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March 23rd, 2007:

TYC: Alfonso Royal and email retention

Vince is reporting that Alfonso Royal, the aide to Governor Perry who knew about what was happening at Pyote in March of 2005, was supposed to become the head of the TYC later this year. I’m guessing that’s not going to happen now.

Meanwhile, the Texas Observer noted the strange comment about deleted emails as I did, and dug up the official state policy for email retention:

(1) Administrative Correspondence, 1.1.007 – Incoming/outgoing and internal correspondence, in any format, pertaining to the formulation, planning, implementation, interpretation, modification, or redefinition of the programs, services, or projects of an agency and the administrative regulations, policies and procedures that govern them. Subject to Archival review. Retention: 3 years.
(2) General Correspondence, 1.1.008 – Non-administrative incoming/outgoing and internal correspondence, in any media, pertaining to or arising from the routine operations of the policies, programs, services, or projects of an agency. Retention: 1 year.

Emphasis added. Note that this describes how long the employee should keep the emails in question – a subsequent section talks about different methods for doing this, and documents how to create a personal folder file (PST) in Outlook. It still doesn’t address my point about server backups. Once an email has been filed into a PST, it’s there forever unless you know what you’re doing, and if that PST lives on a network drive, there may well be a backup of it on tape somewhere.

Bear in mind too that even if Rick Perry deleted all correspondence with Alfonso Royal, in apparent violation of the aforementioned policy, can he say for sure that Royal and anyone else who might have been cc’ed did so as well? Did Perry and Royal delete their Sent Items, or the archive.pst file that Outlook loves to create on a regular basis? Email is a lot more persistent than you might think.

Bottom line: An open records request here, especially one that specifies all the possible places a “deleted” email could be lurking, might yield some very interesting results.

TYC superintendant arrested

Nothing to do with Pyote, just more bad news from somewhere else in this wretched system.

The superintendent of the Texas Youth Commission’s Marlin intake center was arrested this morning for allegedly fibbing to Texas Rangers investigating sexual-assault reports at the high-security lockup.

Authorities said Jerome Parsee, 53, was taken into custody at his office about 10:30 a.m. on a Class B misdemeanor charge of making a false report. He was to be booked into a local jail and was expected to be released on bond, according to officials.

According to Youth Commission special master Jay Kimbrough, Parsee allegedly told Rangers that he knew of no sexual-assault reports having been logged at the Marlin Orientation and Assessment Center, the first stop for all new arrivals to the Youth Commission lockups. Rangers subsequently found numerous cases, according to investigators.

Not much to add at this point, other than I expect this won’t be the last arrest. (In some sense, it had better not be.) More here. Thanks to Burkablogger Nate Blakeslee for the heads up.

UPDATE: More from Grits and Harvey Kronberg, who reports that one effect of all this may be a steep decline in the TYC inmate population.

Woodland Heights home tour this weekend

Marty Hajovsky has been beating the drum all week for the Woodland Heights Home Tour, for which you can still order tickets online through 11 PM tonight. If you aren’t sure about going on the tour this year, let me give you one good reason: to see the incredible renaissance of 205 Bayland, which was the home of the Woodland Heights developer a hundred years ago and which had fallen into terrible disrepair as an assisted living center. That’s preservation, baby. Check it out.

TYC: Another “correction” from Perry’s office

Patricia Kilday Hart, on March 5:

When Sen. Juan Hinojosa held hearings last summer about a riot at a TYC facility in the Rio Grande Valley, he learned enough about the agency’s operations to recognize “a recipe for disaster.”

Guards were being hired off the street with little education or training. Kids from ages 10 to 21 were mixed on the same dorm. At night, the inmate/guard ratio was as high to 25 to 1, with open bay dormitories offering little security.

Maybe that’s why, when he received a Texas Ranger report outlining allegations of sexual abuse at the TYC’s Pyote facility, he acted immediately (instead of ignoring the report, like TYC management, or the midlevel staffer in Gov. Rick Perry’s office, who sat on it for a year).

Kilday Hart again, on March 6:

In “Cuckoo’s Nest Revisited,” which I posted yesterday, I wrote that Rick Perry’s office had a copy of the Texas Rangers report on the TYC abuse allegations for over a year and did nothing. My source was Senator Juan Hinojosa, who held hearings about the TYC scandal. Today, following a conversation with a Perry staffer who said that Perry does not have either the Rangers report or the TYC internal report, I spoke with Hinojosa, who said while Perry’s office knew of the investigation, he cannot verify that the governor’s office ever received an actual copy of either report.

Today, we get verification.

An aide to the governor received detailed investigative reports alleging a sex scandal at a West Texas youth lockup days before the November election, documents show, but Gov. Rick Perry has said he learned only last month, from news reports, about the abuse at the Texas Youth Commission facility.

Interviews and documents confirm that one of Perry’s aides, Alfonso Royal, was forwarded graphic investigative reports about sexual abuse at the West Texas State School from Texas Ranger Sgt. Brian Burzynski on Oct. 30 or 31, 2006. The documents also indicate that Royal knew in October, just days before Perry was re-elected, about a West Texas district attorney’s lack of action in the case.

Perry’s press secretaries had previously denied that Royal — a budget and policy analyst who oversees the Youth Commission among other agencies — had a copy of the reports. “To this day, we have not seen a copy of that report,” Perry spokesman Robert Black said Tuesday. “If someone can prove we did, bring them forward.”

After being provided with a copy of what Royal had been sent by a legislative staffer, Black and Ted Royer, Perry’s deputy press secretary, changed their story.

“That’s what he saw,” Black said.

Oops.

Royal did not keep a copy of the report, Royer said. And the governor’s office routinely deletes its e-mail after seven days, Black and Royer say.

That’s irrelevant. What’s your retention policy on backup tapes? If they’re kept long enough, any related emails can still be found.

Criminy, it’s been 20 years since the PROFS emails Ollie North “deleted” came back from the tapes to nail his sorry ass. Is there really a government official who still believes that when you delete an email, it’s gone forever? Nobody could be that ignorant, right?

At issue is: Did the governor’s office act quickly enough and forcefully enough on information it had received?

Black said Royal did not sit on the information. He said Royal read the reports and immediately started trying to push Ward County District Attorney Randall Reynolds to prosecute the case. Reynolds had declined to file charges for more than a year.

Those are the reports you swore less than three weeks ago never reached anyone in the Governor’s office, right?

Asked by Texas Monthly editor Evan Smith this month about when he found out about the case, Perry said: “We knew about this probably about the same time you did, when we read it” in The Dallas Morning News.

Black explained: “The governor was speaking personally. . . . That’s when he found out about it.”

Kilday Hart, today:

However, I continue to be puzzled by Perry’s press office insisting that the guv does not have the actual report. If Perry’s office no longer has the report, it’s because someone on the staff deleted it from computer files. And if the governor has not yet read the report, it does not exactly reflect well on his leadership.

No surprise there.

On a related matter, why is Perry crony Jay Kimbrough leading the TYC investigation when it was supposed to be the Rangers’ task? Even worse, Kimbrough has a conflict of interest. If the Governor is trying to look like someone who wants to get at the truth here, he’s doing a really poor job of it.

Friday random ten: The next playlist

Well, I enjoyed my experimental playlist, and will certainly put a fair amount of it higher up in the rotation for the future, but all good things must come to an end, and I’ve still got a bunch of CDs to go. On to the next playlist, where the following songs came up on first play:

1. Nil Por Mi Punados Del Oro – The Mollys. A truly eclectic mix of Irish and Mexican folk music, done in a rollicking and lively style. Sadly, as noted on their cofounder’s homepage, they disbanded in 2003. You had to hear them to believe them, and I’m just glad I got to see them live at the Mucky Duck as often as I did.

2. Callin’ In Sick – Weird Al Yankovic. Surely by now you must have pegged me as a Weird Al fan, right?

3. I Can’t Tame Wild Women – Hot Club of Cowtown. Another great band that has since split up, this Western Swing trio’s motto was “In Bob Wills We Trust”. I can’t argue with that.

4. The Girlfriend of the Whirling Dervish – from the soundtrack to “For the Boys”. A little-known movie about a couple of USO-tour performers, its soundtrack is one half 1940s swing, one half Bette Midler schmaltz. This is from the good half.

5. Harbor – Vienna Teng. Another Priscilla song, and while it’s made-for-Sunny 99 stuff, I’ll freely admit that Teng has a gorgeous voice, and that makes up for it.

6. How Far To The Water – Eddie From Ohio. I’ve worn a groove in half of my EFO CDs and largely not played the others, partly because the two double live CDs that I do play have a good sampling of the material on these disks. Time to get myself more familiar with the back catalog.

7. Pico de Gallo – Trout Fishing In America. Come on, people, sing it with me!

Pico de gallo
You ought to give it a try, oh
Even if you’re from Ohio
It’ll get you by, oh
Don’t get it in your eye, oh
Unless you want to cry, oh
So come on, don’t be shy, oh
Have some pico de gallo!

How anyone could fail to love Trout Fishing In America is something I’ll never understand.

8. Let’s Spend The Night Together – Muddy Waters. I have two Muddy Waters CDs, one an acoustic folk blues disc, the other called “Electric Mud”. Both were purchased in a futile attempt to get the version of “Mannish Boy” that I recall from the movie “Risky Business”. No, it never occurred to me to just buy the soundtrack. All things considered, I’d say this approach worked out better anyway.

9. St. Louis Blues March – Glenn Miller. Here’s the secret to making a kid a Glenn Miller fan for life: Hand him a saxophone in middle school, and point him in the direction of the jazz band. This is a rare song among Miller’s canonical works that I’ve not personally played in one form or another.

10. Flight of the Passing Fancy – Squirrel Nut Zippers. For some reason, the opening riff of this song sounds like a mashup of “Sing Sing Sing” and “Beer Barrell Polka” to me. And I consider that a feature, not a bug.

As always, feel free to mock my musical quirks in the comments.

Richie to Cornyn: Recuse yourself

The idea of Sen. John Cornyn on an ethics committee is ludicrous on its face, since Cornyn has shown no willingness or ability to use any criteria besides partisan considerations for making a decision. Asking him to judge Sen. Pete Dominici’s actions regarding the US Attorney purge adds an extra layer of ridiculousness, given the public statements Cornyn has made so far. I’ve got a press release from TDP Chair Boyd Richie beneath the fold, which catalogs some of Cornyn’s greatest hits on this issue and calls on him to recuse himself from the committee. I’d settle for him spending an hour or so reading the TPM coverage.

Click on for more.

(more…)

To override or not to override

I haven’t made up my mind about this yet.

In another rebuff to Gov. Rick Perry, the Texas House passed a proposed constitutional amendment Wednesday for an automatic special session during which lawmakers could attempt to override gubernatorial vetoes.

“I want to be part of the game,” said Rep. Gary Elkins, R-Houston, author of House Joint Resolution 59.

The resolution easily received the needed two-thirds vote, passing 109-29. A similar measure in the Senate is co-sponsored by 26 out of the 31 senators.

Last week the House passed a bill to revoke Perry’s executive order requiring middle school girls to get an HPV vaccine.

Rep. David Swinford, R-Dumas, was one of the few to oppose the veto measure.

“I know a lot of people would like to spit in the governor’s eye,” Swinford said. “I hope you enjoy doing that.”

He called the proposal a “sham” that upsets the constitutional balance of powers between the legislative and executive branches. He said Texas has been well-served by the existing system.

“This is the separation of powers the way the founders of our state intended,” Swinford said.

[…]

The postsession veto is one of the few strong powers afforded the Texas governor. Perry has liberally exercised his veto power, using it to kill dozens of bills and eliminate $2 billion from state budgets since 2001.

He vetoed 83 bills in 2001 and in 2005 eliminated the entire education budget in an effort to force lawmakers to change the school finance system.

The governor has 10 days to sign or veto bills that arrive on his desk during a legislative session. However, for the vast majority of bills passed in the final week of the session, the governor has 20 days to review the legislation.

At that point, lawmakers have no recourse and must wait until the next biennial session to try again to pass the bills.

It takes a vote of two-thirds of the House and Senate to override a veto. That has not happened since 1979.

Paul Burka wrote last month when this passed out of committee that it was a bad idea:

My argument against the expansion of the governor’s power is that the current constitutional balance of executive and legislative power seems just about right. What is the necessity for changing it? One answer might be that Perry would veto any attempt to rein in his use of executive orders, and the Legislature could do nothing about it.

But of course the Legislature can do something about it. It can speed up its glacial pace. All lawmakers have to do is get bills to the governor more than ten days before sine die. If he doesn’t act within that period, the bills automatically become law. If he does act, the Legislature has a chance to override a veto. Is it really necessary for the Senate to go home for the weekend on Wednesdays, or is it Tuesdays? It’s not really necessary to take up the first hour to an hour and a half of every session passing resolutions honoring the new president of the Kiwanis Club in Gun Barrel City. Speakers could name committees earlier, so that they might actually begin work before mid-February.

It comes down to this: The governorship is supposed to be a weak office. One of the governor’s few powers is the power to veto bills. Elkins’ proposal would make the office even weaker: The override sessions would be feeding frenzies by aggrieved members cutting deals with other aggrieved members to override vetoes. There are a lot of things that are broke in state government, but this isn’t one of them. Don’t fix it.

I have my doubts about the “feeding frenzy” scenario that Burka presents. It’s not that easy to get a 2/3 majority in both chambers, but for items that do get it, there should be the chance to override. Even in that situation, I could see some members refusing to vote for an override on principle. I think overrides would remain exceptional, though maybe we’d actually get to see one or two.

Sure, the Lege could and maybe should work faster, but that’s far from a panacea. Too much legislation (cf HB3588, a/k/a the Trans Texas Corridor bill) gets passed without sufficient examination already. I’m leery of forcing them to pick up the pace.

Still, this is one of the few real powers the Governor is supposed to have, and restricting that as a response to the current occupant’s obsession with grabbing power elsewhere strikes me as inappropriate. I’ll have to think about this one if it does make it to the ballot in November.

An update on a longstanding Heights development story

Via Houstonist, here’s an update on a story regarding some condo development in the Heights.

Heights residents, upset about a possible new condominium development on vacant land near East Fifth and Frasier streets, aim to petition the city of Houston to broker a deal with the developer and join with the city to raise the money or find a donor to purchase the property so the land can be retained as a green space.

Residents contend the project, Viewpoint at the Heights, would cause traffic and flooding problems, and threaten the urban bird and wildlife habitat.

The claim is dismissed by Inner Loop Condos’ representatives, who say they are doing their best to improve the area and work with residents.

Viewpoint would be built on 1.26 acres of land that is part of the original John Austin land grant purchased by the Allen Brothers.

The site is bounded by White Oak Drive on the north, Studemont on the east, I-10 on the south and Oxford Street on the west, and identified as Threlkeld Reserve in the Houston/Harris County Key Map.

The land is surrounded by a ravine and includes once used railroad tracks that are to be developed as part of the city’s rails-to-trails bike network.

I blogged about this two years ago yesterday, and I even took pictures of the area in question.

The final plan for Viewpoint is yet to be determined, said project director Andre Julien of Inner Loop Condos, because they are waiting to find out whether the Texas Department of Transportation will grant an easement to gain access to the property from Frasier Street.

Inner Loop Condos has two plans for building entrances: from only Fifth Street or from both Fifth and Frasier streets.

If there are two entrances, Inner Loop Condos would build a one-story garage with four stories of about 75 condo units above it.

If there is only one entrance, the building would have a two-story garage with six stories of 80 to 84 condo units above it. Units will be priced from $170,000 to $400,000.

Julien said he is hopeful to break ground on the project in early 2008 and finish in early 2009.

“The best solution would probably be to have access on both sides because I know the neighborhood is very sensitive,” Julien said. “They think there will be a big impact on traffic, which we don’t believe because the traffic study says there won’t be an impact.

“But if we can divide it into two access roads it would be better for (the neighbors). For us it would be more expensive, but we don’t want to be against the neighbors. We want to work with them.”

Here’s the thing: The streets in question, especially Frasier, are tiny. As in, there’s barely room to drive past a parked car on the street. Anything that adds traffic to Frasier, especially an 80-unit condo development, is going to have a big impact. It can’t be helped.

There’s another consideration as well:

The residents have found allies in the Houston Audubon Society and Bayou Preservation Association, both of which have sent letters to Mayor Bill White.

The Houston Audubon Society’s letter, sent to White on Feb. 27 and signed by society president Stennie Meadours, said its board toured the land on Feb. 18 and found it to be an “excellent birding experience,” and that one resident has identified 56 bird species on the property.

The Bayou Preservation Association’s letter, sent on March 14 and signed by association president J. Tynan Kelly, raised issues about flooding the development could cause.

“Frasier and Fifth streets in the Houston Heights are bordered by an urban ecosystem that consists of undeveloped green space and a ravine that functions as a natural artery of the White Oak Bayou,” Kelly wrote. “This natural ravine meets the Environmental Protection Agency’s best management practices by serving as a non-structural technique designed to temporarily store stormwater runoff and overflow from the White Oak Bayou to mitigate flooding and reduce pollution.

” … Allowing Inner Loop Condos to develop this natural green space will ultimately destroy an already existing wetland mitigation area of significant value and purpose to the surrounding area.”

I’d be worried about the effect on the Bayou as well. When we get rain like we did last week, the water level gets awfully high. Who knows what might happen if all that green space there gets paved over?

There are still more considerations, like a proposed hike and bike trail through that area. The developer says he can include that in the design, and that he’s doing everything he can to mitigate the neighbors’ concerns. They’re obviously not satisfied, and some aspects of this plan, such as the sheer height of the building, can’t be smoothed over. It’s hard to see a middle ground here, so the question is who’s going to win. Whatever ultimately does happen, my sympathies are with the current residents.

No indictments in TYC cases yet

You know, after all the outrage and demonization of the accused offenders at the Pyote TYC facility, it would be…the word “bizarre” comes to mind…if the Attorney General were ultimately unable to get any indictments against them. After one day of testimony before the grand jury, that’s where things stand.

A West Texas grand jury heard evidence on Wednesday in the sexual abuse case against two former administrators of a state juvenile detention facility but didn’t return any indictments or issue any subpoenas.

The jury investigating allegations of long-term abuse at the Texas Youth Commission’s West Texas State School in Pyote will reconvene on April 10.

Earlier Wednesday, a Texas Rangers captain said he expected the Attorney General’s Office to seek subpoenas and court orders but not an indictment. A spokesman for Attorney General Greg Abbott said he could not comment on the proceedings.

Amy Raskin has more detail:

The Attorney General’s office was mum on the matter, and outside AG sources still close to the case said they were in the dark. No one wanted to speculate whether the alleged victims, kids who may want to put their TYC experience behind them, were refusing to testify.

In any event, maybe Don Clemmer, deputy attorney general for the criminal justice division, knew something when he told lawmakers earlier this month that his office would wait until the beginning of May to present evidence to a grand jury. Lawmakers were furious, demanding that Clemmer explain why action couldn’t be taken sooner. That was March 8. On March 9, an attorney with the AG’s office revealed that a grand jury would hear evidence the week of March 19, weeks earlier.

Maybe the AG’s office needed more time to present their case. If it had been me sitting in Clemmer’s seat that day, I’d have preferred eating needles to telling lawmakers that. Not with the present fury and finger-pointing surrounding the TYC sex scandal.

It should be noted that the accused weren’t no-billed, so this is far from over. Let’s see what happens on April 10. Whatever one may think of Ray Brookins and John Paul Hernandez and their alleged actions, they deserve a chance to face their accusers and respond to the charges.

Meanwhile, there were shenanigans galore as “vote machine malfunctions” and a suspicious point of order sent a corrections bill that would have given local DAs more leeway in working with the AG’s office on TYC cases back to committee. It’s a little hard to summarize, so let me point you to Burka, Brooks, Brooks again, and especially Vince for more.

On another front, Patricia Kilday Hart brings up the sorry story of the Lubbock State School, where State Sen. Eliot Shapleigh has asked the Senate Health and Human Services Committee to investigate 17 deaths in the last 18 months. I blogged about this in December, after the DOJ issued a scathing report that apparently hasn’t been followed up on yet.

Finally, RG Ratcliffe and Vince have more on the story of what Governor Perry knew about Pyote and when he knew it. According to Ratcliffe:

In April 2004, former TYC Inspector General Randal Chance wrote a book called Raped by the State, outlining abuse allegations in TYC — especially at the West Texas State School.

Chance sent an email to Perry’s office complaining that TYC employees were threatening him over his self-published book.

Chance’s e-mail was forwarded to TYC by Perry criminal justice advisor Janna Burleson and copied to press secretary Kathy Walt and the general counsel’s office.

An e-mail from TYC Chief of Staff Joy Anderson to the governor’s office said the book was an “angry, rambling, racist, sexist attack against the agency” and “offered little detail that would enable us to investigate further.” Burleson wrote back: “No need to respond to him (Chance).”

Even if the book was the ramblings of a disgruntled former employee, the email exchange shows neither TYC executives nor the governor’s office tried to investigate whether there was any subtance to what Chance was saying.

Chance said when he did not hear back from the governor, “I assumed they did not take it seriously.”

That’s the same Joy Anderson who told Perry staff member Alfonso Royal that they weren’t aware of any pending charges regarding Pyote. She obviously didn’t think much about it all. Vince has a copy of the emails in question. Check them out.