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August 21st, 2010:

Saturday video break: For excitement, and emotion

School starts Monday in these parts. In honor of that, here’s a little Schoolhouse Rock:

We have one of the Schoolhouse Rock DVD sets. I need to play it for Olivia, I think she might be old enough to appreciate it now.

KTRU rally

For those who are into that sort of thing.

Join us in a peaceful, non-violent protest to Save KTRU this Sunday, 2:00 pm at Rice University, in the Academic quad in front of the statue of William Marsh Rice. The rally will feature speeches from station manager Kelsey Yule, community DJ Greg Starks, specialty show DJ Lindsey Simard, Rice University/KTRU alumnus Heather Nodler, Rice student DJ Kevin Bush, and more! Wear your KTRU t-shirt, make a clever picket sign, bring your friends, and be prepared to make some noise for college radio.

There will be an informal pre-protest gathering before the rally starting at 11am, Sunday, August 22nd, at Valhalla in Rice University where you can help us make signs, write chants, and print t-shirts before we walk over to Willy’s statue at 1:30pm.

I have no idea how effective any of this will be – the protests, the Facebook page, the petition, the Twitter feed, and of course the SaveKTRU.org webpage – but I have a pretty good idea of where it’s coming from. Rice students and alumni, at least the ones with whom I am acquainted (I was a grad student at Rice and have been a member of the MOB since 1988; I have many Rice alumni friends and I root for Rice sports teams), take a lot of pride in the fact that the place is a bit different, a bit weird, a bit offbeat, and very much not for everyone. It’s a critical aspect of the Rice identity, that it is Not Like Anyplace Else. KTRU, along with things like the colleges, Beer Bike, the MOB, the honor system, is a cornerstone of that. Take KTRU away, especially in this unilateral, out of the blue fashion, and big piece of that identity crumbles. Now Rice is that much more like everybody else, and I don’t know a single Owl who wants it that way. It doesn’t matter if you ever worked at KTRU or even if you ever listened to it – I’d bet a chunk of money a lot of my alumni friends spent very little time with their radios tuned to 91.7 – it’s that KTRU was there and it was unique and it made Rice stand apart. And now it’s going away, and people feel betrayed. I really don’t have a dog in this fight – I’ve never listened to KTRU, and none of this is part of my identity – but I sure do understand where the protesters are coming from, and I have a lot of sympathy for them.

And there’s the secrecy of the deal, too.

“I am shocked, betrayed and disgusted by how the Rice administration handled the sale,” says Rose Cahalan, Rice and KTRU alumnus. “They did it swiftly and secretly, without consulting faculty, staff or students, or even informing us until the day it happened. This secrecy was clearly designed to prevent any protests from being effective–there just wasn’t time to act. A ‘Call to Conversation’ was a major component of President Leebron’s Vision for the Second Century, and this utter lack of dialogue clearly violates that supposed value.”

“Hopefully, if nothing else, Rice is going to get a black eye over their handling of this — it’s just so underhanded,” [former DJ Matt] Brownlie says. “It baffles me that a university with the prestige and seemingly progressive leanings would pull something like this on their own students … it’s so disrespectful, like they are saying, ‘Go on and do whatever campus and community work that interests you — until we decide to make money off of it.'”

“Gotta love that they decided this when no students were around,” commented alum Stephanie Taylor. “Reminds me of when they decided to charge hundreds for parking during finals. The only difference is that then Rice at least had the courtesy to tell the students what was happening instead of letting them read about it in the news.”

Alum Teresa Monkkonen agrees, “It’s not just about the radio station, it’s about not involving any talking to students before making this decision and killing a student club at the expense of the bottom line.”

I don’t think there’s any way the administration could have presented this that would have been widely accepted – again, selling off a piece of your identity is a big deal – but for the community to hear about it in the newspaper is a slap in the face. People would have been sad and upset, and would have pushed back no matter what, but not to get the courtesy of being informed directly by the administration, that’s got to be driving a lot of the anger.

So, while I like the idea of having a real news radio station in Houston again, I hope the groundswell against this action by the Rice administration leaves its mark. Show up for the protest, threaten to never donate another dime, pursue the potential Open Meetings Act violation, write impassioned open letters, I wish you luck. One hopes that at the very least, the administration will learn a little respect.

UPDATE: You can also say good-bye to Rice University Press, though I doubt anyone will get too worked up about it.

Double-Dip Driver

In case you missed this the other day.

State Rep. Joe Driver of Garland, who rails against the evils of runaway government spending, admitted Monday that he has pocketed thousands of dollars in taxpayer money for travel expenses that his campaign had already funded.

The veteran Republican legislator, faced with findings from an investigation by The Associated Press, acknowledged in an interview that for years he has been submitting the same receipts – for luxury hotels, airline tickets, meals, fees and incidentals – to both his campaign and to the Texas House. He has also been collecting thousands of dollars in state mileage reimbursements for travel in vehicles for which his campaign has shelled out more than $100,000 since 2000.

The AP’s review of hundreds of pages of state and campaign travel records found that Driver double-billed for at least $17,431.55 in travel expenses, much of it at upscale out-of-state hotels, since 2005. The number could go higher, but House travel records before mid-2005 have already been destroyed. Driver has been in office for 18 years. The double-billing figure does not include the vehicle expenses.

I am just boggled by this. This is the sort of thing that gets people fired in the real world. If you think real hard, you can probably recall is fairly high-profile recent example of a CEO getting booted for filing bogus expense reports. The two situations aren’t identical, but the principle – Thou Shalt Not Submit Reimbursement Claims For Expenses Thou Did Not (or Should Not) Have Incurred – is the same. This is not rocket science, and Driver’s response to it is just pathetic.

Driver insists he thought the double-billing was perfectly appropriate – until talking about it with the AP.

“Well, it doesn’t sound like it is now. If you bring it up that way,” he said.

[…]

First elected to the House in 1992, he didn’t have “a clue” when he first began claiming reimbursements for travel paid for by his campaign, he said.

“If I knew it was wrong, I wouldn’t have done it that way,” Driver said. “I wouldn’t have done it just to make money.”

I have no idea why he did it, and I have no idea how he could not realize that it was wrong. Interestingly, Driver claims he was told what he was doing was OK by “somebody” at the Texas Ethics Commission, which the TEC denies it ever would have done. I’m inclined to believe them, because again, how could anyone think this was kosher?

For his troubles, Driver has bought himself a criminal investigation and a tougher race. Driver’s district closely mirrored the state in 2008, with McCain defeating Obama 55-44 and Sam Houston getting the high Democratic score with 45.6%. Driver’s opponent is Jamie Dorris, whom I have not met but have heard good things about. I’ll bet a lot more folks will hear about her now.

The Statesman takes an appropriate tone in an editorial about Driver’s behavior. One thing from that story about the DA looking into this needs to be noted:

GOP Rep. Chuck Hopson, chairman of the House General Investigating & Ethics Committee, said he had called [Travis County DA Rosemary] Lehmberg to see whether a criminal investigation is under way while he contemplates his own internal probe of conduct “that doesn’t make the rest of legislators look good.”

Lehmberg said she had spoken to Hopson and said House officials are “probably going to defer to us.”

“We don’t want to run into each other and be gathering documents and looking at documents at the same time,” she said.

You never know what might be found once these rocks start getting turned over. I will be disappointed, but not particularly surprised, if other legislators have made the same error as Driver. One hopes none of them have been anywhere near as egregious about it. BOR and the DMN have more.

Chron opines on Renew Houston

This is a pretty fair take on it.

Given Houston’s history of flooded streets, businesses and homes over the past decade, the Chronicle agrees with the aims of Renew Houston, the organization of engineers that is backing the proposition. What we like most is the pay-as-you-go feature that eliminates long-term debt and maximizes infrastructure bang for the taxpayers’ bucks.

As At-large City Councilman and engineer Stephen Costello explains, the city’s streets and drainage system have long been grossly underfunded, with a waiting list for needed projects of up to a decade or more. “If you put the numbers to it, we’ll never catch up,” says Costello. “So the system is chronically decaying.”

[…]

However, before endorsing the plan, we would like to see how much the actual program would cost, and how it would differentiate between properties with a large percentage of green space and trees that absorb runoff, and heavily developed parcels mostly covered by pavement and buildings. Should the low-income owner of a lot in a sparsely developed area pay the same fee as one with the same square footage valued at millions of dollars in upscale neighborhoods inside the Loop? Should public service nonprofits and schools and churches be exempt from the fee?

What will be the mechanism for deciding which street repair and drainage projects get fixed first? Historically, the infrastructure in poorer, minority neighborhoods in Houston has been neglected as more politically connected communities received higher priority. How can voters be assured that will not happen again?

I don’t have a whole lot to add to this. As long as decent questions are being asked, I feel good about having an informed debate on this topic. At the very least, I hope we’ll soon have a better idea of which groups do and do not support Renew Houston.

Market Square reopening next week

Market Square Park downtown, which began a renovation in February, will reopen next weekend.

The Market Square Park downtown will officially reopen on Aug. 28, with performances by the John Evans Band and singer-songwriter Andrew Karnavas.

The renovated park — framed by Preston, Congress, Milam and Travis Streets — will now include a sizable dog run, along with a lawn and patio area. Ground was broken on the project late last year.

A fall concert series begins Sept. 8 with performances by Soular Grooves and Beetle. Other performers include Two Star Symphony and Roky Moon and Bolt (Sept. 22), Tody Castillo and Black Queen Speaks (Oct. 27) and Sarah Sharp and Grandfather Child (Nov. 10).

I happened to be downtown this past Monday, and walked past Market Square while I was there. It’s still being worked on, at least as of then. Here’s a somewhat crappy cellphone picture I took of the activity:

Market Square

You can’t tell from this shot, but the structure right behind that little covered area is the Niko Niko’s.