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June 14th, 2006:

Ceverha settles with Dems in TRMPAC lawsuit

It’s a start.

The treasurer for Texans for a Republican Majority, a political committee at the heart of almost four years of criminal investigations and civil litigation, has paid $65,000 to former Democratic candidates in an attempt to end his role in the campaign finance saga.

During the 2002 elections, former Dallas lawmaker Bill Ceverha was treasurer of the committee founded by former U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay. Ceverha filed for personal bankruptcy last fall after a judge ruled he had violated state law by failing to disclose $600,000 of corporate money the committee spent to defeat Democrats.

[…]

Ceverha always maintained he did nothing wrong, but he filed for bankruptcy as an attempt to remove himself from years of appeals and other lawsuits. The Democrats, however, claimed his bankruptcy was a sham, arguing that Ceverha had transferred assets and paid “friendly creditors” to deny claims by the Democratic candidates.

Earlier this month, the two sides reached a settlement that allowed Ceverha to complete bankruptcy. He paid almost a third of the $196,660 in damages that a judge awarded five Democratic candidates, including Austin’s Ann Kitchen, a former legislator defeated in 2002.

“Enough is enough,” Ceverha said of the settlement. “This has been too much of a strain on me, my family and my activities.”

[…]

“TRMPAC was an effort by Tom DeLay and his gang to rob working Texans of a voice at the state Capitol and to consolidate their power,” lawyer Cris Feldman said. “For us, it was never a case about money. It was a case about whether the state’s highest public officials and large corporate interests are above the law, and whether Texas law permits secret corporate cash in elections.”

Testimony indicated Ceverha raised money for the Republican committee but served primarily in a figurehead role as treasurer. Although the testimony indicated Colyandro and the committee’s accountant, not Ceverha, prepared the committee’s public reports, Ceverha was responsible under the law for the accuracy of the reports.

Good. It’s about time Ceverha was made to pay for his role in the TRMPAC shenanigans. I presume that barring some sort of statute of limitations, it’ll be John Colyandro, Jim Ellis, and Tom DeLay’s turn to break out the checkbooks after their felony trials have been conducted. Surely another suit will be filed if they get convicted of the charges against them – as I recall, the reason they weren’t named as defendants in this suit was because of their status as felony indictees. Once that resolves itself, I imagine we’ll see a return to the civil courts.

Democrats have targeted Ceverha, who serves as a board member for the state’s Employee Retirement System, for accepting checks as gifts without reporting the amount. Although the Texas Ethics Commission said Ceverha didn’t have to disclose it, Ceverha finally revealed that Houston homebuilder Bob Perry gave him $100,000, after taxes, during 2004 and 2005 to help with his legal fees.

Critics, led by Rep. Lon Burnam, D-Fort Worth, say such cash gifts give the appearance of impropriety.

Ceverha and Burnam had an exchange of pleasantries recently over this matter. You can read about it here. Thanks to Pink Dome for the link.

Cleanup checklist

From yesterday’s Chron, some action on the clean-air front.

Concentrations of a dozen air pollutants in the Houston area pose significant risks to public health, and nowhere is the risk greater than in east Harris County, along the Ship Channel, a task force of public health and toxicological experts convened by Mayor Bill White concluded Monday.

In a city that ranks as one of the most polluted in the nation, the study provides, for the first time, a “to-do” list for reducing pollution, based on the risk to Houstonians’ health, the mayor said.

[…]

“There is a myth that we need years and years more study before we take action against polluters … we know enough now to know there is significant risk to our population,” said Mayor Bill White, who convened the task force in March 2005, after reports by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and the Houston Chronicle exposed high levels of pollution in some city neighborhoods.

The landmark 58-page report evaluates 179 chemicals that are released from car tailpipes, ships, industrial plants, and small sources such as dry cleaners and gasoline stations, for their potential to cause cancer, lung disease and other ailments.

The quality and quantity of information available on each chemical varied. In some cases, the scientists relied on computer projections of pollutant concentrations based on emissions in 1999. In others, they used data on 50 pollutants collected by 20 monitors in the Houston area in 2004. In the end, according to Dr. James T. Willerson, president of the University of Texas Health Science Center, which led a committee of eight scientists from five different institutions, the rankings came down to scientific judgment.

[…]

The 12 riskiest compounds contain some usual suspects, such as ground-level ozone, the main ingredient in smog, and the fine particles in diesel exhaust and soot. But the bulk of the list comprises more obscure, toxic chemicals like ethylene dibromide, acrolein, and chromium VI, that are difficult to monitor and do not have federal health standards.

The mayor said the report would be used almost immediately to develop a regional plan that would focus on specific neighborhoods and sources. The first step is targeting the chemical benzene in the Clinton Park/Tri-Community and the Harrisburg/Manchester neighborhoods on the city’s east side, the most polluted of the region’s 895 census tracts. Though the bulk of the city was exposed to three or fewer of the 12 chemicals identified, the 28 tracts in east Harris County had three or more pollutants at concentrations posing a definitive health risk.

“There are some sad results of this study … of the disproportionate impact of pollution,” White said.

I’m more than glad to see Mayor White take the lead on this, especially given the lack of leadership from the Legislature. It’s something he campaigned on, and he sees it (rightlly, in my view) as a key quality-of-life issue. Businesses won’t locate where their employees don’t want to go, and having a reputation for pollution does Houston no favors. How long has it taken Cleveland to live down the Cuyahoga River Fire of 1969? I’d argue their image still hasn’t fully recovered. Taking all reasonable steps to ensure Houston does not suffer a similar blow to its prestige is a good idea.

Blue Bayou

Congrats to John for becoming the newest member of the Chron.commons community. His new blog is called Blue Bayou. Nicely done!

Chet Edwards’ new look

I don’t see the word “blog” anywhere on Chet Edwards‘ spiffily redesigned webpage, but it’s got a blog-like structure to it. Whatever you want to call it, it looks good. Check it out for yourself and see.

Annie’s List endorses Thibaut

Via Houston Dems: Annie’s List has added HD133 candidate Kristi Thibaut to its ledger of endorsed candidates for State House. I’ve been a fan of Kristi’s for awhile now, so I consider this very good news. Among other things, Annie’s List targets races they see as winnable (which the open 133 definitely is), and it’s a good source of grassroots campaign contributions from around the state. I fully expect Kristi to do all right in the fundraising department, since she has a professional background in the subject, but this will likely be an expensive race, and her opponent (Jim Murphy) is one of the better quality Republicans out there, so every little bit will certainly help. Murphy’s coffers were dry after the GOP primary and runoff, but money spent in the function of voter outreach is an investment, not a problem. This race ought to be a priority of the local GOP, so I also expect Murphy to get the resources he needs.

I’ve got a post percolating to analyze HD133 more fully, so expect that soon. In the meantime, get to know Kristi Thibaut.

Enron’s emails

Via David Pogue’s technology blog comes Enron Email.

Search through more hundreds of thousands of email messages to and from 176 former Enron executives and employees from the power-trading operations in 2000-2002.

For the first time, they are available to the public for free through the easy-to-use interface of the InBoxer Anti-Risk Appliance. Create a free account, and go to work. You can search for words, phrases, senders, recipients, and more. (Lots of stuff in there. We found a copy of a message regarding Tom DeLay and political contributions for use in Texas.)

Or, use the built in tools to find offensive messages, personal messages, and others that would have triggered an alert if Enron had been using the InBoxer Anti-Risk Appliance back in 2000-2002, and can alert companies to similar risks, if they happened today.

This has been around for a few months, but I confess I hadn’t heard of it before now. Since Enron is in the news again (twice!), I figure today is as good a day as any to link to it. Thanks to Linkmeister for the tip.

Krispy Kreme: Still dead in Houston

As you may recall, the Krispy Kreme donut franchise exited Houston in March in the midst of a nasty franchisee lawsuit. At the time, a local outfit called Jumbles Dough Factory and Coffee Bar took over several former Krispy Kreme locations under the auspices of Lone Star Doughnuts, Ltd. Now it looks like they’re kaput, too.

Many Jumbles locations are no longer doing regular business. Suppliers say they are unable to reach Lone Star executives.

Brinton did not return phone calls placed to his office or his cell phone.

The lights are off and the phones are out at various Jumbles locations.

[…]

H. Mills Duncan IV, president of Duncan Coffee Co., says he hasn’t heard a word from anyone at Lone Star Doughnuts.

“They aren’t returning my phone calls,” he says. “I don’t have any idea what is going on.”

Duncan says it’s unfortunate if the concept has failed because the operators had a strong name and a solid concept for the new business.

Jumbles also supplied doughnuts and pastries to area Kroger stores.

“We are no longer doing business with Jumbles,” says Russell Richard, director of public affairs for The Kroger Co.

I’d say that sounds like an ex-donut business to me. As I said before, at least we’ll always have Shipley’s. Thanks to Houstonist for the link.