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March 19th, 2004:

It’s official: The tech boom is over

Anyone remember DotComGuy? Would you believe he’s been DotComGuy for five years now? But not for much longer.

Mitch Maddox, who legally changed his name to DotComGuy in 1999 and got lots of media attention because of a yearlong Internet stunt, is selling his trademark name.

“I’ve taken it as far as I can go,” Maddox said Tuesday.

I believe that was true about five seconds after you made the announcement, but that’s just me.

In 2000, the 30-year-old Dallas native moved into an empty house and survived for a year solely off purchases made on the Internet. Viewers could watch Maddox 24 hours a day via a streaming Webcast on his Web site, www.dotcomguy.com.

Maddox began an auction Tuesday on his site for the trademark, DotComGuy, and the domain name www.dotcomguy.com.

“It’s an asset I’ve had lying around, and I think it can really benefit someone else,” Maddox said.

Yes, because venture capitalists are really hot to fund the next big Internet gimmick. Let’s face it: if Jennicam is no longer with us, the DotComGuy webcam is not exactly going to be a cash cow.

Media outlets worldwide covered Maddox’s online stunt. The promotion garnered sponsorships from several major companies including UPS and peapod.com, an online grocer.

Maddox was visited by celebrities and performers including Ed McMahon and the rock band Incubus.

Ed McMahon, peapod.com, and the rock band Incubus. I don’t think I can possibly add to that.

After his yearlong commitment expired, Maddox faded from the public eye. In the interim, he took some time off, traveled the world and made speeches.

“After”?

In November 2002, he married Anne Rehfeldt, a Fort Worth native he met through the online dating service Match.com.

The marriage license says Rehfeldt married DotComGuy, Maddox said.

Maddox said he will be happy to retake his family name as well as allow his wife to take his last name.

Once again, I don’t think I can add anything to that.

Eckels shills for Perry’s property tax cap

Harris County Judge Robert Eckels is going to bat for Governor Perry’s proposed property tax rate increase cap.

Eckels, who joined two state legislators on a three-city tour organized by the governor’s staff, said Perry has taken a “courageous stand” against rising property taxes.

“The governor’s plan protects local governments from unfunded state mandates that force local property tax increases and hides the true cost of state government programs,” Eckels said. “It makes government accountable to the taxpayer.”

But opponents believe Perry’s plan would severely restrict local governments’ ability to raise tax revenues to pay for basic services.

Interestingly, one of those opponents is that hotbed of Democratic liberalism Collin County.

Collin County Commissioners’ Court on Thursday unanimously approved a resolution opposing Gov. Rick Perry’s plan to limit property-appraisal increases and cap the amount of money raised from property taxes as part of so-called “Robin Hood” school-finance changes.

County Judge Ron Harris said the court stands behind local control and is concerned about the potential financial impact Perry’s plan might have.

“We feel the vast number of Texas cities have been very prudent,” said Harris, who chairs the court. “We have to face citizens for re-election. They’ve got the last say anyway.”

[…]

County Administrator Bill Bilyeu said county officials are concerned that if the proposal is adopted, they would not be able to expand services enough to provide for a rapidly growing population because the rate set by the Legislature might be less than the growth.

“It’s a cap on how much your operating budget can go up, regardless of how many new people moved in, new homes, mandates,” Bilyeu said.

On average, about 76 people move into Collin County a day, outpacing the growth of most of the state’s 254 counties, he said. While population growth across the state is roughly 2 percent, Collin County, at about 5 percent, is among several counties along Interstate 35 that are bursting at the seams.

The growth of Collin County’s operations is not because of increasing values for existing homes.

“Our growth is new buildings, new houses on the ground,” he said.

The expanded tax base pays for the new roads, jails and sheriff’s deputies need to serve the county’s new residents.

[…]

“I maintain what brought school financing to a head is not really the taxes,” Harris said. “It is the fact it’s hit the cap … It’s just not good policy to handicap local governments. You’ll have to make some cuts. The first thing that will be cut is your infrastructure.”

Counties must maintain jails and courts. In cities, residents want their children to get the right education, and they want police and fire service and their trash picked up, he said.

“We have to pay for what we get,” Harris said.

“We’ve been able to hold the tax rate, allowing growth, the increased tax based, to fund itself.”

County residents seem happy with the commissioners’ court. Two of its members, Commissioners Phyllis Cole and Joe Jaynes, received more than 60 percent of the vote for re-election in last week’s primary.

No Democrats filed to run for commissioner.

[…]

“We’re empowering Commissioner Cole, who is chair of a conference of urban counties, to represent that Collin County is absolutely opposed to the plan coming out of the governor’s office,” Harris said.

These guys are right. What this cap will do is essentially force counties to choose between schools, roads, hospitals, law enforcement, or flood control. Can someone give me a reason why any one of these things is less critical and less expected by the people who pay for them than any other? Cause I can’t. But apparently Robert Eckels can, though of course he’ll never tell you that.

One last thing, from the Chron story:

Republican Reps. Dwayne Bohac of Houston and Elizabeth Ames Jones of San Antonio joined Eckels on the tax cap promotion tour.

Bohac sponsored similar legislation last year that would have capped appraisal increases at 5 percent a year. He said the governor’s plan was better and would stop “appraisal creep.” At present, appraisal increases are capped at 10 percent a year.

[…]

Rep. Jim Dunnam, D-Waco, chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, said Bohac and Jones voted against Democratic amendments in 2003 that would have lowered the appraisal cap in Bohac’s bill from 5 percent to 3 percent.

“How can these folks keep a straight face while pretending to support something they voted against last session?” Dunnam asked.

Practice, Jim. Lots of practice.

Plano Star Courier link via Southpaw.

Final settlement in Tulia lawsuit near

Now that the city of Amarillo has reached a $5 million settlement agreement in the federal lawsuit filed by the unjustly imprisoned Tulia defendants, a group of other counties and cities in the Panhandle are close to negotiating their own settlement.

Sources near the negotiations have indicated the remaining 30 counties and cities named in the federal lawsuit likely will settle for substantially less than the $5 million Amarillo paid last week for its part in the suit.

Several sources with varying degrees of involvement in the negotiations have confirmed that the overall settlement for all the remaining municipalities combined is in the area of $1 million. Counties and cities would pay amounts ranging from a few thousand dollars to tens of thousands of dollars under the agreement, which has not been finalized.

Attorneys from both sides of the suit said they couldn’t talk about the details of the negotiations, but they confirmed talks were ongoing.

“We are continuing to negotiate, and we hope we can reach a settlement,” said Amarillo attorney Jeff Blackburn, who represents the Tulia defendants. “We’re eager to settle this case so that the entire Panhandle can put this nightmare behind them, like Amarillo did last week.”

The settlement, if finalized, would bring an end to a federal lawsuit that was filed in connection with the controversial 1999 Tulia drug bust.

Again, I’m glad to see this get resolved. Just for the record, for the 44 Tulia defendants who are plaintiffs in this lawsuit, I figure after attorneys’s fees and whatnot, they’ll net about $10,000 each. Before anyone complains about lawsuits and the taxpayers footing the bill and so on, ask yourself a simple question: Would you willingly go through what any of those 44 people went through in return for ten grand? The people responsible for this debacle got off very, very cheaply.

Here’s a look at how the city of Amarillo will pay its share of the settlement.

The $5 million payment to settle Amarillo’s liability in the Tulia drug sting won’t receive official approval from the Amarillo City Commission.

The commission gave city attorneys authority to reach a settlement amount on its behalf, and a 1987 ordinance gives a committee of department heads the authority to administer the payment.

State law requires the city commission to approve bid contracts of $25,000 or more, but that standard doesn’t apply to the $5 million settlement, a different kind of transaction altogether.

The settlement will be paid as an insurance claim, and potentially all of it will come from the city’s risk management fund, the fund through which the city insures itself for liability claims.

The ordinance creating the fund authorized a risk management board to administer the claims, which usually are too routine to need city commission attention. That board’s authority applies even in the case of an exceptionally large claim such as the $5 million Tulia lawsuit settlement.

[…]

Briefing the commission also was appropriate because the settlement amount was likely to be greater than $50,000, said City Manager John Ward, also a member of the risk management board. That dollar amount is a benchmark, Ward said, for when the board would bring a pending insurance-fund claim to the commission’s attention.

But even though the Tulia settlement amount would dwarf all other insurance claims the city has paid in the past 12 years, the commission still didn’t have to take official action because it wasn’t required by the ordinance that created the risk management fund. Nor would such action have been practical, Ward said.

When the commission gave authority to its lawyers before the mediation, the settlement amount wasn’t known, so it couldn’t have approved an amount, Ward said. And after the mediation, the judge wouldn’t have been receptive to the city changing its offer.

“You could stick these settlements on (the commission’s) agenda and they rubber-stamp them, but it really serves no purpose because it’s too late to vote against it,” Ward said. “The city is committed.”

In the case of Tulia, however, the commission will conduct one vote related to the $5 million settlement. The risk management fund’s ordinance limits aggregate payments for general liability to $3 million per year. So the commission on Tuesday will consider granting the program some kind of flexibility so the payment can proceed, Ward said.

Among the commission’s options are to amend the ordinance so that it allows for certain exceptions to the limitation, or to authorize a one-time exception in this case alone, Ward said.

The fund may not even have to pay the full $5 million for the Tulia settlement. The city is exploring options to supplement self-insurance funds with money seized by the task force that was involved in the sting.

But using those funds depends on state approval, Ward said.

I can’t think of a more appropriate use for that money than to help pay the settlement to the victims. Let’s hope newly elected State Senator Kel Seliger brings this up at his first opportunity. Feel free to drop him a line or give him a call at one of his offices and encourage him to do so.

Bell makes peace with Green

I’m glad to see this.

Houston Rep. Chris Bell is attempting to mend a rift among House Democrats that grew out of the racially divisive election he lost to Al Green earlier this month.

Bell met this week with Democratic House leaders who were angered by members of the Congressional Black Caucus who sided with Green against the first-term lawmaker in the party’s March 9 primary.

Bell plans to meet today with Green and invite the former NAACP leader to Washington to meet with the Democratic caucus in an effort to heal any wounds left from the election.

“There’s some significant anger on the part of some members that colleagues would back an opponent, and I don’t think that serves us at all,” Bell said.

House members traditionally support incumbent members of their own party — or remain neutral — in primary elections, no matter who the challenger is.

Rep. Harold Ford, D-Tenn., criticized fellow members of the Congressional Black Caucus for taking sides against Bell. “You have an incumbent, and you don’t support the incumbent? It was inappropriate,” Ford told Congressional Quarterly.

Bell met Wednesday with House Democratic leaders Nancy Pelosi, of California; Steny Hoyer, of Maryland; and Bob Menendez, of Maryland, urging them to put aside any rancor with the Black Caucus over his defeat.

“The last thing I want is to be is the poster boy for racial discord,” Bell said.

This was both the smart and appropriate thing for Bell to do, and I applaud him for it. He’s right to not give any further victories to Tom DeLay’s divisive tactics. He’s also only 44 and needs to consider his own political future, assuming he wants one. I know what office I’d like to see him run for next.

UPDATE: Greg adds some thoughts.