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June 7th, 2007:

Ellen Cohen retires from HAWC

The following is a press release from the Houston Area Women’s Center:

June 7,2007, Houston – Today State Representative Ellen Cohen announced that she will retire from her role as President and CEO of the Houston Area Women’s Center effective December 31, 2007. Cohen, who was elected to the Texas House of Representatives from Houston District 134 in 2006, has served as President and CEO of the Women’s Center since 1990.

“Serving as the CEO of the Houston Area Women’s Center is hugely rewarding and I will miss it. However, after 17 years as CEO, I think this is the right time for me to move on. The Women’s Center is in a strong position, and I look for the new CEO to take it to the next level,” states Cohen.

During Cohen’s tenure as CEO, the Houston Area Women’s Center grew from a shelter with only 45 beds to a multi-million dollar, state-of-the-art facility accommodating 125 women and children. The Women’s Center, a United Way agency, now has an annual budget of more than $6 million.

“Ellen Cohen has been a wise, tireless and visionary leader, who has guided the growth of the Houston Area Women’s Center,” states Margo Scholin, Board Chair of the Women’s Center. “As CEO, Ellen expanded programs and raised the level of service we offer our clients. We will miss her strong leadership but the Women’s Center will continue to educate the community and assist people who need our help.”

Scholin said that the Women’s Center will undertake a search for candidates to replace Cohen as CEO, and that a new CEO is expected to be in place by the end of the year. The agency has retained Korn Ferry, an international executive recruitment agency, to assist in the search.

“When it comes down to it, I feel most rewarded by the change of attitude toward domestic and sexual violence over the past 25 years,” said Cohen. “When I first started, the myths were that rape was something that happened because of what you were wearing or because you put yourself in a dangerous situation. Domestic violence was something that happened to someone else. Today people know that violence is something that can happen to anyone regardless of color, language or socio-economic status. I am delighted that, as a member of the Legislature, I will be able to continue to work on issues that are important to women, men and children who are affected by sexual abuse and domestic violence.”

Cohen first became involved with the Women’s Center in the 1980’s as a volunteer board member. She became Executive Director in 1990.

For more information on the Houston Area Women’s Center please visit www.hawc.org or call 713-528-6798

My best wishes for a happy retirement to Rep. Cohen.

Tax breaks for historic buildings passed by Council

Back in March, we heard about a proposal before City Council to grant tax abatements to commercial buildings deemed “historic”. Yesterday, Council passed that ordinance.

The council approved a permanent, 100 percent tax abatement for commercial structures whose owners accept “protected landmark” status for the buildings. Owners would have to refund any tax savings, with interest, if they tore down the building or altered its facade.

The measure also adds a five-year “lookback” provision to a more limited tax break approved in 2001 to owners who make improvements to residential buildings designated as landmarks or contribute to a historical district. Under the change approved Wednesday, owners could receive tax breaks for improvements they made as long as five years before the building was designated historic.

White said his staff has identified 50 to 100 commercial properties that qualify for the protected landmark tax break. Most are of modest size with relatively low tax values, meaning revenues lost to the city would be minimal, he said.

At the time of the original proposal, the total amount of the lost revenue was $1.5 million to the city. I presume this hasn’t changed much since then.

Councilwoman Addie Wiseman cast the lone vote against the measure.

Nice to know there’s some kind of tax cut Addie Wiseman won’t vote for. No quote from her, so I can’t say what her reasoning behind this was, other than simply saying “Up!” when the mayor says “Down!” I’m sure it would be entertaining to hear, whatever it is.

Early voting: The wrong question

I first saw this pathetic attack ad by our friends at the Harris County GOP a couple of days ago, but I didn’t bother blogging about it because life is too short to deal with stupid stuff like that. But now that Matt Stiles has picked it up, I figure I should at least say something. And what I’ll say is this: Stiles is asking the wrong question. It’s not whether this ad is “over the top”, but whether it’s the dumbest, most amateurish, cringe-worthy political ad you’ve ever seen. I still think that honor goes to the legendary “Ellen Cohen is a Canadian!” ad, but this one is in the ballpark.

I mean honestly, I’d rank “Was Jared Woodfill stoned when he approved this, or just drunk?” ahead of the “is it over the top?” question. Is this really the best they can do?

Not that it really matters. Because this is the best that we can do, and that says a heck of a lot:

It’s no contest.

Early voting: Candidate forum Saturday

Thanks to Andy Neill for forwarding this to me:

The civic group “Volunteers Organized to Exercise Responsibility” (V.O.T.E.R.) will be holding a candidate forum this Saturday June 9th from 5:30 – 7:30 pm at the Greater Mount Zion Baptist Church – 835 West 23rd Street. Both City Council At-Large Position # 3 candidates – Melissa Noriega and Roy Morales have been invited and their policies and vision for the city will be discussed, as well as a wrap-up of the 80th Session of the Texas Legislature. This is meeting is completely open to the public.

V.O.T.E.R is a non-partisan discussion group that meets to converse about political issues and policies on a regular basis. V.O.T.E.R. was formed in 1989 by Jeff Marshall, and they are celebrating their 18th year under his leadership. Although the meeting place is in the Heights area, the membership is comprised of numerous politically active citizens from around the Houston Metropolitan area. If you have questions or would like more information, please contact Jeff Marshall at (713) 862-3323, or email him at [email protected] RSVP’s are not required but are encouraged as refreshments will be provided.

Here’s a Google map of the location. It’s my understanding that Melissa Noriega will be there for sure. Not sure about Roy, but who cares? You’re not voting for him anyway.

And before you go to this forum, you can start your day with a get-out-the-vote breakfast for Melissa Noriega tomorrow morning from 8 to 9:30 at Doneraki on Gulfgate. Muse has the details.

Vote. It’s good for you.

NYT obituary for Steve Gilliard

It’s here, though I’ll also point you to Kos since his archives will be freely available for a lot longer than the Times’ will be. Other than a minor subtraction error (2007 – 1966 = 41, not 42), it’s well done.

Those of you who would like to do something for Steve and his family will find a PayPal link on his site. A previous update from his partner Jen said that the tentative plan was that the blog would be up for the next 30 days, then taken down for good. In the absence of further news, I’d assume that to remain the case, so if you’re inclined to help the Gilliards, please do so sooner rather than later.

Temporary art in the Heights

This is very cool.

So as I’ve mentioned a few times, one of my best friends is co-owner of a construction company called Numen Development that uses shipping containers as the basis for their structures.

Three months ago, they got a commission from Apama Mackey to design and build the new Mackey Gallery.

Today [Wednesday], the shipping containers will be delivered and installed to the new site of the 1400 square foot gallery, and you can see for yourself what this form of construction looks like. They started this morning with merely a few spread footings and grade beams and they’ll finish this evening with all the containers set and a good portion (if not all) of the roof in place. By Friday, there will be a completely secured, weatherproof building where there is NOTHING right now! I’ve seen them as they’ve been built out at the Numen warehouse, and they’re pretty damned awesome. The gallery will be at 628 East 11th Street in the Heights, right next to Berryhill.

Very cool, but the best part is how amazingly enviro-friendly the whole thing is. Click over and check it out. Comcast permitting, I’ll try to upload a few pics of the process.

Restraining order extended in Farmers Branch

Still no decision on an injunction, but we’re getting there.

A temporary restraining order granted last month will remain in effect until June 19, U.S. District Judge Sam Lindsay ruled.

Lindsay will decide by then whether to issue a temporary injunction requested by lawyers for landlords and renters who have filed suit to block the local immigration measure. An injunction would stop the rental rules from taking effect until the lawsuits are resolved.

[…]

[D]uring a three-hour hearing today, Farmers Branch attorneys who are already facing an uphill legal fight following the earlier ruling by Lindsay acknowledged there were “drafting issues” with the ordinance.

City Attorney Matthew Boyle sought to convince Lindsay that the city intended to follow federal law in determining who is in the country legally and had no intention of going outside federal regulations, even if some language in the ordinance suggests otherwise.

He offered the court several revised versions that they asked the judge to consider if he decides the original measure is constitutionally flawed.

The Star Telegram outlines the changes the city of Farmers Branch has offered.

One version drops the $500 daily penalty. It would also drop the requirements that family members of prospective tenants sign declarations of citizenship or legal residency and authorize the release of relevant documents to city officials. Prospective tenants would still be required to sign such a declaration but would not be required to supply supporting paperwork.

Another version drops the $500 daily penalty and the requirement that prospective tenants sign the declaration. But it leaves a requirement for supplying paperwork acceptable to federal immigration officials.

Another version simply cuts references to U.S. Housing and Urban Development’s prohibition on providing housing to illegal immigrants.

Boyle and Tim O’Hare, the City Council member who spearheaded the city’s anti-illegal-immigration stance, said the proposed revisions do not mean the city is backing down from the ordinance.

O’Hare said that the city believes the ordinance is constitutional but that the judge could use these alternatives if he finds parts of it to be unconstitutional. He said even if the $500 fines are dropped, the city could pursue people who give false paperwork or false declarations and charge them with fraud.

Boyle said the city also could revoke licenses instead of levying fines.

O’Hare suggested the proposed cuts might be part of the city’s legal strategy.

“You throw different things out there, and it’s a long, drawn-out battle,” he said. “You float things out there to see where the judge stands on one issue or another issue.”

Jim Renard, an attorney for Bickel & Brewer, a Dallas law firm representing apartment owners suing Farmers Branch, interpreted the move as a sign that the city is losing the case.

“It’s an admission of sorts that they’ve got some problems,” Renard said.

I think Attorney Renard is correct. If Farmers Branch thought it could win, there’d be no incentive for them to offer a weaker version of the law. They’re in salvage mode.

Nina Perales, an attorney for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, which is also suing the city, said asking the judge to choose what should be stricken from the city’s ordinance is wrong.

“That’s not an appropriate thing for a judge to do,” she said. “The judge decides what is constitutional and what is unconstitutional. The judge does not rewrite ordinances.”

Yeah, that kinda does sound like legislating from the bench, doesn’t it? Nice try, fellas.

Back to the Chron:

In rulings last week, Lindsay declined an effort by the Federation for American Immigration Reform to join the lawsuit. The national group wants to stem illegal immigration.

The judge also dismissed one of three federal lawsuits against the city, a suit brought by Farmers Branch businesses who said the rental ban was hurting commerce.

“This narrows the constitutional issues,” said activist Carlos Quintanilla, who organized the businesses’ opposition.

And I think it means we’re officially counting the days on this ordinance. We’ll see if that’s true in two weeks’ time. Stay tuned.

When lawns get out of hand

Stories like this just make me shake my head.

Linda A. Ballew spent four nights in the Harris County Jail for ignoring court orders related to a long-running dispute about her overgrown lawn before she finally agreed to cut the grass Tuesday.

Her next-door neighbor David Carroll — who also is president of the homeowners association board — is waiting to see whether she makes good on her promise.

Neighborhood spats are common, but there was nothing typical about this three-year battle, which has reached almost absurd proportions in the Kirkwood South subdivision.

The 50-year-old widow has lived for 14 years in her home in the 10400 block of Glenkirk. But her overgrown yard and the varmints that call it home drew the ire of the Kirkmont Association’s board of directors.

Ballew, who has an 18-year-old son, cut her front lawn when the group took the dispute to court to force her to comply with the neighborhood’s deed restrictions. But her backyard, surrounded by a fence, has remained largely unchanged.

Carroll, who likens Ballew’s backyard to a “jungle” of grass ranging from 4 feet to 9 feet tall, says the excessive growth has caused him considerable problems.

“We’ve had nutria rats — the ones that look like beavers — caught in the trap in my backyard,” Carroll said. “I have had run-ins with large snakes. My dog has been sprayed by a skunk. … My children are not allowed to walk the property unless I go out there first.

“Anytime you try to entertain with friends, you have to explain why there is a jungle next door creeping through the fence. … It’s just the craziest thing.”

There was a house in our neighborhood that was similar to this, though not as bad. The owner spent most of the year out of town, and things got out of hand. I’ve heard from folks who lived on one side or the other of that house that rats were a real problem. It’s easy to complain about homeowners associations and the power they have, but in a situation like that, it’s hard not to sympathize with them.

(The house that was our urban wildlife refuge was recently bought and torn down, by the way. Much better for all involved.)

Sympathizing with the defendant in this case is a taller order.

The Kirkmont Association first sued Ballew and won a permanent injunction against her in 2004, requiring her to mow her entire lawn twice a month and trim her trees and shrubs once a year. Ballew failed to appear in court at that time to respond to the lawsuit, which resulted in a default judgment.

But little has changed since then, Carroll said. Only the front yard has been mowed.

During a follow-up hearing in April 2006, Ballew was found to be in contempt of court for failing to comply with the injunction. She was sentenced to three days in jail, but that sentence was suspended for four months to give her time to do the required yard work, homeowners association attorney Michael Treece said.

She was ordered to return to Davidson’s court for a compliance hearing in August but failed to appear.

Davidson issued an order for Ballew’s arrest last fall. She was taken into custody Friday. The judge told Ballew he sought her arrest “very reluctantly.”

I’d say the judge has been more than patient. Nobody likes to see this sort of thing end up in court, but once it does, that really ought to be the end of it. Maybe now it finally will be.