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March 18th, 2006:

Blood drive for Debutant today

Remember Debutant, the local blogger whose sister was a college classmate of mine and who recently had a stem cell transplant to treat Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia that is Philadelphia Chromosome positive? There’s a blood drive being held for her today:

TODAY!!!!!!

Saturday, MARCH 18th from 9am to 5pm-

St. Maximilian Catholic Church
(on West Rd./Wheatland, west or outside of Beltway 8) –

is holding a Blood Drive in Debby’s name.

Please donate.

*Even if you can’t donate, maybe you can find someone who can.

I just gave at a blood drive at my office last week, so unfortunately I can’t donate today. Maybe by posting this I can find some one else who can. St. Maximilian Kolbe Church is located at 10135 West Rd., Houston, TX 77064-5361, phone number (281) 955-7324. There’s a map at that link – its between Beltway 8 and Jones Road north of 290 – and the church website is here. Please go and give if you can.

The newest rapid transit corridor

Christof points out that the impending completion of the HOV lane on the Southwest Freeway into downtown will be like a new rapid transit corridor, since it will make the Park and Ride/Express Bus system much more viable for people who live out that way.

Naturally, he also ties this in to the raging Richmond rail debate:

I’ve heard the suggestion made that METRO should simply run light rail on the HOV lane to avoid disrupting neighborhoods. That would be easier than rebuilding Richmond. But it’s wrongheaded on every other count. Suburban commuters – the ones using the HOV lane now – would have a longer trip if they had to transfer to rail. And the inner neighborhoods wouldn’t be served at all.

If you want to build a suburban commuter service, you want park-and-ride lots, high speeds, and few stops. That’s what we’ll have in a few months. If you want to serve the city, you want stations in walkable neighborhoods with good pedestrian access, spaced closer to serve more people. That’s the next task.

Your next opportunity to participate in said debate is Monday, March 20:

Southampton’s Anne Clutterbuck of District C will be one of three Houston councilwomen presiding over a town hall meeting Monday concerning potential routes for the second leg of the Metropolitan Transit Association’s light rail.

She will be joined by Councilwomen Pam Holm of District G and Ada Edwards of District D.

The gathering, scheduled for 7 p.m. in the sanctuary of St. Luke’s Church, 3471 Westheimer Road, will lay groundwork for smaller, community-based meetings. U.S. Rep. John Culberson, Houston Mayor Bill White and Metro President Frank Wilson are expected to attend.

A meeting of Metro’s directors Feb. 16 concerning the rail line drew about 350 people, some of whom watched the proceedings from a break room on closed-circuit television after the board room filled to capacity.

Metro has set April to begin route evaluation, development of an environmental impact statement and preliminary engineering work. Preliminary findings are expected in October with construction projected to begin in August 2008.

Metro has plans to improve communications about this project.

Metro’s board heard a staff report Thursday on the agency’s new “Communication, Education and Awareness Plan,” days before a crucial public meeting on a proposed University light rail line.

Metro chairman David Wolff asked other board members to attend the Monday meeting. “I think we have to be visible,” he said. “We have to be out there, we have to be consistent … open … factual.”

President and CEO Frank Wilson added, “We need to do status reports and updates, so people will know where we are.” He said there is “extreme interest from the community” about Metro’s plans – particularly for the University line – along with “a lot of misinformation and a lot of fear.”

[…]

Karen Marshall, Metro director of community outreach and government affairs, said the increased public information efforts include ads in news media and an enhanced Web site.

The site enables residents to submit questions and receive answers, read an online version of Metro Connections, the agency’s newsletter, and sign up for “e-mail blasts” of news about Metro Solutions, its long-term transit plan.

Finally, a bit of good news for Richmond advocates: The city of West University Place gets it.

Opponents of a Metro light rail line being considered for Richmond Avenue found no allies in their fight to reroute the line to Westpark Drive at West University Place’s City Council meeting Monday.

State Rep. Martha Wong, R-District 134, and a small contingent of business owners and stakeholders trying to stop Metro from placing its University Line project along Richmond Avenue appeared before the council to gauge the city’s interest in joining them in their effort to route the line on Westpark.

But council members said running the new line along Richmond would prove more beneficial to West U., as well as to people who would use the line to get to the Galleria and Greenway Plaza, the two major employment centers along its route.

[…]

Wong said the initial referendum called for the Westpark line to serve both Bellaire and West University Place, but Councilman Mike Woods said having the line run along Richmond makes more sense for the city.

“I don’t think it’s as appropriate for accessing major employment centers as it is on Richmond, which is what makes light rail successful,” Woods said. “There are some very good reasons for it going down Richmond. Greenway Plaza and the Galleria are better served than they would be on Westpark.”

Said councilman Dick Yehle, “My definition of a successful line is one that goes where I need to go. The line needs to go to places that people would otherwise drive to and for this line, that’s the Galleria and Greenway Plaza.”

Yes, I believe I’ve heard those arguments before. It’s heartening to see that the words of the transportation wonks are taking hold.

And if you’re a dog owner, here’s another reason to favor Richmond over Westpark:

[Yehle] added that a dog park built last year on Westpark to serve West U. residents would likely be lost to construction.

“If you go on Westpark, we have a very successful dog park that solved a big issue in this city, and that would probably have to go away,” he said.

‘Nuff said. Link via blogHOUSTON.

DA seizes computers from Alvarado’s district office

The search for evidence in the investigation of improper bonuses to Mayor Pro Tem staff continues.

The key issue of whether city employees implicated in a payroll-padding scandal had approval from Councilwoman and former Mayor Pro Tem Carol Alvarado led prosecutors back to City Hall on Friday.

Armed with grand jury subpoenas, investigators from the Harris County District Attorney’s office and the Houston Police Department took computers from Alvarado’s district office.

[…]

Prosecutors are seeking evidence of whether Alvarado, once charged with overseeing the pro tem office, knew about those payments. The former office manager, Rosita Hernandez, has told investigators the councilwoman did, District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal said. Another fired employee has also made that allegation.

“What we heard was that there were communications back and forth between the pro tem office and the district office,” Rosenthal said. “We’re basically looking to see if we can find any communications that either confirms or does not confirm whether or not Rosie Hernandez had the authority to do the things that she did.”

He said the councilwoman and her staff members weren’t targets at this stage of the investigation.

Alvarado has said she gave Hernandez autonomy to make budget decisions in the pro tem office, which handles some administrative functions for council offices. That trust was betrayed by employees, who she said forged her signature on documents authorizing some payments.

Alvarado’s spokesman, Joe Householder, characterized Friday’s action as routine for such a probe. “This is a normal part of the process, nothing we hadn’t expected,” he said.

Gerald Treece, an associate dean and law professor at South Texas College of Law, agreed. He called the move “pretty predictable.”

“This may be exculpatory instead of incriminatory,” he said.”It could be to help her, not to hurt her.”

Prosecutors likely think something criminal happened, he said. “The question is: Is this an isolated incident or systemic? They are looking to see whether the mayor pro tem’s office is a de facto ATM.”

Seems routine to me, too. Even in the absence of claims by Rosita Hernandez that Alvarado authorized her actions, for Rosenthal to not explore this avenue would be a dereliction of duty on his part. Maybe he’ll find something and maybe he won’t, but he surely can’t allow for the possibility that Hernandez’s attorney will some day claim that his failure to check into their claims about Alvarado constitutes reasonable doubt.

One more thing:

The subpoenas also sought information from BlackBerry e-mail devices carried by Alvarado’s staff, and data archived on city servers housed outside council offices.

Free advice from a BlackBerry administrator to Chuck Rosenthal: The main thing that you should look for on those BlackBerries is PIN-to-PIN messages. Everything else can be found on the city’s Exchange servers or with the users’ ISPs if they set their handhelds up to receive email from more than one source. Maybe if the city has a policy of only retaining Exchange server backup tapes for a short period (a fairly common practice), you might be able to find something archived on a handheld that had been deleted in Outlook. I’d consider that a longshot.

Why Frank Madla lost

Confusion over health insurance leaves children suffering

Three-year-old Ryla Woodard spent a weekend in the hospital earlier this year when she broke out in a rash, her fever spiked to 103 and doctors diagnosed her with mononucleosis.

Just days later she lost her government-sponsored health coverage, and her family can’t afford a second follow-up blood test to see if she’s still infected with the virus that can cause fatigue and swelling, or even rupturing, of the spleen.

“She’s complaining of a sore throat. It lingers in your system a while,” said Ryla’s mother, Traci Woodard, from the East Texas town of Orange. “Today I cannot take her anywhere to see if she still tests positive for mono because I have no health insurance. I’m hitting walls and locked doors.”

Frank Madla, before the primary, on Carlos Uresti’s attack against him for voting to allow the Child Health Insurance Program (CHIP)-cutting bill HB2292 to come to the floor of the Senate:

“If that (bill) is the only issue that he can come up with in 32 years of service, then bring it on,” he said.

Any questions?

Irish sessions

In the spirit of Saint Patrick’s Day weekend, let me highlight this article on the freewheeling Irish music sessions at McGonigel’s Mucky Duck. One part jam session, one part apprenticeship opportunity, it’s a longstanding tradition that helps fuel the local Celtic scene. Want to learn how to play the pennywhistle or Scottish bagpipes? Show up at the Duck on Wednesday night and you can get started. Check it out.