a “Republican War on Public Education,” Rep. Gene Wu called for a reevaluation of the layoffs and a plan so that no HISD employee loses their pension or job unnecessarily in a Monday press release.

“It’s unconscionable that we find our school districts in such dire financial straits when solutions like adequately increasing the per-student funding and providing meaningful raises to our teachers are within reach,” Wu said in the Monday statement.

Good to see some people place a decent portion of the blame for HISD’s financial situation on Greg Abbott, which is something Mike Miles has never done. I’m not even sure he realizes that he could have bought a modicum of good will from the people now calling for his head if he had done that.

I don’t know yet what to make of everything we’ve seen so far. I’m not taking Mike Miles’ word for anything, but I’m also not sure this isn’t a situation where the real problem is what is allowed. I have no expertise in this, I’m just trying to evaluate what’s in front of me. There’s also the whole lack-of-transparency thing from Miles, coupled with the lack of any oversight on him, and that’s without taking the issues with special education (also one of the things Miles was tasked with fixing) and bilingual education into account. I’m going to say again what I said yesterday, which is that I would like to see more reporting on the question of what happened with this money, and what is and is not allowed. If there’s anything even a little bit shady to be found, then Miles’ ass should be out the door ASAP. I mean, I want him out for other reasons, but as far as this one goes I don’t know enough yet to say that it qualifies. Let’s find out more and see where it takes us.

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Is this an opportunity for cooperative cost savings?

Reading through this story about how Harris County is spending the public safety portion of its 2022 bond funds, I have a question.

New Harris County law enforcement facilities are one step closer to breaking ground after Commissioners Court earlier this week moved forward with a list of projects, including cutting-edge spaces for officers to train for high-water rescues and active shooter incidents.

The slate of projects is funded by a $1.2 billion bond package voters approved in November 2022 that earmarked $900 million for roads, $200 million for parks and $100 million for public safety. Now the county has completed a plan to spend the public safety dollars on projects that are expected to improve training for law enforcement agencies not only in Harris County but also around the region.

[…]

A $15.2 million precision driving course in the works as well. Though the Houston Police Department has trained on a driving course for decades, Harris County law enforcement agencies do not have a track to practice high-speed pursuits.

The facility where the county processes all vehicles used in crimes is slated for much-needed upgrades.

“It looks like a gas station out of the 1960s,” Lee said of the existing space.

The Sheriff’s Office firearms complex is getting a $3.2 million renovation. Though numerous law enforcement agencies rely on the facility for firearms training, the county never actually finished building it in the first place, Lee said, so the additional funding will allow completion of the project.

There are other items, including an active shooter training facility and a swift water training facility, both of which likely will be used to train officers from other agencies. I highlighted this one because of the mention that HPD already has its own precision driving course. Do both agencies need their own course? Maybe they do – they both have a lot of officers, who drive a lot of cars, and who presumably need a lot of this kind of training. But maybe they don’t? Maybe this is the sort of thing where the two can be combined and save some money? I hope someone is thinking about it.

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Of course there’s a court case that could upend IVF in Texas

Whether it gets to the Supreme Court or not is the key.

The Texas Supreme Court is considering whether to take up a case that could have Alabama-esque impacts on in vitro fertilization in Texas.

What began as a Denton divorce has grown into a larger battle over whether a frozen embryo can be defined as a person. The court has not yet said whether it will take up the case, which centers on three frozen embryos created by Caroline and Gaby Antoun.

Before beginning IVF, the couple signed an agreement saying Gaby Antoun, the husband, would get any remaining frozen embryos in case of a divorce. A trial court and appeals court have upheld the contract, citing long-standing legal precedent that embryos are quasi-property that can be governed by a contract.

But Caroline Antoun, the wife, argues that Texas’ new abortion laws require frozen embryos to be treated as people and handled through the child custody process instead.

“Now that Roe is no longer law, the Court has the opportunity to reclassify embryos as unborn children rather than property, and to, after far too long, recognize and protect the rights of those unborn children and their parents,” her lawyers, who declined to comment for this story, wrote in their petition for review to the Texas Supreme Court.

Patrick Wright, the attorney representing the husband, said this case isn’t about abortion.

“It’s a case where two people got together and were planning for their family, and they entered into an agreement,” Wright said. “This is a family issue and if — and it’s a big if — the courts are getting involved, they’d be doing essentially the thing that has been complained about for years, which is adding something that’s not there.”

Earlier this year, the Alabama Supreme Court ruled that frozen embryos qualify as people under the state’s wrongful death statute, leading fertility clinics to halt their work until the legislature stepped in and granted temporary protections.
While the details are different, legal experts and fertility doctors say the results of this Texas case could be similar.

“Recognizing ‘personhood’ status for a frozen embryo, as requested by Petitioner, would upend IVF in Texas,” the American Society for Reproductive Medicine wrote in an amicus brief. It would “inject untenable uncertainty into whether and on what terms IVF clinics can continue to operate in Texas.”

[…]

This issue came before the Texas courts in 2006, when a man named Randy Roman wanted the courts to uphold a signed agreement saying the embryos would be destroyed in case of divorce; his ex-wife wanted to use the embryos to have a child.

A Texas appeals court noted the “emerging majority view that written embryo agreements … are valid and enforceable,” and found that honoring these contracts “best serves the existing public policy of this State and the interests of the parties.”

In siding with Randy Roman, the judges invited lawmakers to clarify this issue if they saw fit; in the nearly two decades since, the Legislature has not taken it up. The Texas Supreme Court declined to review Roman v. Roman, so years later, when the Antouns went to the Denton County courthouse, this was the most recent state court precedent.

[…]

Caroline Antoun’s lawyers argue that Roman v. Roman was invalidated by the overturn of Roe v. Wade, and the embryos should no longer be treated as property. They cite the new abortion law, which defines an “unborn child” as “an individual living member of the homo sapiens species from fertilization until birth, including the entire embryonic and fetal stages of development.”

“Because fertilization has occurred, the embryos are unborn children and thus people as Texas defines them,” her lawyers wrote in a brief. “They are unborn children and should be treated as having all the rights and constitutional protections of children.”

Her lawyers also argued that treating frozen embryos as property was a return to the days of slavery, before “the ownership of persons became an issue relegated to history.”

“That is, until the Texas Legislature accidentally revived the conception of owning people by legislatively defining life to begin at a time antecedent to pregnancy and gestation via IVF,” they wrote, later saying, “To treat a class of persons, here embryos, as lesser humans by virtue of an immutable trait, is to repeat the mistakes of our forefathers.”

Gaby Antoun’s lawyers argue that the Dobbs decision did not change anything about the legal status of frozen embryos, nor the contracts that have historically governed them.

“If they say that you can’t sign these agreements, then we have a problem,” Wright said. “Because now you’re saying that people can’t validly contract to create their families, in their own way, with their own choices, and now the state is imposing on decisions that families are making.”

The 2nd Court of Appeals in Fort Worth agreed, ruling that Caroline Antoun’s arguments were “a classic example of taking a definition out of its legislatively created context and using it in a context that the legislature did not intend.”

“Dobbs held that the United States Constitution does not guarantee a right to an abortion,” the judges wrote. “Dobbs did not determine the rights of cryogenically stored embryos outside the human body before uterine implantation. Dobbs is not law ‘applicable’ to this case, and thus its pronouncement did not justify a new trial.”

Caroline Antoun then appealed to the all-Republican Texas Supreme Court. The court asked each side to brief the case, but has not yet said whether it will take the issue up.

See here, here, and here for a bit of background. Gotta say, having the female litigant being the threat to the future of IVF while the male litigant is fighting to keep it as is was a plot twist I didn’t see coming. All that SCOTx has to do is decline to take up the appeal, at which point the existing precedent remains controlling. They could take up the appeal and uphold the existing precedent, perhaps with some modifications, but I’d rather they take the simpler route. For what it’s worth, while SCOTx is indeed all Republican, so I believe is the Second Court of Appeals. For sure, Google confirms for me that the three judges who ruled in the Antoun case are all Republicans. So maybe, just maybe, this isn’t so dire.

On the other hand:

Texas Right to Life, the state’s largest anti-abortion group, called for the court to rule that frozen embryos are people and, in case of divorce, should be given all the same rights as living children. They rejected the idea that this would lead to a shutdown of IVF in Texas.

“Because this case would only set precedent for custody disputes of frozen unborn children in divorce cases, a decision abrogating Roman would have a much smaller impact than the Alabama case,” they wrote in an amicus brief.

Whatever may or may not happen with the Supreme Court, this is hardly the last we will hear of this issue.

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Texas blog roundup for the week of May 13

The Texas Progressive Alliance is still marveling at Stormy Daniels’ testimony in the Trump trial as it brings you this week’s roundup.

Continue reading

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A “WTF, HISD?” roundup

Expect more protests later this week.

Houston ISD families plan to protest Saturday morning near City Hall as word of forced principal and teacher departures rip through campuses as the end of the first year since state takeover approaches.

Community members are being asked to meet at 10 a.m. Saturday on the sidewalk in front of City Hall, 901 Bagby St. Parents are also organizing to speak at Thursday’s Board of Managers meeting and plan to protest at 7 p.m. Friday outside of the district’s Educators of the Year Banquet at the Hilton Americas Hotel, 1600 Lamar St.

The protests come on the heels of an undisclosed number of teachers and principals being asked to resign due to the district’s view of their performance.

[…]

Briargrove Elementary School parents, who have said some of their teachers were told to resign, are organizing City Hall’s Saturday protest. It’s unknown how many teachers are being asked to leave due to the district’s view of their performance.

Crockett parents are organizing Friday’s protest outside the banquet. The school is slated to become a NES, or New Education System, school. Part of that model removes librarians and converts the libraries into what the district calls “Team Centers.” Crockett will be losing its library as its librarian is up to win Librarian of the Year on Friday, Crockett parent Liz Silva said.

“Librarians do way more than check out books,” Silva said. “They offer just so much guidance in that area for kids, and we would really hate to lose that space.”

Of course the “Librarian of the Year” will be getting booted. If HISD gave “Nurse of the Year” and “Custodian of the Year” awards, I’m sure those folks would be getting fired, too. Anyone want to bet that the prize being given to the Educator of the Year winners at that banquet on Friday will be a pink slip?

In re: the announced budget cuts for HISD, the Houston Landing had a story about wraparound specialists:

Over the years, Detra Harris has received helpful resources from her grandchildren’s Houston ISD schools: coats, hygiene kits, bus passes and even dry clothing when her grandson got wet on his walk to class.

The extra support came from HISD “wraparound specialists,” employees who work in schools to aid students struggling with non-academic issues, such as hunger and homelessness.

The on-campus specialists have helped students access clothing, food, and mental health services since the program was created roughly five years ago. But now, some families and community organizations are skeptical of how students’ most urgent needs will be met under HISD’s plan to eliminate more than 100 specialists, the result of steep budget cuts.

The reductions will mean significantly fewer employees on campuses tending to students’ needs, which are often vast in a district where about 80 percent of children are considered economically disadvantaged by the state. Many of the wraparound specialist duties will fall back on teachers and other campus employees, who already have other responsibilities.

“You wouldn’t have anybody there that can say, ‘This child or this family might be struggling,’” said Harris, whose grandchildren attend Garden Oaks Montessori and Waltrip High School.

HISD officials have declined to specify how many of the district’s roughly 280 wraparound specialists will be cut, though multiple sources told the Houston Landing that about 170 people attended a virtual meeting last week in which a district administrator told affected employees about the changes.

[…]

It isn’t immediately clear how much money HISD will save under its plan for addressing students’ non-academic needs. The district likely would save roughly $10 million in salaries and benefits from cutting 170 wraparound specialists.

Not a lot of savings from this, and one wonders what the real cost will be. One assumes that children who are hungry or cold or otherwise under the kind of stress that people in poverty experience don’t do as well in school as they might if their needs were being met. One assumes these same children will have a harder time of it without those specialists in place. How this aligns with the overall goal of improving HISD’s performance is a mystery only Mike Miles can understand.

HISD’s current financial situation is of course partially due to the Legislature not appropriating more money to schools, which they tried to do but had their bills vetoed by Greg Abbott because all he cared about was his voucher scheme. Now that school districts all over the state are making similar cuts to their budgets, Abbott is out there bravely saying “Don’t blame me!”

Texas public schools are struggling with layoffs, closures, and cuts to student services caused by severe underfunding, according to a report released this week by the Texas American Federation of Teachers.

The report cited data showing Texas ranked 41st in the nation for per-pupil education funding, and said more than 91% of kids in Texas public schools attended schools that were inadequately funded.

During a Monday conference call with reporters, Texas AFT President Zeph Capo said it was disheartening that calls to increase state funding weren’t gaining traction with Gov. Greg Abbott, who wants to create a school voucher program in Texas.

“That is Governor Abbott’s handiwork,” Capo said. “It’s the failed policy of the legislature that’s left our schools without funding or without a funding increase since 2019.”

The report came out the same day 39 Democrats in the state House of Representatives called on Abbott to hold a special legislative session for increased public education spending.

In a letter posted Monday by Texas Rep. Jon Rosenthal, D-Houston, the lawmakers pointed to $5 billion appropriated and unspent for public education, and said it was necessary to stave off a “school budget crisis.”

“Texas public schools are facing serious budget challenges from inflation, historic underfunding, and unfunded mandates that will drive drastic budget cuts in ISDs across the state,” they said in the letter. “These issues arise from the state’s failure to improve school funding since 2019.”

Abbott responded later on Monday, criticizing the lawmakers for voting against his failed school voucher plan that tied public school funding to education savings accounts.

“As you surely recall, I worked with Representative Brad Buckley during Special Sessions #3 and #4 last year to design a school choice and public school funding package that would have achieved exactly what you seek,” Abbott said in his response.

You know what I say the answer to all this is, so let’s move on.

Spectrum News dropped quite the story about Mike Miles’ charter school finances.

Ten years before he took over at Houston ISD, Miles spent three years as the superintendent of the Dallas Independent School District. When he left Dallas in 2015, Miles started three charter schools in Colorado called Third Future Schools.

According to both internal school records and the nationally recognized school rating agency School Digger, all three schools have since struggled with performance, enrollment and finances.

Records provided to us by TFS through open records requests reveal Miles was forced to close one of his schools, Coperni 2, last summer. The K-8 school in Colorado Springs was plagued by declining enrollment. The closure left the school with $5 million in unpaid bond debt.

The Coperni 2 financial bind was discussed at a Third Future School Board meeting via Zoom last summer after Miles took over at Houston ISD, yet Miles was still at the meeting acting as a consultant.

According to payment records, Miles earned $40,000 consulting for TFS last year.

During the meeting, Miles urged his old board of directors to find the money and pay the debt.

“It’s now becoming untenable,” Miles said at the meeting. “We have to subsidize to the tune of maybe $500,000 per year if it only has 180 kids or so. So, I think the time is right to do what the administration is asking to do.”

In 2020, around the time his financial troubles were beginning in Colorado, Miles began expanding his charter school network to Texas. First, Midland Sam Houston Elementary, then Ector College Prep in Odessa, then Austin Mendez Middle School. But by the end of the 2023 school year, as he was taking over in Houston, Miles’ three Texas schools were nearly $2.7 million in the red.

So why were Miles’ new Texas schools losing money? Third Future Schools’ 2023 audit shows of the $25 million public tax dollars being spent on Miles’ three Texas schools, $15 million was spent on teachers and supplies. The other $10 million, about 40% of the budget, was spent on unspecified administrative costs and services.

Spectrum News made multiple requests over several months for a detailed accounting of those administrative expenses. Third Future Schools never responded. However, included in publicly available financial audit records were the auditor’s notes revealing the deficit was “caused by the liabilities of other Third Future Network schools” outside of Texas and to “Third Future Schools Corporate” in Colorado.

Again, TFS Colorado officials declined to provide us with an explanation of why so many Texas public school dollars were being transferred to school operations in another state. Spectrum News requested and received from TFS an audio recording of the investors’ call. In the recording, a TFS official confirmed Colorado charter school deficits were being offset, in part, by money coming from their charter schools in Texas.

“We’ve been supplementing that school with the General Fund,” said Renea Ostermiller, then TFS’s chief of finances. “Whether they are in Colorado or whether they are in Texas or whichever state they are in, (a network fee) is assessed and then if the specific school needs funding, then the network supplements them.”

Spectrum News obtained copies of two checks for more than $1 million each, sent from Miles’ charter school in Odessa, paid and addressed to Third Future Schools in Aurora, Colorado.

Our attempts over the past five months to reach Miles for an explanation of the payments and a response to our findings have been unsuccessful. Miles referred us to Third Future Schools Executive Director Zach Craddock. We sent Craddock a 23-question list detailing our findings. Craddock declined to respond.

We also shared our findings with school finance expert and former Texas state Rep. Paul Colbert. Colbert says Texas public schools should not be spending more money than they take in. He also says TFS operators should not send Texas tax dollars out of state.

“I was the budget chair of education for eight years and research director for the Senate Education Committee for five years,” said Colbert. “My understanding is that it is not legal in Texas for money from a school district in Texas to educate students in other districts in the state let alone in other states.”

Well, at least his utter lack of transparency and unwillingness to answer questions is consistent. I would very much like to see more news organizations get on this story. See here and here for some more. You think any of this may come up at that Q&A event Miles is performing at?

Last but not least:

I would very much like to know more about what happened there. Reform Austin has more.

UPDATE: The Chron has picked up the Spectrum News story and added to it. This post is long enough, I’ll come back to this.

Posted in School days | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Mayor Whitmire unveils his first budget

Here ya go.

Mayor John Whitmire

Amid Houston’s strained financial outlook, Mayor John Whitmire unveiled a $6.7 billion budget proposal on Tuesday, announcing he does not intend to raise taxes or significantly cut city services during the fiscal year starting in July.

The proposed budget, the first of Whitmire’s tenure, features a 7% increase from last year’s plan. It includes additional costs from the $1.5 billion firefighters’ settlement and likely pay raises for municipal workers. It does not, however, account for the approximately $100 million fiscal impact from an April court ruling concerning the city’s drainage system.

Whitmire’s administration previously floated the idea of a property tax hike and a garbage fee to close the existing budget gap of around $160 million and help fund the firefighters’ deal. But the mayor said these measures will not be considered in the upcoming year. Instead, the city plans to use the remaining COVID-19 federal funds to close the deficit, which he said he inherited from former Mayor Sylvester Turner’s administration.

Earlier this year, the mayor asked all city departments, except for police and fire, to identify ways to cut their spending by 5%. The resulting plan shows $11.7 million in departmental savings, primarily from eliminating vacant positions, according to Finance Director Melissa Dubowski. She and the mayor said they will continue to seek cost-saving opportunities in the coming days.

“I wasn’t prepared to raise taxes or cut services in the short five months that I’ve been here if we could possibly do it a different way,” Whitmire said during a Tuesday press conference. “I actually said during the campaign we didn’t know the true state of the city finances. And we’re still learning on a daily basis where we can have savings.”

[…]

To find more cost-saving measures to cover these major financial liabilities, Whitmire said the city will undertake a comprehensive review of each department in the coming months. He said he will also continue to work with other government entities – including Harris County, Metro and state agencies – to share the costs of running city services.

“Things are in place to get through 2025 without raising taxes through efficiencies and collaboration,” Whitmire said.

See here for more on that drainage fee ruling and its impact. I understand the choice of not raising the property tax rate or implementing the garbage fee now. It’s a choice most Mayors would have made. By not raising extra revenue now, it will have the effect of putting more of a burden on future budgets. Maybe there are things that will happen between now and the unveiling of next year’s budget that will ease that burden anyway – higher sales tax revenues, for instance. Maybe cooperation with other government entities will be especially fruitful. Maybe the politics of trying to do those things will be more favorable next year than this year. As someone once said, you pay your money and you take your chances. There’s a series of budget workshops scheduled from May 15 to May 28 at which we will learn more details about all this, so stay tuned.

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On really playing the Lottery

Fascinating story.

By the April 22 Lotto Texas drawing last year, it had been seven months since a player hit a jackpot. Because the pot keeps growing until someone matches all six numbers, the long drought meant the grand prize had swollen to $95 million, the game’s third-largest ever.

That night’s draw — 3, 5, 18, 29, 30, 52 — matched a single ticket purchased in a small store in Colleyville, outside of Fort Worth.

Winners have six months to claim their prize, either in payments over 30 years or a lump-sum, typically worth about half. On June 27, the state of Texas issued a check for $57.8 million to a New Jersey-based limited partnership apparently formed to collect the jackpot, called Rook TX.

The Texas Lottery Commission, whose proceeds mainly fund public education, celebrated the big win — “generating much needed revenue for Texas Schools,” then-Executive Director Gary Grief wrote. “What the Texas lottery is all about.”

But a statistical analysis of the April 22 Lotto Texas drawing strongly suggests that night’s draw wasn’t what a lottery is about at all. Rather, the numbers indicate Rook TX beat the system.

Unbeknownst to the millions of players who’d invested their hopes and dreams into the game and its life-changing jackpot, the winner had already been decided.

Rook TX appears to have engineered a nearly risk-free — and completely legal — multimillion-dollar payday.

And the state of Texas helped.

Spoiler alert: This apparently anonymous partnership bought a ticket for each possible numeric combination, thus ensuring they would win. This is a logistical problem, as you need to buy almost 26 million tickets to make this work, which just takes time to accomplish, a big cash outlay up front – all those tickets cost a buck apiece – and a big financial risk since all it may take is one other winner splitting the jackpot with you to turn your bet into a loser. It’s easier to accomplish the first part of this task, as you don’t have to walk into a store and buy physical tickets anymore, which makes a scheme like this more attractive to outfits that can handle the cash and thus makes the Lottery overall a bit less of a moneymaker for the state, but no one seems terribly fussed about that.

How do we know for sure that this Rook TX bought all of the ticket combinations? They won all of the runnerup prizes as well, worth another $2 million in total to them. In other words, they got all of the five-out-of-six, four-out-of-six, and three-out-of-six winners, too. The odds of that happening without playing all the numbers is basically zero.

That’s the TL;dr of this story, but you should read it all anyway, it’s quite the ride. Also read this story about the math. Note that the advertised jackpot of any lottery is the amount paid out over 20 years. The cash equivalent, which most people take up front, is about 40% smaller – this one paid out at about $58 million, which is why there’s such a risk of splitting with other winners. Like I said, read the rest, and then read this followup story that sheds some light on the logistics of this scheme.

Posted in Jackpot! | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

My interviews and Q&As for the runoffs

Early voting begins Monday, May 20, for the primary runoffs. Yes, I know, we just finished voting for the HCAD/SD15 special elections, but here we are again, and we’ll have one more after that for the HCAD runoffs. So get your voting shoes on, you will have five (5) days of early voting for these runoffs – just the Monday through the Friday. Make a plan to vote. I’ll have more info about the EV schedule and locations later in the week.

In the meantime, as a reminder, here are the interviews and judicial Q&As I did for the candidates who are now in the runoffs:

Molly Cook, SD15
Rep. Jarvis Johnson, SD15

Charlene Ward Johnson, HD139

Lauren Ashley Simmons, HD146

Annette Ramirez, Tax Assessor
Desiree Broadnax, Tax Assessor

Justice Jerry Zimmerer, 14th Court of Appeals, Place 3
Velda Faulkner, 14th Court of Appeals, Place 3

Vivian King, 486th Criminal District Court

I did not do an interview with Rep. Shawn Thierry in HD146, and she has justified that choice by going full villain against transgender folks. May we never have to speak her name again after May 28. I reached out to Angie Thibodeaux for an interview in January but never heard back from her. I sent a Q&A to Gemayel Haynes but did not get a response; you can see the Q&A he did for the 2022 primaries here. There is a runoff for Constable in Precinct 5 but I confess I know little about the candidates there.

For more information you can still peruse the Erik Manning spreadsheet, which shows the various group endorsements for each candidate. The Chron has their list of primary runoff endorsements here. Last but very much not least, I encourage you to read Daniel Cohen’s runoff endorsements, as he goes into quite a bit of detail for most of these races. Let me know if you have any questions.

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Multiple schools protest Mike Miles

The people are angry.

Roughly 200 parents and students started their day protesting in front of Meyerland Performing and Visual Arts Middle School, one of many Houston ISD campuses sent into turmoil last week with news that their principal was asked to resign.

“Everything going on in the district right now is absolutely ridiculous,” said Karina Gates, a Meyerland alum. “I don’t even understand. How do you fire the Principal of the Year from last year? I don’t get it. It’s just politics. And they’re screwing with our kids and their futures, and no, no that’s not going to happen.”

[…]

Protesters outside the school held signs blasting state-appointed Superintendent Mike Miles and calling for the protection of principals and teachers. The district has not disclosed how many principals have been targeted for alleged low performance.

The district also hasn’t disclosed the breakdown of employees being let go as part of a $450 million funding gap.

The district’s Board of Managers unanimously approved measures Thursday to allow the district to cut dozens of staff and teaching positions, including librarians; counselors; principals; and reading, math and science teachers. Miles said earlier that day teachers and principals received notices based on performance metrics, including instruction and achievement data, but that those cuts were unrelated to the “reduction in force.”

HISD said in a Monday statement that its decisions regarding principals do not relate to its budget.

“All contract non-renewals for principals are unrelated to HISD’s overall budget challenges,” spokesperson Jose A. Irizarry wrote. “Instead, these contract decisions are being made – again – with the goal of ensuring every student receives high-quality instruction, every day. In some cases, we hope principals who do not retain their current position for next school year will apply for assistant principal or other roles within HISD that will help the educator grow their instructional leadership.”

Parent and protest co-organizer Rochelle Cabe noted Sarabia, as well as Neff Elementary School Principal Amanda Wingard who confirmed on Facebook the district asked her to resign, were Principals of the Year in 2023.

“I guess the district believes that in just the period of one year, these people who had years upon years of stellar performance within their careers, have gone from being the best in their organization to fireable,” Cabe said. “And I can’t believe that’s the case. That’s insane.”

Parents at Browning Elementary School and Crockett Elementary School also protested Monday after the district announced Friday their principals will not return next school year.

Crockett Elementary School, Browning Elementary School and Mickey Leland College Preparatory Academy for Young Men received written notices announcing principal departures.

The principal of Frank Black Middle School also announced leaving relatively recently in an April 25 letter, parent Heather Winter said. The Houston Chronicle is still seeking to confirm principal departures, as several principals appear to have resigned prior to this round of terminations.

See here and here for the background. The Press had more from before the events.

To be fair, any time a new superintendent tries to introduce change in a district, particularly if he or she targets long standing curriculum and personnel decisions, they are in for a bumpy ride. Employment decisions are the trickiest since by law, someone’s personnel file cannot be opened up for public consumption. At the same time, it’s this very lack of transparency that makes school communities less than trusting about the actions an administration has taken.

In the case of HISD, the criticisms are mounting on any number of fronts.

“Parental frustration over broken promises made by Superintendent Miles about his plans for HISD following the TEA takeover has been brewing the last few months. Each month hundreds of parents and students have signed up to speak at board meetings about how his non-proven NES policies are destroying what is working within the district and demoralizing our educators,” said 2022-23 Meyerland PTO president Amanda Sorena in a press release.

[…]

In Sarabia’s case, Sorena said three data points that went into his termination:

“1. STAAR score decline (they declined for all schools)

“2. MOY MAP data (Miles said this would not be a matrix held against principals AND MPVA was without heat in several classrooms on testing day)

“3. Spot Check Dashboard and not hitting “Campus Goals.” (This one is even more perplexing. The dashboard is not transparent. When it rolled out in the Fall, four MPVA admin were tasked with doing their six Spot Checks a week. Three weeks into the school year, one of those administrators was moved by HISD to another campus. The dashboard was not updated.”

Sorena wrote that another administrator was not assigned to pick up the work from the one moved to another school. All of the assigned spot checks which she was no longer making were scored as zeroes. Sarabia reported this to the people in charge of this but nothing was ever done to correct it, according to his supporters.

It’s the lack of transparency, the frequent dishonesty, the general treating of us all like idiots, and most of all the lack of accountability and oversight. The main reason there’s so much anger being directed at Mike Miles is because there’s no one else to direct it at. In normal circumstances, people would vent their frustrations at the Board of Trustees, but they have no power and the appointed Board of Managers has been nothing more than a rubber stamp. People have very good reasons to be angry about this. And very little reason to think any of the anger they display will be heard or considered. The one thing that we all can do is vote out Greg Abbott in 2026. Stay mad until then, y’all. The Press has more.

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City of Houston also gets a federal solar grant

Nice.

Houston has received $2 million from the U.S. Department of Energy to advance its sustainable energy goals, which Mayor John Whitmire has yet to define for his new administration.

The department announced Wednesday that it has selected the city of Houston as one of 27 local governments to receive energy grants totaling $27 million. Port Arthur and Temple are the only other two Texas cities on the list. The two smaller towns secured more moderate amounts of $118,760 and $140,420, respectively.

The $2 million was allocated to Houston to support four key green energy initiatives: installing solar panels and battery storage at a municipal facility, upgrading municipal buildings to lower energy consumption, creating a loan fund for sustainability projects and revising energy codes to enhance efficiency in future developments.

“Energy efficient upgrades are a surefire way to bring down costs and shore up resiliency for communities across the nation,” Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm said in a Wednesday statement. “President Biden’s Investing in America agenda is equipping local governments with funds to transform clean energy plans into real actions.”

The goal of the award is to help Houston advance its existing Climate Action Plan, according to the announcement. The plan, unveiled by former Mayor Sylvester Turner in 2020, consists of a series of long-range goals to curb greenhouse gas emissions and combat the adverse effects of climate change.

[…]

Mary Benton, the mayor’s spokeswoman, on Thursday said the administration is excited to have more resources to advance Houston’s current goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. The city’s Climate Action Plan and Resilience Plan are scheduled to be revised in 2025, Benton said.

This was from earlier in May. It appears to be from a different pot of money than the Solar for All grant that Harris County got. Which is good, the more of this there is the better. We’ll see what this Mayor’s plans are for the Climate Action Plan. At least he didn’t feel the need to put it under immediate review.

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Lawsuit over Alabama AG’s threats against abortion travel can proceed

Of interest.

A federal judge smacked down a series of threats by Alabama’s Republican attorney general to prosecute groups that help women obtain out-of-state abortions, wading into a debate over access to the procedure that has lingered since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade two years ago.

The plaintiffs, including a group called the Yellowhammer Fund that helps women obtain out-of-state abortions, sued Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall after he suggested prosecution might be possible for groups that “aid and abet abortions,” including by helping women travel out of state.

That issue has been closely watched by advocates on both sides of the abortion debate as red states across the country ban or severely limit access to the procedure in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe. That has forced many women seeking an abortion in a clinical setting to cross state lines.

“The right to interstate travel is one of our most fundamental constitutional rights,” US District Judge Myron Thompson wrote in a preliminary ruling late Monday.

“Alabama can no more restrict people from going to, say, California to engage in what is lawful there than California can restrict people from coming to Alabama to do what is lawful here,” Thompson wrote.

The suits were brought not by women seeking an out-of-state abortion but rather by groups that intend to help them. Thompson, appointed to the bench by President Jimmy Carter, wrote that a patient’s right to travel was “inextricably bound up” with those groups. Collectively, he wrote, the groups receive as many as 95 inquiries each week asking about the availability of out-of-state abortions.

“The Constitution protects the right to cross state lines and engage in lawful conduct in other states, including receiving an abortion,” Thomson wrote in a decision that will allow the lawsuit to proceed. “Travel is valuable precisely because it allows us to pursue opportunities available elsewhere.”

[…]

“I think we will see statements like these increase as attorneys general and other state actors try to extend their own abortion politics and policies across state lines,” said Temple University Beasley School of Law Dean Rachel Rebouché. “This is the world Dobbs created – one of intense interstate conflict.”

The Supreme Court’s majority opinion in Dobbs didn’t deal with out-of-state travel. But Justice Brett Kavanaugh, a conservative who joined the court’s 5-4 majority to overturn Roe, wrote separately to suggest that the question wasn’t an “especially difficult” one to decide.

“As I see it, some of the other abortion-related legal questions raised by today’s decision are not especially difficult as a constitutional matter,” Kavanaugh wrote. “For example, may a state bar a resident of that State from traveling to another state to obtain an abortion? In my view, the answer is no based on the constitutional right to interstate travel.”

This has obvious implications for Texas, both for the abortion funds that operate here as well as for the women who are being harassed by loser ex-partners and their fanatic lawyers. There’s a 100% chance that this gets to SCOTUS in one form or another, so it would be nice for a bunch of lower courts to apply Justice Kavanaugh’s “not especially difficult” standard to these cases along the way. A lot will happen between now and then but this is a good start. Law Dork has a deep dive into the opinion, while AL.com and the ACLU, who represented the plaintiffs, have more.

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Details of Rep. Nehls’ ethics investigation released

Still not sure how serious it all is. But at least now we know what it’s about.

Rep. Troy Nehls

U.S. Rep. Troy Nehls, R-Richmond, is being investigated by his peers over allegations that he used campaign funds for his personal use, according to an Office of Congressional Ethics report released Friday.

The Ethics Committee announced it was investigating Nehls in March, but the details of the investigation were confidential. Nehls acknowledged in a statement at the time that the investigation was related to his campaign finances and said he would cooperate with the Ethics Committee.

Nehls’ campaign paid more than $25,000 in rent to a company called Liberty 1776 from 2019 to 2022, according to records with the Federal Election Commission. The company is registered to Nehls, who is listed in state records as the sole operator and proprietor. Nehl’s attorney responded that the business is in fact linked to his campaign.

The report said the Office of Congressional Ethics could not determine a legitimate campaign use for the payments to Liberty 1776. It is illegal to use campaign finances for purposes not related to running for office.

The campaign lists a different address than the company’s for its campaign headquarters, though the report notes that address does not appear to be currently used by the campaign. It was most recently an Islamic school and previously a bar, according to the report.

Liberty 1776 was registered in November 2019, according to the Texas Secretary of State — less than a month before it received the first rent payment from the campaign. The company is currently listed as inactive by the Secretary of State.

The Office of Congressional Ethics wrote and turned over the report to the House Ethics Committee in December of last year. The Ethics Committee made the report public Friday as it announced it would continue investigating the case.

In a January response to the report, an attorney for Nehls wrote that the payments to Liberty 1776 were legitimate rent payments for the campaign’s headquarters and events. The campaign set up Liberty 1776 to rent the space listed as its campaign headquarters as a limited liability company to “offer the typical liability protections important for such engagements” since the venue was expected to host large events.

See here and here for the background. It all sounds shady and not at all like something that could be the result of carelessness or misinterpretation, but it also doesn’t sound like something that might put a person in legal peril. It’s one thing to break rules and another to break the law, and so far at least I’m not seeing anything to suggest that is the case. Maybe there’s more to come, I don’t know. As before, I’ll keep an eye on it. The Chron has more.

(Yes, I know, I haven’t said a thing about the whole Henry Cuellar situation, in which not only has actual lawbreaking been alleged but two of Cuellar’s consultants have already pleaded guilty to various charges. That’s one part due to the chaotic nature of how I do all this, and one part my extreme desire to not want to think about Henry Cuellar if I don’t have to. If and when he ever takes a plea or ends up in a courtroom I’ll pay attention to it. Until then, consider it acknowledged.)

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The Swift Warehouse renovation

I’m always a sucker for stories about historic warehouse renovations, so of course I’m going to note this.

Raquel Natalicchio/Houston Chronicle staff photographer

A Houston development team known for turning run-down, defunct buildings into hip, bustling projects is planning to transform a historic warehouse complex into a 4.47-acre mixed-use project in the Heights.

Radom Capital and Triten Real Estate are planning to launch construction later this year on an ambitious reimagining of the former Swift and Co. refinery complex at 621 Waverly, along the Heights Hike-and-Bike Trail. The development is next to M-K-T, the mixed-use project Triten and Radom redeveloped during the pandemic.

Dubbed the Swift Building, the project will include more than 60,000 square feet of renovated space for retail, small offices and up to six restaurants — all with patios overlooking the popular hike-and-bike trail. As they did at M-K-T, the developers plan to revamp the green space between their property and the trail, adding fresh landscaping and pathways inviting pedestrians into the project.

Swift, M-K-T and Heights Mercantile a half mile away are transforming deteriorating, forgotten spaces near the trail into a corridor of cultural hubs in one of Houston’s most popular neighborhoods.

“Swift is a natural extension of our shared vision for M-K-T. Rather than tear down an important symbol of Houston’s — and the Heights’ — past, we instead want to embrace its character and repurpose it into a truly unique community amenity and experience,” said Scott Arnoldy, founder of Triten Real Estate Partners.

Construction is expected to begin at the end of 2024 and wrap up in 2025, with restaurants likely moving in the next year.

[…]

The Swift complex started as a cottonseed oil refinery in 1917, but by the early 1950s Swift and Co. announced plans to convert the site into what was said to be the largest meatpacking facility in the South at the time, capable of processing 1 million pounds of meat weekly, according to National Register of Historic Places documents.

In one building where meat factory workers used to render fat, 25-foot-tall ceilings are held up by large concrete columns, creating a grand sense of scale that would otherwise be too costly to replicate today, Radom said. In another building once used for cold storage, thick mustard-colored insulation covers brick that developers intend to expose. Broken windows and graffiti-covered walls will be restored throughout. Discarded pieces of insulation littering a roof will be cleaned, and that space will be converted into a rooftop cocktail lounge.

Sounds very cool, and I imagine the view from the rooftop will be awesome. I’ve seen this building a bunch of times as I bike along the MKT Trail, and I’d always wondered about it, partly because it was clearly an artifact and partly because it was easy to imagine it being brought back to life. After I saw this story in the Chron, I took a couple of photos of it the next time I was on the MKT trail:

Swift Warehouse 1

Swift Warehouse 2

I’m delighted to see it happen. I’m sure I’ll swing by with the ol’ camera again as it progresses.

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Weekend link dump for May 12

“Someone from @piersmorgan’s staff asked if I would like to come onto Pier’s show, Piers Morgan Uncensored, to talk about the state of his attire. Since he invited feedback, I thought I’d do a thread comparing his style to menswear icon Kermit the Frog.”

“Urban arborists say planting for the future is urgently needed and could prevent a decline in leafy cover just when the world needs it most.”

“TikTok’s Raw Milk Influencers Are Going to Give Us All Bird Flu”.

“I wanted to investigate the lifespan of most physical media products to figure out just how long those products would last. The unsatisfying answer I found was: It all depends. Here’s a quick look at what can (and cannot) be definitively said about the longevity of your home media library.”

“My read of these studies is this: The current media portrayals of polyamory capture only a fraction of the complex, widespread, and diverse social arrangements that exist beyond monogamy. When you look at the data, a bigger, richer, more robust picture comes into view of how sex and love actually unfold in our culture. Society’s view of monogamy as the ultimate romantic ideal has overshadowed other relationship structures, which have existed and will continue to exist regardless of monogamy’s dominance in social norms. In fact, if we want to talk about fads, it’s worth noting that the sexual exclusivity expected in modern American monogamy may itself be a relatively recent norm in human history.”

Meet Larry Lester, one of the pioneers of Negro League history.

What an absolute tool.

“Jeffrey Clark betrayed his oath to support the Constitution of the United States of America. He is not fit to be a member of the District of Columbia Bar.”

“Digital photography ravaged the business of taking and licensing commercial photos. Some fear AI will kill it off entirely.”

“After lying low for years in the aftermath of January 6, exclusive reporting shows, militia extremist groups and profiles have been quietly reorganizing and ramping up recruitment and rhetoric on Facebook.” Maybe we should do something about that. Also, and especially, maybe Facebook should do something about that.

“Seventeen sexual and reproductive health researchers are calling for four peer-reviewed studies by anti-abortion researchers to be retracted or amended. The papers, critics contend, are “fatally flawed” and muddy the scientific consensus for courts and lawmakers who lack the scientific training to understand their methodological problems.”

Julia Child would never. Also, ouch.

RIP, Jeannie Epper, pioneering stuntwoman who doubled for Lynda Carter in Wonder Woman.

“Unlike Trump, I’ve belonged to the GOP my entire life. This November, I am voting for a decent person I disagree with on policy over a criminal defendant without a moral compass.”

“Crisis pregnancy centers” are the worst.

“Donald Trump might not be in this mess if he wasn’t such a cheapskate and micromanager.”

“I had previously assumed that Trump would have a good shot at getting off with probation if he’s only convicted in the Manhattan case. He seems to want to test that proposition.”

“Marvel Will Release No More Than Three Movies and Two Shows Per Year, Bob Iger Says”.

“TikTok and its Chinese parent company filed a lawsuit Tuesday challenging a new American law that would ban the popular video-sharing app in the U.S. unless it’s sold to an approved buyer, saying it unfairly singles out the platform and is an unprecedented attack on free speech.”

Congratulations to University of Houston Professor Cristina Rivera Garza for her Pulitzer Prize.

“Gisele Bündchen is said to be furious about jokes made about her marriage to Tom Brady during the NFL legend’s Netflix roast which took place this past Sunday.”

And the worms ate into his brain…

Everything you wanted to know about what prosecutors must prove in Trump’s NY trial but were afraid to ask.

“After being embroiled in a sex-abuse scandal, the Boy Scouts are changing their name. The 114-year old organization known as BSA or Boy Scouts of America will be rebranding as Scouting America early next year.”

David Zaslov continues to be an idiot. Film at 11.

RIP, Pete McCloskey, former liberal Republican Congressman from California and Nixon critic who co-founded Earth Day.

RIP, Roger Corman, legendary B-movie producer whose most famous work was the original Little Shop of Horrors.

Lock him up.

Posted in Blog stuff | Tagged | 2 Comments

Lawsuit filed over Humble ISD’s lack of single member districts

Add another to the pile.

A former Humble ISD Spanish teacher sued the district Thursday, alleging trustees and administrators violated the Voting Rights Act by holding all at-large elections for the school board.

The lawsuit, filed by Brewer Storefront, the advocacy arm of Dallas-based Brewer, Attorneys and Counselors, states that Humble ISD has a 70% minority student population, yet a majority white board. It also claims that the district has a geographically significant Hispanic population that would allow for at least one Hispanic-majority single member district to be drawn for increased representation. While the board does have two black trustees, the board does not have a Hispanic trustee.

The firm called the 48,000-student district’s elections system a “relic of the district’s past.”

“Even though Humble ISD’s population has significantly grown and diversified since 1919, the district’s political leadership has failed to adjust to these demographic or socio-economic changes,” the lawsuit reads. The district, spanning northern Harris and Montgomery counties is the sixth fastest growing district in Texas and began as a one-room schoolhouse.

The lawsuit comes after Brewer Storefront sent letters to 11 Texas school districts in March as part of a statewide initiative to secure voting rights among Texas’ minority populations. The firm sent letters of warning to Humble ISD, Lufkin ISD and Angleton ISDs, asking that the districts consider at least one single member district to allow for minority representation.

After the district decided to “‘refuse the opportunity to avoid litigation'” according to the law firm’s release, the plaintiff decided to propel the cause with legal action.

The founder of the firm, William Brewer, said the plaintiff was taking the action in May because “time is of the essence when people are being denied the right to fairly participate in the political process,” he said, adding that the board “indicated no meaningful willingness to bring the electoral system into compliance with the Voting Rights Act.”

See here for a Houston Landing story on how At Large-only school boards in the Houston area are failing to represent significant portions of their population. There’s a copy of the lawsuit in this Landing story, which adds more details.

Two Houston-area districts, Pearland ISD and Spring Branch ISD, currently face Voting Rights Act lawsuits for their at-large election system. Both of the lawsuits are held up in federal court, pending a decision on whether it’s legal for private citizens to bring Voting Rights Act lawsuits against governing bodies.

Earlier this year, a majority of Humble ISD trustees swiftly squashed Trustee Martina Lemond-Dixon’s proposal to discuss a voluntary switch to a hybrid single-member district election model, which could have delivered more diversity — and avoided the lawsuit filed today.

The lawsuit also states that the lack of Hispanic representation on Humble’s school board is to blame for the district’s “achievement gap” between white and minority students. State data shows that 66 percent of all-white students in the district met grade-level standards in all subjects in the 2022-23 school year, compared to 34 percent of Black students and 43 percent of Hispanic students.

“Experience tells us that one of the best ways to decrease the performance gaps … is to get parents from all parts of the community involved,” William Brewer, the attorney, told the Landing in late March.

Humble ISD also faced backlash last year when Humble ISD administrators confiscated Latino students’ Spanish National Honor Society stoles at graduation — which led Bautista to resign from her teaching position, the lawsuit states. The lawsuit alleges the instance was indicative of discrimination exacerbated by the district’s lack of Hispanic representation.

Thursday’s lawsuit comes during a rocky period in Humble ISD. In late April, a Title IX investigation found that former athletic director Troy Kite, who is married to Superintendent Elizabeth Fagan, created a “hostile” environment by routinely making sexual comments to colleagues.

The investigation temporarily threw Fagen’s job into jeopardy and exposed a divide among trustees, who have described the board’s relationship as “broken.”

See here for more on the Spring Branch ISD lawsuit. I missed the filing in Angleton ISD. There’s plenty more where these came from. I’ll keep an eye on them.

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