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February, 2006:

Double jeopardy for Andrea Yates?

Andrea Yates’ attorney is alleging prosecutorial misconduct in the matter of Park Dietz’s bogus testimony.

In court papers filed Monday, attorney George Parnham said prosecutors in her original trial were reckless, if not intentionally misleading, when they used testimony they had reason to believe was false.

Prosecutors knew that testimony by psychiatrist Park Dietz about an episode of the television series Law & Order — regularly watched by Yates — was false during the original trial in 2002, Parnham alleges.

Dietz testified then that one Law & Order episode portrayed a woman who drowned her children. The episode, he said, aired shortly before Yates drowned her five children.

After Yates was convicted, it was learned that no such episode was ever produced.

Parnham’s motion contends that Yates should not have to stand trial again because of this. I’m not a lawyer, but what is being alleged here sounds an awful lot like suborning perjury to me. Help me out here – is this from the standard defense attorney bag o’ tricks, or is this as remarkable as I think it is?

Cuellar’s consultants

The United Steel Workers union is publicly calling on Rep. Henry Cuellar’s campaign consultants to disavow him. No stones are being left unturned here, that’s for sure. Ciro Rodriguez has raised something like $270K from netroots and other sources since that “one-day story” stirred up the blogs, according to Kos, and that figure doesn’t include some ads being purchased on his behalf, as the League of Conservation Voters is doing. He’s also racking up endorsements from his former colleagues in Texas and elsewhere. Cuellar for his part is getting a $150K ad buy from those good progressives at the Club for Growth.

Did you hear about Frank Madla’s spending habits? I’m sure this is the sort of thing that most longtime officeholders would like to keep under wraps, but still. For a person representing such a low-income district, especially with his vote on HB2292, he can take it. Larry Stallings, who says that’s not how he’ll operate as a Rep, sings the praises of Carlos Uresti.

More endorsements: from Abram, Fred, and Matt. There’s a running tally at BOR. And lookie here, the Chron is finally in the game. Will they make it to the finish line before the buzzer sounds? We shall see.

UPDATE: Larry Stallings adds his endorsements.

Whose port is it anyway?

I’m still trying to wrap my mind around the news of port security being handed to a company that’s fully owned by a foreign government. As Reed Hunt remarked, the UAE could not own a US television station, but port security? No problemo.

Like Kevin (more here), I’m a little queasy about bashing this on grounds of foreignness. By the same token, however, this is the umpty-umpth example of President Bush saying “Hey, trust me, don’t sweat the small stuff, it’s all good” when he’s proven time and again that he doesn’t deserve any such trust. I certainly can’t disagree with the notion, expressed by Rep. Jerry Nadler, that Congress ought to have a look at this before we go signing on any dotted lines. If there really is nothing to worry about, we can still go forward with it.

I’ve printed a couple of press releases, from Nick Lampson and Rep. Chet Edwards, beneath the fold for your perusal. And just so we’re clear that the objections to this are bipartisan, I invite you to read Rep. Sue Myrick’s letter to President Bush, which if nothing else is admirable in its pithiness.

Oh, and one last thing: It’s always worthwhile in these matters to see who might be benefiting from the transactions in question. I’m just saying.

UPDATE: Tom DeLay has now criticized the port deal. So who’s in the President’s corner on this now?

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Time for a little Olivia break

It’s been a little while since I’ve posted some pictures of Olivia, hasn’t it? Well, there’s no time like the present. Click the More link to see a couple of snaps my sister Kris took while in town to help me celebrate my 40th birthday.

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Roger Owen self-destructs

Roger Owen, the gay-bashing candidate for CD01, had himself a little meltdown at meeting on Tuesday at the Gregg County Democratic Party’s headquarters. Patrick Franklin, the Democratic candidate for HD07 and the target of Owen’s misplaced ire, has the details. Just remember, if you’re in CD01, vote for Duane Shaw in the Democratic primary.

TxDOT responds to evacuation task force report

In response to the release of the report by the Governor’s task force on hurricane evacuations, TxDOT says it’s already doing a lot of the things it’s been called upon to do.

Janelle Gbur, spokeswoman for the Texas Department of Transportation’s Houston district, said construction is under way to remove the bottleneck on I-45 North (the North Freeway) where it narrows from four lanes in each direction to two at FM 1488 near The Woodlands. During the Hurricane Rita evacuation in September, this chokepoint brought traffic to a standstill for miles.

Gbur said the highway is scheduled to become a continuous four-lane road all the way to Conroe in 2008, but she noted that “we’re just moving the jam farther north” unless the number of evacuees can be reduced.

Planners also need to educate people not to hit the road until they really need to, she said.

“A key point here is the public awareness,” added TxDOT spokesman Randall Dillard in Austin.

As we discussed in the previous post, I think this is necessary, but not sufficient. Some number of people are going to respond to their own risk assessments no matter what the official proclamations are. I can’t say that I won’t be among those people, at least as long as I’ve got a small child in the house.

Most of this story is about various chokepoints – on-ramps, highway intersections and junctions, etc – that caused major problems during the Rita evacuation. Improvements and widenings can help in some cases, but as Gbur is honest enough to admit, you can’t fix the I-45 logjam by adding lanes unless you do so for the entire length of the road. That’s just not economically feasible, and would for the most part be a waste of resources.

Dillard said TxDOT and DPS will have a contraflow plan drawn up by the start of hurricane season June 1.

As a starting point, they can use the hastily devised measures set up during Hurricane Rita.

Improvements being considered include remote-controlled gates on freeway entrance and exit ramps, Gbur said.

She said a safety fence being installed on nearly 100 miles of the I-10 median between Houston and San Antonio will need escape hatches where drivers and emergency vehicles can cross over for emergencies.

And here we come back to the issues of expense and manpower. That’s not a criticism – I think these ideas are fine – just an observation that we shouldn’t expect a full solution to be ready by June 1. This is going to take time and a commitment to see it all the way through.

The full report is here, in its 4 MB PDF glory. I’ll try to read it when I can. Feel free to beat me to it and comment on any aspect of it here.

The mysterious budget

The more we learn about what happened with those unauthorized bonuses to staffers in the Mayor Pro Tem’s office, the less we seem to know about how it all happened.

The city office where four employees received unauthorized bonuses saw a 25 percent increase in its budget this fiscal year — an appropriation that city officials haven’t fully detailed.

The glare of publicity about the $130,000 incentive payments to workers in the Office of Mayor Pro Tem has drawn attention to the budget, which was included in a larger pool set aside for the 14 City Council members.

The City Council approved an increase from $260,000 to $326,000 for the pro tem office. And that was only half of the $122,000 increase the office requested.

Councilwoman Carol Alvarado, who as mayor pro tem oversees the office, and top members of Mayor Bill White’s administration, which produced the council budgets, didn’t respond in detail to repeated inquiries about the proposed and actual increases.

“The justification cited was increased costs of services and supplies,” said Frank Michel, White’s spokesman. “We don’t have any written documentation.”

Alvarado, whose district office is separate from that of the pro tem, said the extra money was a “restoration” to levels in previous administrations. The pro tem budget remained $260,000 during the past three years, but was more than $300,000 in the past, she said.

She said the increase this year was requested by her mayor pro tem office manager, Rosita Hernandez, one of four employees who received bonuses city officials say were unauthorized. Hernandez’s $47,500 in 2005 bonuses boosted her total pay to $125,500, among the highest in city government.

“I’m looking for something in writing that justifies the restoration of funds,” Alvarado said. “I wish I had access to those documents.”

According to the story, the Houston Police Office of Inspector General and Houston’s Finance and Administration Director Judy Gray Johnson are the ones with the documents, and they aren’t talking. Which is fine and how it should be in an ongoing investigation. Once they’re done, I imagine the District Attorney’s office will get involved.

The good news, as far as it goes, is that this is not the kind of malfeasance that enhances one group’s political power at the expense of another, so when the facts are out and it’s time for the Council to do something about it, whatever solutions get proposed will most likely run into little organized resistance. In other words, nothing like what happens to reform measures, even ones with a majority of the membership as sponsors, in the Texas Legislature. Along those lines, Stace has some suggestions for how to keep this from happening again.

Getting back to the story, Councilmember Alvarado would do well to make like the HPOIG and AD Johnson for a little while:

Alvarado, who has said she can’t recall specific details about the increase, said Tuesday she was “frustrated” by the lack of information.

She also was concerned about whether media coverage of such questions might unfairly taint her.

“It’s my office. It’s my name,” she said. “I don’t know why this $50,000, or $60,000, is such a big issue.”

With all due respect, your office and your name are your problems right now. What matter is figuring out what happened here, and taking the necessary steps to prevent it from happening again. You may or may not come out of this looking good, and how that comes down may or may not be within your control. Them’s the breaks.

Also not looking so good:

When asked about the budget, city officials referred to a June presentation to the council’s Fiscal Affairs Committee.

The short session included a broad description of the overall City Council budget, with only vague details about the pro tem office. And council members asked few questions.

“I have to tell you, I was stunned that the pro tem office had such a substantial raise this year,” Councilwoman Pam Holm said Tuesday, noting that she didn’t notice it in the hustle of last year’s budget process.

Holm said council members should be accountable for all lines in the budget and suggested a study of whether the pro tem budget is too high.

Did you register your stunned-ness for the record when you voted on last year’s budget, or are you just retroactively stunned now? Because the latter isn’t helping.

In one sense, Alvarado is right: $130K out of a $3.2 billion budget is 0.004%. And so Holm is also right, in that every Council member should be accountable for each line item. Like I said, once we have all the facts, passing the reforms should be easy enough to do.

UPDATE: Alvarado apologizes to her Council colleagues for the mess.

“I would never do anything to jeopardize the integrity of the position or to compromise the essential services the office provides,” she said. “I was shocked to learn of payroll irregularities.”

[…]

“I have been astonished and disappointed to discover how easy it was for someone to forge my initials and steal both taxpayer dollars and my personal reputation at the same time,” she said.

That’s a better response. Now let’s stay focused on fixing the problem.

Elyse Lanier, Port Authority commissioner

Umm, okay.

Elyse Lanier, the city’s former first lady and an unabashed booster of Houston, was appointed today as a commissioner on the Port Authority of Houston.

Lanier replaces Cheryl Thompson-Draper, who resigned last month after being accused of uttering a racial slur while on port business in Shanghai last year. Thompson-Draper has denied making the slur.

Harris County Commissioners Court appointed Lanier on a unanimous vote. But it came after County Judge Robert Eckels made a motion to appoint Leroy Hermes, a local architect and chair of the University of Houston board of Regents. That motion failed.

Commissioner Sylvia Garcia sponsored Lanier’s nomination to the seven-member commission.

“She brings a wealth of experience in representing our area,”Garcia said. “When she was first lady of the city for six years, she met people from all over the world.”

Well, if they need a little redecorating, I’d certainly agree that Elyse Lanier is their woman. Houstonist has the background info for you kids who don’t remember Mayorbob and Elyse. Beyond that, I got nothin’.

Point of curiosity: Is it, like, a normal thing for one of Judge Eckels’ motions to fail like that? And did it fail because no one seconded it (which would be really weird) or just because he got outvoted? Maybe I’m making something out of nothing, but that strikes me as odd.

Go local with PLAN

Via Kevin Drum, progressives now have a new resource for helping good bills get through state legislatures. It’s called the Progressive Legislative Action Network, and it was inspired by a conservative outfit called the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). You can read the story of its genesis here, or just go check out the site and its blog and see how you can get involved. I like the look of it and hope it gets some traction.

On a related note, Kos recently wrote about focusing more on local races, a thought that was expanded on here and here. Gotta win those legislative races before you can get anything done there, after all.

We’ll always have Shipley’s

As a regular eater of their product, I meant to link to this story about Shipley’s Donuts’ 70th anniversary earlier, but fortunately Lair and Houstonist were on task. Don’t really have much to add to it other than of late I’ve started noticing the familiar red-striped boxes at work again. I guess when all else fails, you return to your roots.

Sosa out, Bonds going

So it looks like Sammy Sosa will be retiring, now that he rejected the Nationals’ lowball contract offer. Sosa’s production fell off a cliff last season, so perhaps this was a propitious time for him to hang ’em up. Unfortunately for him, his public image and relationship with the press has also declined dramatically of late. Jay Jaffe takes a look and rightly concludes that Sammy is getting shafted. Check it out.

Meanwhile, Barry Bonds says this will be his last season.

“I’m not playing baseball anymore after this,” Bonds was quoted by USA Today in a story posted on its Web site Sunday. “The game (isn’t) fun anymore. … I want to play this year out, hopefully win, and once the season is over, go home and be with my family. Maybe then everybody can just forget about me.

“Records aren’t a big thing to me. It’s a great honor to pass Ruth, but it means more to baseball than it does to me.”

Looks like Bonds has changed his tune a bit regarding his place in baseball’s record books versus The Babe’s. Fine by me. I’m not a Barry-hater, but it’ll also be fine by me if he’s still in Hank Aaron’s rearview mirror when he finishes up. Somehow, that would just be right.

More endorsements and one non-endorsement

If my endorsements for the Democratic primary weren’t enough for you, there’s plenty more where that came from: See Vince, Perry, Stace, Eddie, and Greg and get your fill.

On further reflection, I want to add some recommendations for races outside of Harris County. Let’s start with a non-endorsement:

U. S. Representative, District 1 – Whatever you do, do not vote for Roger Owen. Patrick Franklin, candidate for HD07, tells you why. (More here.) I don’t expect candidates to agree with me on everything, but I do expect them to treat all of their constituents like human beings with a full slate of civil rights. If you can’t do that, stay home. And if you live in CD01, vote for Lufkin attorney Duane Shaw in the primary.

Moving on to other races of interest:

U. S. Representative, District 28 – Ciro Rodriguez

State Senate, District 19 – Carlos Uresti

State Representative, District 48 – Donna Howard. As I recall, Andy Brown dropped out of the primary after he was ruled ineligible for the special election, but I’m not aware of Kathy Rider doing the same. I don’t expect any oopsies here, but let’s not take a chance. If you’re in HD48, make sure you vote for Donna Howard.

State Representative, District 122 – Larry Stallings. This is an uncontested race, but Larry deserves special mention and support for running such a good blog. Help him run his total up so he can get some attention outside the blogosphere.

Finally, a reminder that there are many judicial races on the ballot in Harris County as well. I’ve listed those races and candidates beneath the fold, since they rarely get any attention in the press. Get to know these folks, because they need support, too.

UPDATE: Oh, and don’t forget the special election in HD106, in which Katy Hubener deserves your support. Harvey Kronberg says:

In exactly one week, we get to see if the [Donna] Howard win was a fluke or the beginning of a trend. Up in Irving, Democrat Katy Hubener takes on Republican Kirk England in another special election. This race is also in a 58 percent Republican district, but one far more blue collar than West Austin.

In contrast to Austin, early voting has been fairly light. But some Republicans in the district say Hubener has a real shot at a win.

If lightning does strike twice, all bets are off for Republicans incumbents being challenged by moderates in their primary a week later.

‘Nuff said.

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Hurricane Task Force recommendations

Governor Perry’s task force on What We Learned From Those Nasty Hurricanes Last Year has presented its recommendations.

Texas can best manage future disasters by vesting the governor with the power to order mandatory evacuations, a task force recommended Monday.

The task force was convened by Gov. Rick Perry to address the lessons learned from Hurricane Rita. Its report said a single, well-informed official could best coordinate an efficient evacuation of multiple cities, counties and regions. During Rita, some coastal residents turned back when the freeways leading from Houston were jammed with fleeing inland residents.

[…]

Houston Mayor Bill White and Harris County Judge Robert Eckels, the officials most involved in the evacuation of millions of coastal residents from Rita, appeared with Perry on Monday to endorse the plan.

“More than anything, this is a great starting point,” Eckels said.

After holding six public hearings across the state, the task force made 21 recommendations to Perry in five areas: command and control; evacuation of people with special needs; fuel availability along evacuation routes; gridlock elimination; and public awareness.

The task force recommended the state direct licensed and unlicensed special-needs facilities to create and maintain evacuation plans, and designate a state agency to ensure compliance.

[…]

The task force report also recommends the Texas Department of Transportation work with industry to create a plan to ensure fuel is available along evacuation routes. After Rita struck, White called it “totally unacceptable” that the state failed to provide fuel along the evacuation routes.

[…]

The panel also called on TxDOT to develop contraflow traffic plans for nine highways and interstates leading away from coastal areas, including I-10, I-45, U.S. 290 and U.S. 59.

Lots to digest here. I suppose the advantage of putting the Governor in charge of evacuations is that he or she can (theoretically, at least) ensure that coastal regions are given a head start on places like Houston. That was a big bone of contention for cities like Kemah, whose mayor is quoted in a mostly approving fashion later in the story. You can’t stop people from heading for the hills, but you can order some people to get moving sooner than others. That ought to help.

I think the biggest challenge in developing a contraflow traffic plan is that you have to implement it from the outer areas in. With enough manpower and the right communications equipment, you could do an awful lot of this simultaneously. We may some day have the equipment, but having the manpower will be a huge obstacle.

Guess I’m going to need to hunt down a copy of this report and see if it’s all high-level blue-sky stuff, or if they actually get into some logistics. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with what they’re saying, I’m just not sure how doable some of it is, and I’m not sure how expensive it all would be. Within reason, whatever the expenditure is would be worthwhile (and hey, what a good time to have a budget surplus, right?), but I daresay the spirit will be willing but the flesh will be weak. We’ll see what eventually gets proposed to the Lege.

Parting thought: Does Perry add any of this to the special session call, or does he wait till 2007 and hope we have a milder hurricane season this summer?

UPDATE: See Eric Berger‘s comment below for more information on the report and Governor Perry’s likely course of action.

Leininger’s lineup

As we enter the voting part of primary season, it’s good to see some coverage around the state of Republican moneybags James Leininger and his attempt to install five sycophants into the Lege. The stakes involved in his almost seven-figure campaign to oust Republican incumbents he deems unworthy are summed up in this Statesman story.

The outcome next month could speak volumes about whether Republican lawmakers can oppose major legislation backed by House leaders and conservative activists without digging their own political graves.

“If those people survive, others will be emboldened,” said Cal Jillson, a political science professor at Southern Methodist University. “If they don’t, others will be intimidated.”

I’ve blogged before about how Tom Craddicks’ Speakership is potentially at risk here, something which Houtopia also notes today. Watch these races carefully. Link via South Texas Chisme.

Meanwhile, this Star Telegram piece offers a laugh:

Hatley’s campaign director characterized as “absurd” and “absolutely false” any suggestion that the candidate would kowtow to Leininger. He said the San Antonio contributor made the donations because he appreciates Hatley’s conservative credentials.

“I don’t know about any of those other campaigns, but we’re running hard here,” Watson said.

But Watson also confirmed that a Leininger-financed PAC had made an “in-kind” contribution by donating the services of political consultant Jeff Norwood. According to campaign reports, Leininger’s PAC provided similar in-kind donations of Norwood’s services to candidates Christian, Macias, Williams and Wilson.

Contacted in East Texas, Christian acknowledged that the Leininger-backed PAC is almost completely funding his campaign. He also said Norwood’s consulting company has provided polling, consulting, and other services.

But like Hatley, the East Texas politician says Leininger has no control over his politics. If these are cookie-cutter campaigns, said Christian, “then I’m running the entire cookie cutter.”

Of course you are, dear. And there is no Matrix, either. Link via ItPT.

My endorsements for the Dem primary

I think most of these are easily knowable by my regular blogging, but just for the record, here are my endorsements for Democratic primary elections in Harris County. Only contested races are included here.

Senator – Barbara Radnofsky

Governor – Chris Bell

Lt. Governor – Ben Grant

Agriculture Commissioner – Hank Gilbert

U. S. Representative, District 7 – No preference, as I think both candidates are worthy of support. Read my interview with Jim Henley and with David Murff and make your decision:

Henley interview
Murff interview

I’ve asked both candidates for a statement to be printed here, as a final pitch for your vote. When I get them, I’ll post them.

U. S. Representative, District 10 – Ted Ankrum

State Representative, District 140 – No recommendation. I honestly don’t know enough about challenger John Reyes to evaluate him against Rep. Kevin Bailey. I don’t much care for campaigns based on demographics, but I’ve no reason to doubt that Reyes is qualified. If anyone from either campaign wants to send me a statement about why they deserve voters’ support, I’ll be happy to print it.

State Representative, District 146 – Borris Miles

State Representative, District 147 – Rep. Garnet Coleman

Early voting starts today, and the primary itself is in two weeks. Whoever you support, get out there and vote!

Why bother?

I’ve complained many a time about the Chron’s piss-poor coverage of local races. Seeing the half-assed, apathetic stories they have today on the Senate and Congressional primaries does nothing to change my opinion of their efforts. Look at how little useful information there is in these stories. Do you know anything more about any of these candidates than you did before? If this is going to be the only freaking story you write during the entire freaking campaign, why can’t you at least ask the candidates some questions and then print their full answers? You know, do some actual interviews. You can even ask the incumbents to join in answering them, where appropriate. Who knows, we might learn something. If there’s not enough room in your news hole for the full interview, then give a teaser in print and put the rest of it on your website. Why is this so hard?

And while I’m in rant mode here, do we not understand the distinction between a candidate who is actually campaigning for an office, and a candidate who has done and will do nothing but pay his filing fee? Again I ask, what purpose is being served?

For all of the good work the Chron has done with blogs, their lack of any bloglike coverage of campaigns (something which both the Statesman and the Express News have done with decent success) is never more glaring an oversight than when lousy stories like these hit the pages. Even if today’s efforts weren’t journalistic Cheetoes, just doing that kind of one-time, thousand-foot-view of a campaign is an anachronism. Political junkies want more and can find it elsewhere, while the more casual voter who still wants to feel informed comes away unsatisfied. You know what to do and you know how to do it, so why aren’t you? Who in your audience still wants to see this sort of thing?

And finally, with early voting for primaries set to begin tomorrow, where are the endorsements? The Express News became the fourth of the five major dailies to make an endorsement in the Governor’s race (they also threw in a nod for Carlos Uresti for good measure), leaving you-know-who as the lone holdout. I recognize that there’s not much time between the filing deadline and today, which makes it a tall task to screen everyone and write the endorsement pieces, and that this rush can lead to some due diligence failures, but that’s a risk I can live with. It’s sure better than disinterest.

RIP, Curt Gowdy

Another great baseball broadcaster has called his last game.

Curt Gowdy, whose distinctive baritone was the TV voice of the Red Sox for 15 years, died at his Florida home after a long battle with leukemia. He was 86.

Gowdy announced Red Sox games from 1951-1966 before leaving to become a national sports broadcaster for NBC.

According to the Baseball Hall of Fame website, Gowdy made his broadcasting debut in 1944 atop an orange crate in Cheyenne, Wyoming, doing the play-by-play of a six-man football game between Pine Bluff and St. Mary’s before 15 fans in sub-zero weather.

His enthusiasm and distinctive style during his subsequent broadcasts of minor league baseball and major league recreations over KOMA in Oklahoma City earned him an opportunity with the New York Yankees and Mel Allen in 1949, the site says.

Two years later, Gowdy became head man on the Boston Red Sox broadcast team. He left the Red Sox in 1966 for a 10-year stint as Game of the Week announcer for NBC.

[…]

In 1984, Gowdy won the Ford C. Frick Award, presented annually by the Baseball Hall of Fame to a broadcaster for major contributions to baseball. Each award recipient is recognized in the “Scribes & Mikemen” exhibit in the library of the Hall.

Gowdy’s distinctive style made him popular across Red Sox Nation and around the country. He once recalled: “I tried to pretend that I was sitting in the stands with a buddy watching the game — poking him in the ribs when something exciting happened. I never took myself too seriously. An announcer is only as good as yesterday’s performance.”

I remember Gowdy, along with Joe Garagiola, for narrating all the World Series and All Star Game highlight films I saw multiple times in baseball camp as a kid. He had a great voice and a style that was both serious of the subject matter but not full of himself. We could use more of that from the booths these days. Rest in peace, Curt Gowdy. Thanks to David Pinto for the heads-up.

Interview with Garnet Coleman

State Rep. Garnet Coleman is the one member of the House Democratic leadership to face a reelection battle this year, as two challengers entered the Democratic primary for HD147 at the last minute. Coleman is one of the true good guys that the Dems have in the Lege, and as excited as everyone is about the Rodriguez-Cuellar, Uresti-Madla, and Miles-Bennett-Edwards races, let’s not overlook this one. I had the opportunity to ask Rep. Coleman a few questions recently, and I present his answers here.

1. What do you think was your best accomplishment from the regular and special sessions last year?

Our best accomplishment was the adoption of the Hochberg Amendment over the objections of the Republican leadership. In addition to providing a real teacher pay raise, the Hochberg Amendment would have put more resources into our schools and provided more tax relief for the vast majority of Texas homeowners than the Republican plan. Unfortunately, the leadership shut down the session after a bi-partisan majority of legislators voted for the Hochberg Amendment. On a personal level, I was proud to pass the Bob Meadours Act–legislation requiring law enforcement officials to undergo crisis intervention training for dealing with persons with mental illnesses.

2. What do you think of the work the Texas Tax Reform Commission (TTRC) has done? What of their proposals do you want to see enacted?

I am certainly hopeful that the TTRC will recommend a fair tax system that will reduce our over-reliance on property taxes, satisfy the Court’s ruling, and increase the state’s investment in our public schools. I am very concerned, however, that the individuals appointed to the commission are not representative of Texans and that they will likely recommend a tax swap in which a regressive tax, such as the sales tax, is increased purely to pay for a property tax decrease. This is similar to the Republican plans we have seen in the past that would have raised taxes on almost 90 percent of Texans and done nothing to improve public education. I will not support such a plan regardless of whether John Sharp or anyone else, Democrat or Republican, recommends it. My constituents don’t care who recommends a policy; they care how that policy affects their lives. What matters to them is that the state increase its investment in our neighborhood schools and that we pass a tax system that requires everyone to pay their fair share rather than simply shifting the burden onto those who can least afford to bear it. Ultimately, it is the Legislature’s job to find a school finance solution that ensures a bright future for our state regardless of what the TTRC recommends.

3. Governor Perry wants the upcoming special session to be only about property tax reform, and to postpone action on school finance reform until 2007 (see here). Lt. Gov. Dewhurst disagrees (see here). Which is your preference and why?

I disagree with Governor Perry as well. The upcoming special session should deal not only with reducing property taxes but also with improving our public schools. School children should come first and our teachers should come first. If we pass tax reform aimed only at generating sufficient revenue to reduce property taxes then our schools will continue to drift towards inadequacy. If we wait until the next regular session to pass school improvements, then those polices won’t go into effect until September 2007. Improving our children’s schools should be on the agenda now.

4. The Democrats were able to derail the Perry/Craddick school finance reforms last year by getting the “Hochberg Amendment” passed as an alternative (see here). Will something similar be proposed this time around? How likely do you think it will be to pass if so?

We will have a plan that mirrors the Hochberg Plan to the extent possible under the Governor’s call.

5. Among the reforms that the Republicans want to pass are a uniform school start date, holding school board elections at the same time as regular legislative elections, and merit pay for teachers. How do you assess these proposals?

I am against merit pay unless we first bring teacher pay, across-the-board, to the national average. We should consult with teachers and parents before passing a mandated uniform school start date because it has implications beyond economic considerations. I oppose holding school board elections at the same time as legislative elections as such a move would inject partisanship into the process. Why fix what isn’t broken.

6. One of your primary opponents, in reference to your opposition to HJR6, the anti-gay marriage amendment, said that “Mr. Coleman is bought by the constituents of the gays” (see here). Do you believe that your support for gay rights will hurt you in March?

I hope not. But my pledge is to continue to support equal rights for all Texans and that includes GLBT Texans. As a matter of principle, bigotry and hate should be stamped out everywhere. The Republicans have used attacks against gays and other groups—the latest example is immigrants— as political wedges to advance their cause. That’s wrong.

7. HJR6, the Texas Enterprise Fund, HB 3588 (creating the Trans Texas Corridor), HB2292 (the massive health and human services bill from 2003 that among other things cut CHIP funding), HJR3 (the tort reform constitutional amendment from 2003) – All of these bills were passed with at least some “Yes” votes by Democratic legislators. How does this happen? What if anything can or should be done about it?

First, we must make sure that members on the floor are aware of what’s in a bill. After the true details of the Trans Texas Corridor bill became evident, I filed legislation and amendments to repeal portions of it. Some bills, such as HB 2292, are so obviously harmful to Texans that no legislator should vote for them. Democratic members ought to be about our principles and voting our districts. We had greater success this past session in maintaining a unified front against harmful legislation such as the Republican leadership’s school finance plan. The 2004 defeat of several Democrats who decided to represent Speaker Craddick’s agenda rather than their own constituents probably had something to do with that.

8. Comptroller Strayhorn has just announced that the state has a budget surplus of $4.3 billion. Some of that is money set aside for education, but most of it isn’t. What should be done with this surplus?

I believe that the state should restore the cuts to the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), mental health services, and other health and human services programs that were enacted in 2003. I have filed numerous bills and amendments to restore those cuts, which have, among other things, resulted in over 180,000 kids losing CHIP coverage.

9. When you look ahead to the 80th Legislature in 2007, what do you see?

Either the Republicans will continue on their march against the interest of most Texans, or we will derail the current leadership. Our job is to shine a light on the hypocrisy, raise the contradictions, and represent Texans who get up and go to work everyday. If we continue to see the leadership push legislation that is harmful to most Texans, then we will continue to forward a vigorous and vigilant opposition on the merits.

If you want to help out Rep. Coleman, you can do so here.

Cookbook, please

First-time candidate for public office Larry Stallings has a request:

Now is the time for some of those bright Trinity kids to actually write a cookbook on how to get elected in Texas – yes, a cookbook, a “take an egg and break it, putting the contents in a bowl and throwing away the hard white shell” kind of cookbook. A cookbook with descriptions of offices, requirements for running for them, how many petitions signatures are needed to get on the ballot without paying a filing fee, demographic information, filing requirements, how to decide on a strategy for winning and how to make tactical decisions, the qualities of a good campaign staff, how long it takes to leaflet x number of houses – just really simple stuff like that.

Pieces of this certainly exist in various locations, online and off, but I’d bet there’s no one source for all of it and anything useful and related to it. This sounds like a pretty good idea to me. Anyone want to comment on this?

RFP for Houston WiFi network

Via Dwight, the city of Houston has posted an RFP (which you can get in either Word or PDF format, and on which you can post a comment here) for a citywide WiFi network. It’ll be a public/private partnership like what’s going on in Philadelphia. Read more about it at Dwight‘s place and at Save Muni WiFi.

Creating ringtones for fun and profit

Speaking as one of those annoying people who uses the default sound on his cellphone, I’m slightly boggled to read that composing ringtones is big business. And now, anyone can do it!

Ring tones are already big business, accounting for $4 billion in revenue worldwide, and jumping from $277 million in 2004 to $600 million in revenues in the United States, according to Jupiter Research. That consumers will spend $2.50 for a song clip to use as their ring tone when a full recording costs less than $1 to download has not been lost on the struggling music industry. Meanwhile, start-up companies have emerged selling software that lets users turn chunks of their favorite CDs into rings.

Harmony Line is different. Founded in 2004 by MIT composer Tod Machover, whose work has been performed by the Los Angeles Philharmonic and Boston Pops, the company aims to market its Hyperscore software, a program designed to allow nonschooled musicians to compose fully conceived pieces with relative ease.

Harmony Line decided recently to offer a simplified version of the program for free to entice people to buy the complete software, which retails for $30. With the move, Harmony Line joins a small but growing group of companies that are trying to offer an alternative to the prerecorded samples sold as cell-phone downloads that rule the Billboard ring tone charts.

The Billboard ringtone charts. Some days, I know for sure that I really am an old fart.

Anyway, I blogged this because one piece of family gossip I picked up when everyone was in town for Uncle Ken’s funeral was that my cousin Aaron is composing ringtones for a company in Asia, where he’s now living. I’m just glad to know that you actually can make a living at it.

Non-Rasmussen poll numbers for TX-Gov

And for my birthday present, we got some poll numbers from the DMN. (All results are summarized here.) I’ll start with the highlights:

If the November general election for governor were being held today and Chris Bell were the Democratic nominee, for whom would you vote?
Rick Perry: 36%
Chris Bell: 19%
Carole Keeton Strayhorn: 16%
Kinky Friedman: 10%

If the election were today, and Bob Gammage were the Democratic nominee, for whom would you vote?
Rick Perry: 36%
Bob Gammage: 17%
Carole Keeton Strayhorn: 17%
Kinky Friedman: 10%

ASKED OF KINKY FRIEDMAN VOTERS

If the election were today, and the candidates were Rick Perry, Chris Bell and Carole Keeton Strayhorn, for whom would you vote?
Carole Keeton Strayhorn: 34%
Chris Bell: 25%
Rick Perry: 18%
Would not vote: 12%

If the election were today, and the candidates were Rick Perry, Bob Gammage and Carole Keeton Strayhorn, for whom would you vote?
Carole Keeton Strayhorn: 36%
Bob Gammage: 20%
Rick Perry: 18%
Would not vote: 14%

Perry checks in with a 47/38 approve/disapprove rate, which is more or less in line with his most recent SurveyUSA tally, and an improvement from previous negative results. This is probably my favorite bit:

What do you think has been Mr. Perry’s most important accomplishment as governor (no choices provided)?
None: 20%
Hurricane Katrina/disaster relief: 8%
Other: 8%
Education reform/improvement: 7%
Taxes/tax reform/ reduced spending: 2%
Jobs/economic development: 2%
Highway construction: 1%
Border control: 1%

That about sums up Rick Perry. If given a choice, “Katrina relief” goes up to 28%, but “None” is still 21%.

From the article:

“Perry is doing well because the opposition is split three ways,” pollster Mickey Blum said. “If that weren’t the case, he wouldn’t be looking so good. Getting 36 percent as the incumbent Republican in a Republican state – that’s not so great.”

I’m glad someone finally said that. Regardless of the other candidates’ totals, both the WSJ/Zogby Online and Rasmussen polls have put Perry consistently below 50%, ranging as low as 40%. This is a new trough, and is about as low as I think it’s possible for him to go.

[T]he poll highlights several potential warning signs for the governor, Ms. Blum said, as he tries to win a second four-year term and become the longest-serving governor in Texas history.

He is attracting only 59 percent of his 2002 general election voters, a sign that some former supporters “are not happy with [him] and are looking for someone else,” she said.

Mr. Perry’s backing is solid among GOP loyalists but soft among other groups – including nominal Republicans, independents and minority voters who have spread their support among the rest of the field. Ms. Blum said Mr. Perry could be vulnerable if voters were to coalesce behind a single challenger.

“One of them has to break out, and people have to decide that if they don’t want Perry, they have to agree on one of the other guys,” Ms. Blum said.

Which is probably why Strayhorn and Bell/Gammage will likely have to turn on each other at some point. The not-Perry pie is big enough to win, but only if one person’s slice is much bigger than the others’.

I’m actually a little surprised that Strayhorn’s numbers are as poor as they are here. I’ve said before that the Rasmussen results feel wrong to me, and I’m not sure I’m confident in this one, either. What I do note is that Rasmussen has less than 10% of its respondents undecided, while this poll has about 20%. I’d say that’s more likely to be realistic.

The poll of Friedman supporters, something which was way overdue, seems to be a bit of a Rohrschach test, as Greg and Karl-T come to opposite conclusions about the Kinkster’s presence on the ballot. I lean more towards Greg here, and I think we have One Tough Grandma to thank for that. Whoever said back in January that she’d suck the oxygen out of Friedman’s campaign was dead on. Other than the “60 Minutes” story, which was done before OTG jumped in, he’s been much less visible in the media lately. Now if only we could get a similar question asked of Strayhorn supporters.

Elsewhere, Bell picked up endorsements from the Statesman and from Houston State senators Rodney Ellis and John Whitmire. Gammage claimed the nod of the El Paso Times and State Rep. Senfronia Thompson. And what do you know, the still-endorsementless Chron wrote an actual story on the Dem primary. Maybe they will get around to writing about the other races before early voting closes.

UPDATE: SurveyUSA has Perry at 47 approve/45 disapprove in February, which is back in line with November and December after an uncharacteristically positive January for him. Link via Political Wire.

The big four-oh

Today is my 40th birthday. We had a little party to celebrate last night, and I think everyone had a good time. Before anyone asks, the answer is I feel great about hitting this milestone. If my 40s are to my 30s as my 30s were to my 20s, I’m in for a great decade.

Of course, the truly momentous thing about this is that it means that Cindy Crawford will be turning 40 tomorrow. I’m in good company.

Alvarado says her signature was forged

I don’t have much to say about this story, in which Mayor Pro Tem Carol Alvarado says “that’s not my handwriting!” on forms authorizing those unauthorized bonuses. It’s still too early to say whether anyone other than those currently accused may be dirty, or if anyone should have been more proactive to prevent this. A handwriting analyst quoted by the Chron says we don’t even have enough of a sample to compare to Alvarado’s real sig – the forms just had initials on them.

Let’s just investigate the hell out of this and get it over with. The city has bigger issues to deal with.

Light posting this weekend

I’ve got family and friends in town this weekend for my birthday, so I’ll be spending a lot of time away from the computer. I’ll post some stuff, just not so much. I’d suggest we all go outside and enjoy the nice weather, but Mother Nature didn’t cooperate. Alas. Go wish Julia a happy fourth blogiversary, and enjoy the weekend in spite of the temperatures.

How much is that candidate in the window?

I’ve blogged before about uber voucher proponent James Leininger and his financing of likeminded candidates for the Lege, but I hadn’t realized until I read this Harvey Kronberg piece just how much control he exerts over them and their campaigns.

Apparently, Leininger doesn’t trust these candidates to run their own campaigns. Very little of his money is actually going to the candidates. Instead, it’s Leininger’s PAC that is directly paying the consultants and pollsters. His PAC is bypassing the campaigns and directly buying the television and radio time, as well as paying the people doing the mail and producing the commercials. In fact, it’s fair to say these five campaigns are run by the PAC and its consultants, with the actual candidates reduced to little more than figurehead or employee status.

So it’s not surprising that the voters in Nacogdoches are seeing the exact same cookie-cutter advertising as are the folks in say, Fort Worth, Lubbock or New Braunfels.

When one man all but single handedly organizes, plans and funds five campaigns, local voters might reasonably question whether Leininger’s candidates will represent them rather than the wealthy physician from San Antonio.

Beyond the sheer creepiness of this, it’s just wrong on more levels than I can count that Leininger could be in a position to weild such an outsized amount of influence over the Lege. James Leininger is accountable to no one, and he may have as many as five legislators who owe their seats entirely to him and his money. I can’t think of a better argument for campaign contribution limits. Real ones, ones that take PACs and varations on them into account.

Link via Eye on Williamson, who analogizes Leininger to Clear Channel and its centralization of control over its radio stations.

On the plus side, this does seem to be getting some notice. The Lufkin Daily News has a good editorial on the subject, and one of Leininger’s targets is fighting back with an ad that you can hear at PinkDome. I sincerely hope that as of March 8, Leininger will have nothing to show for this effort but a lighter checkbook.

Add it up

It’s bad enough that people like Richard Cohen can proudly write about their own ignorance and have it pass as commentary. What’s worse is that I don’t think it’s ever occurred to Cohen how competence in mathematics could make him a better political analyst, or his colleagues at the Post and other media outlets better reporters. You can browse my archives for various instances where I’ve tried to correct some misperception, like how much more Democratic CD22 is, or how much the state gas tax would really have to be to fund highway needs, but the bottom line is that these misperceptions wouldn’t exist if the person who wrote the original stories knew how to evaluate the claims in question. None of this is hard – the stuff I do for electoral analysis involves imprting publicly available data into Access, running a basic query, and exporting the results into Excel for comparison and summarization. (Yeah, I could probably do it all in Access, but I’m more confident of my Excel fu than I am of my SQL fu. Sue me.)

Not being able or willing to do the math isn’t just a personal failing. For reporters and pundits, I say it’s a professional failing. Richard Cohen should be ashamed of himself.

More on the topic, from Kevin Drum, Atrios, Pharyngula, and Big Media Matt. And just so there’s no question in anyone’s mind, Olivia will be taught from an early age that she can do math as well as anybody else.

I don’t even know how to title this one

The headline pretty much says it all: Candidate worked as prostitute.

[Tom Malin, a Dallas Democrat who is seeking election to the Texas House] acknowledged Thursday that he once worked as a prostitute.

“I’ve made mistakes in my life, and I’ve stood before my Creator and I’ve accepted responsibility for my behavior,” Mr. Malin said. “I’ve also accepted his grace and his redemption and his love and his forgiveness, and that’s what’s important.”

Web pages that have been used to advertise the sexual services of “Todd Sharpe” say he previously worked in the New York City and Los Angeles areas. His rates ranged from $200 to $600, according to graphically detailed reviews from men whom the pages described as satisfied customers.

Mr. Malin said he no longer works as a prostitute.

“I knew that if I continued on with that, I would die,” Mr. Malin said. “God spoke to me, and I knew I had to make a different choice in life.”

[…]

Mr. Malin is running for House District 108, which covers much of central Dallas and the Park Cities.

On Thursday, he received a key endorsement from the Dallas Tejano Democrats, a Hispanic political group.

“We were not aware of this, and he never mentioned it to us during the screening,” said Domingo Garcia, chairman of the local Tejano Democrats. “Obviously we will have to reconsider our decision based on the new information.”

The Dallas Morning News editorial board also recommended Mr. Malin, but in light of this new information, said it was reconsidering that recommendation.

His opponent in next month’s Democratic primary is retired salesman Jack Borden, who said he was disappointed to learn of the revelation.

“I’m wondering who put him up to run in the first place,” Mr. Borden said. “I don’t approve of anybody selling their body.”

Mr. Malin said the decision to run was his own.

The winner will face incumbent Republican Dan Branch in November. Mr. Branch had no comment on Mr. Malin’s past, saying he looked forward to standing before voters in the general election.

Former Dallas County Democratic chairwoman Susan Hays, a Malin supporter, said the candidate told her about his past in the buffet line of a local restaurant.

“He kind of amazed me,” she said. “He’s been a mess, but righted himself. He’s got more honesty and energy than his Democratic opponent and Dan Branch.”

[…]

Mr. Malin said he would continue to campaign for the state House.

“People don’t care where you have been,” he said. “They just want to know where you are going. All I know is that the ultimate authority is God. That’s what’s most important.”

There are, I suppose, two ways to approach a story like this. One is to give in to the natural snark instinct (“Hey, Jeff Gannon! Finally, there’s someone you’re qualified to interview!”), and the other is to note that one of the great things about America is that it’s a land of redemption and second chances. I believe the expression in the evangelical community is “the greater the sin, the more glorious the salvation”. If the primary voters choose to look at where Mr. Malin is going as opposed to where he’s been and pick him to be the nominee for HD108, I’ll be fine with that.

Keven Ann Willey of the DMN editorial board explains in their blog why the paper will in fact rescind its endorsement of Malin. Whether or not you agree with her conclusion, I at least see nothing objectionable about the board’s reasoning. Check it out.

Richmond rail meeting at METRO

The METRO meeting to discuss the Universities rail line was very well attended.

Some 350 people arrived in cars, buses and light rail trains Thursday to hear 28 of them advise the Metro board on whether its planned University line should go on Richmond Avenue.

The unofficial score was eight opposed to rail on Richmond, four in favor and 16 wanting the Metropolitan Transit Authority to consider all its options, talk with a lot of people and make a wise decision.

Whatever the board decides late this year, it should “keep the city’s long-term best interests in mind” and “build something our children and grandchildren can be proud of,” said blogger Tory Gattis.

Gattis also said that if Richmond is the choice instead of Westpark — the designated route in a 2002 referendum on Metro’s transit plans that was narrowly approved by voters — the board should appoint “somebody with real power” to advocate for business and residents during construction, and ride herd on contractors to minimize harm.

Metro should also “consider a well-funded ‘Support Richmond Business’ campaign,” Gattis said.

As previously noted, Gattis summarized his remarks here. Robin Holzer has some more in depth coverage here. Christof was one of the sixteen who spoke in favor of letting the process work. There’s some discussion of the meeting in this Houston Architecture Forum thread as well. I’m encouraged that as many people as did spoke in favor of looking at all available options and making a sound decision based on that rather than on emotion and political expediency.

Henry Cuellar, serial Bush hugger

It wasn’t just the 2006 State of the Union address where Henry Cuellar gave President Bush some sugar. The Lone Star Project has the video evidence.

Of much greater concern than that is Cuellar’s support of the Minutemen. Let me just say: eww.

You can hear Ciro Rodriguez‘s interview on Agonist Radio here. He’s up to $127K on ActBlue now, by the way.

Speaking of video evidence, what happens when a Star Wars fan with too much time on his hands dinks with Frank Madla’s Democrats in my trunk clip? You get this. Whoever said politics had to be stuffy?

Slightly more seriously, Carlos Uresti filmed a campaign ad hammering Madla for his vote on HB2292 from 2003. We know that bill helped bring Arlene Wohlgemuth down in her bid to unseat Rep. Chet Edwards in 2004. Will it strike again this year? Here’s a nice overview of the race so far.

Endorsements! Barbara Radnofsky picks up the nod from the DMN to go with the earlier recommendation of the Star Telegram. This was an obvious choice for the Democratic primary, of course, but both papers still went out of their way to say good things about her.

Latinos for Texas make their picks as well. Read the comments for some good discussion on the decision they made in the Governor’s race.

Finally, on the other side of the aisle, there’s some rumblings in Williamson County, where State Rep. Mike Krusee, a top target of anti-toll road forces, has apparently commissioned a push poll. Eye on Williamson has the details.

Why Howard won

I like Philip Martin‘s postgame wrapup on the HD48 special election. Much of what he mentions is, I think, replicable in other races. And yes, Ben Bentzin’s ties to the DeLay machine certainly did him no favors. Dems will need to take advantage of that where they can.

Jason Embry and Gardner Selby offer their views as well. One should never draw too broad a conclusion from a special election like this – if nothing else, the only-game-in-town factor skews the dynamics of such a campaign – but there are definitely things to learn from them.

Just a thought: Compare the education, income and housing, and population overviews of HD48 to the same three things in HD134. They’re pretty similar. Probably doesn’t mean anything, but it’s interesting to note.

Turn that camera off

I’m a little late to the party here (life is like that sometimes), but let me add my voice to those who are criticizing this bad idea from Houston Police Chief Harold Hurtt.

Surveillance cameras monitored by police could be installed along Main Street in an effort to deter crime in the downtown area, Houston Police Chief Harold Hurtt said today.

He said the project is still in the planning stages, but he hopes to have a least five cameras up this year.

”I know a lot of people are concerned about big brother, but my response to that is if you aren’t doing anything wrong why worry about it,” he said.

Yeah, Ed Meese said more or less the same thing when he was running amok in the Justice Department in the 80s. The notion hasn’t improved any with age.

Hurtt said the department needs a mix of more officers and technology to fight crime.

”I don’t think anyone in this room believes we can afford to hire enough officers to put one on every corner, but we can have cameras to relay activity to the authorities,” he said.

Hurtt said installing cameras would be less expensive than hiring officers. He said the Downtown Management District has recommended the idea and would be willing to fund the project should it be approved by the district’s board.

”Once you buy the equipment and you put it in place and you have a maintenance contract in place, I would think it would be less expensive then paying officers to stand on those corners,” he said.

You know, I blame CSI and 24 for this belief that surveillance cameras are a panacea for crimefighting. If only it all worked like it does on teevee. Without an investment in some expensive technology, and in the skilled people who can operate it, what you get is basically a bunch of clerks – or worse, cops who might otherwise be doing real work – watching endless hours of videotape. Doesn’t sound like such a good deal to me.

If there were solid evidence that surveillance cameras actually did reduce crime, I’d be happy to engage in a discussion about whether or not the tradeoff of security for liberty was worth it. But as Scott points out, all the evidence from London, home of CCTV cameras on every street, is that it has no effect. Why would we want to emulate that?

”I think people are upset when people are robbed and killed on the streets of Houston and there is a lot of controversy about that,” he said. ”We are trying to respond to that. I don’t see a lot of people standing up and saying tax me for public safety.”

Actually, I think if there’s one thing most people would be willing to pay a few bucks more in taxes for, it’s better public safety. Why are we so afraid to even ask?

Investigation at the Mayor Pro Tem’s office

Nothing like allegations of unauthorized bonuses paid to City Hall staffers to shake things up downtown.

Four employees in Houston City Councilwoman Carol Alvarado’s mayor pro tem office were placed on administrative leave today after city officials said “payroll irregularities” were discovered.

The pro tem office, separate from Alvarado’s district office, handles administrative functions for the 14 council members. The office was empty this afternoon.

Houston Mayor Bill White’s spokesman, Frank Michel, said an internal investigation has been launched to look into the “payroll irregularities,” which were discovered by the city’s finance officials in recent days.

Mayor Bill White said the allegation under investigation is that four employees in the office somehow received unauthorized bonuses totaling $130,000. Investigators are trying to determine how that would have been arranged, and whether it would require cooperation by employees in other city departments.

“It’s a betrayal of the public trust,” White said. “We will follow it through to the full extent of the law.”

Alvarado confirmed the investigation this afternoon, but did not provide details.

“I am deeply disappointed to learn of these alleged irregularities. I support the investigation and fully intend to cooperate. I want to get to the bottom of this matter as quickly as possible.”

Here’s her full statement. Her City Council staff, which is separate from the Mayor Pro Tem office, is not involved.

This updated story has more from Councilmember Alvarado.

Houston City Councilwoman Carol Alvarado deflected responsibility today for the improper bonuses city officials say some of her employees received, saying she trusted subordinates to oversee payroll administration.

“There is no way that an elected official can police every single iota, every single detail, that goes on in their office,” she said this morning. “My job is to delegate, to hire people, to trust people that will bring forward any types of irregularities.”

The four employees, who work in the mayor pro tem office that Alvarado oversees, have been placed on administrative leave pending a police investigation into how they received more than $130,000 in extra pay since late 2004.

“Something slipped through the cracks,” said Alvarado, whose district office employees have not been implicated in the investigation of the separate mayor pro tem operation.

[…]

Asked whether someone might have forged her signature, or she might accidentally have signed off on the payments, Alvarado said, “There is something that doesn’t smell right here. There’s no way in hell I would ever authorize an increase of that magnitude.”

Ask whether she felt responsible, she replied, “My responsibility, once something is brought to my attention, is to correct it, to make sure procedures are put in place, to make sure that something like this never happens again.”

One never looks good in a story that says one has “deflected responsibility” for something bad. This has been a rough couple of months for Carol Alvarado. She’s in her last term of office, and this is not the sort of way that one wants to make an exit. She may be right about her delegations, and it may well be that she hasn’t done anything different than any other Mayor Pro Tem did, but the “I didn’t know” defense is never flattering. I like Carol Alvarado and I hope she survives this, but she’s going to take some lumps for it.

As noted by Houstonist, the Chron did not print any names, as the people involved have not yet been charged with a crime, but KHOU did. There’s also some more quotes from previous Council members Mark Goldberg and previous Mayor Pro Tem Gordon Quan.

UPDATE: One of the employees involved speaks to KPRC. Houstonist thinks there’s more bad news to come for Carol Alvarado.

UPDATE: The ubiquitous Bob Stein chimes in. Link via South Texas Chisme.

TypeKey authentication working now

Thanks to some excellent support from Movable Type, I believe I’ve gotten TypeKey authentication working. That means that as of now, if you sign in with a TypeKey ID, your comment will appear right away, with no wait for approval. If not, your comment will appear after I approve it as before. No one has to use TypeKey, but if you do you’ll see your comments faster. Let me know if you run into any problems. Thanks!